This afternoon I checked in at the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel for about three hours to sample some of the performances being given in conjunction with the fundraising event organized by cellist Rebecca Roudman and Katherine Looper, Executive Director of Reality House West, which owns the hotel, and manager of the Concerts at the Cadillac series. While my primary interest was on the classical side, there were several other impressive performances worthy of attention. However, one of my major reasons for attending was because I was long overdue in listening to Roudman perform, rather than just writing announcements about her forthcoming gigs at the Cadillac performing jazz, blues, and classical.
Her classical slot was definitely am impressive one. It consisted of only a single composition, but that selection was a major undertaking. With Noel Benkman accompanying her on piano she performed Astor Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango,” which he composed in 1982 and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1990. While much of the music that Piazzolla wrote for club performances by his own combos could fairly be described as “chamber music by other means,” “Le Grand Tango” is definitely chamber music without any limiting qualifications. Piazzolla’s jazzy rhetoric is unmistakable, but this piece is fully scored as a series of three episodes, played without interruption but very much in the framework of a three-movement sonatina.
Today’s performance was definitely a satisfying one. Both cello and piano each have their technical complexities to negotiate, but Roudman and Benkman played as a duo in which each was always aware of what the other was doing. The result was that the many strands of melodic lines, often superimposed, were woven into a seamless fabric that made for thoroughly engaging listening. Indeed, it was easy to sense how much the attention of everyone in the Cadillac’s lobby was drawn into what Piazzolla had done and what Roudman and Benkman were doing to it. This was definitely a high point of the afternoon.
A bit more on the experimental side, bassoonist Paul Hanson performed several selections that involved playing with sampled sounds, both prerecorded and captured in real time. In many respects he was doing with bassoon and sampler the sorts of things that Terry Riley had done with saxophone and tape loops back in the days of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. However, just as Hanson’s digital gear was in another league; so were his ways of using it.
To begin with, the increased control afforded by his equipment allowed him to play at much faster rates, a sharp contrast to Riley’s more leisurely rhetoric. He also was better positioned to work familiar material into his textures. Most impressive was his ability to work up a rather busy texture against which he could then wail out “Wichita Lineman” in a delivery that was sentimental without being syrupy.
Particularly surprising were the down-and-dirty boogie-woogie piano performances hammered out by pianist Wendy DeWitt with Kirk Harwood accompanying her on drums. DeWitt seems to know how to make anything work in a boogie-woogie setting, even George Gershwin’s “Summertime” (which deftly emerged out of an opening based on “Bumble Boogie”). She also demonstrated the ability to play boogie-woogie in 3/4 time. Harwood proved to be the perfect accompanist, with a clear sense of how to use his entire drum set but with keen enough listening skills that he never overpowered DeWitt.
Finally, Alex Conde and Melissa Cruz deserve credit for being the most innovative duo that I experienced. Conde is a pianist with particular gifts for improvising on the standard harmonic sequences of flamenco style. Over the course of an extended improvisation, Cruz served as his rhythm section through clapping her hands and stamping one foot. Then the tables were reversed as she launched into an extended solo of flamenco dance and Conde took up the role of accompanist. It would be interesting to see if the two of them could come up with a full concert of their complementary skills.
The only down side was that the amplification equipment had serious shortcomings. This was most evident when the microphone swallowed up most of the clever lyrics of Candace Roberts’ cabaret act. Most disappointing, however, was that the Coyote Bandits neo-bluegrass style came across as so loud that none of the singing would register; and the only contributions achieved any clarity came from a drummer who most evidently had not yet mastered the art of listening that Harwood handled so well.