SperryFest Day 3

Brand/Djll/Perkis/Shiurba/Robair, June 2009

Friday night’s closing of the Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival turned out to be a knockout, with some brilliant improvisations from a quintet and due both featuring Gail Brand.

The evening started with the quintet pictured above: Brand (trombone) on the far left; Tom Djll on trumpet, sort of visible to the naked eye; Tim Perkis (electronics), obscured by mic stands; John Shiurba (guitar); and Gino Robair (drums), who in this picture has become a being of pure energy.

It was a strong set, bristling with energy from the get-go. The first piece, of medium length, was a nicely rolling crackle of sound, winding up to a satisfying ending. The second piece was even faster and louder, a bustling group piece that ended quickly when everybody stopped on a dime. It took them a second to realize it, too; the band got a good laugh out of it.

The third and longest piece was the most varied, featuring some of the slower, textured passages that can make an improv session stand out. This one nearly ended quickly, too, but Brand held one insistent note long after the others had wound down to a halt. Robair eventually took the suggestion and started up a light percussion patter, and the piece re-ignited for a strong second half.

I’ve found there is a game element to live improvised music, namely: When do you stop? Each piece winds through its course and approaches many possible ending points, but whether the “right” one gets taken depends on whether the players are hearing the same thing you are. This particular quintet seemed to really be “on,” in that respect.

But it’s not just the ending that counts. The interplay, the mood, the overall flow — all these elements came together nicely. The session was recorded (hence the multiple microphones in that picture), so hopefully the world will get to hear it eventually.

The Hillside Club, BerkeleyThe Hillside Club, by the way, turns out to be a wonderful place for music. It’s a social club north of the U.C. Berkeley campus, housed in an old wooden building (this picture was taken long before the show started, by the way; the audience wasn’t this absent). Robair noted that the acoustics of the room are solid, and it’s a rare thing for such a comfortable, good-sounding venue to be willing to host such experimental music. They host music every week — normally chamber music or mainstream jazz — so I’ll have to come by again sometime soon.

Source:EmanemDisc.comBack to Friday’s show: It concluded with the duo of Brand on trombone and Morgan Guberman on vocals. They’ve recorded one CD, on Emanem, and have a second one in the can, apparently.

They’re a great musical team and a good slapstick duo as well. Guberman puts forth a combination of singing (with good operatic tones), strange noises, and crazy-old-guy shtick, often making up syllables but sometimes reverting to normal language for a spell. He’s often spastic and loud, and was never in danger of getting out-shouted by the trombone.

Duo improvisation can work well when the players are in opposition (one playing fast, the other slow) but these pieces really shone when Brand and Guberman worked in concert — both quieting down, or both going on the attack. Guberman also brought an enormous drum head that he shook like a kite for some great, low tones. (No pictures; the camera ran out of battery.)

Their set ended with Guberman sticking his shaved head into the trombone’s bell as a mute, in a silly and almost sensual intertwining.

This show was attended by Matthew Sperry’s wife and daughter, and several of her daughter’s friends and parents, although they all stayed in a back room, for the most part. Understandably so — the kids are old enough to know when they’re not having fun! Hopefully they come away from these concerts with some appreciation of the music, some fragment of it that will lock away in their minds and click into awareness years later.