Krannert Art Museum
February 10, 2011
Douglas Ewart, alto clarinet, sopranino saxophone, didgeridoo, flutes, voice, percussion
Stephen Goldstein, digital percussion, handclaps, rainstick
Sitting down to write about this performance, I realize that I have no idea how long these musicians played last night — an hour? hour and a half? two? Someone said things ran late. All I know is that I was listening to a collaboration that was a delight to the ear, one that made time both fly and stand still, with Ewart shifting from instrument to instrument and Goldstein drawing an ever-changing variety of sounds and textures from two percussion pads (played with hands, sticks, and brushes) and an iPhone.
Like other musicians who came up in the AACM (Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Ewart is an unassuming virtuoso, with an extraordinary command of tone and dynamics. Last night, he sustained circular breathing for longer than I would have thought possible, producing overtones, squawks, and whispers along the way. The most surprising moment though was a song, “BP They Making a New Dead Sea,” a solemn and fiercely satiric parade of long e rhymes: “BP means Bad Philosophy.”
Ewart is both musician and instrument-maker. In a pre-performance talk (whose topics ranged from the importance of water to the horror of plastic bags), he explained the importance of making, which for him began when he was a child in Jamaica, raised by a grandmother who pointed out that the toys on store shelves were likely to fall apart all too quickly. So Ewart began making things of his own. Last night he showed a group of Sonic Tops, made (in adulthood, for children) from found materials. The tops spun mightily on the gallery floor.
The most exciting moment for Elaine and me was the final piece. Ewart invited our son Ben and concert organizer Jason Finkelman to add their voices — banjo and berimbau, respectively — to the proceedings. It all makes sense, really: Ewart was a guest-in-residence for the week in Ben’s residence hall, where Ben (a Resident Assistant) spent a good chunk of time with him.
You can see some of Douglas Ewart’s instruments and other artworks at his website. Note the Lab Coat and Crepuscular Stamping Stick in the above photograph.
Thanks to Jason Finkelman, who continues to bring the musical news of the world to east-central Illinois.