Collaboration at Constellation

ConstellationOn a cold and windy Friday evening, the fellows set out to Constellation, a new music venue on a mission to “present progressive performance and forward-thinking music with a focus on jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical.” Most of us had never been to Constellation before, but boy, did we choose the right night to go.

Matt Ulery, performed works from his new album, In the Ivory, a follow up album to his By Little a Light, named one of NPR’s “Top 50 Favorite Albums of 2012”. Each album includes collaborations with eighth blackbird, the Chicago based, Grammy award-winning chamber ensemble that “combines the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band and the audacity of a storefront theater company.” Anticipating the evening’s musical adventures, Constellation’s sold out, packed house was eager to welcome these artists.

The evening began with all twelve musicians entering the stage at once as the audience applauded – Matt Ulery joined the audience in applauding his team of amazing collaborators. The unique instrumentation displayed in front of us consisted of a string quartet, flute, clarinet, piano, keyboard, vibes, bass, drum set, and voice.

What followed was a genre I hadn’t heard before or studied in conservatory. I spent the whole evening trying to categorize something that I concluded can’t or shouldn’t be placed into a category. Matt’s compositions are truly unique and genuine. He artistically displays an unconventional and through-composed mixture of textures between instruments not normally found together on the same stage. There were returning themes and intricate ostinato motifs all woven together to create a special sound with minimalistic qualities shining through. The use of sudden dynamic changes was striking, daring, and effective. Some pieces were soothing, combining lush string harmonies with Grazyna Auguscik’s delicate voice. In other pieces we heard eerie ostinato figures in the piano, with polyrhythms in the winds or percussion, all the while combining unconventional phrase structures to create a captivating experience.

About half way through the set, Eighth Blackbird took the stage to perform David Lang’s “These Broken Wings,” a piece commissioned several years ago. This 6-minute piece began with a powerful, driving rhythm in the piano. After this short piece, the rest of the musicians joined the stage again to finish out the evening with Matt Ulery’s compositions. I was moved and inspired to see the extremely high level of communication and technique shared between the performers in an evening of beautiful and progressive new music.

I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to observe what incredible projects and collaborations are taking place in our musical community. Matt Ulery’s music fused elements and instruments of classical and jazz together, but the product belongs to neither genre. That evening at Constellation showed the essence of meaningful collaboration. Matt Ulery is a new music pioneer leading the way in an ever-evolving music world.

After the concert, some of the fellows and I talked to Matt about his musical inspiration, and of course, Anna and I needed to know what type of strings he was using on his bass!

Jessica with MattAll in all, it was a blustery October evening well spent.

To get a taste of the wonderful music heard that evening, please visit: http://mattulery.bandcamp.com

By Jessica Wolfe