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October 8, 2009

Mobtown Modern takes the low (note) road

Mobtown Modern, the edgy-friendly new music gang that has settled into Baltimore's funky Metro Gallery this season, offered an interesting program Wednesday night built on low-register woodwind instruments.

The concert (accompanied by Guy Werner's video work) centered around Mobtown co-curator Brian Sacawa, a first-rate sax man with a very open ear who dressed for the occasion in a "Mad Men"-worthy three-piece suit -- the most unlikely image at a Mobtown event.

Sacawa (he soon dropped the jacket) tackled some tough stuff, starting on baritone saxophone with David Lang's kinetic "Press Release." Much of the work is driven along by low-note patterns that set up a kind of urban beat, punctuated by occasional high-pitched bursts; at one point, short bass notes alternate with long-held treble ones to create an intriguing dialog. Sacawa delivered it all with flair, including the final yelping flourish.

Gerard Grisey's "Anubis et Nout" is a study in sonic exploration and structural diffuseness. In the first movement, Sacawa summoned a wealth of honks, eerie vibrations and squeals from a bass sax (and added occasional human cries as required); the moody second movement, which employs the tricky technique of playing two notes simultaneously, proved most effective.

Sacawa yielded the stage to

Mobtown regular Jennifer Everhart, who performed three jazzy-cool excerpts from Michael Lowenstern's "Ten Children" on bass clarinet, with loops of Lowenstern's own playing providing counterpoint. Everhart demonstrated a combination of bravura and expressive nuance.

The program-closer was a seamless progression through Giacinto Scelsi's "Maknongan," with Sacawa on baritone sax; an instant, vivid remix of it by Mobtown co-curator Erik Spangler; and Lee Hyla's "We Speak Etruscan." The latter proved to be a great showcase for Sacawa and Everhart, who meshed tightly through intricately syncopated flurries of spicy dissonances and a feast of thunderously low, low notes.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:25 AM | | Comments (3)


Mr. Smith,

Mobtown Modern is a marginal act on Baltimore's rich cultural scene. Is there really a reason to get them every week into your blog, apart from sharing a pint or two with these guys?

Gee, might you represent another musical entity, by any chance? For the record, I've never had a pint in my life, let alone with these guys. (I hate beer. I'm more inclined to a G&T, if you must know, but I haven't shared one of those with them, either.) I like their concerts, that's all. And I like what they're trying to do here. I've noticed that other media, including from DC, have paid them more attention than you would expect for such a "marginal" thing; maybe I'm not so suspect after all. But, please, feel free to tell me where I really should have been Wednesday night, and where I should be next time there's a Mobtown event. TS

I don't think the Mobtown Modern players are marginal in the least and I've never shared a beverage with them myself (I'm a Diet Mt. Dew kind of guy). Check out their chops from this show or last month's spectacular show:

Geez, I don't know what Herr Green's been smokin', but it obviously isn't Dr. Feelgood.

Really, I just can't personally understand such vitriol for an ensemble which focuses on having genuine fun (GASP!) with music that is, mind you, often waaaay beyond the means of any player you could honestly call "marginal."

Tim can't give them (and ensembles with similar verve and skill) _enough_ press, in my opinion.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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