A percussionist walked from the border of the United States and Mexico to the San Francisco Bay. It’s a territory long traversed by both migrants and vagrants, a span of the semi-arid Pacific coast that has its own character. Workers move seasonally with crop schedules within this span. Hippies and love children used to pass each other on this road. In the 18th century, Junipero Serra made a similar journey on foot through a fever dream of colonizing Christendom, planting subjugating missions as he went.
Many of those are still standing. Serra was sainted by the Catholic church in 2015, after Steven Schick, the percussionist who undertook this journey in 2006, wrote a diary fusing sound with thought with movement with fantasy, invoking for composer George E. Lewis a different spiritual path, that of the dreaming track, an indigenous Australian concept that orients philosophical ideas to space. Apart from a linear notion of time, its dreaming forms a continuity between a deep ancestral world and what’s happening here and now. All of this forms the basis for Lewis’ Soundlines, a new monodrama for orator and nine instruments.
George Lewis plays the trombone! It’s an instrument that comes at you and then retreats again, as the instrumentalist moves the slide forward and backward to control the length of the wind column and thus the pitch. It glides; it’s the brass instrument with the true glissando, able to slip between notes. In jazz as in classical, it has its own character. While the mechanism sets musical limits, the place where the person’s mouth meets the instrument’s mouthpiece is a place where many differences can be made, which is especially evident in Lewis’ virtuoso experimentalist playing.
Radically open to differences, Lewis is a legendarily inspiring composer, having worked through improvisation and scoring, orchestral jazz and electronic composition, humans and machines, performance and pedagogy, ensembles of all kinds. His decades of work have earned him many accolades of the highest order. His work brings experience and wisdom to an avant-gardist project, offering a deep continuity at the forefront of music, and with style. The journey continues …
Malik Gaines is Associate Professor and Director Of Undergraduate Studies for Performance Studies at NYU. His most recent book is “Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible.”