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Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody

 ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Kathryn Ladano
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #121
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 7 p.m.

Bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano took her instrument from deep bass growls to unearthly treble lines to percussive pops at her Ottawa concert Sunday – in a café of silent listeners absorbed in her music, despite the attractions of balmy spring weather during a long weekend.

The Waterloo-based musician and educator, who studied with bass clarinet master Lori Freedman, is on tour across Canada. She's performing solo but also promoting ...Listen, the just-released album by Stealth, her duo with Richard Burrows of the TorQ Percussion Quartet.

On that album, she said, Burrows primarily plays vibraphone – which made the second half of this concert, a duet with Ottawa percussionist Rory Magill playing the similar xylophone and assorted percussion, particularly fitting.

This show was the second stop on Ladano's tour, and part of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) biweekly concert series. It attracted IMOO regulars, but also new audience members who stayed for the entire concert.

For the first set, Ladano performed solo: a series of six compositions and improvisations, each lasting about 5 to 8 minutes. She opened with vibrating bass notes, reminiscent of whale songs, and deeper than I'd heard on a bass clarinet – and then moved to lighter, shimmering notes, more like from a bass flute. She filled the entire room with long, vibrating tones, quiet blankets of sound which ebbed and flowed in intensity, dual circling lines of melody, and memorable rhythms.

She explained after the concert that she uses a more open mouthpiece and a more flexible reed than might be used in playing classical music, which gives her more opportunities to create sounds and move more quickly from low to high notes. Her instrument also has an extended range: capable of reaching deeper notes than many bass clarinets, which was noticeable several times in her performance. And she uses multiphonics – playing two complementary strands of music at once – and other extended techniques to create new sounds.

On two pieces in the first set, she used effects pedals as well, for example to allow her to record herself and then play back the recordings as she continued to perform, adding multiple repeated lines underneath the main melody.

For one piece, Ladano was joined by a former student of hers, Kasia Czarski-Jachimowicz, on flute. They played long tones together which swelled and then let go, smoothly and gradually. The music developed a dancing rhythm, and then split, with light textures on flute contrasting with long lonely lines on bass clarinet.

Ladano frequently played her instrument percussively, inserting popping sounds and clicking keys and playing short interrupted lines – all creating infectious riffs and rhythms. This was particularly evident in her duet with Magill in the second set.

Deep, dark clarinet lines and notes contrasted with bright, sharp notes from the xylophone. Their pieces were usually conversations – a question and answer, a call and response.

In one piece, Ladano looped herself, playing two lines, primarily low-pitched but jumping up occasionally into treble trills, while Magill played with four mallets, creating light, sparkling tones. Then she used effects to attenuate her sound, while Magill played bright, fast riffs of notes. They ended the piece with the repeated vibrating notes on clarinet being echoed on xylophone.

In another piece, Magill opened with repeated notes on a small gong while Ladano played long, atonal lines. Both increased in intensity, with harder clicks on the gong and groans and squeals on clarinet, and then Ladano moved to simple, deep, punctuated lines, accented by an occasional note on xylophone. Magill ended the piece with a repeated, stronger pattern of notes on the xylophone.

There was so much going on in their half-hour collaboration (for example, Magill attaching a cluster of bells to his belt that rang as he played) that listeners needed to be very observant to follow the sounds and hear the changes. But their duet well rewarded the attention, as did Ladano's solo set. The audience greeted their last two duo pieces, in particular, with strong applause.

    – Alayne McGregor

Kathryn Ladano's 2015 cross-Canada solo tour

  • May 12: Silence (Guelph)
  • May 17: IMOO at the Raw Sugar Café (Ottawa)
  • May 18: Coop Paradis (Rimouski, Québec)
  • May 21: The Bus Stop Theatre (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • May 23: Connexion ARC (Fredericton, New Brunswick)
  • May 24: La librairie St-Jean-Baptiste (Quebec City, Québec)
  • May 26: L’Envers – La Passe (Montreal, Québec)
  • June 10: Emmedia (Calgary, Alberta)
  • June 11: Merge (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • June 27: Arraymusic Studio (Toronto)

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015