Douglas Ewart plays his instruments better than anyone else in the world–partly because he knows them better than anyone else, having constructed them himself. But that hardly diminishes his accomplishment. In fact, the gorgeously simple, follow-the-wood design of Ewart’s instruments–bamboo flutes of Asian descent, nasty-talking didgeridoos adapted from the Australian outback, and the bamboon (an odd double-reed affair)–really amplifies the niche Ewart has carved with this music. On his latest recording, Bamboo Meditations at Banff (available from Arawak, PO Box 50471, Minneapolis, MN 55405), Ewart displays the meditative qualities of his instruments. Adding the natural percussion sounds of shakers and rain sticks–and even the recorded sounds of rain and wind–he has crafted an album that straddles the fence between introspective jazz and New Age wallpaper. On the one hand, the music’s dreamy flow suggests formlessness and can easily hypnotize the nerves. But the shape of the improvisations and Ewart’s passionate technique–his surprising soulfulness–provide enough intrigue for those intent on listening with their eyes open. Give some credit to other parts of Ewart’s resumé, especially the ferocious improvisations on alto sax and bass clarinet that made him such a vital part of the AACM in the 70s and 80s, when he lived in Chicago. Ewart embodies too much rhythmic drive and compositional propulsion for these small soft sounds to turn merely hazy. But slowed down and filtered through bamboo such musical impulses turn to Spanish moss, airily adorning the solid trunk of his music. Ewart’s appearance will include a lecture on “musical instruments as art objects” by ethnomusicologist Art T. Burton. Sunday, 3 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 947-0600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Warwick Green.