The evening of November 20th, I battled mobs heading to Michigan Avenues´ Festival of Lights to get to the Museum of Contemporary Art in time for the final performance of the 15th Asian American Jazz Festival, also a part of the Creative Music Summit series.
As I approached my seat, things were already looking mighty creative indeed. A young woman in a shimmering white kimono was being helped to put on a horse´s head mask. This was the prelude to Bay Area´s Miya Masaoko´s performance of koto and electronics accompanied by the performance of her daughter (with horse´s head on) up on a stool, wearing a kimono instrument that Masaoka invented. The kimono has 444 light-emitting diodes sewn into it´s right sleeve; and the LED´s glittered and gleamed different patterns of moving light and also emitted sounds depending on cues from the environment, the different positions struck by the wearer and input from video feeds. Abstract video played in the background of the dream-like sequence, and to the side, University of Chicago philosophy professor Arnold Davidson read slowly in Italian from Luigi Russolo’s 1913 futurist manifesto, “The Art of Noises”. It was a heady collage that almost sent my senses into overload, and fulfilled the premise of Russolo´s manifesto that “…music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds”.
FLUX, the second piece in the performance, brought together dance, Japanese Taiko percussion, jazz instrumentation, and traditional Korean percussion. Created and performed in successive stages by Korean drum/performance artist/vocalist Dohee Lee, FLUX was replete with I Ching symbolism, and references to the elements of nature and creation – air, fire, water and earth. Lee was accompanied by New York violinist and electronics artist Jonathan Chen as well as local luminaries Tatsu Aoki and Amy Homma on Taiko percussion in an trance-creating whirlwind of sound, dance and movement that both hearkened back to a primal and primitive time, as well as shared a stark sense of post-modern anxiety, and evidenced Lee´s talents in shamanic ritual and dance, which are also a part of her training.
The final pieces of the evening, performed by Francis Wong and his hybrid group “Legends and Legacies” included “Shanghai Stories”, inspired by the memories of the saxophonist´s father of the city at a time in the early twentieth century when Shanghai was the epicenter of China´s Golden Age of Jazz. Wong´s ensemble included Tatsu Aoki on bass, Amy Homma on Taiko drum as well as Mwata Bowden and Edward Wilkerson on woodwinds and Dee Alexander on vocals. “Shanghai Stories” had a marvelous epic sense, an expansive and breathtaking beauty: Ms. Alexander´s golden voice soared, weaving in and out of the richly layered texture created by the Asian musical elements and jazzy sax and woodwinds.
I walked out of the MCA into the glistening trees of Michigan Avenue, savoring the sounds and moods of the concert. The no-holds barred mixing of avant-garde jazz, traditional and world music of the performance had transported me to a place of immense wonder and delight at all that can emerge from the boundless creative spirit of the musical human being.