Music Review: Laubrock and Rainey headline Indeterminacies’ last concert

photo2Indeterminacies is one of the most vital events in our city’s artistic and musical landscape.  Unique to Nashville, this true salon is held at Zeitgeist as a labor of love (and ideas) by Lesley Beeman and Lain York (with curatorial support by Rodger Coleman).

In other cities, salons like this are sponsored by local universities or contemporary art museums. Sadly, none of ours have the intestinal fortitude to present such avant-garde work (unless it’s already been reviewed by the New York Times and/or the New Yorker).  This is why Indeterminacies’ hospitable mix of architects, artists, professors, students and composers is so vital to our city, because it is actively engaged in the forefront of improvisational and aleatoric music performed at the highest levels.

Admittedly, only about 90 or so folks attended Ingrid Laubrock’s and Tom Rainey’s fabulous Indeterminacies concert at Zeitgeist on Thursday night (it was the series’ last concert before it goes on sabbatical). But lest you think such numbers prove the futility of such a project, it’s worth noting that grant-funded avant-garde music series in New York City usually draw only about 200 people.

photo3These are not mainstream art spectacles. They are, however, necessary. That’s because conversational events like these (performance plus talkback) are the only ways for communities to develop a mature artistic language. Two years from now, when Vanderbilt or OZ Nashville bring in a free-jazz ensemble (probably from Bang-on-a-Can, after the NYT reviews its performance at Montreaux), the reason this town will be ready for it is because 90 people had their minds blown by the superbly musical free jazz performed on Thusday at Zeitgeist.

Free form improvisation is often an exercise in self-indulgence and audience abuse.  Not so Thursday.  Laubrock’s and Rainey’s set was mesmerizing in the best sense of the word.  It reminded me of Stephen O Malley’s and Colin Stetson’s sets at Big Ears.

The concert was like viewing a Pollock painting for the first time: If you wandered into Zeitgest during Thursday’s set, you might have thought Laubrock and Rainey were playing randomly, as if they were splattering notes on a sonic canvas. Notes and tones and clicks and clacks just scattered through the air.  And yet, there was something there – a thread of conversation that followed a seemingly logical course.  Indeed, the balance was so perfect that removing just one note would likely have caused the whole to be incomprehensible.

Laubrock’s technique – harmonics, overblown tones bordering on two pitches at once – was commendable.  Harsh when she needed it to be, her tone was often as clear as a bell.  The duo was definitely focused on timbre.  Steve Reich was right when he said that timbre has been the main consideration of music since the 70s.  Clicks, clacks and whistle tones from the sax were supported by bare-handed set playing, cymbal scrapes with brushes, and in one notable moment, two water bottles played as shakers.

Rainey proved to be a formidable jazz drummer.  You could tap your feet to the beat – most of the audience did. His time was obvious even when his performance was deliberately subdued.   The drums just sizzled with frenetic energy, defty woven into the musical conversation with his Partner in Sax.

This was still jazz. For all the abstraction, the music didn’t seem angry. Rather, it was searching and contemplative.  There were motives (if you could call them that).  Free jazz with motives.  Sounds like the title of a painting.  Free jazz with Motivic Activity? (sounds like an indie band).  There were short snippets of musical ideas, explored and varied in five or ten seconds. They were long enough to identify, but too short to fully comprehend.  Like great stream-of-consciousness writing, it all made intuitive sense at the moment.

The duo was sensitive to the sonic environment: Laubrock played the climax of the second piece from the back of the gallery. (She walked there while playing).  I can appreciate how loud a tenor sax can be played.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a player back away from the audience during a crescendo.

This makes the spinning pinwheel of my mind a delicious delirium. The ideas are moving faster than my mind can analyze them.  And so my brain’s hard drive keeps spinning, hoping to make sense of it all…and that constant spinning creates something near to a meditative state.  If the ensemble ever broke their form, we would have snapped back into reality and something would have been lost.

THE DUO has CDs for sale.  I heartily recommend them.  And as for Indeterminacies, I’m sorry to see it go on hiatus.

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About Kyle J. Baker

Kyle J. Baker is a Nashville-based composer and impresario most known for directing Nashville's Soundcrawl Festival. He composes for acoustic and digital forces with a recurring emphasis on rhythmic post-minimal structures. Classical in heritage, but vernacular in vocabulary, his music has garnered such attention as 2008 Belmont University Composition Prize, Honorable Mention in the 2008 Pathways Young Band Composition Contest as well as distribution by, His notable teachers include Ken Read, John LaBarbara, Delfeayo Marsalis and William Pursell. Born in Scotland and raised in St. Louis, Baker holds an M.Mus from Belmont University and makes his home in Cane Ridge, Tenn. with his wife Joy and cat Lili.


  1. Michael says:

    Kyle Baker writes “Free form improvisation is often an exercise in self-indulgence and audience abuse”. Really? Then you must be seeing the wrong improvisors. Painting an entire art form with such a broad brush is a disservice. What if I wrote “Abstract expressionism is often an exercise in self-indulgence and audience abuse”. Improvisation is a learned artform and most experienced pratictioners are not being indulgent.