Assessment: Fusion chamber ensemble blends genres in riveting Emory live performance

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Avant-garde chamber ensemble Fusion convened on the Emory Performing Arts Studio Sunday for its signature combination of jazz and classical alternatives, chosen across the theme of summer time. It was a day of gorgeous virtuosity and genre-defying sonic landscapes, blemished solely by the truth that hardly anybody was there to see it: a paltry dozen attendees for what must be one of many most celebrated ensembles in Atlanta music.

The afternoon opened with the jazz half of Fusion (aka the Gerald Freeman Jazz Ensemble) taking part in a spirited rendition of the Vincent Youmans staple “Tea For Two.” Trumpeter Anthony G. Bailey was fast to emerge because the ensemble’s most commanding soloist, with a tone that was easy and sleek whereas nonetheless carrying sufficient wind to help an ongoing sequence of technically demanding phrases.

Concurrent to Bailey’s aggressively chill trumpet was pianist Gerald Freeman, whose prodigious chops took him past the realm of the piano and onto a MalletKAT digital vibraphone. The inclusion of the instrument gave the jazz items a mid-Sixties West Coast ambiance — the type championed by Henry Mancini, Martin Denny and numerous ultra-lounge pioneers. The seamless mid-song instrument switches can be spectacular sufficient, however Freeman brings an infectious sense of groove to his mallet work that performs properly off the drum set and signifies a degree of versatility that always eludes much less adept multi-instrumentalists.

Rounding out the jazz quartet had been percussionist Paul Vogler and upright bassist Steve Brown, each turning of their normal high-caliber performances. For its half, the jazz side of Fusion was a well-oiled machine, kicking out one stellar rendition after one other. Different standout alternatives included Marcos Valle’s “Summer time Samba” and a nod to Scott Joplin with “Maple Leaf Rag.”

The format for a Fusion efficiency usually sees the opposing halves start with conventional works of their given genres earlier than steadily merging right into a single unit for extra experimental items. This time, Fusion’s classical finish — the Aida Chamber Ensemble — stepped ahead with avant-garde works from the very outset with a set that included Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2 from American 4 Seasons. 

Glass is at all times a polarizing selection, as his work is probably aggravating for individuals who haven’t acquired a style for his hypnotically repetitive type. Glass’ second violin concerto comprises all of the hallmarks of his work: brooding ostinato bass strains, an internet of biking arpeggios and obscure assertions of melody that appear to be consciously clipped quick at deliberately galling moments. Within the arms of the Aida gamers, such brash musical assertions really feel well-balanced, with the gamers selecting to emphasise the wealthy, dulcet decrease register the place the actual meat of Glass’ compositional type is to be discovered.

The Aida ensemble ventured into extra acquainted territory with a string association of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Lowering the piece to the instrumental confines of a string ensemble served to emphasise the music’s dense harmonic construction, giving the piece an total sense of low-hanging thickness, one which served to enhance the sweltering warmth of the live performance corridor.

The classical facet’s most fascinating contribution got here within the type of “Sankofa,” a largely improvisatory piece for solo violin composed and carried out by Tramaine Jones. The time period “sankofa” refers to a logo utilized by the Akan individuals of Ghana that represents gaining knowledge from the data of historical past. To that finish, Jones employs a sequence of digital results pedals usually related to the electrical guitar to create looping violin phrases upon which to improvise. 

The impact carries with it the hypnotic high quality just like the sooner Philip Glass composition however with an digital ingredient harking back to the soundscapes of Robert Fripp. From an improvisation standpoint, this allowed Jones to develop some really putting strains that started with a way of classical atmosphere earlier than throwing in jarring jabs of blues and jazz, as if combining the city with the bucolic.

The final word “fusion” of the afternoon ultimately noticed each halves merging for a sequence of experimental works, probably the most notable of which was an association of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer time” from The 4 Seasons, this time starting within the conventional classical format earlier than erupting right into a full-fledged jazz rendition, with all members of each halves of the orchestra clearly having fun with themselves. The idea of adapting The 4 Seasons to jazz isn’t new — famed clarinetist Eddie Daniels has been there earlier than — however the Fusion group actually performed it with a vigor and enthusiasm all their very own.

The brainchild of pianists Karin R. Banks and Gerald Freeman, Fusion has been mixing genres for over a decade, discovering frequent and fertile floor within the integration of kinds typically deemed mutually unique by musical purists. It’s really a disgrace that in that point they haven’t attained a extra dedicated following. Different Atlanta chamber ensembles usually play to a recurring throng of devotees and it’s excessive time Fusion joined their ranks.


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