Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Space Between

The first thing I learned about as an art student in college was what not to paint.

As a watercolorist, success or failure delicately balances on the choices that are made in what to paint, and where to leave the unpainted, "negative spaces" of white paper showing through.

<---(my watercolor homage to Trane, c.1986)

Too much white space, and the image you want to come through is indistinct. (Sometimes that effect is desirable, of course.) Too little, and the whole thing turns to mud and loses the light, transparent quality that characterizes the style at its best.

The same is quite true with music, where the "negative space" of watercolor painting translates into a certain comfort level a musician has with the space between the notes. Add to that considerations of phrasing and dynamic control, and now we're getting down to the subtle - but crucial - nuances that distinguish the good artists from the great.

I was late in arriving to tonight's show at the FlynnSpace with Yusef Lateef and Adam Rudolph. When I got downstairs the doors were closed and there was absolute silence all around, both in the hallway and from within the Space itself. I wasn't sure why, I thought maybe a song was just ending and the audience hadn't begun to clap yet.

(Waterfront tent, set up and ready to boogie with the Bayou Blues Funk tomorrow night and World Music on Sat. night.)--->

An usher quietly opened the door, I slipped in, and realized immediately that the piece wasn't ending, in fact it was well in progress. The silence was the song.

Sax/winds man Yusef Lateef sat on the left side of the stage, slowly and nearly imperceptibly swaying from side to side. Occasionally he picked up an instrument and blew a few notes into it. Over on the right, Adam Rudolph gently rattled strings of seashells, drummed on his numerous djembe and congas, and quietly added in many other flourishes from a row of bells, large maracas, and a stageful of other percussion instruments.

<--(the husband/wife duo of Sonny and Perley in a late set at Leunig's)

The audience was absolutely silent as the duo segued seamlessly from one part of the montage to another. Rudolph played the piano, then returned to the drums, and then Lateef took a turn at the piano to sing a bluesy, soulful, show-stopping Trouble in Mind, with the full weight of the 88 years behind him.

No individual pieces here, nor the other typical jazz conventions of the 'head', the 'bridge', or 'solos' within the pieces. This experience was more a rolling collage of shifting shapes and colors, with subtle changes punctuated occcasionally by new instruments or textures being introduced to the mix.

Yes, Lateef and Randolph played tonight.

But just as importantly, these master musicians also knew when to let the negative spaces of the silence speak for them.

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