Urs Leimgruber in Portland

worksoundAnyone who has listened to a lot of new music has heard a lot of saxophone playing. A lot of players have been interested in exploring new territory and a lot of composers have been attracted by the variety of wild noises one can get from that instrument. So when I heard of the latest Creative Music Guild concert, I was more interested in the mass improv with local musicians (which was splendid) than I was in a sax player I’d never heard of. After all, what could Urs Leimgruber possibly do that I hadn’t heard already from Ulrich Krieger or Peter Brötzmann or Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich?

A lot.

Brandon Conway’s remark at intermission was that that was probably the most interesting sax solo we would hear this year. My flamboyant riposte was that that was probably the most interesting sax solo we would hear this decade.

But all exaggeration aside, Urs’ set that night (Thursday, June 25) was utterly captivating. Long stretches of very small sounds, melodies from key clacking alone, wild bursts of frenetically ferocious playing. I have never heard a soloist on a “melody instrument” (as we used to say) play so many distinct, separate lines all at once. And Urs plays the whole instrument, too. There is no surface that remains untapped (in both senses), unblown across or into. The crook of a baritone sax makes a delightful clatter when dropped into the bell. (The transition in his solo from the soprano he started out on to the baritone was nothing short of magical.)

Those who have followed Leimgruber’s career for years will, I hope, forgive me my enthusiasm. He’s a stunner and no doubt, and I feel like I’m just not keeping up for not hearing of him before.

mass improvAfter a brief intermission, Urs returned to conduct an ensemble of Portland musicians* (including several fine sax players, of course) in an improv set. How do you conduct an improvisation? By making decisions that three or four people would make among themselves, but which might make a mess if it’s twenty people making them, especially twenty people who don’t play together all the time. At the very least, it was interesting to watch Urs improvise with them, in both senses of “with,” along with and by means of.

All of this took place in the very happening art space down on 820 SE Alder, Worksound Gallery. Well worth a visit, even if there’s no music going on there.

*Mary Sutton, violin
Eric Allen, cello
Gregg Skloff, bass
Bob Jones, bass
Tim Duroche, drums
John Niekrasz, drums
Jonathan Sielaff, bass clarinet
Jef Brown, sax
Mary Sue Tobin, sax
Reed Wallsmith, sax
Ben Kates, sax
Jesse Johnson, cornet
Heather Vergotis, guitar
Andrew Oliver, harmonium
Joel Pickard, pedal steel
Matt Carlson, synth
Todd Dickerson, electronics
J Morales, electronics
Scott Brazieal, keyboard
Brandon Conway, electronics

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One Comment

  1. soup_purse
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    full recording of group improvisation here: http://soundcloud.com/jonathansielaff/urs-large-ensemble-cmg

    This was an amazing experience. I am the one in your video who peeks his head out for a second from behind the pillar, playing electronics.

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