Musicians>audience members: Polyorchard's first anniversary concert

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Polyorchard, Baby Copperhead, Tegucigalpan
Nightlight
Thursday, Dec. 19


“There’s more of us than you,” announced bassist David Menestres. His band began to play.

Performances by the improvisation collective Polyorchard typically have a bit more balance between audience members and musicians; at any of their Nightlight shows during the past year, there’ve been maybe four musicians on stage and at least five observers. But just before Christmas, only a handful of Nightlight denizens watched an ensemble of Justice League proportions share the space. There were seven players—or , as trombonist Jeb Bishop said, a “Polyorchardstra.”

Each Polyorchard performance is wholly distinct, forged in real time. At Nightlight, the musicians had no scores to play from or any pre-formed ideas. They interacted with each other on stage, listening closely to a quizzical variety of noises and forming them into dense webs. The 30-minute set began with a series of intimate rustles, emerging from Menestres’ bass and Dan Ruccia’s viola. Chris Eubank soon joined on cello (that string trio is one of the better iterations of Polyorchard I’ve heard in the past). From there, the sounds expanded outwards: Bishop’s softly growling trombone, Sara Bloo’s vocal murmurs, Jamie Keesecker’s trembling French horn, Jason Bivins’ hushed guitar. Each instrumentalist delved into extremes of technique.

With seven musicians coming toward you, one’s ear becomes drawn to individual sounds and how they mesh together in micro-interactions. The bluesy tone of the trombone can become the counterpart to a chiaroscuro viola melody. 
The atmosphere would suddenly switch moods, too. At one point, a steady guitar/bass pulse emerged, with Bloo cooing in intense rhythm, echoing the ululations of Meredith Monk. And then, pure noise: Menestres squeaked on the back of his bass, and Bivins mashed into his guitar strings on his lap, while Bloo moved water around in jars. At one point, half a chopstick flew towards me, having broken out of Menestres’s hands as he hit it fiercely against his strings. The result of seven expert improvisers became greater than its parts.

Though this show represented a one-year anniversary celebration of sorts for Polyorchard, it was the group's first time headlining. Its openers were equally absorbing. In the solo project Tegucigalpan, guitarist Clarque Blomquist—better known for playing in Waumiss and The Kingsbury Manx—created wide-open, low-key minimalist lines on top of an ambient whirr. Layers built to a frenetic shimmer.

Songwriter and banjo virtuoso Baby Copperhead (joined by Menestres, percussionist Jonny Ballz, and video artist Brian Zegeer) played haunting, ruminative tunes with precision. His plain, dusky voice and odd banjo playing—vividly Appalachian, but with a style of repetition that occasionally resembled an Indian raga—bolstered quirky songs about proud whales and bees.

Baby Copperhead’s final tune began with the line “Mary had a little black sheep," an astute summary of the evening’s proceedings. Indeed, given the puny size of the audience, the next logical steps for Polyorchard seem twofold. First, they’ll add a bit more structure via pre-composed elements; Menestres has plans for this. Second, one hopes the ensemble can tap into the area’s broad swath of weird music fans and build a stable audience. With a collective this fluid and fascinating, that is properly the responsibility of us, the listeners.

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