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Strange Waters: A Love Upstream With The Lukas Pearse Quintet 

Wednesday night I ran into bassist/composer/electronic tinkerer Lukas Pearse outside 1313 Hollis Street - the venue for a performance of a new music composition penned by Pearse. "This is going to be really slow, " he said in answer to a question about his piece. "Really slow. Quiet." I noticed a michievous impishness in the eyes. He continued. "And weird. A lot of electronic stuff." A pause. "I might be pulling your leg."

The Lukas Pearse Quintet fleshed out with lanky Matt Brubeck on cello, Gina Burgess on violin, Pierre Tanguay on batterie, Tim Crofts at the piano and Realistic Moog - "an ancient analogue synth from Radio Shack," Pearse said, who completed the quintet with himself on acoustic bass and electronica force-field. Titles of movements, Callender Error and 30,000 Instructions offered paradoxically, a clue and no clue whatsoever of what we, the audience, were about to hear.

Pearse, a tall gentle man, easily carrying an authoritative heft, is blessed with humbling musical gifts as an instrumentatist, a puckish wit and, as a composer, an adventurous musical curiosity. As cited in the group's intro, Pearse's electronic processing is harnessed to open up "new, innovative pathways of sound".

His composition began as he said. Slowly. Quietly. Bowed bass sonorites captured by the computer, played back as loops, allowed Pearse to carve out lines in counterpoint. Delays and looping ceded to a deep rumbling sound, pixilated by bright pops from the drums with bell-like glints from the cymbals. Delicate upper register single notes from the piano pinged - heard then gone like watching blinking fireflies flit about on a summer's night. Pearse shifted into a series of staggered walking bass figures during which the cello, violin and piano conjoined to create a somewhat astringent chamber jazz motif; Ethereal At The Edge. Shards of random melody soon haplessly competed with a tumultuous frenzy of crazed piano runs. Then both contestants abruptly let up. The music tempo turned at once cautious, like someone gingerly stepping through a minefield. When nothing suddenly exploded, the tone became more confident. Bolder. From somewhere in the electronica, chatter bubbled up. Unintelligible voicings of perhaps dangerous secrets. Couldn't tell. But they felt ominous. In step, the music reverted to being wary as Tanguay smoked blisteringly rapid heartbeats from the drums which also were suggestive of angry voices in the head. Electronic yelps and looped repeats signalled an insertion of a surprise. A jaunty melody both sprightly and confident: only to be soured by grating three or four note metallic scronks from the old synth: as disquieting a sound as the classic fingernails dragged across a blackboard. Unbelievably awful as this was, what followed "bettered" it. The scronks became a solo for an accelerating unmufflered, badly maintained, 250cc Suzuki motorcycle. Sci-fi effects from Pearse failed to mask this assault on the nerves. Worse was to come. The motorcyle racket devolved into a mind-snapping too-longly held drone resembling the throb of a gas-powered generator. To my annoyance, this was played off against a truly lovely loping violin, cello and bass melody. The section, thankfully, turned playful with a solo performed with a drum case transformed into a very large shaker. To conclude this passage, processed piano runs mimicked the outpourings of a "troubled and distressed" calliope as ambient sounds of mini-jet fighter Doppler effects took the section home.

The last movement, more austere and restrained, put me in mind of a funeral procession. Melancholic. Meditative. And solemn. The drums set the mood with muffled tap, tap, tap, tap, taps on a tom-tom interposed with paradiddles created by a rubber ball repeatedly dropped on the snare drum head. For those expecting something more "happy pie", more attuned to the familiar AABA structure of jazz standards like My Funny Valentine, Pearse's composition must have seemed like a disorienting journey along a highway without recognizable landmarks. But each musical form, no matter how apparently "far out" , has a set of rules and structure. For newbies to new musical forms, to find an unexpected level of enjoyment and appreciation, it helps to listen visually. Let the sounds create pictures in the mind that can be "chunked" together into a narrative. This way the new music experience, like Pearse's last night, can be truly rewarding.

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