Theo Bleckmann at 55 Bar, 1/2/18 (by Caroline Davis)


PERSONNEL: Theo Bleckmann (voice/effects), Ben Monder (guitar/effects), Statoshi Takeishi (drums/percussion)

SET 1: Zazen on Ching-T’ing Mountain (Ben Monder), collective improvisation

SET 2: Collective improvisation, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Lennon/McCartney), I Fall in Love too Easily (Styne/Cahn)

HIGHLIGHTS: Takeshi’s moment of glory, when he was so in it that his gong flew off the stand inches away from crashing into Monder’s pedals.

I’ve been quite taken with the Bleckmann/Monder pairing for years now, starting with a mesmerizing set of clips I saw on YouTube from a performance at the re:think Jazz Festival in Brescia, Italy from 2009. Their musical relationship is mostly meditative but an edgy fierceness might pounce at any moment. Adding Takeishi to the mix added a good set of frequencies to compliment the already dense collection of effects and loops.

Most of the two sets seemed collectively improvised. Perhaps they had explored some of these themes before, but they weren’t consulting much written music. Bleckmann made use of three effects pedals for his voice (the two that I recognized were the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man and 45000 4-Track Looper), and also had a cassette player for some samples and a couple percussion instruments. He gurgled, overtoned, tongue rolled, ffts-ed, hmm-ed, ho-ed, belted, and beautified – every time I see him live, he’s doing something different.

Monder, of course, had about 7 effects pedals daisy-chained, creating his unique sound. (#benmonderforpresident.) Takeishi played a frame drum (acting as a bass drum) with his right hand. On the bottom was a fan drum called the uchiwa daiko (from Japan). He also had a snare drum, low tom, a crash and smaller 6’ cymbal, a gong and some bells. This show was all about the textures in a small space, although at times the sounds transformed the room into something bigger..

Before I knew the title of the first piece, I felt like I was standing on the peak of a mountain. Turns out that “Zazen on Ching-T’ing Mountain” is a reaction to a Li Po poem, in which last stanza reads, “We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.” I’m not really a fan of direct musical metaphors like this, but they really took me to that mountain.

by Caroline Davis