REVIEW: Chris Corsano at Cafe Oto

Chris Corsano at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Chris Corsano
(Cafe Oto. Day 1 of 4-day Summer Residency, 20 August 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

New Jersey-born drummer Chris Corsano was eased in to his 4-day residency at Cafe Oto in an adventurous programme devised by Ilan Volkov, focusing primarily on works for strings.

Corsano made his first appearance as the lynchpin of a trio performing Lovers Ritual with Maya Dunietz on vocals and piano and Volkov's violin scourging the room of the delicate afterglow of the evening’s first two pieces for large string ensemble by Howard Skempton and Yoni Silver, respectively.

Silver was one of the ensemble which was dispersed throughout the room to create a 'surroundsound' ambience in Skempton's 1969 Piece for Strings - Waves, Shingle, Seagulls, allowing the musicians to interpret the words, resulting in a coalescence of gentle tensions taking in a mesmerising range of taps, scrapes, slides and scratches.

Silver's own wonderfully titled composition please please please let me bask in the sun for a while - you can come back in about 10 minutes continued in a similar spirit, opening with a whiff of Appalachian Spring that was gradually rerouted to take on a purposefully discordant flavour. Volkov crouched on the floor following the score, intermittently standing to give hand signals, Dunietz added low-key piano while the bassists ran subdued plucked sequences underneath the quietly humming strings of the massed group.

At the start of the second half, Volkov asked for all lights to be extinguished to help the audience - and performers - become immersed in Pauline Oliveros's Out of the Dark (1988), with the 82 year-old composer's 'Deep Listening' principle in mind. Again the string players were not only onstage but scattered throughout the room to intensify the aural experience, at times akin to being within a beehive.

Corsano's constantly surprising solo set rounded off the evening. With constructed instruments and a set up imbued with a Heath Robinson quality he mashed up percussion with electronics and wind, starting off with an instrument comprising clarinet mouthpiece and bell at either end of a short tube to which a horizontal slider was attached, through which he blew on to a small snare – demonstrably extending his range beyond that of conventional drumming.

With inspired creative spirit he moved on to mountainous drum rolls - touches of Ginger Baker and Elvin Jones, piling it on - as a reminder that percussion is at the core of his practice - bright clicks and clacks on wooden blocks, feedback, a short sequence with two of the woodwind contraptions played simultaneously, ending with electronic distortions of every element of his drum kit as he played over them.

This ended with just the right focus, enticingly setting up the next three nights of Corsano's residency with an impressive roster of improvising collaborators.

Chris Corsano: percussion, electronics and misc instruments

Ilan Volkov: conductor, violin, electronics

String Ensemble: Jennifer Allum, Robert Ames, Mira Benjamin, Oliver Coates, Rebecca Davies, Michael Duch, Lina Lapelyte, Dominic Lash, David Lasserson, Marcio Mattos, Aisha Orazbayeva, Daniel Pioro, Noura Sanatian, Yoni Silver, Benedict Taylor, Tom Wheatley

Maya Dunietz: piano, vocals

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