Lee Elderton and Moongriffin/Bernstein @ Revival Drum Shop 12/18/2013
I showed up about thirty minutes early at Revival Drum Shop on Northeast Prescott and 15th to see Lee Elderton, Bernstein Duo and Moongriffin, a show I’d read about on Experimental Portland. After talking briefly with the organizers (who were nice people), I ducked into a bar and read a little bit. When I wandered back in at 8, I ended up waiting 20 minutes more for the show to start. It was worth it though.
The first act was Lee Elderton, a soprano sax player who drew on the free jazz tradition. I like some free jazz music, so I was excited for his set. This guy was really interesting. If I could characterize his performance, I’d say that he was always on the brink of violence without quite getting there. In the course of his improvisations off the themes he had chosen, he used harsh overblowing frequently through his set, but there were also many points at which he purposefully blew weakly, almost like he was whimpering or whistling through his instrument. Furthermore, he always seemed to be holding himself back slightly. His smooth timbre would abruptly transition into a highly emotional, aggressive attack, then just as abruptly become very subdued. I could tell that he knew this game pretty well. The (albeit controlled) emotionalism and violence made it difficult at times for me to keep track of his themes and melodies, but I remember I really enjoyed the second piece he played, which he said was written by his friend Nathan Hubbard. The wistful theme sounded like a question urgently desiring to be answered– it escalated to the level of a fevered tirade over the next 10 minutes. He began his set with a Monk theme, followed it up with 2 pieces by Hubbard, then finished it with some riffs off an Ornette Coleman piece.
The second act, Moongriffin and Berstein, made a kind of jazzy, heady electronic music that I found myself really getting into. Elliot Ross, under his moniker Moongriffin, manipulated programmed beats, loops, and notes and chords from his electric guitar while Noah Bernstein played alto sax into a mic hooked up into an array of effects pedals. The music started to get pretty dizzying and noisy after just a few minutes in but what I noticed right off the bat was the way that they were absolutely drowning the sax in delay, then looping it and letting it drift in and out of the mix to create a very alien effect. The effects pedals that Bernstein manipulated could make the sax almost sound like a high, wailing synthesizer. Running through Ross’s mixing board, a note from that sonic attack would spiral off, replicate, intensify. I thought it was pretty brilliant. They didn’t seem to be going through a setlist, they were just building up power in one massive mix that sounded like it was influenced by Jamaican dub music, or maybe even early dub techno like The Orb. It didn’t really seem like dance music though– the beats drifted in and out of the mix and could give way to an avalanche of decaying looped noise. You could absolutely say that it was headphone music though– maybe I’d call it free jazz-influenced dub music from outer space. I ducked out a few minutes early to hop on a bus, but I was intrigued by this act.
It was a good night out, and this show piqued my interest in Portland’s (perhaps hidden?) free jazz scene. I’ll be popping into Revival Drum Shop soon again I’m sure.
Photo courtesy of the Creative Music Guild