Music Review : EAR Unit Ends Its Season With Theatrics and a Twist

The California EAR Unit, bless its syncopated heart, refuses to divulge what--if anything--the EAR acronym means. In a similar way, the ensemble refuses to abide by a definable musical mandate, focusing on contemporary music in its myriad forms.

So it was fitting that, for its season closer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wednesday, the Unit displayed a self-typifying brand of eclecticism. Elements of dadaistic theater, jazz flavoring, prop/process music and varying degrees of tonality all fit neatly into the fabric of a madcap evening.

As a dazzling centerpiece, we had "typOpera," as ambitious and fun-loving a work as any the Unit has performed this year. Inspired by the surreal collage pioneer Kurt Schwitters, the piece was conceived by committee, headed by Eve Beglarian, with Unit members James Rohrig and Arthur Jarvinen, and with contributions by the rest of the group.

Fundamentally absurd, yet also exacting, this is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink work, replete with projections, a cheerleader routine, Firesign Theater-like antics, collapsed cliches and a general associative jumble accenting irreverence. Much of the text, such as it is, consists of dissected, nonsense linguistics, organized into infectious musical motives that split the difference between camp and art.

A little well-executed, non-linear malarkey is always good for what ails you.

Opening the program, Bernardo Feldman's evocative "Creatures of Habit" basks in a Cage-ian sparseness, as well as a tender wistfulness--viewed through a fog. John White's process-minded "Pieces From the 'Scratch Orchestra' " elicited an unexpected sublimity from such offbeat sources as bottles and Jew's Harps.

Noted jazz saxophonist-composer Oliver Lake's rough-hewn chamber jazz piece "Flirtation Blues" duly flirts with blues and jazz vernaculars. Lake spreads stylistic tentacles in Europe, New York and some rural folk tradition of uncertain origin.

Likewise, the EAR Unit continues to chart its course from an unusually diverse, cut-up road map.

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