The Full Blown Citta di Vitti

Phillip Greenlief, enchanted by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, wrote about 40 melodic fragments inspired by the films. This was in 2006, as he explains here, and the end result was an imaginary soundtrack to the movies. (Click that link for some samples.)

He’s been performing the pieces with a trio. But their recent show at The Uptown expanded the band into a septet, putting some big-band punch into the music. With Antonioni’s L’eclisse running silently in the background, they played songs that matched with individual scenes.

I forgot my camera and had to settle for what my cellphone could do. That’s Greenlief in the foreground left. The four added members of the band are on the right-hand side of the stage, out of frame.

L’eclisse was a good choice, because the stock market figures heavily in the plot. Greenlief wrote bustling, busy jazz for that setting, appropriately New York-ish, with some strong swinging from the three additional horns and John Schott on guitar.

The trio pieces are good, too — Greenlief’s sax fills the space nicely, as he’s proven in so many other contexts. But it was fun to hear the music fully fleshed out.

The tunes aren’t scripted to match the film exactly. Each song began at a scene marker on the DVD and ended when it ended, so we skipped ahead through the film from beginning to end. Greenlief announced some of the plot details as we moved forward — we missed most of the effect of the movie but at least had an idea what was going on.

The ending was interesting. (And yes — SPOILER alert — I’m about to give away the ending. Kind of.) One of the things that had impressed me about the film to this point was the placement and framing of the actors. It was especially deliberate during the first scenes, with two characters in an apartment and lots of long silences. The end, though, shows us a images of stark emptiness. Most of the settings are unpeopled, and if someone is in the shot, they’re shown in unsettling close-ups or fragments. The music was likewise stark and lingering, full of ringing dissonances. Afterwards, Greenlief told me the ending was stepping through settings from earlier in the movie, showing you what they’re like with the characters removed. You’re forced to accept the place as an entity of its own, a single imposing character dominating the frame. What’s it all mean? Well, it’s very Film 101 of me, but I made the mental leap to nuclear war (which had been hinted at, in a newspaper headline late in the film), maybe showing how impotent the human world is without humans there to power it. I’m going to have to watch the whole film now and find out.

Uptown

Aram Shelton, in quartet @ The Uptown

Last week, I finally made it to one of The Uptown‘s avant-garde Tuesdays. Took long enough. For several months now, the club — normally a rock venue, and one with a nicely renovated bar at that — has handed the keys over to the improv crowd for an evening of no-cover music.

It’s great when clubs do that. The Uptown is particularly well suited for it, because the regulars who do trickle in on these otherwise slow nights don’t have to watch the music. There’s a long wall separating the stage and performace space from the bar. The sound goes around the wall easily, so the bar patrons and the musicians are probably distracting each other the whole time — but as bar gigs go, it’s not bad at all.

(Flashback: This space used to be called the Black Box, and the bar half was an art gallery. Moe! Staiano’s Moe!kestra did a gig here where two orchestras were set up in each half, with Moe! sprinting back and forth to conduct each group. I wasn’t there, but the results were recorded for the album, 2 Rooms Of Uranium In 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations Vol. II.)

I hope they keep this up. Don’t know what the bill is for September yet. (These shows tend to get posted to the Uptown’s calendar only a week or two ahead of time).

Anyway, a summary of what I managed to see:

Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey — A sax/drums duet from NYC who had crossed this way a few months ago on tour. This time, they were on vacation and just taking the opportunity for a quick gig. They did two mid-sized improvisations, probably 10 minutes each, showing off a good rapport and a nice variety of styles. I’m familiar with Rainey through his work with… well, everybody, especially Tim Berne, so it was great to get a chance to chat with him for a minute or two.

From left: Perkis, Greenlief, StinsonTim Perkis, Phillip Greenlief, G.E. Stinson — An interesting middle piece with the lights down, and abstract video projected onto a screen. After a while, you could tell the video consisted mostly of outdoor shots of streets and lonely buildings, distorted beyond recognition. The music shifted from ominous droning sounds to occasional slashes of noise, particularly from Stinson (guitar). Greenlief’s sax often stuck to subtle tones and bleats, blending into the mix of electronics (Perkis) and guitar effects.

Aram Shelton Quartet (pictured up top) — Back to more acoustic-minded improvising, although the quartet included Perkis for some more electronics fun. The quartet, rounded out by Damon Smith (bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums), played a few good improvisations. Nice stuff, and a good contrast to Shelton’s jazzier work with Dragons 1976 and the Ton Trio (as noted here).