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Music Review

Earjam Festival Brings Fringe Into the Foreground


For its third annual edition, the new-music fest Earjam moved from its tight, air-challenged quarters downtown to the relatively wide-open spaces of the Furious Theater, in Pasadena's Armory Northwest. Aside from improved creature comforts, the venue's sweep served as an operative metaphor and apt container for music generally open in form, content and idiom.

With Earjam, organizers Julie Adler and Jacki Apple have fashioned an eclectic sonic cavalcade. Friday and Saturday programs spotlighted more than 30 area musicians in the jazz, contemporary music and experimental realms, many connected with CalArts. The festival's real value is the connective tissue it provides to the region's cultural fringe-dwellers. It brings the underground into the light.

Much of Friday's program relied on the power and intimacy of duos. Anna Homler offered her playfully cryptic songs in "invented language," abetted by toy instruments and against the elegant foil of Michael Intriere's cello playing. Formidable trombonist Bruce Fowler and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck began their improv in remote corners of the reverberant space, moving slowly closer, in physical and musical proximity.

In his way, David Rosenboom enacted a self-contained duo performance, playing violin and processing it through his laptop, so that real time and processed time were twin protagonists. Violinist Jeff Gauthier's quasi-classical melodic shards contrasted nicely with partner G.E. Stinson's lovely electric-guitar din, textural to the core. Non-western sonorities graced the interplay of Susan Rawcliffe, on self-made wind instruments and didgeridoo, with ever-flexible percussionist Brad Dutz.

In non-duo news, multi-reedist Vinny Golia worked up a gusting solo world of sound on the rare, contrabass saxophone-like tubax, and organist Wayne Peet led an electric quartet recalling Miles Davis of the 1970s "Get Up With It" period.

Despite the evening's improvisational orientation, the show-stealer was anything but extemporaneous. Jacqueline Humbert, who recently dazzled locally with Robert Ashley's opera "Foreign Experiences," unveiled her unique singspiel style against elaborate taped accompaniment.

Humbert rendered crisp readings of idiosyncratic neo-art song--Sam Ashley's dreamily tropical "Mosquito Love" and Rosenboom's hypnotic "Attunement," with expansive chord shifts, a philosophical text, and Humbert's dry, surreal dramatics effectively seizing the room's ambient sprawl.

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