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The recent three-day consecutive telematic virtual tour performed at UCSD with a quartet comprised of Mark Dresser's bass, Nicole Mitchell's flutes, Michael Dessen's trombone and Myra Melford's piano interacting in real time with musicians from Amherst MA, Zurich Switzerland, and Stony Brook New York offered a fascinating glimpse into this world of cutting-edge technology married to forward-thinking music.

Day 1. Amherst

Opening with Dresser's "Mr. Not so TC," the bassist began alone, strumming double-stops and eking eerie overtones as Marty Ehrlich's clarinet wafted in from the East Coast. Soon the whole band lit up, with a kinetic duet between Jason Robinson's tenor and Dessen's 'bone causing a ruckus. Gears shifted radically in the second section where Dessen got a brief feature that conveyed a sense of yearning as Mitchell wove deft counterpoint and the Amherst horns answered with their own distinct unisons. Robinson tore into a late 'Trane flurry driven into a different dimension by Dresser's windmill attacks. All four horns began weaving lines around each other until Mitchell's resonant vibrato surfaced over Dresser's arco, Bob Weiner's drums and Melford's orchestral chords.

Robinson led off Dessen's "for instance today," with shuddering multiphonics as bass and trombone countered with discordant harmonies that shifted dramatically into an almost lullaby theme. Humming into her flute, Mitchell activated the spiritual as a raw, 2-note ostinato developed into a groove and everyone settled into a dizzying display of group cacophony.

Mitchell's "God's Bits of Wood," featured multiple improvising over the jagged pulse of Dresser and Weiner, leading to a short duet between Ehrlich and the composer. The piece grew more jittery and violent as Robinson's screaming tenor upped the ante, leading to a fabulous Melford feature of two fisted cluster pounding.

Mitchell led off Robinson's "noema," with short, bluesy ideas that pierced the stillness. Weiner got into a funk/rock beat as Robinson delivered the Threadgill-ish theme while the horns wrapped around the omnipresent pulse of Dresser.

Day 2. Zurich

Telematic transmission cannot exceed the speed of light, so with 12,000 kilometers of distance between the two sites, you would have thought that the delay would have been more of an issue. Somehow, these folks have been able to compose music that embraces the latency, because this performance really flowed.

Drummer Gerry Hemingway's piece involved film, narration and eight distinct sections. There were mesmerizing flute duos between Mitchell and Mathias Ziegler and classical sounding slabs of long, pastoral harmonies.

Mitchell's "Between Walls," began in Zurich with Ziegler's arsenal of flutes and Hemingway's steel drums, leading to a Dresser/Dessen duet of lurching rhythms and warbled glissandi. Melford's piano solo seamlessly traversed the divide between the deeply lyrical and the explosively kinetic. Somehow, Hemingway's ride cymbal and Dresser's walking synched up for a glorious section dominated by the composer's hissing, moaning and soaring flute.

Dresser's "Sub Tele-Toning," explored the extremes of the instrumental registers with Ziegler's huge contrabass flute laying down long tones with arco bass rubbing against the skitterish drums. Dessen brayed and Mitchell hovered while the composer delivered an amazing solo with a bow strung through and under his strings to activate multiple, orchestral harmonies. A sudden shift into a pensive chamber setting saw Dessen and Ziegler weaving around each other and a very processional sounding Melford interlude.

Ziegler's "Buffered Fragments," featured the composer conjuring otherworldly effects from his contrabass flute with Mitchell's discourse comprised of wildly bent tones from her conventionally sized instrument. There were sections of profound stillness, and opportunities to hear each instrument in detail.

Day 3. Stony Brook.

This concert began with a very long piece by composer Sarah Weaver, who also conducted. Spacey drones from laptop musician Doug Van Nort led off, yielding to Mitchell's postulation of circular breathing and Min Xiao-Fen's hilariously "out" pipa (played with a botttle-neck slide, no less). This piece was all about the colors, for me, as each section seemed to stalk the air like cat-burglars sneaking through a police station. There were great moments from trombonist Ray Anderson who's sputtering solo lifted the participants into a din of caterwaul-- and Jane Ira Bloom, who drew Mitchell into a sublime duo of trills and bent tones.

After a thrilling and completely different version of "for instance, today," Mitchell's "Telepathology," came next. Rocking forward on the remarkable propulsion of Matt Wilson's drums, this piece featured Melford's wickedly inventive and lyrical piano and stellar contributions from Bloom and the composer.

Closing with "Sub Tele-Toning," duets abounded with cogent blending from Xiao-Fen's voice and Melford's ecstatic piano; Anderson's trombone with Mitchell's flute and the composer's threaded bow with Dessen's horn.

This stuff will be reverberating in my brain for a long time.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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