Jeff Kaiser, Ventura's finest gift to new music, is always looking for new routes to a world of strange sounds. The quest might require scouring local hardware stores for the right-size plunger to use on his trumpet (trumpeters be alerted: He found one at Target).
It might require asking a musician to extend the normal boundaries of instrumental technique. In "Ether/Ore," which had its debut last weekend at the Performance Studio in Ventura and will be played again this weekend, Kaiser had bassist Jim Connolly slapping the body of his instrument and getting a clackety sound from the strings by rattling the bow handle. Connolly was also asked to simply play the instrument in traditional stand-up fashion.
Kaiser's task might involve taking an instrument--in this case, an African thumb-piano instrument, the mbira --altering the sound through electronic devices and finding a new marriage of the ancient and the modern.
The fruits of Kaiser's most recent efforts were unveiled as the second part of a concert called "Faces," featuring the Plexus Dance Theater. Also on the nicely varied program were Plexus works, a video chronicling the company's "Dance in Unusual Places" program of last year, and a witty ode to the workaday world called "Morning Breath," choreographed by Denee Jordan and set to an electronic score by Kaiser. All in all, "Faces" is a fine evening out.
"Ether/Ore" began its life when Kaiser met Connolly, who had moved to Santa Barbara from the Bay Area. When not playing jazz bass in groups such as Straight, No Chaser, Connolly can be heard playing his mbira, a small 15-tine instrument similar to a better-known African instrument, the kalimba. With the mbira's sweet, haunting tone in mind, Kaiser devised a piece, heavy on improvisation and experimental sounds, tailored to Connolly's talents.
There's more to the title than a punster's handiwork. Sure enough, the music is both spacey and earthy, shifting in character from the ethereal to the metallic--the "ore" of the equation. The two mbiras work up a nice sonic swirl, broken up by ominous vocal lines and electronic effects that, at one point, help to suggest African village music from a parallel universe.
Kaiser and Connolly work their way to bass and horn, and ease into the more identifiably Western musical terrain of a jazz blues section, with Kaiser slyly misquoting Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk." Coming full circle, they venture back to their own private Africa to close. "Ether/Ore" is a flattering portrait of two musicians of relatively like mind. Theirs is a boundary-crossing sensibility.
A musician with busy hands and a sharp eye for performance possibilities, Kaiser pops up in various spots around the area. At Santa Barbara's Center Stage theater on April 17, he performed his Trumpet Duet No. 1 along with trumpeter Garen Hogan at a group concert of composers in SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Musicians in the United States), Los Angeles Chapter.
For a concentrated dose of Kaiser's music, he will be performing various pieces as part of the second annual Day of Music in Santa Barbara on May 25. Kaiser, one of many musical entities playing at venues around town that day, will take the Center Stage Theater by gentle storm, at noon.
On the subject of music composed by musicians calling Ventura home, John Biggs had his choral work "Japanese Fables" brought to concert life last Sunday afternoon by the Santa Barbara Chorale at the First Presbyterian Church. The Biggs piece, commissioned by Cal State Los Angeles for the judo competition of the 1984 Olympics, was a centerpiece of the chorale's spring concert.
Also on the program were pieces by Santa Barbarans Emma Lou Diemer--here represented by three madrigal songs composed three decades ago and still popular--and a brief Mass written by Phyllis Zimmerman, head of the celebrated Santa Barbara High School Madrigal Singers.
Based on a haiku text and made explicit by Biggs' narration, "Japanese Fables" is a highly descriptive suite, with eight short segments illustrating, "Peter and the Wolf" fashion, the narrated proverbs. With his lucid, understated voice, Biggs proved a fine narrator, as he did at the Ventura Master Chorale's "King David" last month.
TAKIN' IT TO CITY HALL:
On Friday, May 17, the Ventura Arts Council's City Hall concert series continues with the second of three concerts, and duly earns its title--"Composers on the Cutting Edge." Bring your own Band-Aids.
Pianist and synthesist Bryan Pezzone and flutist Susan Pezzone will perform pieces by the eminent French serialist Pierre Boulez, by Bryan Pezzone and by Robert Lawson--the music director of the series--along with sonatas by Prokofiev and Haydn for good traditional measure. Bryan will also test the pianistic norm by playing on his Yamaha MIDI-Grand piano, which enables the keyboard to trigger separate electronics.
Aside from the provocative program, the opportunity to hear music in the resonant space of the old City Hall lobby is one to savor. These are concerts in an historic and unusual place. On top of that, the acoustics are music-friendly.
* WHERE AND WHEN
* Jeff Kaiser and Jim Connolly will perform at the Performance Studio, 34 N. Palm St., in a dance-music concert featuring Plexus Dance Theater, on May 11 and 12 at 8 p.m.
* Bryan and Susan Pezzone will perform the music of Boulez, Haydn, Prokofiev, Robert Lawson and Bryan Pezzone at City Hall on May 17, at 8 p.m.; a pre-concert "informance" will take place at 7 p.m.