Friday, April 21, 2017

Cooper-Moore in Illinois

Gelvin Noel Gallery
Krannert Art Museum
Champaign, Illinois
April 20, 2017

Cooper-Moore, ashimba, balloon, three-string fretless banjo, diddley-bow, mouth bow, horizontal hoe-handle harp, wind chimes, voice

Cooper-Moore’s performance at the Krannert Art Museum was part of the Sonified Sustainability Festival, devoted to ecologically minded music and art. Cooper-Moore (who took his name from his grandmothers’ surnames) is a pianist who also performs on instruments of his making, created from found and repurposed materials (a piece of a sofa frame, say) and inexpensive Radio Shack electronics. His performance on Thursday was part music-making on these instruments, part storytelling, part question-and-answer session.

Cooper-Moore began by singing “Roll, Jordan, Roll” while playing wind chimes placed horizontally on his lap, with two more chimes as mallets (adding a note and overtones to every note struck). The words of “Roll, Jordan, Roll” returned briefly as he made music on a balloon as one would play a glass harmonica — with fingers dipped in water). But this instrument (held close to a microphone) sounded like a drum kit, a running crowd, a noise guitar. “Where would they put that in Downbeat?” Cooper-Moore asked. “Under ‘Miscellaneous’?”

Cooper-Moore’s performances on ashimba, banjo, diddley-bow, and mouth bow (the last three amplified) recalled instrumental legacies both African and African-American. The ashimba, an eleven-note xylophone made from found wood, provided a dense accompaniment to the words of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round.” (The instrument’s name combines Cooper-Moore’s original surname Ashton and marimba.) Cooper-Moore’s banjo playing was rich in blues inflections. (From the spoken-sung story that went with it: “I’m not afraid of death. It just don’t suit me to be lookin’ at it.”) The pieces for diddley-bow — a monochord that figures in the origin stories of many blues guitarists — were especially virtuosic, as Cooper-Moore played the instrument with hands and drumsticks, and sometimes with drumstick on drumstick, sounding at times like a bottleneck guitar, at times like a bass, at times like a rhythm section unto himself. The sound of the mouth bow — a bowstring played with a half-size violin bow — is one that Cooper-Moore associates with the name Yahweh, the mouth opening and closing while producing vowels. His performance on horizontal hoe-handle harp (an instrument he built after hearing the Paraguayan harp and then pricing harps) began and ended in serene lyricism, with funkier and sharply percussive moments in the middle.

Between instrumental performances, Cooper-Moore told stories of finding materials, building instruments, and traveling the world, and he sang a bit of what sounded like an old and slightly risqué song about aging. I remember the line “But it don’t rise.” Through it all was the spirit of what Cooper-Moore says his work as a musician is about: play.

Thanks to Jason Finkelman, who continues to bring the news of the world to east-central Illinois.

[Mouth bow, diddley-bow, ashimba, water and balloon, horizontal hoe-handle harp, wind chimes, three-string fretless banjo. Click for a much larger view.]

Related reading
Cooper-Moore biography and partial discography (AUM Fidelity)

And from YouTube
Cooper-Moore plays fretless banjo, diddley-bow and mouth bow (with Digital Primitives); horizontal hoe-handle harp (with Subway Girl); and solo piano

[Don’t quit on the piano performance.]

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