Ether column, January 2007

Many creative artists thrive on collaboration – the refusal, through seeking out a shifting cast of associates, to allow musical habits and attitudes to ossify. Porgy & Bess showcases no fewer than three such aggregations this month. British composer and musician Fred Frith sets the ball rolling, appearing with the Arte Quartet in a performance of his composition Still/Urban. Best known as a startlingly innovative improvising guitarist, Frith first came to prominence as a founder member of the experimental rock group Henry Cow. The Cow were active between 1968 and 1978, in that time producing several albums of complex, politically engaged music. Later, Frith moved to New York and became associated with a loose network of musicians centred around the saxophonist and composer John Zorn. In more recent years he has turned his hand to music for dance, film and theatre, in between holding down a day job as a professor of music in California. Still/Urban is an intriguing prospect, a piece for four saxophones and electric guitar.

Later in the month, Porgy’s has the privilege of playing host to Sunny Murray, a true original of free jazz. Now in his 70th year, Murray was one of the first percussionists to use the drums as a lead instrument rather than merely as a timekeeping device. After playing with Cecil Taylor’s group in 1962, Murray became part of the Albert Ayler trio, adding his barrage of irregular stickwork to seminal recordings like Spiritual Unity and New York Eye & Ear Control. For this Vienna appearance, Murray is joined by a large Austrian group consisting of reeds, trumpet, violin, piano, bass and saxophone – a lineup, propelled by Murray’s incendiary drumming, that should be loud enough to shake any remaining post-Christmas cobwebs away.

Bringing the spirit of the ad hoc musical grouping decisively into the 21st century, Japanese avantists Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M land in Vienna as part of the annual Jeunesse festival – an admirable initiative that focuses on attracting young people to live concerts, although all ages are welcome. The two collaborated initially in Ground Zero, a fearsomely heavy noise-rock aggregation, before playing formative roles in the development of onkyo – a movement that began in Japan in the late 1990s, privileging small and often quiet musical gestures and making liberal use of electronics and silence. Playing here with drummer Martin Brandlmayer (of Vienna post-rock trio Radian) and trumpeter Axel Dörner, Otomo coaxes all manner of sounds from his guitar and from a turntable with no records on it, while Sachiko M uses laptops and other devices to create music from sine waves. Of such strange gestures are radical and necessary unorthodoxies forged.

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