Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honking and blasting

A while back I went to a jazz concert at Philharmony. That’s the big classical music venue here, and so far it’s been a safe bet that whatever happens there will be more than worthwhile. Reviewing their program, Alla noticed a jazz concert featuring a guy named Mats Gustafsson from Sweden. The picture on the poster showed him with a saxophone, so she figured “what the heck” and bought me a nice ticket just before leaving town.

A few evenings before the jazz concert I went to Philharmony to hear a couple of Tchaikovsky programs, one of which included Rachmaninoff’s first piano concerto. Both of these classical programs were really great, my seats were superb, and the tickets cost something like eight dollars.

For the Swede, of course, the tickets were priced higher. I’m sure his cost of living is much higher than the Belarusian musicians I generally hear at Philharmony. I had a middle-priced seat at the front of the first balcony for $20, and found myself beside an outgoing woman willing to talk slowly enough that we could converse. Like me, she had no idea what Mats Gustaffson would sound like, but she was curious and there we were.

Presently, the introducer came out and told us about what we would be hearing. I couldn’t follow him very well, but did understand the phrase “free jazz.” This worried me. And it turns out I was right.

Mats came out alone and stood before the microphone. He rocked back and forth soundlessly, demonstrating intense focus as he prepared to play. He clicked up and down on the keys and holes of his saxophone, which the microphone picked up. I think the mic was turned up pretty loud because we could also hear him breathing and sucking on the mouthpiece. Finally he took a huge breath as he rocked back, and he swung forward blasting a huge barking sound of no particular pitch. Thus began the concert. Here’s a sample of his music.

A couple of people downstairs left after about a minute, but I lasted for the entire first piece. I’m not really sure what would define this as a piece, since for me it had no structure at all, but I left as soon as the guy stopped playing. I really expected the hall to drain at this moment, but I was the only refugee.

The usher tried to talk me into staying; assuring me that it would get better. I asked her if she were familiar with his music. No, she was not. I asked her if she had heard what he just played. Not really. We chatted a bit and I returned to a sunny evening too nice to waste on Mats.

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