A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Colin MacDonald & A Fast Italian Car On The Seattle Freeway
Monday, January 22, 2007

When London Calling came out in 1980 I remember driving back from Vancouver, Washington with my friend Les Wiseman. We passed through Seattle in the evening through the extra speedy inside freeway. As we sped in my Fiat X-19 the lights of the city flashed by in a blur as we listened to The Clash. I discovered then a new exciting genre of music that I call music-to-listen-to-while-driving- fast-through-a-city-at-night-or-on-a-long-bridge ( in a laid back Italian position, arms straight holding the steering wheel, with the seat as far back as possible).

For the music to be part of this genre it has to have an inexorable sense of purpose, an unfliching beat and, of course, it has to be heard extremely loud. I think Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 2, in the super fast Pablo Casals version, would qualify as would (pure conjecture of mine) Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 22, The Philosopher if it were performed on music overdrive. I cannot think of any 19th century music that fits the bill but in the 20th century, Maurice Ravel's Bolero would do me fine as would any composition by Philip Glass. In jazz, Paul Desmond's Take Five performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet would shorten any trip. Perhaps its odd and disquieting (and obsessive) 5/4 time signature helps.

I thought of all the above as I had one heck of great time last night listening to composer/musician Colin MacDonald (above, left) and his Pocket Orchestra playing his music and that of three other contemporary composers. At least two, including Michael Nyman's Prospero's Magic had a bit of that Glass obsession and I was frustratingly trying not to "air" drive an exotic Italian car through Seattle at night. There were several reasons why the experience was pleasant. Besides Colin MacDonald on soprano saxophone, my friends, violinist Paul Luchkow (above, right) and cellist Laura Kramer (below, left) were part of the pocket orchestra.

I was accompanied by Graham Walker, my eldest daughter Ale (who brought snacks) and Paul's wife, violist Glenys Webster. Our new friend, visiting German Philipp Krieg, also raved about our evening.

MacDonald's Skillful Means was excellent bridge-crossing-material made all the better by an enthusiastic alto saxophonist, David Branter who, after my playing friends, was easily my favourite in the orchestra. Sitting next to MacDonald's soprano sax and with bass trombonist Brad Muirhead ( it looked like a normal trombone as the bell seemed small but it all had to do with the fact that Muirhead was one big man) behind, this was a solid brass and woodwind section that had a cool trumpet player in Geeta Das, who played in the later compositions. Her serious face contrasted sharply with Branter and the smiling Daniel Tones on percussion.

MacDonald's Reaching for Immortality , while having players performing in what this amateur reviewer would state was out of phase (Paul Luchkow told me it was fun to not have to play normal ensemble playing) had a very pleasant romantic streak.

But it was the last composition of the evening, Macdonald's The 5-Chambered Heart that was the high point of the evening for me. It had a 5/4 beat that was much too complex for me to figure out. It was a miracle that the orchestra could keep up with each other after I was told how little time they had to rehearse. The piece ended nice and slowly as my Maserati and I reached our destination.

It would not be fair for me not to mention that this Pocket Orchestra had Ya-Wen Vivienne Wang on the piano, Cori Somers on violin, Jared Burrows on bass guitar and Stefan Hintersteiniger on cello. The latter could take some smiling lessons from Laura Kramer who does it so well, besides playing a damn good cello.

For me the only bittersweet part of the evening was sensing the ghost of my departed lefty friend Ben Metcalf who will always haunt the small and intimate Western Front where this entertaining concert was held.


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