Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys at Greenwich House Music School

The late trumpeter Bill Dixon was famous for his use of space and silence in his music as his “second instrument.” Percussionist Mike Pride‘s compositions and performance last night at Greenwich House with his band From Bacteria to Boys displayed a very different approach to the use of silence to great effect. Pride’s music is both intricate and electrifying–it seems he never wastes a percussive beat. Yet, he mixes in occasional breaks from the intensity with well-timed, if brief, moments of reflection.  By shifting from intense playing, to soloing, to sudden interludes of silence, Pride exhibits an incredible range of emotions through his music. It’s fitting, after all, for a set of music drawn from the band’s latest album, Birthing Days, written for and inspired by the birth of Pride’s son in 2012. The music carries a human resonance–an honesty about the beauty and the challenges, the unknown and unexpected, the anxiety and satisfaction that one experiences in parenthood.  Ecstatic exclamations, mild whimsies, sweet lullabies, and turbulent confessions are all present on the album and were brimming over in the live performance.

Pride has no shortage of ideas–while he spent most of the night at his kit, without warning he switched to using various other mallets, bows, vibes, and myriad other objects to produce all manner of textured sounds.  As a friend of mine once said following a performance by Pride, “I knew when he pulled out the bass bow to play a cymbal we had fully arrived at a new level of musical experience.” And he does it all with a nonchalance that does not overtly advertise his innovative techniques or versatility. Pride is as comfortable in front of a traditional drum kit as he is playing with any other sound-producing object.  It is the potential for sound that interests him and drives him along the road to new forms of improvised music.

Despite the virtuosic abilities expressed by the leader, the rest of the band was not to be overshadowed. Each of the three accompanying musicians, Alexis Marcelo (piano, synthesizer), Jon Irabagon (alto & tenor sax), and Peter Bitenc (bass), and special guest Jonathan Moritz (tenor sax) made their own mark on the music. They played incredibly well together–the incredibly difficult transitions from one section to another, or the sudden break in sound, or its resumption, convincingly illustrates the band members’ discipline. The solos were also unique and showed the character of each musician, ranging from Marcelo’s intensity, to Irabagon’s driving passion, to Bitenc’s laid-back lines.  The solos might have stood out even more had the composed sections not been so brilliantly orchestrated–unlike so much jazz music where the audience finds reason to yawn between solo sections, this music afforded no time for whimsical distraction.  The intense and engaging performance was riveting throughout even as the audience shrugged off the city’s first heat wave.

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