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LIVE REVIEW: Arnold Dreyblatt and the Orchestra of Excited Strings, Jazzhouse, 18.02.2016

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Vinterjazz follows on the same trend of Jazzhouse itself: There’s some jazz, but they’re not especially strict or picky about following certain guidelines. The loosely thematic program scheduled in February is an excellent excuse to put outfits together on the same bill that have only the vaguest ties to one another. Jazz purists would surely be horrified. But it’s excellent.

Stephen O’Malley is best known for his work with SunnO))); Randall Dunn is best known as a producer who sometimes works with SunnO))). Their opening set does not sound like SunnO))) and does not pretend to. It’s primarily a thick, ambient mass of guitar and keyboards, and yeah, it’s loud, and there’s a bit of that familiar rumble, especially when Dunn fills in the bass with a Korg. There are actually times when you can distinguish the guitar, and even individual notes, particularly an interlude where O’Malley strums a series of stuttered notes. It doesn’t take long before he jabs at the pedals set up before him with a finger as though he’s gotten annoyed at how quiet things are. It’s not an all-consuming volume, and there’s no smoke machine to gas you out, but it’s clear that the men know how to lull an audience even without extreme low frequencies.

Arnold Dreyblatt

The minimalism of Arnold Dreyblatt’s opening song is shocking in its contrast. He spends 15 minutes whacking out harmonics on his bass with a bow before being joined by the Orchestra of Excited Strings.

If his opening song is demonstrably and performatively avant garde, then what follows is practically pop music. Despite being joined by a tuba player, a guitarist whose right hand scarcely touches the strings and a drummer who also plays robotic guitar (rigged to a laptop — more of a party piece than a looping pedal, but every song starts and ends with it), the rhythms are conventional, the overtones are warm, and the songs are upbeat and accessible, no matter how creative the musicians’ methods are. By the end of the set, people are dancing in the doorway, crowded out of the main room by chairs.

With such wildly different performers, there was a noted shift in the audience from one set to the next. But if you showed up late or left early, you definitely missed out.

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