Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis at the San Jose Repertory Theater, June 11, 2001

Artistic director Quincy Troupe continues the highly successful Intersections series at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, juxtaposing literary readings with some of the most adventurous music ever performed in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The third of four performances in the Intersections series, featuring the magnificent piano and trombone duo of Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis, was a study in musical dialogue of the highest order.

Readings by authors Arthur Sze and Bebe Moore Campbell framed two intricate and fully realized improvisations by the featured instrumentalists.

Program notes to the effect that Abrams is an avant-garde pianist do not adequately describe the comprehensive musical imagination and virtuosity that were evident. The chromatic interval relationships established by Lewis' initial open trombone cadenza were indicative of the highly adventurous music to follow. From a low concert "A", Abrams' impeccable chromatic lines and tone clusters emerged with tremendous rhythmic intensity, responding to and complementing the speech-like patterns produced by the brass instrument. Abrams' wholly original harmonic concept speaks to a level of instrumental achievement rarely seen in this region. Just a few minutes into the first piece, its very deliberate design emerged. This was not a conventional 12 or 32 bar form, but a highly advanced improvised suite consisting of a prelude, a complex development and adagio section, and a denouement.

Few musicians have braved such challenging settings so convincingly. A propulsive, up-tempo encore underscored the powerful rhythmic drive shared by these two great artists. One can only hope that this epic performance was fully documented.

by James D. Armstrong, Jr.

Jazz Now's Editor of music in transition

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