Qbico U-nite VII: Buffalo (part 1)
Aside from putting out a steady stream of stellar LP's, Italian label Qbico has been sporadically staging a series of U-nites around the world, featuring artists that run the spectrum of improvised music and beyond. In part 1 of a two-part series Cory Card covers U-nite VII in Buffalo, NY. Next week, Part II will feature an in-depth interview with the chief of Qbico tallking about the history of the label and the U-nites.
Over the course of the past several years Qbico Records have been quietly delivering, to those in the know, some dazzling documents of the improvised underground. Taking this one step further, Mr. Qbico has also been serving up a series of specially curated nights of multi-group improvisational performances in various cities throughout the United States and Europe. He has described these events, dubbed U-nites, as being a cross-generational/cross-genre gathering in the name of free music. The concept of which harkens back to the days of the 60’s and 70’s jazz scene where musicians would get together and just jam all night. The first U-nite was held in New York City with four others held in various places throughout Europe and the United States. This past November brought the Qbico magic to Detroit for U-nite VI and Buffalo, NY for U-nite VII. The occasion was to celebrate the release of his 50th record (along with 51, 52 and 53). The Buffalo show featured the talents of Daniel Carter with Andrew Barker, Steve Baczkowski and Ravi Padmanabha, the Arthur Doyle Electric Acoustic Ensemble and the duo of Bill Sacks and Todd Whitman, as the unannounced special guests.
The night began with a very loud, abrasive set from Sacks and Whitman. Unfortunately due to some hold-ups I arrived toward the end of the set, but what I walked into was a wonderful cacophony of noise being evoked from a guitarist and baritone sax player. The part of the set I was able to hear was an absolutely glorious and unforgiving barrage of abrasive sound and a great way to begin the night.
Next Steve Baczkowski and Ravi Padmanabha took the stage. Each time I encounter this duo I am increasingly impressed. Baczkowski’s stage presence alone is always worth seeing him in action. Tall and thin Baczkowski very much resembles his main instrument, the Baritone sax. On stage he parades and careens around brandishing and slashing the air with his weighty instrument, all while making almost obscene guttural sounds. Both performers are powerful and multi-talented musicians, unto themselves but when their forces combine something magical tends to happen. This night the crowd was able to witness all facets of their amazing sound. Baczkowski and Padmanabha began their set with pure fury, enveloping the space in some truly spectacular drum and baritone vamps. Padmanabha then moved to hand percussion and Baczkowski to a variety of small toy-like instruments. After a stellar dialogue of textures the two both moved to the pungi, or snake charmer horn, for an incredible drone piece. Honestly for me this was the highlight of the night; watching the two employ circular breathing as they belted out some magnificent nasal drones. To end they each returned to their main instruments pounding out two more drum and sax stomps.
Where Baczkowski and Padmanabha played as one forceful unit, Daniel Carter and Andrew Barker, had a different approach to the improvised duo. This set was all about tension and restraint. The set began with Carter on flute and Barker on cymbals arranged on the floor. Their first piece was rather relaxing; Carter’s sensual flute playing over the gentle tapping of the cymbals. Eventually Barker moved to the drum kit while Carter switched it up between a variety of wind instruments. For most the set Carter remained rather mellow, even when Barker would take it up a notch or two with some real heavy drumming. The most impressive aspect of this whole set was how much space the players allowed for one another; it was a very clear and comfortable dialogue in which the intervals where one or neither of them would play would be just as intrinsic to the pieces as were the places where they would play.
Last up was the Arthur Doyle Electric Acoustic Ensemble. The Ensemble seemed to have a bit more musical presence than Doyle, and it was very confusing to comprehend who was controlling whom in the situation. Doyle went back and forth between the sax, vocal improvisations, and sitting in a chair while one of the other players would sample and manipulate the few things he did. Doyle’s stage antics were one of the most interesting aspects of the performance. He spent much of his time sitting and listening to the mayhem brewing around him, while not making it clear whether he was happy with the situation or not. At one point he even left the stage for some time, returned, played a bit more and then ended the set with what seemed to be a sort of thank you to everyone ending the night.
Overall this was a fantastic night of live music, and of all places for it to happen, it happened in Buffalo, New York. The night was documented and select cuts will be released on Qbico, as a deluxe two record set, most likely on some really choice colored vinyl. This is one of the most interesting aspects of these U-nites, as Qbico does not just document and release, but he takes the time to create something special both visually and aurally. In essence what he does with his U-nite releases is creates a memento or an homage to the night.
-- Cory Card (16 January, 2007)