Improvisation Summit of Portland | asymmetry music magazine

Improvisation Summit of Portland

Improvisation is a many splendored thing, and the recent two day Creative Music Guild festival of improvisation gave us many of its various splendors. Jazz and not jazz. Traditional jazz and free jazz and mixed. Electronics and acoustic and mixed. Solo sets and large (conducted) groups and everything in between. Music and dance, music and film, dance, and music. Portland musicians and visitors from around the country. All of it packed into ten hours of high-powered and fantastic music making.

It was a lovely festival and no mistake.

Both evenings (Friday and Saturday, 8 & 9 June) opened with a film accompanied by live music. I missed most of the first and all of the second, unfortunately.

Both evenings ended with conducted group improvisation. Conducted improvisation is philosophically contradictory, so always interesting to experience in practice. More interesting, philosophically, than a symphony concert, where everyone is bound at all points by a score. In a conducted improvisation, one can witness in real time the ever shifting boundaries of freedom and cooperation and obedience and response. In Gino Robair’s set on Friday night (I. Norton), Gino appeared to be confining himself largely to shaping the set by emphasizing or de-emphasizing whatever was happening.
In Saturday’s set, led by John Gruntfest, there seemed to have been more pre-concert planning out of events, which John would then cue.
In short, we got two different experiences of two different ideas about group improvisation.

Well done.

And in between, dance, dance, dance, and dance. Or, to use the terminology of the printed program (more closely and smoothly followed in regards to time than any other festival I’ve ever attended anywhere), “sound and movement.” And, in line with everything else about this multifarious festival, there was every possible combination: dancers that responded to the music, musicians who responded to the dancers, dancers and musicians that responded to each other and those that substantially ignored each other to do independent things (along the lines of Cage and Cunningham).

A howling success, I would say.

Anyway, here are some more clips from the festival. They show less the variety than they do the things that happened to interest me the most. There was lots of variety–unless you were there, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for that. A lot of these start before people had settled down or as the set has started in a different room. I was tempted to edit things down, but then I realized that all that gave a good sense of how it was to be at the shows, so I left it all in. My two favorite sets, Doug Theriault’s and Gino Robair’s solo, I offer (with the kind permission of the artists) in their entirety.


You can visit the curators of the festival, Creative Music Guild at

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