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Published: 2004/10/03
by Reanna Feinberg

Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Fez Ballroom, Porland, OR- 9/16

The Fez Ballroom felt more like an incubated laboratory of sound inquiry than a music venue while hosting Robert Walter's 20th Congress on the 16th of September. Intensity built throughout the night. They went in hard, crashing and full-throttle and came out teasing: stopping suddenly, breathing heart attacks into their music, then picking up right back into the tangled pandemonium they'd left a moment before. Syncopated beats drove the trio's cohesion. They thrive in this uncharted musical ether, passing experimental sonic jazz around like an inside joke being played and presented to the others for decoration.

A mad scientist played the keys surrounded by his tools concocting, creating, and playing wildly. I don't know what exactly Robert Walter was creating. It echoed, flowed with a playfulness and hyperactivity of baby turtles hurtling themselves toward the ocean and possessed a general pinch of electricity. His palms remained steadypulling back on occasion to remember their roots as hands. Music twisted and distorted itself from his portable lab while his face scrunched and screamed silently as if an eye of newt had accidentally slipped uncomfortably down his pants.

Robert most encapsulated the demeanor of Dr. Frankenstein but the creation was not his alone. The entire band, shrunken since I last saw them, grabbed vile after vile, throwing beats and woven rhythms of volatile sounds into the room, bubbling over. It was a spectacle of science: invisible, yet potent enough that my arms shot out in waves to grab the air around me as if I may have caught a tangible piece of the musical debris. Jason Smart on drums and Cochemea Gastolum on horns and various toys, concocted flavors and strands of the euphonic brew that moved my limbs and pulled my body in directions beyond the compass all at once. Each one of them took a turn mixing and tweaking the musictoo involved to sit back, watch and sinisterly laugh while exclaiming, "It's alive" (as should be required for any good mad scientist scene).

Metal knobs and buttons shimmered and disappeared under Cheme's fingers on the saxophone like raindrops on a lake. He grabbed as many instruments as he could find like a kid let loose in a musical playground for two hours where he got to make whatever he wanted and so built a castle out of tire swings and made the sandbox into a jungle gym. He played the saxophone, the flute, a cowbell, a tambourine, and the cowbell with the tambourine, often intentionally offbeat, spiking the musical fog with interesting darts to fathom and build from.

Jason Smart is the drummer for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey as well and I'm continually impressed with his skills in setting loose sounds from the drums with gentle precision and intense power. He pounds, twiddles, explores and invokes beats, often with closed eyes during his solos. How does he hit the right head in the right place? How does he not get lost? He seems to have created some form of high-quality wave in his invisible beaker that guides his limbs, or drumsticks, like bats communicating in sonar. This is what they should teach in high school chemistry classes.

Drum solos nestled between the echoing funk of brass and keys transformed the room into a pulsing heart. The walls of the Fez Ballroom could have been stretched drumheads over two by fours and plaster. I stood at the front of the stage, safely away from the couches and comfy love seats that were surely shimmying their way inward, carrying the masses and riding vibrations toward the evening's pulsing source. This sort of music doesn't allow for observers, all who entered were in it and at the whim of this musical vessel.

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