You've got to give percussionist/composer Ron George credit. If anyone can make music out of a roomful of gongs, cymbals, chimes and assorted industrial waste metal, he can.
At Beyond Baroque in Venice on Saturday night, George played a half-hour solo piece--"Variations on a Butterfly"--that called up impressions of everything from a Javanese Gamelan orchestra to the theater pieces of Harry Partch. Banging, stroking and tapping his array of metal, extracting sounds both gentle and aggressive, George managed to combine these strikingly unfamiliar timbres into an almost classical interlacing of themes, developments and recapitulations. It was an impressive performance--the most impressive performance, as it turned out--of the evening.
Bassist Bertram Turetzky joined George for the evening's second number--a Turetzky original self-described by its composer as a depressing piece. It fulfilled his forecast with a dark combination of high bass harmonics and eerie sounds that George produced by bowing the edges of his vibraphone bars. The piece resolved, somewhat surprisingly, in an optimistic and quite euphonious climax.
The program's last segment was devoted to three free improvisations by George, Turetzky and multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia. As with most completely unstructured improvisations, the few good moments were surrounded by far too many long-winded ones. Compounding the problem was Golia's apparent determination to play most of the instruments that he'd brought along--from Chinese flute and Japanese shakuhachi to clarinet, alto flute, bass and contrabass clarinets.
George, Turetzky and Golia are probably among the few musicians in Los Angeles who can create this much substance in a spontaneous, collective improvisation. But they really should learn to edit themselves.