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Larry Ochs and Hamid Drake at the Guelph Jazz Festival (review)

Hamid Drake ©Brett Delmage, 2012Larry Ochs and Hamid Drake
Guelph Jazz Festival: Nuit Blanche
Saturday, September 8, 2012

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Each year, Guelph's Nuit Blanche animates the downtown: in concert halls, art galleries, and smaller spaces like yoga studios that can be turned into improvised performance spaces to eager listeners of improvised music.

And it was in a diminutive yoga studio that the opening act for Nuit Blanche 2012 attracted a jam-packed crowd, with audience members filling every centimetre in the room and even down the hall hoping to hear a few notes, which delayed the start of the show.

They were there to hear the duet of percussionist Hamid Drake and saxophonist Larry Ochs. Both well-known American improvisers had featured in major ways in the ROVA:Ascension show the previous night at the Guelph Jazz Festival. This was a simpler, less structured effort.

But no less sophisticated.

It was an evening which challenged and entertained the listener. While he had brought almost all his drum kit with him, Drake started out by crumpling plastic bags, the light rustling underlying Ochs' up-and-down fast changes on tenor sax. But neither musician stayed with any style for long: Drake moved through hand-drumming to hard sticks work to brushes and mallets and the lightest touch on cymbals. Ochs switched between tenor and soprano sax, sometimes rough, sometimes a thin line circling up and up.

But what was most notable was their partnership: a vibrating tremolo on soprano was enhanced by Drake's using brushes on cymbals, building up and letting go. They also made a notable use of silence, especially near the end of the show: Ochs would play a simple line on tenor, and Drake would wait several beats before responding on the drums. Drake also let his bass drum echo into the void.

It was an intense 45-minute performance, which prompted a strong standing ovation. If there hadn't been other Nuit Blanche shows about to start and a major festival concert beginning only 20 minutes later, I suspect there would have been an even greater demand for more.

    – Alayne McGregor

All images ©Brett Delmage, 2012
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