Sonoluminescence Trio (David Mott, William Parker, Jesse Stewart) with painter Jeff Schlanger
The Record Centre
Thursday, March 17, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

All the members of the Sonoluminescence Trio - plus painter Jeff Schlanger - turned into a surprise waterphone quartet at their well-received show at the Record Centre Thursday. The trio plus Schlanger play GigSpace in Ottawa for two shows in Friday, and continue to Toronto on Saturday, and Guelph and Hamilton on Sunday. ©Brett Delmage, 2016
All the members of the Sonoluminescence Trio - plus painter Jeff Schlanger - turned into a surprise waterphone quartet at their well-received show at the Record Centre Thursday. The trio plus Schlanger play GigSpace in Ottawa for two shows in Friday, and continue to Toronto on Saturday, and Guelph and Hamilton on Sunday. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The audience was sitting crowded against record bins and standing in the aisles, peering over shoulders to catch what the musicians were doing. They tightly filled the narrow store right to the back. And they were utterly silent and intent during the hour-long show – except when they burst into loud applause.

The Sonoluminescence Trio – David Mott on baritone saxophone, William Parker on double bass, and Jesse Stewart on drums – drew a fascinated crowd in their first appearance at the Record Centre.

But it wasn't just the trio's fluid musical interaction that kept the audience's attention. For their Ontario tour this week, they're being accompanied by painter Jeff Schlanger, who sat at a low easel beside the musicians. He drew as they performed, using calligraphy pens and coloured markers on a large sheet of paper.

The trio played for just over an hour, and during that time, Schlanger steadily refined and added to a colourful depiction of what he saw and heard. He frequently switched among pens, and often drew with two pens at once, creating art whose energetic flow reflected the music. Schlanger calls this practice “musicWitness” and has done it for decades, in locations ranging from NYC to Berlin to Finland to Paris to Toronto. editors had previously seen him witness a concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

It was a completely improvised show – both the trio's music and Schlanger's art. But the music at this show was also approachable: often melodic or with interesting rhythms. Parker's bass notes were full and rich, sometimes creating a strong groove, other times echoing individually through the store. He also frequently pulled out his bow, adding deep tones that underlaid and enhanced Mott's baritone lines – or creating vibrating textures upping the energy.

Mott played the full range of his baritone, occasionally sounding more like a tenor and then dropping straight down into deep grumbles. He could create long, romantic, almost 19th-century passages, and then follow them with fast, punctuated streams of notes, and occasionally reminded me of mid-60s John Coltrane in his versatility and tone. At one point, he sang into his mouthpiece, creating a half-audible melody. Stewart provided a strong dynamism on the drumkit, cutting through with fast action on the snare, but also enhancing the quietest passages with light brushes on cymbals.

They played five pieces, each different in style and tone, but each allowed to grow and then naturally end. There was a noticeable current linking all three musicians: the slightest change in rhythm or volume introduced by one would be immediately picked up by the others and built upon. Even when they played three separate lines, the lines coordinated and enhanced each other.

A highlight of the show was when everyone on stage abandoned their regular instruments to create a waterphone quartet. Stewart is one of the few musicians in the world who plays the waterphone – a steel instrument with a round tank and a central tube surrounded by long bronze spines – as a solo instrument. He has a large collection of the instruments made by the late Richard Waters, in different tunings, and brought four of them to the show.

Mott, naturally, claimed the baritone waterphone; Schlanger the bass; and Parker and Stewart the two mega-bass. Stewart pointed out that Parker and Schlanger had played similar water-based instruments in a New York-based orchestra.

The resulting music was almost other-worldly in nature, with Stewart and Parker's bowed waterphones creating long, quiet, magical-sounding lines, enhanced by rippling notes by Mott running a mallet across the waterphone spines. The sound blossomed out, flowing and atmospheric, with constantly changing textures created by the musicians tapping on different parts of their waterphones with bows, hands, or mallets, and by the water tilting within the instruments morphing the sounds. At one point, Parker started swaying to the music and encouraging the audience to sway with him. It was a beautiful interlude, greeted by strong applause.

The group ended with a short, emphatic blues, with lots of circling lines on baritone. When it ended, the audience responded with a standing ovation, with the few sitting getting to their feet as well.

This is the third year the trio has played together in Ottawa – despite living in widely separated locations (Parker in NYC, Mott in Prince Edward County in Ontario, Stewart in Ottawa). But they're joined by a common love of improvisation, and all three have had decades of experience in free jazz. Parker is world-renowned as an avant-garde bassist and composer, while Mott is known for his solo baritone work and compositions ranging from chamber music to jazz. Stewart is noted for his music from found objects, as well as his bringing music and improvisation to those who might not otherwise encounter it; he also won a Juno as a member of the Stretch Orchestra.

The Hintonburg store, which sells vinyl and audio equipment, hosts several shows a month by indie and jazz groups. They've previously recorded some of these shows on a vintage Technics 1500 reel-to-reel tape machine – and did that again at this show, for future vinyl release on the store's own record label. Store owner John Thompson asked the audience at the beginning of the show to silence phones and respect the recording – and with the store's good acoustics, it gave an excellent listening experience.

The trio will play two shows at GigSpace – with better sightlines and bar service – tonight (Friday). The 7 p.m. show is sold out, but there are a few seats left for 9 p.m. William Parker is also giving a free masterclass Friday afternoon, from 3 to 5 p.m., at Carleton University University's Kailash Mital Theatre. It will include Parker performing with Stewart, and with saxophonist (and 2015-16 Carleton artist-in-residence) Petr Cancura.

Ottawa is also the first stop on an Ontario tour for the trio this weekend:

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

See's previous stories and videos about the Sonoluminescence Trio and William Parker: