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David Schulman improvising in response to X Within X Orange by Robert Mangold.
The most interesting part of this weekend’s jazz performances at the Phillips Collection isn’t advertised in the Festival’s schedules. All weekend, solo musicians are moving through the Phillips galleries with their instruments, stopping at pieces of art, and responding to those works by improvising music.
Saturday afternoon the roving player was David Schulman, a Takoma Park radio producer and jazz violinist, who was also playing viol in the galleries—-along with an electronic pedals-and-effects console and a small Kustom amp. As he found artworks that inspired him to play, Schulman used the electronics to create his own accompaniment. He would improvise until he found a riff he liked, record that riff, play it back on a loop, then improvise again over that, creating layers as thin or dense as he wanted them (not unlike the innovations that Robin Eubanks developed a couple years ago.
But Schulman had quite the arsenal of sounds to begin with. He was playing two instruments; one (the violin) was amplified, and one was not; and he was plucking and bowing each of them. Add to that the canned beats he was using, and Schulman was his own small combo, creating spontaneous and completely unique music off the inspiration of the modern art in the Collection’s Goh Annex. It was hard not to be wowed; the audience certainly was. Schulman finished just before 4:00, at which time Reginald Cyntje was performing in the music room. The trombonist, originally from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, brought pianist Janelle Gill and bassist Herman Burney Jr. to play an hourlong set of chamber jazz in Cyntje’s romantic idiom.
They began with a gentle “Body and Soul,” Cyntje so sensitive and graceful that his trombone might have been mistaken for a French horn, and Gill with a light touch and haunting sound. Burney’s bass was a bit removed from the mood, with a buzzing tone and faintly clipped attack, but his skill and imagination were nonetheless impressive.
The program was a mix of bebop and Caribbean flavorings. In each successive tune, Cyntje managed to inject some romance—-even in the fun calypso “St. Thomas.” Gill, even with her light fingering, displayed a capacity for both the airy and earthy on a nameless tune that sounded like a Jamaican lullabye, and Burney recovered from the opener enough to work some magic, too, commandeering an improvised blues with a long, chopsy, gutbucket solo that shook the walls.
If it hadn’t been for the obnoxious teenager in Cyntje’s audience who thought it was hilarious to intone “YEAH!” in his deepest voice every two minutes, Jazz n’ Families Fun Day would have been a nearly flawless feast for the eyes and ears.