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Rafael Toral at MINT

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by Richard Sanford on September 16, 2015

Portuguese artist Rafael Toral (photo by Nuno Martins) has done as much to carve out a space uniquely his in the space where abstract electronic music, modern composition, free jazz and electroacoustic improv collide as anyone I could name. Columbus is lucky to have him return for the first time in 6 years for a show on Wednesday, September 23, at 9pm, at MINT (42 W Jenkins St), a fast-rising Merion Village exhibition and performance space. For this Columbus stop, Toral has found the perfect local foil. He’ll be playing in duo with our most versatile drummer and one of our most versatile musicians, Ryan Jewell. Jewell’s name is widely known and revered for playing with a wide swath of Columbus’ best jazz, rock, and avant-garde players and his keen ear for subtle nuance and unfailing sense of rhythm will serve this show well. Cincinnati experimental guitarist Pete Fosco and eminent Columbus noise and improv musician Mike Shiflet contribute opening sets to this night of music not to be missed for anyone with adventurous ears. Cover is $8. Read on for more detail about Toral’s work.

Throughout his career, Toral has collaborated with artists at the highest rung of each discipline: those with unassailable jazz bona fides like Evan Parker, Joe Morris, John Edwards, Sei Miguel, and Jim Baker; contemporary composers like John Zorn, Phill Niblock, Alvin Lucier, and Rhys Chatham; internationally acclaimed electronic artists like Christian Fennesz and Peter Rehberg; avant-rockers like Sonic Youth and Jim O’Rourke; and less classifiable artists like C. Spencer Yeh, Christian Marclay and David Toop.

After early years as a guitarist in bands like Pop Dell’Arte, Toral burst onto the international stage with avant-garde guitar records like Wave Field, Chasing Sonic Booms, and Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance. In 2004, his approach splintered and shifted as he embarked on what he called “post-free jazz electronic music.” This new wave is given full flower in his Space Program work. Over the course of five records, most prominently the Space Materials trilogy, and countless live performances, Toral has cultivated textural soundscapes that evoke limitless horizons, searing mist and an ever-changing universe.

It’s not hard to draw lines from Bill Dixon’s Vade Mecum, Miles Davis’ Agharta, and the work of Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra to the places Toral goes using an assortment of oscillators, filters, amplifiers predominantly for feedback, and various pulses and noise bursts. Like those earlier artists, Toral’s wild and expansive visions are built around the body, his love of and work with silence has a striking, physical component. In an interview with Lenin Simos for the Australian magazine dB, Toral said, “Post- free jazz electronic music is actually an imaginary development of jazz history from the late 1960’s with a deep use of electronics with free jazz as a starting point. Electronics did become more widely used, but integrated in a different development, that of jazz-rock, resulting (as a structuring paradigm) in performance based on keyboard instruments (with a vertical pitch grid) played on a regular beat (with a horizontal time grid), whereas the development I’m pursuing demands the entirely free fields of frequency and time.” In that same interview, Toral talks about how influenced he’s been by the Cagean notion of open time, which John Cage – adapted from the work of the composer Christian Wolff –  used for notational music not bound by strictures of segregated rhythm. So don’t expect an exercise in free blowing but do expect surprises.

Live, Rafael Toral is unmistakably an improviser at heart.  I saw Toral’s last trip through town in 2009 where he played in trio with C. Spencer Yeh on violin and electronics and Trevor Tremaine on drums for the first half of the show and expanded the second half to a quintet including Mike Shiflet and Jewell for one of the most beautiful sets of improvised music of any kind I’ve ever seen.

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