Although it's barely two years old, the Tonehole Festival seems all grown up—presenting far-ranging music in well-organized evenings and balancing unmanageable stylistic variations. It complements the city's other major adventurous music celebrations—the Seattle Festival of Improvised Music and the annual Earshot Jazz Fest—with a beguiling variety of sound. So you have Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell fronting groups, Ensemble Sospeso playing big-minded post-classical concert music, and then you have Steve Moore and Tonehole co-founder/saxophonist Jessica Lurie leading exciting ensembles, plying a largely jazz trade even while not firmly part of a jazz gig.
OK Hotel, March 1-6
"The idea for Tonehole," says co-founder Eric Boyer, "was that there was all this amazing music happening around here and hardly anybody was being exposed to it. You would find the same groups of people at all the shows. So why not try to produce these performances in a way that would attract a more diverse and larger audience?"
To illustrate the festival's expanse of styles, consider on the one hand Jeff Greinke's consistently underaccorded LAND, and on the other, the duo of Petra Haden and Portland accordion dynamatrix Miss Murgatroid. LAND's combination of acoustic instruments (percussion and trumpet) with keyboards, guitar, bass, and effects is orchestral compared to Haden's violin and Miss Murgatroid's accordion. Yet their music shares key conceptual ground.
LAND's sound is a swirl—a clicking, cascading, jolting mix of sonorities and styles. Greinke's recording career began with mostly ambient projects in the early 1980s and expanded into LAND in 1993. "I had been working for years primarily as a solo artist," says Greinke, "and I began hitting walls with that approach, both in the studio and as a performer. I became interested in hearing more conventional instruments interwoven with my sound. And I wanted to add more energy and dynamics to my work, and find a way to perform my music in a more gratifying way. Collaborating with others seemed to be the logical answer."
The result is the current LAND quintet, with Lesli Dalaba on trumpet and effects, Dennis Rea on guitars, Fred Chalenor on bass, Bill Rieflin on drums, and Greinke on keyboards. It's quite a band, what with Dalaba's New York improv experience, Rea's world travels and free improv chops, Rieflin's years as Ministry's timekeeper, and Chalenor's road tests with Tone Dogs, Zony Mash, and now the Walkabouts.
Together, they play loose-sounding melodies amid a shell of rhythmic loops, each musician etching space for solos and thoughtful collective gestures. "The overall structure of LAND's pieces is very open," notes Rea. "Jeff has very definite ideas concerning form, tempo, mood, and tonality, but for the most part the other group members are free to come up with their own parts and sounds. For example, I've contributed the signature melodies to several pieces."
That openness and freedom has served the ensemble well, and won it critical praise for its self-titled debut (on Extreme Records) and its sophomore effort, Archipelago (Periplum), which advanced the band well beyond its earlier ambient sounds.
A self-avowed meteorology nut, Greinke weaves weather into much of his work. "My interest in the weather is more experiential than academic," he says. "I like to watch it, be in it, feel it, see it change and move across the landscape. I like the different moods that come with various meteorological phenomena, particularly those which occur just prior to more intense events like tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, etc."
Indeed, the feeling of an impending storm is all over LAND's sound. "The current lineup is more of a 'rock' band than earlier editions, and is much more explosive and in-your-face," notes Rea. "Our connection with ambient music is pretty tenuous at this point."
In your face in a far different way, the duo of Haden and Miss Murgatroid (n饠Alicia Rose) makes a startling mix. Rose's accordion sounds church-organ big in some parts and then like the fiercest '60s-era electric keyboard in others, while Haden, formerly of That Dog (and daughter of jazz bass virtuoso Charlie), wields a beautiful tone, terse but rich. Rose describes the duo's upcoming debut, Bella Neurox (on Win Records), as "neoclassical, multitonal, quasi- ethnic, noise-enhanced, avant-emotion-core." The songs, she says, "each have a different base emotion, neurosis, or nightmare behind them."
Rose and Haden came together as a duo "by ugly circumstance," according to Rose: "Petra needed a little distance from LA and the incestual nature of the music world there, so she escaped up to Portland for a visit with me for a few weeks." After heavy film and TV immersion, the pair took up their axes. "The first time we played together it just felt right," says Rose. "Petra and I complement each other with the way that we just follow our intuition and bust out with tunes that earmark a common state of mind, or put a sound to a certain emotional unrest."
Certainly some of the unrest originates in Rose's unorthodox take on the accordion, which she plays with a touch of Pauline Oliveros' sense of tuning and intonation, and a far larger sense of volume and intensity. Rose notes that she needed one thing to get the accordion squared up with what she heard as a composer and player—amplification. Her sounds, elongated or clipped, gritty or soaringly clear, are aided by an array of pedals and effects. "My absolute faves," she reveals, "are the Memory Man, the Tube Driver (distortion), a chorus pedal, and my modulation-delay pedal. But my recent discovery of the Lexicon Vortex played a heavy hand on Bella."
Rose aims these effects differently than most improvisers. "The majority of brilliant improvisers I've seen—mostly men—lose me after about the first 10 minutes of challenging themselves," she says. "I want to start the trend of wanking with emotional improvisation. Shift music to mood instead of math. Screw calculus!"
For all that, Haden and Rose make a huge sound. As for Tonehole, the umbrella that brings this duo and LAND together, co-founder Boyer is thrilled about the expansion of the roster. "I'm excited about dance and contemporary classical, as well as some more experimental rock and even film collage that we added this year," he says. "There are so many other areas which I would like to touch on, but it's not even two years old yet. Hopefully, in time."