Sound Check

Meaning, Essence, Revelation

MOST MUSIC LOVERS can pinpoint the moment they fell for a genre by a single song or a concert. For free-jazz enthusiasts Scott and Sarah Hreha, it was a book: The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. Assigned in Sarah's graduate poetry class at the University of Minnesota, Baraka's writings on avant-garde jazz galvanized the literary-minded couple. Their first thought was, as Scott remembers it, "If this music is as good as he describes it, I have to hear it."

Soon the Hrehas were submerging themselves in Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler, channeling their new obsession into Web pages (www.tc.umn.edu/~holt0108/) and magazine articles (for Signal to Noise: The Journal for Improvised and Experimental Music). They attended as many shows as they could, locally and out of town. But after an unfruitful attempt to arrange a local gig for Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark, the Hrehas decided to start their own student-run free-jazz booking organization, the Tone Scientists, with friend Paola Marin last year. To avoid charging a cover, they used a relatively obscure, but effective strategy for raising seed money: applying for every campus enrichment grant they could find.

The effort paid off in U funding for three performances this fall: the New Horizons Ensemble in September, Assif Tsahar and Susie Ibarra in October, and now New York's Test on Monday, November 15 at the Whole Music Club; (612) 624-4636. The Test collective has only recently ventured beyond its regular gig playing the subways and streets of NYC to record and tour. Attendees may find Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter's ferocious unison sax blasts the most obvious focal point of the democratically run unit, but drummer Tom Bruno and bassist Matthew Heyner steer the howling sheets of sound into surprisingly subtle directions.

The Test show will be the last held in the Whole for some time, as the club closes for two years of renovations, along with the rest of Coffman Memorial Union, next week. That leaves the Scientists out in the cold for the time being, but they're already busy planning a January concert with Swedish saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, the prolific and respected NYC bassist William Parker, and eclectic Chicago-based percussionist Hamid Drake. They'd also like to have local acts open and headline future shows, tying together what they see as an active, but fragmented local improv scene.

The couple hopes to keep the concerts all-ages and free of charge, encouraging attendance by people who might be wary of the form. Ibarra and Tsahar moved some 30 CDs in what seemed like as many seconds, discovering what straightedge punk bands have known about for years: a clean-lunged, sober audience itching to unload their beer money. Space and funding willing, the Tone Scientists will continue to create and nurture a new audience for what Baraka perhaps heard in his poem "I Love Music": "meaning, essence, revelation, everything together, wailing in unison." (Cecile Cloutier)

 

As Seen on TV

"WE'RE INDELIBLY ETCHED in the American psyche," says publicist Bill Hallquist of K-Tel International--which isn't necessarily a good thing, he adds. Remembered for all those "Original Hits by the Original Stars" collections of the Seventies, the Minneapolis-based company still fields calls about every imaginable non-K-Tel-related TV spot selling repackaged music. Now the manufacturer is refurbishing its image with a recent series of hip compilations available in stores.

The new line was initiated by A&R manager Patrick Whalen, the local music mover who put together Dü Hüskers: The Twin Cities Play Zen Arcade some years back. With a nod to K-Tel in the latest Spin, the company hopes Whalen-compiled collections such as the No Depression-inspired Exposed Roots: The Best of Alt. Country and the emo-centric Nowcore! The Punk Rock Evolution will interest a younger audience in original nonhits. Whalen enlisted Mick Mercer, author of The Hex Files: The Goth Bible (Outlook) to compile the impressively annotated Goth: Music of the Shadows, Vol. 1.

But the best new comp is The Real Hip-Hop: Best of D&D Studios, Vol. 1, mixed by former Young Black Teenager DJ Skribble. Kicking off with Nas's "N.Y. State of Mind," the uncensored hardcore selections relive the NYC studio's best moments, from Premier's cooing-bird beat under Jeru's "Come Clean" to the DJ's minimalist treatment of Biggie's "Unbelievable."

Other new compilations include Latin Club Mix 2000; Breakdance! Return of the B-Boy; and Kickboxing Mix: 60 Minutes of Non-Stop Hi-Energy Hits. (Peter S. Scholtes)

 
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