A commingling of cultures in an ICA concert
What do you get when you mix avant-salsa Puerto Rican percussion, cool Brazilian jazz flute, rootsy bluegrass mandolin, and Chinese bamboo flute?
That's exactly what the curators of "Cultural Constructions III" wanted to find out. The concert, which takes place tonight at the Institute of Contemporary Art, is part of a semiannual series that brings together performers from different musical cultures for fruitful cross-pollination.
"I always love playing with new people," says percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado, who leads the Sun Ra-meets-salsa big band Zemog, El Gallo Bueno. Gomez-Delgado is used to cooking up music with flavors that might clash on someone else's plate, but even he acknowledges some trepidation about being part of the quartet brought together for this project: "It's like going out for pizza with strangers," he says. "You never know who's going to want anchovies."
Here Gomez-Delgado teams with jazz flutist Fernando Brandao, who teaches at Berklee College of Music and the Longy School; alt-country mandolin adventurer Jimmy Ryan, former leader of the Blood Oranges; and award-winning Taiwanese flutist Shu-ni Tsou. Each will play his or her own music solo as well as a jambalaya of pieces by the curators and works collectively created by the musicians during a month of rehearsals.
"It's been great," says Gomez-Delgado. "Every rehearsal has been exercises of listening, improvisation, understanding one another's instruments. It's definitely a growing process; we could keep doing this for the rest of our lives."
The chemistry has been remarkable, Ryan adds. "We listen to each other really well," he says. "Nobody's jumping out: the alpha picker."
Tonight Ryan joins Brandao on a piece the latter wrote called "Bossa," a moody, late-night noir number with a Latin air. Cocurator Ken Field (Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Revolutionary Snake Ensemble) has also contributed "Cultivated Construct," a lilting song whose opening, a lively mandolin riff, gives way to a pastoral sound, as if one is stepping from a dance floor outside into a meadow: The tones shift like clouds overhead, a conga beat traces footsteps in the grass, and the two intertwined flutes are like birds, darting and soaring.
Field says the series has a second goal, besides bringing varied musicians together: giving those musicians' audiences a chance to commingle and hear something different. "There are a lot of separate communities in Boston," he notes, "and those communities often don't cross paths.
"We don't have these huge expectations that we're going to bring the world together," he says. "But even if we make a tiny step in that direction, it's a step in the right direction."
Cultural Constructions III: China meets Brazil meets Puerto Rico meets Appalachia is at the Institute of Contemporary Art Theater tonight at 8. Tickets are $8, $10. Call 617-354-6898.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.