Polyorchard performing “Between Know and Then” at Neptune’s Parlour May 22, 2014 on the occasion of Sun Ra’s 100th arrival day
Jason Bivins – guitar
Sara Bloo – voice, percussion
Chris Eubank – cello, electronics
Jamie Keesecker – french horn
Bill McConaghy – trumpet
David Menestres – bass
Ken Moshesh – percussion
Carrie Shull – oboe, electronics
Julianna Thomas – projections
“There’s more of us than you,” announced bassist David Menestres. His band began to play.
Performances by the improvisation collective Polyorchard typically have a bit more balance between audience members and musicians; at any of their Nightlight shows during the past year, there’ve been maybe four musicians on stage and at least five observers. But just before Christmas, only a handful of Nightlight denizens watched an ensemble of Justice League proportions share the space. There were seven players—or , as trombonist Jeb Bishop said, a “Polyorchardstra.”
Each Polyorchard performance is wholly distinct, forged in real time. At Nightlight, the musicians had no scores to play from or any pre-formed ideas. They interacted with each other on stage, listening closely to a quizzical variety of noises and forming them into dense webs. The 30-minute set began with a series of intimate rustles, emerging from Menestres’ bass and Dan Ruccia’s viola. Chris Eubank soon joined on cello (that string trio is one of the better iterations of Polyorchard I’ve heard in the past). From there, the sounds expanded outwards: Bishop’s softly growling trombone, Sara Bloo’s vocal murmurs, Jamie Keesecker’s trembling French horn, Jason Bivins’ hushed guitar. Each instrumentalist delved into extremes of technique.
With seven musicians coming toward you, one’s ear becomes drawn to individual sounds and how they mesh together in micro-interactions. The bluesy tone of the trombone can become the counterpart to a chiaroscuro viola melody.
The atmosphere would suddenly switch moods, too. At one point, a steady guitar/bass pulse emerged, with Bloo cooing in intense rhythm, echoing the ululations of Meredith Monk. And then, pure noise: Menestres squeaked on the back of his bass, and Bivins mashed into his guitar strings on his lap, while Bloo moved water around in jars. At one point, half a chopstick flew towards me, having broken out of Menestres’s hands as he hit it fiercely against his strings. The result of seven expert improvisers became greater than its parts.
This has been a good year for free improvisation in the Triangle. Legendary trombonist Jeb Bishop has landed in the area, and improviser Eugene Chadbourne hosted a month-long residency at Neptune’s last summer. But the highlight of this tiny yet vibrant scene has been the collective Polyorchard, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this week. The ensemble may be young, but it includes longstanding improvisers in its ranks—Bishop, bassist (and Polyorchard founder) David Menestres, cellist Chris Eubank, composer and violist Dan Ruccia, only by way of example.
Polyorchard has taken many forms, from intimate, unamplified string trio to a cacophonous group featuring Japanese noise pioneer Merzbow. Their music is often severe but always intriguing, conceived fully in the moment. There are no rehearsals nor any pre-performance planning; Menestres and company just show up and play, responding to one another’s sounds in real time.A bonus is the recent addition of eclectic vocalist Sara Bloo, who creates magical effects by singing into bowls (yes, bowls). Experimental banjo player Baby Copperhead and Tegucigalpan, a new solo project from Waumiss and Kingsbury Manx member Clarque Blomquist, are also on the bill. —William Robin
Few of punk rock’s founding fathers could have anticipated the extreme to which Half Japanese took the music’s do-it-yourself ethos. Founded by brothers Jad and David Fair, Half Japanese was quite probably the most amateurish rock band to make a record since the Shaggs, all but ignoring musical basics like chords, rhythms, and melody. However, the brothers made that approach into a guiding aesthetic, steadfastly refusing to progress in their primitive musicianship over a career that lasted decades. Their unpredictable, full-of-life show is not be missed.