Live review: Myra Melford’s Be Bread, Alex Cline’s Continuation Quintet at REDCAT, March 27.


The two well-attended Cryptonights at REDCAT (celebrating Jeff Gauthier’s mighty-mite modern-improv label, Cryptogramophone) inspired us L.A. music hermits to stigmatic ecstasies of grateful optimism. Maybe it’s only delusion that feeds our prayers for broader awareness of avant musical x-citement. But we thrive on delusion, and it tastes like chicken pizza.

Always a prime fakir in the temple of Los Angeles music, drummer Alex Cline has piled increasing heaps of crowd-please-o-rama onto his foundation of masterly skills, as the standing O at the end of this night’s performance attested. The formula? Sinus-clearing gongs and ear-augering bells. Heart-rushing grooves. Dynamic structures. Kaleidoscopic colors generated by a super band. But maybe the most important element was intangible, especially at the start amid the peaceful drones of “Nourishing Our Roots” and the Floydian space rhythms of “Clearing Our Streams” -- a sense of hope. The quintet’s persistent forward motion, energy, inspiration and group effort could make water gush out of a rock.

Cline by himself was enough to watch and hear. He set up a powerful low rumble on the toms, switched with magical quickness from mallets to sticks, even focused spiritual energies with a few simple notes plucked on the autoharp-like kamele. He pushed his six-dimensional setup hard or tickled it with a feather, and when he led massive group confluences, it was damn LOUD -- not so much a performance as an outpouring of true emotion.

Bassist Scott Walton’s bark-stripping physicality and flexible rhythm vibrated with extra layers of low resonance. Cellist Maggie Parkins and violinist Jeff Gauthier made for a complementary Meg & Jeff tag team, Parkins shredding her bow with high-pitched frenzy on one solo and jabbing it like a lance at Cline throughout, Gauthier stretching out curvilinear undulations of reason and compassion. And that little librarian of a pianist, Myra Melford, went totally schizo -- one minute inflating our lungs with gentle life support on elemental hand-pumped harmonium; the next minute clawing, nailing and elbow-bashing her unlucky grand piano; the next minute stroking the calm leaf-drift riff of “On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder.” Goldarn.

Cline put the crowd in a receptive mood for Melford’s gnarlier Be Bread set. Her compositions were often built around angular twin figures laid out by her short-sleeved hornists, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Cuong Vu on trumpet; they blunted the prickles with round, full tones and a relaxed sense of swing. Matt Wilson leaned way back on his drum stool and whacked the skins with a casual rock authority that kept the abstract music from getting too gaseous; at one point he was slamming four sticks with each hand -- twice as many as Bonzo, dude, but a lot jazzier. Barefoot, dazed electric bassist Stomu Takeishi wasn’t about to play no walk, often plucking/popping against the rhythm and taking every opportunity to assault his instrument with steel bowls, bottlecaps and electronic vulcanisms. Dancer Oguri held to a similar aesthetic; the black-suited chameleon’s moves flashed on the intellectual implications of the music rather than its literal content. His poses and faces personified the full range of mankind, from young idiot to desperate oldster, all trying to hold back a chaotic world’s violations with futilely determined hands.

Melford expanded still further from her Alex arsenal with rolling blues, two-handed chordal ascensions, and expansions/contractions of tension and speed, her fingers engaged in fine needlepoint or balled into pummeling fists of feminine fury. Her musical vocabulary and technique were astonishing. From a nerve-clenched beginning to a horror-film conclusion, though, she expressed struggle, while Buddhist archer Cline expressed transcendence.

You could call it New York vs. L.A.

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Read Downbeast’s reviews of this show and of Saturday’s Cryptonight featuring the Nels Cline Singers and Jeff Gauthier’s Goatette here.