Mobtown Modern delivers one more jolt for the season
The ambitious program Mobtown Modern tackled Wednesday night at the Contemporary Museum reaffirmed what its hearty band of fans already know -- these guys have nerve, imagination and talent.
Focusing on composers known for going way out on a limb, the ensemble opened with a mostly tight account of Octandre, a pithy, kinetic, thorny piece by Varese for winds, brass and bass, led by Mobtown co-founder Brian Sacawa. I think it would have been fun to repeat it, since such music just doesn't come around often here, and the program wasn't long anyway. The other group piece was a Zappa medley (Zappastrata), newly arranged with considerable flair by Vince Norman, who has given the brass particularly colorful riffs. The playing was hot.
Sacawa and Mobtown's other guiding light, Erik Spangler, offered their imaginative, infectiously pulsating arrangement of the Leo movement from Stockhausen's Tierkreis (Zodiac). Lucier's Music for Solo Performer, a groundbreaking work that derives its music from the transmission of brain waves to percussion instruments, still seems way out there after more than 40 years. Sam Burt sat still at a chair, his head wired to a computer/speakers set-up, as his private thought patterns triggered subtle vibrations on drums, a metal sheet and other objects. Cool. (I've posted below a video of another, slightly noisier performance of the piece.)
The main highlight for me, though, was a seductive account of jazz great Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet arrangement of "God Bless the Child" (I assume this was primarily a transcription of all or part of an actual Dolphy performance). The familiar tune was played straight at the start, smoothly backed by electric bassist Matthew Everhart, before clarinetist Jennifer Everhart launched on her own into the body of the work with an exceptionally mellow tone, admirable technical elan and deeply expressive phrasing that made each melodic extension and elaboration speak.
In its creative, cheeky Mobtown Modern has made its mark in short order on the local new music scene. I'm looking forward to next season already.