february 19, 1998

Hot picks

$7 - $10

Dan Plonsey, Scott Walton, Dana Reason, Glen Whitehead and Vanessa Tomlinson
Spruce Street Forum
301 Spruce St.
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 295-0301

Much like the wheat-and-the-chaff Horiuchi/Wong/Roper trio performance last week, this third Spruce Street exercise in the Kingdom of Maybe will depend on what transpires among the players. Not everyone in the group has played with each other before, which places a premium on listening.

But that's only the first axiom in the Guide for Operating Spaceship Improv. Others, contributed by saxophonist Dan Plonsey, include Avoid the Tentative, Turn Accidents into Possibilities, and the least-recognized principle of all: Inject Chaos into Everything You Do. A lot of musicians, he reminds us, don't want to be associated with giving up their every conscious intention, because they think it makes them appear incompetent. (Remember the arguments against the Abstract Expressionists?) But as the organizer of the Bay Area's weekly Beanbender creative music series affirms, "Yeah, you're not in control, and it's great."

Plonsey, a Yale math and Mills College composition grad, is exploring many of the post-Coltrane period's most strenuous and personal concepts on his tenor, alto, baritone and soprano. Rahsaan Kirk harmonized on two and even three horns at once ("It's like one side of your mind saying 'Oo-bah-la-dee,' while the other side of your mind says, 'What does he mean?'" quipped Kirk in concert) — but Plonsey's ploy on simultaneous clarinet and soprano is to flatten and sharpen notes slightly, creating a microtonal harmony that's not possible with most fixed-tone instruments.

Roscoe Mitchell's way of going outside the traditional idea of beautiful tone (to the point where ugliness is interesting) has swayed him too, along with the flexibility to throw stones at the jazz tradition's homing pigeons.

And Braxton's less-is-more solo saxophone pieces of the early '70s, each of which focused on one element of his language, such as trills or intervals — are in Plonsey's mind too. But he's transposed the selected palette idea to his knock-you-out heterophonous and polyphonous works, overdubbing himself two to eight times on his "Ivory Bill" disc; experience taught him that other players couldn't handle the inflections and near-but-not-quite unison playing in his compositions.

The bottom line is that Plonsey's ornithological odes, hooting, cooing, metallic melismas, loopy phrasing, rock-drill tonal overbite and occasional codeine-droopy tone are insane. But if the other players on the gig aren't as developed or don't hit it off, it all might not rise to the surface.

— Mark Lewis, Sidewalk