Friday, October 26, 2018

Gray Wilkerson Ra

Larry Gray, bass, cello, six-string electric bass
Edward Wilkerson Jr., clarinet, alto clarinet,
    tenor saxophone, didgeridoo, oud
Avreeayl Ra, percussion, Native American flute

Krannert Art Museum
University of Illinois, Champaign
October 25, 2018

Five years ago this trio appeared at the University of Illinois’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as Chicago Connection, performing a seven-part suite by Larry Gray. This time, as Gray Wilkerson Ra, they played one extended (perhaps hour-long) improvisation whose shifts in mood were born of listening and responding from moment to moment. Or, to borrow from Theodore Roethke, thinking by feeling.

The performance began with the musicians taking soundings, as it were: Gray plucking high notes on the bass, Wilkerson playing tenor with a scarf in its bell to soften the sound, Ra striking a metal bowl placed on a drumhead. The sound opened out and grew in intensity before giving way to a dialogue for cello, oud, and percussion, with Gray and Wilkerson plucking and snapping strings. Later: bowed cello and alto clarinet, then bowed bass and didgeridoo, their musical lines weaving about one another. Still later, a flute joined by cello and alto clarinet, then clarinet with electric bass at the top of its register, sounding like a classical guitar. And at every turn, Ra’s percussion supporting, commenting, or adding intensity. There were moments of delicate beauty, moments of wild energy, and a terrifically swinging interlude for tenor (by this time without the scarf), walking bass, and drums. At some point the scarf went back in the bell. And then silence. Was more to come? No, that was the end, an end that felt both spontaneously arrived at and inevitable.

You can get some idea of the trio at work from YouTube, but this kind of music is best heard in the moment.

My favorite moment: seeing Gray and Ra lock eyes and dig in, as Wilkerson, eyes closed (I think), wailed on tenor. If music is the healing force of the universe, these musicians provided some serious universal healthcare last night.

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

More on the musicians
Larry Gray : Avreeayl Ra : Edward Wilkerson Jr.

[“We think by feeling”: from Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Waking.” Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe: a 1969 album by Albert Ayler.]

comments: 0