By Kevin Dugan
Have you ever wondered where you could find a cappella jazz, free improvisation groups and middle-schoolers rapping about the Iraq War in one place? Those who attended The Sculptured Sounds Music Festival at St. Peter's Church last week found their answer.
The four-week festival was founded and co-produced by Reggie Workman, a faculty member of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and former upright bass player for the John Coltrane Quartet.
Workman said the festival brought together "futuristic music" that didn't fall into convenient categories. "You can't use a window that doesn't fit,” he said. “You end up in or outside the box."
The theme of the third week seemed to be the role of imagination, free from the restrictions of form and instrument. The Montclair Academy of Dance Drummers lifelessly performed four traditional West-African pieces. Then a team of middle-schoolers delivered an anti-war rap called "Mr. President." The Charles Gayle Trio followed with a weak free jazz set that had all three musicians relying on feeble riffs that never went anywhere. Gayle then went to the piano and played a jejune amalgam of predictably jazzy motifs.
The second half was far more engaging, beginning with Billy Harper and His Great Friends. The Friends consisted of New School jazz instrumentalists and scat-sung vocal arrangements of bop tunes, scored by Harper himself. The soloists—especially Chelsea Baratz—belted out great solos free from the tired clichés that many players rely on.
The final, and best, performance was by free improv group Ashanti's Message, featuring Workman on upright bass. The musicians complimented and paid attention to one another, although the sound did not blend so well in the cathedral. Drummer Tyshawn Sorley and pianist Yayoi Ikawa gave especially impressive performances that carried the music.
Workman quickly denied that he was a perfectionist. "What is important is to have a band of people who have experienced enough of their life, or worked together enough, to understand each other,” he said.
Still, Workman was "not satisfied" with his group. “There were some good moments,” but the group was under-rehearsed, he said.