Monday, February 8, 2016

Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series

When technology allows us to do unprecedented things in music it makes us take notice, to listen with renewed energy if everything goes well. That is the case with the three-hour DVD of new music, Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series (pfMENTUM DVD 094).

Essentially it is all about the new possibilities of real-time connectivity that the faster-speed internet of today allows. It was the brainchild of San Diego new jazz composer-instrumentalists Mark Dresser (bass), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Myra Melford (piano) and Michael Dessen (trombone). With the advent of software and ultra-fast internet hook ups they conceived of three live concerts that would combine the core quartet with instrumental artists in three differing locations. The compositions were written by the various participants, rehearsed and then played together in concert while recording simultaneous audio and video with a real-time mix of both locales-ensembles.

So we get the quartet in San Diego with a trio of players in Amherst (Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson and Bob Weiner) in a full concert of originals, a second with the quartet and a Zurich contingent of Matthias Zeigler and Gerry Hemingway, and a third with the San Diego outfit and a larger group in Stony Brook, NY: Sarah Weaver (conductor), Jane Ira Bloom, Ray Anderson, Min Xiao Fen (pipa), Matt Wilson and Doug Van Nort (on laptop electronics).

This complex and elaborate synchrony is at the moment a most rarified product of sophisticated technology that a University environment enables. Doubtless we will not be seeing a simultaneous gig at the Vanguard and Ronnie Scott's, for example, any time soon.

But amazingly we get three full programs of very adventuresome avant compositions opened up by gifted improvisors, with the two-location sounds and images captured fully and excellently on this DVD. If the music and performers were not special, as they certainly are here, it might be less interesting. But that is not the case. The music and performances are beautifully present throughout.

It is a musical tour de force of where composed avant improv can be today, plus a triumph over the constraints of space. Is it as interesting to watch as it is to hear? Perhaps less so, but without seeing the whole thing taking place, you perhaps may not get it like you do in the audio-video zone. And as Dresser and Dessen note in the concluding interview on the disk, the very nature of this new synchronicity perhaps gives us more inspired compositions and performances than we might ordinarily get in an everyday playing situation. There is something supercharged taking place in these concerts, no doubt about it.

Suffice to say that this is a very satisfying confluence of music and performers. It is the first in what perhaps could be a series of ever-more complex integrations of performers separated widely in space but not in time--two large jazz orchestras, say, along with a symphony orchestra and a folk ensemble from some far away corner of the earth, all connected together in some universe-dimensioned musical work? Yes.

For now we get something quite marvelous with Virtual Tour. A big bravo!

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