Touring in support of their 2016 album “Collateral,” this trio of the same name brought their improvisational showcase to the MUN School of Music on November 9.
Presented by MUN, the Sound Symposium, and the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, Sam Shalabi, Norm Adams, and Tim Crofts played for a small but dedicated gathering of music lovers on a very rainy evening.
Hitting the floor at 8 p.m., Shalabi, Adams and Crofts took their places at their respective instruments – guitar and oud, cello, and piano. This was my first time seeing or hearing an oud.
Prior to the show, Wikipedia informed me that an oud is “short lute-type, pear-shaped stringed instrument,” also deemed the most important instrument in Middle Eastern music.
As they started, I was unsure if the band was simply tuning up or if the show was underway. I’ll just go ahead now and admit my unfamiliarity with experimental free jazz, and improvisational musical groups. I was lost in a new musical territory, and I didn’t have a map.
I’ll just go ahead now and admit my unfamiliarity with experimental free jazz, and improvisational musical groups. I was lost in a new musical territory, and I didn’t have a map.
On the far right, Crofts was elbow deep in the piano, fiddling with its inner workings. He incorporated various mallets, chains, chunks of wood, cymbals and even a billiards ball into his varied approach, emitting sounds I never knew a piano could make. The band played for fifteen minutes before Crofts even touched the keys.
Further left, Adams and Shalabi were executing numerous alternative approaches to their instruments. A soft, low, droning hum climbed into a chaotic crescendo, culminating in an inexplicable climax, only to simply begin again, but never to be executed in the same manner twice.
Like Crofts, they had a number of tools at their disposal. Shalabi experimented with a distortion pedal, continuously changing the tuning of his guitar or oud, from which he switched back and forth throughout the performance. Adams used what appeared to be clothespins to group his cello strings together, reworking his instrument to fit whatever atmosphere he wanted to create at that moment.
My ears and eyes careened around the stage, darting from one musician to the next, isolating their unique individual sound, and trying to make sense of everything at once. This was a wild ride – a symphonic rollercoaster, if you will.
I aurally hallucinated: wailing ambulances, crying cats, rolling thunder, sonar beeps, a static-y radio, a clacking typewriter, the Lucasfilm THX intro sound. A gong, harpsichord, saxophone, a twanging mouth harp.
This entire experience felt like an optical illusion that kept throwing me for a loop, but captivating my senses in its seemingly random absurdity that hit in waves of musical sensibilities.
“Collateral” is art, in the beautifully conflicting sense that art has no standard definition.
What is “music,” anyway, if not just a collection of sounds? What is “art” if not an experience that invokes the senses and elicits a mental, physical, or emotional response? What is Collateral? And who am I to tell you what’s what?