A/B Duo offers an array of new music with Anaphora

Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 3:22 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The A/B Duo performed at Anaphora's "Sounds of Chicago" program Sunday at The Green Mill.
The A/B Duo performed at Anaphora’s “Sounds of Chicago” program Sunday at The Green Mill.

Anaphora presented its third annual ‘Sounds of Chicago” program Sunday afternoon, a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend for the new-music ensemble.

The headliners were the A/B Duo, who hail from the West Coast, while the program, which offered three world premieres, concentrated on local composers. As with most contemporary music events, the quality of the works proved wildly mixed, though the varied styles served as a worthy showcase for the versatility of flutist Meerenai Shim and percussionist Christopher Jones.

Of the three premieres heard Sunday, Drew Baker’s Limb offered the most compelling music. Inspired by the work of artist Sol LeWitt, the score exploits wide dynamic extremes with Shim performing on contrabass flute and piccolo while Jones mans a vibraphone, crotales, Thai gong and wind gong. At just 8-1/2 minutes, Baker distills a striking atmosphere of concentrated mystery with the shimmering of the gongs set against the lowing of the imposing contrabass flute and, later, piercing high piccolo notes.

Less inspired were the other two premieres. Jenna Lyle’s Stitch is a performance art piece with isolated flute fragments played from behind a large stretched piece of white fabric. Jones cuts through the sheet with a serrated knife, amid grunts, groans and other dismaying noises from both musicians. At just ten minutes, Stitch felt interminable.

Carolyn O’Brien’s Nocturne proved more intriguing. Written for contrabass flute and djembe, Nocturne is cast in six continuous, progressively shorter sections. There is a strong feeling of jazz improvisation in the work with long flute notes set against Jones’ hand-drummed riffs on the West African instrument. From breathy sounds like a jazz string bass, Shim’s flute notes rise higher and her music grows more uptempo against Jones’ driving rhythms. Still, despite the alert advocacy by the A/B Duo, O’Brien’s work feels somewhat gestural and directionless.

Shim was joined by Anaphora clarinetist Cory Tiffin in Igor Santos’s Centripetal Paths. Long, overlapping notes of foreboding between clarinet and alto flute lead to increasingly fast and contrapuntal textures, played with verve by both musicians.

The flutist offered a worthy solo turn in Janice Misurell-Mitchell’s Sometimes the City is Silent. Written to the composer’s own poem, Shim is required to sing into her instrument as well as play, yet the music offers an evocative urban portrait. Brian Baxter’s Noise Pollution has a different take on urban life with Jones’ insistent, metallic percussion here set against plaintive lines by Tiffin and Shim in an effective urban distillation.

David E. Farrell’s moonwave offered a welcome oasis of peaceful simplicity. Taking its inspiration from Lou Harrison and, seemingly, Japanese music, moonwave offers a gentle aria-like flute solo against piquant isolated wind-chime-like triangle notes from Jones as he walks around the stage.

While Green Mill is primarily a jazz club, there was an appalling rudeness demonstrated by some in attendance Sunday–notably the trio sitting at the far end of the bar who engaged in conversation and laughter with the bartender at a volume loud enough to disturb attentive listening. The musicians deserved better.

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