Here's a take on what happened at New Revolution Arts* in Brooklyn last weekend, where Boston's Leap of Faith and NYC's Steve Swell brought their unique sounds to an intimate and appreciative audience.
Leap of Faith does not travel light, and if you have a chance to see them perform, you are in for an multi-sensory experience. From the incredibly detailed discography and many CD's available at the well stocked merch table to the rich visual spectacle of instruments festooning the playing area, this is a group that comes prepared.
The show begins with the start of a timer - a large digital clock that counts up for the next 40 minutes, indicating the length of each of the three sets of the evening. The concert then follows this pattern: a guest artist opens, then Leap of Faith plays, and finally, the two groups combined play. It is within all of this set-up and structure that the planning gives way to the pure improvised music (and some unusual sounds) that pours forth.
On this night, trombonist Steve Swell opened with two reflective solo pieces. Abstract and quiet at first, both improvisations unfolded to the ticking of an internal metronome. Towards the end of the first piece, Swell locked into a pattern that the audience responded to with satisfied and knowing smiles.
Next up, the Leap of Faith quartet worked thorough a constant flow of ideas, a spectrum of sound that toyed with consonance and dissonance. Comprised of woodwind players David Peck (PEK) and Steve Norton, cellist Glynnis Lomon, and percussionist Yuri Zbitnov, the group acted as a unit, creating a unique sonic world of textures and combinations of timbers and sonorities. The two woodwinds, sometimes butting up against each other, other times in complete agreement, kept things flowing, while the cello was often a focal point. One particularly effective passage occurred when both Norton and Peck reached for their Eb contra-alto clarinets and created a lush sonic bed for Lomon's dissonant double stops. The set was one long improvisation, with a series of climaxes, and ultimately an extended percussion solo passage brought the whole event to fulmination.
The evening's final set, with Swell joining the group, took on its own character, and though the trombonist was very much an ensemble player, his impact was palpable. The joint set didn't quite reach the volume or density of the previous one, rather, the group stayed in a more melodic mode and broke out some tiny instruments - recorders and wood flutes - towards the end.
To me, the show was a visual event as much as an aural experience. The improvisation goes beyond what notes and rhythms they play, and to what to will they make them with. PEK and Norton are constantly changing instruments, and both percussive and vocal 'events' seem to bubble up throughout. Anticipating and watching what comes next is an event itself from which you can hardly avert your gaze.
This was a show that was as perplexing and challenging as I hoped it would be. I must admit I found the vocalizations, which seem to spontaneously occur and signal a shift in the groups energy, to be a bit hair-raising, but that goes part and parcel with the memorable sights of PEK playing exotic horns or blowing into three slide whistles simultaneous; or Zbitnov playing cymbals strung up on rope.
If you're looking for sonic adventure, if you're looking for something you didn't know you needed, and if you think you're ready, then yeah, take the leap of faith. This genuinely nice group of musicians transform into something completely otherworldly as they start digging into the dozens of instruments that festoon the stage.
Leap of Faith's Bandcamp page is well stocked. Within three days of the concert, the event was packaged up and ready for download. From this show, 'disc 1' one is called Factorization (LoF w/Steve Swell and Swell solo) and the second is Reimann Surfaces (featuring Leap of Faith's set).
*New Revolution Arts' next show is September 12th, Brandon Lopez solo at 8 pm. Tom Blancarte's Gauntlet with Peter Evans, Louise DE Jensen, and Dan Peck at 9 pm.