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Percussion is Your Friend

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

Experimental musicians, take note-- percussion is your friend. Last Friday, May 1, trumpeter Rob Mazurek headlined an evening of experimental music, touring with his latest configuration, Black Cube SP, and playing a well curated set featuring an adjustment to the Austin group, Marriage, and San Antonio duo Blacknail. What resulted that night was possibly the most enjoyable experimental music set I may have ever heard, all in a large part to the importance of the drums in each group. Rhythm was the tether for the night that was able to carry what is often difficult work.

There's a hazard in experimental music. Too often it's small crowds gathered around noise, attempting to find some enjoyment in the matter but there's always that slight feeling in the room that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. It's music that's serious business. There's structure.... probably. Lord only knows if there's any soul in the affair. I go to experimental music shows out of some sort of weird connection to them, but while I still find some strange enjoyment in these affairs, there's still some sort of sense of obligation to them. Call it the music journalism jadedness that I've grown, but while it's nice sometimes to catch a weird show and run into interesting characters, part of me still feels like it's such a job.

However for some reason, I was drawn to every element of this performance. As much as I have enjoyed everything I've ever heard sound artist Justin Boyd make -- his looping synthesized sounds and particularly his KRTU radio show, Dubjangle Bump, and Drone, that I love even more than my own The Line-Up -- but teaming up with drummer Mat Roy to create the duo Blacknail takes this sound in a more inspired direction. There's an anchor to Boyd's sounds that make easier to follow.

However, Open Marriage performed the best experimental music set I have ever heard. The collective from Austin, Texas, Marriage combines the whimsy and a bit of the racousness of punk, a bit of the vibe of post-rock, and all of the collaborative improvisational nature of jazz to make a set with so many moving parts, with one wondering really how much of this was arranged in advance and how much of this is improvised. There were numerous people starting the set playing percussion, establishing the looping sounds that would make the heartbeat of the song, before everyone eventually moving on to other instruments and new textures. The group's improvisational nature is pushed even further when one must consider that this isn't Marriage but a hodgepodge of the group including Austin's Jonathan Horne sitting in, with this and other adjustments changing the group from Marriage to Open Marriage. A mass of things were happening for the entire over half hour set and they were all interesting. It wasn't some overwhelming mash up of confounding sounds that are ultimately repellant. Something was happening all the time. A listener was going to miss something, and that was perfectly okay. It was incredible. I was sold.

So for trumpeter Mazurek to close out the evening with a mass of percussion himself an a configuration that would result in an equally interesting bunch of sounds, real performance and real engagement, and a closing involving the whole band walking outside the venue, reverb still going, and an audience pleasantly perplexed seemed like the best kind of way to close out a night. Yet the set involved thumping percussion. There was a beat to it all that brought it all together.

In Resonant Interval, the San Antonio, Texas, group that specializes in putting together shows like these, this is a group that understood what they were putting together and how this show should work. It was still an experimental show. It's still a few dudes in a room letting the sounds wash over them with more people playing in the bands than watching the crowd. But something more was happening last Friday night that I would hope would happen more and more with experimental shows like these-- performance.

Nextbop & Art of Cool editor Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current. You should follow him on Twitter.