April 2, 2017
More Musical Non-Idiomatic Improvisation in Knoxville
As part of the the Big Ears Music Festival, on Sunday, March 26, 2017, Jace Clayton performed at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. The performance was titled “The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner” and seemed to be a version of the album, “The Julius Eastman Memory Depot”.
For those (like us) unfamiliar with the subject, Wikipedia, the Oracle of All Contemporary Knowledge, claims, “Julius Eastman (October 27, 1940 - May 28, 1990) was an African-American composer, pianist, vocalist, and dancer of minimalist tendencies. He was among the first musicians to combine minimalist processes with elements of pop music. He often gave his pieces titles with provocative political intent, such as Evil Nigger and Gay Guerrilla.”
Wikipedia, proved no less knowledgeable on the composer.
Jace Clayton is the secret identity of DJ /rupture, “a New York-based American DJ, writer and interdisciplinary artist. In addition to his music, Clayton has established a blog identity with musical and non-musical posts on his website, “mudd up!”. His book, Uprooot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture, was published in 2016.”
The piece performed at Big Ears featured Jace Clayton positioned center stage between two grand pianos, situated so that the backs of the pianists were to the audience. On the audience's right (Clayton's left), Mr. David Friend played piano and on the audience's right Ms. Emily Manzo played the other piano. Each pianist had a score laid out in front of them. A roughly twenty minute piece was titled, if the ordering of the live performance follows that on the album, Evil Nigger. A complementary piano duet dominated and was joined by subtle electronics and processing from Clayton on laptop and devices. At the end of this piece, Ms. Arooj Aftab took the stage and a roughly five minute farcical phone job interview ensued between her and Jace Clayton. This interaction several times drew laughter from the audience, who had otherwise remained silent during the performance. A nearly half hour piece, titled Gay Guerrilla, followed. At the end of this piece a second conversation between Aftab and Clayton took place, which provided a lovely and surprising (we are spoiler-free in this review) conclusion.
Of the music itself, it appeared to the eye and ear to be largely composed. As staunch advocates of improvisation at the Poison Pie Publishing House, we nevertheless found much to enjoy in the music. The music was dense and featured regular rhythmic structure. Time passed rapidly in its presence. The improvisation appeared in the manipulation of the electronics (or so it seemed) as well as brief periods when each pianist took a turn sticking their hands into the guts of the piano and directly scraping and clawing the strings.
Book sales have been lean this year at the Poison Pie Publishing House, so the staff were limited to purchasing one single day pass each. Although there were many promising shows, we purchased a Sunday pass (for the price of $50.00 plus $15.00 (30%) in various, ambiguous service fees), because we wanted to see Henry Threadgill. Jace Clayton happened to be located in the same venue on the same day, so we arrived three hours earlier and saw two shows. In between we sat for almost two hours on the sidewalk outside the Bijou Theatre and read Journey Beyond Samarkand by the inimitable Yasushi Inoue. A more pleasant day of music and literature was not to be found. Although we had no expectation for the music of Jace Clayton, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were reminded that there were likely many musicians performing at the festival, unknown to us, whose music we would have also enjoyed. We were filled with a momentary zeal to sell more books in order to fund full passes for next year's festival, but it was only a passing impulse, which, by the time of this writing, had long since dissipated.