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Jazz Review : A Night of Instrumental Duels, Duets

October 29, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — The duo performance can be the musical equivalent of one-on-one basketball. Or it can be a team effort, with players relying on complement rather than conflict.

Both roads were taken Thursday at System M as the California Outside Musicians Assn. (COMA) sponsored a program dubbed "Night of Duets" featuring three different pairings of musicians, all of whom have an unbounded sense of their craft.

While the term "duet" might conjure up visions of violin-piano recitals in stuffy drawing rooms, this outing was anything but stuffy. "Outside" was the operative word--there was little in the way of accessible beats or melodies. But each duo provided fascinating examples of interplay and instrumental rivalry, with sounds that ranged from soothing to mind-crushing.

That both approaches--competitive and complementary--had their merits was most apparent in the pairing of guitarists Nels Cline and Ken Ando. Their long, electrically charged set was a sort-of suite built on impressionistic readings of music from the films of Charlotte Rampling.

With photocopied pictures of the actress taped to their amplifiers and Cline wearing a cap emblazoned with the cult star's first name, the "Charlotte Shrine" paid appropriately twisted homage to Rampling's uneven career.

Though even die-hard fans might have had trouble recognizing soundtrack snatches from "The Night Porter" and "Orca," there could be no doubt about Cline and Ando's devotion to the music's intent.

Cline opened by drawing a metal tube across the his electric 12-string, painting frightening walls of sound that Ando hung with pops, clicks and fuzz tones. The two meshed when Ando's whale cries were backed by Cline's chordal heartbeat.

Before long, they were at odds again, slapping their instruments in abusive style while hurling feedback back and forth shouting-match style. Later, Cline used a metal whisk to whip up more sonic bruises.

The team of multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich seemed civilized by comparison. Working unamplified, the two developed theme-and-variation figures, trading lead duties politely, only occasionally wrestling for the spotlight. Vlatkovich opened playing quietly muted behind Golia's meandering flute lines, adding counterpoint to his partner's swirling declarations. Without a break, Golia switched to clarinet and the music began to accelerate. Golia's Philip Glass-inspired figure backed the trombonist's questioning improvisation. Then Vlatkovich began to swing pleasantly as Golia strapped on his baritone sax.

The blend of bone and baritone made for a warm, burnished sound and the two used it for a lyrical exchange. Golia sounded some elephant calls before switching to sopranino, a move that instantly elevated the exchange as he filled their play with long, inquiring lines and short bursts that resembled birdcalls.

*

The evening's opening set found drummer Richie West making sense of Woody Aplanap's scuttling guitar lines.

The most accessible of the evening's duos--due mainly to West's rhythmic discipline--their set explored pieces with such quirky titles "Sidney the Kidney" and "Donald Duck." At one point during "Duck," Aplanap dropped in a single phrase from Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't." Despite the pure improvisational nature of the "Night of Duets," it was the evening's only clear jazz reference.

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