It hardly needs to be said that TranceFormation’s In Concert won’t be for everyone. It’s enough to inspire some into apoplectic fits of critical rage. Free jazz or whack jazz or whatever this is can do that to people used to the more melodic coatings of the genre. But Andrea Wolper (vocals), Connie Crothers (piano) and Ken Filiano (bass) are hardly swinging for the songbook here.
Wolper is a vocalist of uncommon variation. Whether she’s soaring through Parallel Lives (a record that also features Filiano) or calling out beatnik-style bars with this improvisational crew, she’s always pushing boundaries and taking chances. In Concert is another chance, an album that is surely not couched in the same tradition that saw her melody-building out of Duncan Sheik songs.
How do you approach a project that doesn’t have melody-building as its primary focus? What do you do with material that aims to serve as an examination of the “inherent mystery of the music-making process?” And how do you dig in and criticize the “state that is the source of free and uninhibited expression?”
You do so with care. The approach actually isn’t any different than the approach of other works of art – or it shouldn’t be. Examining the intentions of TranceFormation should provide a clue, even if one’s personal tastes run afoul of the adventurous spirit inhabiting this recording.
In Concert aims to capture spontaneity in the form of two performances, one at Manhattan’s The Stone and one at Korzo in Brooklyn. Both shows find the flood of influences – jazz, classical, blues, theatre, rock, pop, art – meeting in some sort of spiritual middle. In the cause of this sort of freedom, Wolper and Co. take a number of gambles that don’t always “work” in the conventional sense.
Of course, that’s kind of the point. TranceFormation doesn’t toy with “The Same Moon” because it sounds pretty. The opening piece, rightly described from the lyrical sense as a form of “hip fairy tale” by Elzy Kolb, fuses interplay with surrealistic words and expressions.
“When Souls Run Around in the Night” goes further and now it feels like it’s Wolper having fits, only instead of rage she feels immediate nerve. “It’s all about listening and feeling,” she explains. “Everything I do is the direct result of what Ken and Connie play. I never really know what direction the music will take.”
The listener has no idea either, which is what will make In Concert either truly rewarding or infinitely frustrating. Perhaps the problem of not being able to clap and sing along plagues some, but others will find deep rewards in pieces like “Whale Song” and the syncopated line of “The Things You See in New York City.” And others still will find solace in this intimate exploration of the roots (not the ends) of creation.