Concert Reviews

Last Night...Creative Music Works @ the DAM

Photos by James Mitchell Evans.

Creative Music Works Thursday, June 20, 2008 Denver Art Museum Better than: A typical Thursday night at the DAM

Last night, I walked into what has to be one of the strangest events that the two-year old Hamilton Building in the Denver Art Museum has put on. In a collaboration between Creative Music Works (2008 Westword MasterMind award winners) and DAM, a video sculpture by Kristopher Collins, aka Movax, was projected onto the wall facing the staircase between the first and second floors, while local musicians played an improvised set of music that was, as curator Scott Kinnamon described it, a reaction to “the central germinating creative force” of Clyfford Still’s paintings.

The Denver Art Museum is only a few months away from wrapping up its Clyfford Still mini-exhibition until 2010, when the thirteen paintings will be shown with over 800 others of his that have been brought to Denver on the condition of a permanent Clyfford Still Museum. To tide eager Denver art lovers over until then, Dean Sobel, the director of the new Clyfford Still Museum, asked Kinnamon, an independent filmmaker and artist, to think of a concept involving the paintings.

Kinnamon, who curated the event with Creative Music Works President Andrew Starr and Program Director Paul Riola, chose collaborators that both channeled and challenged the paintings of Still. The 45-minute set, which the spectators watched/ listened to in rows of seats facing the wall (away from the performers in the corner), held my attention until right before the end, when I checked my watch and realized how much time had passed by.

The music was filled with a kind of ominous melancholy that the stark and revolutionary paintings of Still might inspire. Yet the dynamic sampling and beats of Collin Bricker and the nearly unrecognizable-as-a-guitar sounds from Janet Feder gave the group a modern and seemingly un-Still like touch. Greg Harris laid down licks on the vibes that sounded like sections out of a sci-fi movie soundtrack while Mark Harris brought the nasty alto sax jazz-inflected sound. Kent McLagen’s double bass, meanwhile, seemed to bring the minimalist drone backdrop to the group, though he still was not against the more adventurous run from time to time.

Overall, when paired with the swirling images on the angular wall of the building (another theme of the evening was architecture), the event was riveting, if short. It was a listenable yet consistently challenging music experience, set against a consistently challenging architectural piece and an artist who defied easy fame for a more complicated kind of legacy.

“The idea of what Still stood for," Riola explained, "is really in line with what we stand for.” Given Creative Music Works’ focus on giving talented and adventurous local musicians a chance to improvise and create original work, that certainly sees like a mission that the iconoclastic Still would have to admire.

-- James Anthofer

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’m still sort of ambivalent about the Hamilton building as architecture, but there’s been some great exhibitions in it so far. Random Detail: The catered food was pretty solid, though it might have been tastier at 6:30, the first time the performance was shown. By The Way: The lights in the atrium were on the whole time, which made it more difficult to see the video. Kinnamon mentioned something about the fire marshal forcing them to keep them on.