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Bobby Previte: Extraterrestrial Dreams

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Fri Oct 12th, 2018

Previte Sextet: Nels Cline, Jamie Saft, Zeena Perkins, Bobby Previte, Fabian Rucker, Jen Shyu

Bobby Previte’s sextet at Hudson Hall this evening sailed off into ethereal realms. The program was entitled Rhapsody (Terminals Part II: In Transit). I had listened to his 2014 album Terminals performed with Sō Percussion, whom I have heard on several occasions, yet I was not prepared for the fullsome flight of Rhapsody, an approximately 75 minute excursion into a new universe based upon a variety of musical languages spoken on earth. This happening was a little bit like John Cage meets Sun Ra Arkestra, but it was not that at all. Except for the Chinese erhu, the instruments were traditional Western instruments, but the sensibility offered an international vagabondage trek across India, China, Mongolia, and back to the West.

The format was free jazz association with solos from all instruments. What was truly astonishing was the mountain climbing transitions from different rhythms and modalities within a seamless progression that charted a variety of moods from dissonant angst to quiet mediation and ultimately to the well-achieved climax of rhapsody itself, which was something well beyond words. Sometimes performers had sheet music, sometimes they improvised. Composer and arranger Previte alternately conducted, played drums, guitar, autoharp, and harmonica, while Jen Shyu sang as she floated across the stage playing erhu, percussion, and piano.

Jamie Saft (of Iggy Pop, The B-52s, Donovan, etc.) played the piano with light glissando runs and calming presence as Fabain Rucker on alto saxophone delivered more dissonant edge that threatened to collapse, yet continued on its determined, improbable way. Zeena Parkins on harp supplied a magical mood presence that offered more levitation than lift as her fingers flew through wires with fluid grace.

Besides the mike for singing, Nels Cline on guitar (and twelve-string guitar and slide guitar) was the only non-acoustic instrument; about two-thirds through this wandering masterpiece, Cline fingered a fine solo. All performers in their turn contributed marvelous solos at appropriate moments. But it was the excitement of the whole ensemble presenting a vista that provided the astronomical kick that brought the audience to a new delectable aura, which the audience heard like ingenue invaders hearing tropical birds for the first time. Did I say that the voice of Jen Shyu has great range and transcendent, hypnotic quality?

There was sheet music, crescendo and climax, yet the sounds offered were exotic epiphanies in the journey of this symphony. The program was divided into nine parts, the last being “I arrive,” and we all did arrive yet where we were was not completely clear: we all felt that we had landed upon some happy mythical isle after expeditionary effort. The sold-out audience was overwhelmed. They demanded two bows and the sextet performed a delightfully long duo vocal (Jen Shyu and Bobby Privite) version of “Shenandoah” that brought us back to earth with tender descent. I presume there will be an album version, yet one really needs to be there when it happens.

For a recent TMI interview with Bobby Previte click here. A YouTube video appears below.