Atlanta, GA • July 16-18, 1998

(Re)Soundings was a three day festival of improvisation featuring the best of American and European improvising artists, as a collaboration between the National Black Arts Festival and the Goethe Institute, organized by Brad Kendrick and Dwight Andrews. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear world class improvisers in the South, and apparently I wasn’t the only person who thought so. Every performance was standing room only.

The artists at (Re)Soundings are leading innovators in free jazz or improvisation movements, with biographies including the AACM (Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) and BAG (Black Artists Group), as well as European new music movements. Players included Wadada Leo Smith, Fred Anderson, and Roscoe Mitchell (former Art Ensemble of Chicago members), Andrew Cyrille (drummer with McCoy Tyner), Reggie Workman (bassist for John Coltrane), Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Oliver Lake, Chicago reed virtuoso Ken Vandermark, and significant “others.” The music ranged from interactive computer generated music to spoken word to world music to blistering improvisation and cerebral composition.

Highlights included a Friday evening session with pianist Alex von Schlippenbach (piano), Evan Parker, Paul Lytton (drums), and Reggie Workman. Schlippenbach was the only pianist on the festival, and it was a joy to see him work out complex lines of improvisation in a style comparable only to Cecil Taylor. Paul Lytton spread small cymbals on his drumheads, incorporating them completely into his drum kit. Reggie Workman manhandled his double bass, and Evan Parker blew the saxophone in the “European approach,” with rapid articulations and expanded range. It was dense, energy music, pushing the audience’s ears into the red zone.

George Lewis’ Voyager Project featured George, Evan Parker, and Roscoe Mitchell improvising with/against interactive computer-generated music. Despite the high-tech wizardry, it was more impressive when they played as a trio only, sans technology. Peter Brötzmann, Fred Hopkins, and Hamid Drake gave a cathartic performance on Friday evening. Brötzmann is a quiet-spoken man off stage, but when he performs, there is an intensity and angst that is almost frightening. He seems to struggle on stage, seemingly exorcising a demon from himself. An unexpected improvisation led to Fred Hopkins (bass) and Hamid Drake grooving on a Latin baion pattern, with Brötzmann wailing and writhing on top.

Perhaps the most memorable set of (Re)Soundings was the German trio of Konrad Bauer (trombone), Peter Kowald (bass), and Günter “Baby” Sommer (drums). The communication between these players was extremely intuitive, and near telepathic. Each player took a lengthy solo that remains ingrained in my mind as the essence of improvisation; that is, genuine, eloquent, passionate, sometimes humorous, and wholly inspirational.

David Manson is director of the emit series of experimental music at the Salvador Dali Museum at http://eande.com/emit/

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