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Four cutting-edge musicians versed in contemporary classical and free improvisation join forces

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This transatlantic group represents a small but growing species in experimental music: players who are fluent in both composed contemporary music and free improvisation. In fact all four musicians make it difficult, if not impossible, to indicate which discipline their work privileges. Bassoonist Katherine Young has long been a key figure on Chicago’s scene, composing rigorous, full-scored works and directing her often unwieldy instrument with an electrifying liquidity, while Sam Pluta, who arrived at the University of Chicago just last fall, showcases a latency-free mastery of live signal processing, refracting the lines and gestures of his collaborators with quicksilver grace. Amsterdam-based concert flutist Anne La Berge also moves easily between worlds. Her latest album, The Hum (Unsounds), features a pair of text pieces performed with improvising bassist Joe Williamson that blur the line between radio play and minimalist improv. Bassoon virtuoso Dana Jessen, who also logged time in Amsterdam, now teaches at Oberlin College, leads the winds quintet Splinter Reeds, and recently dropped a stunning solo album called Carve (Innova). Between electronics-saturated pieces by Pluta, Paula Matthusen, Peter V. Swendsen, and her cohort in Splinter Reeds Kyle Bruckmann, Jessen interweaves short improvisations that demonstrate particular techniques—like playing without a reed or using a reed only—and seamlessly connect composed material. It’s still early, but Carve is one of the strongest records I’ve heard in the New Year. I’m intrigued by how the unique timbres of two bassoons and flute will sound tonight, especially with Pluta distorting, twisting, and dicing their sounds in real time.   v

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