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Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

Prestige Atlantic Impulse’s Instinctive Improv

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The glass, white marble floor and curved white steel of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall provide a stark backdrop for a concert film—especially one in black and white. Overcoming the cavernous hall’s acoustical challenges, Prestige Atlantic Impulse performed one of its early concerts there in 2008 in tandem with the museum’s “Gilbert & George” exhibition. Milwaukee filmmaker Barry Poltermann was on hand with six cameras. The music was entirely improvised and the editing followed suit, showing the trio of musicians from many angles.

The resulting movie, called simply Concert Film, is an artfully produced one-hour record of an afternoon of extraordinary music. Drummer Victor DeLorenzo is, of course, co-founder of the Violent Femmes, a band that kept its avant-jazz leanings barely in check against the simple verities of its songs. Saxophonist and bassist Jason Wietlispach has played on the edge of rock for years and hosts an excellent weekly Modern-era classical music show on WMSE. Guitarist Alex Stewart played in a swing jazz band before joining with DeLorenzo and Wietlispach.

The trio’s name alludes to three of the most adventurous jazz record labels of the 1960s, the era when John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman pushed the music to its limits. Avant-garde jazz can be heard as the parameters from which Prestige Atlantic Impulse emerge, yet sometimes one expects the band to erupt into Syd Barrett’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” The moody sonic explorations can also suggest the Velvet Underground verging on raga or ECM chamber jazz in its comfortable yet never supine chemistry. There are no compositions—the music coalesces on the spot. “It’s like a current you join,” DeLorenzo says. “It’s an organic process. We don’t want to over-think it. It’s almost like actors on stage improvising a scene.”

With that freedom comes the responsibility of listening carefully to your collaborators. Freed of the necessity of keeping time, DeLorenzo can respond imaginatively to the sounds of the other instruments. On any given night the rhythmic tinkle of the snare could cohere with exploratory runs on electric bass and guitar into ebbing, flowing tides of sound. You might hear a guitar lick that sounds like Coltrane if Coltrane had played guitar. Some of Wietlispach’s saxophone playing is almost meditative—as DeLorenzo slides his brushes across all corners of his kit like a painter applying watercolors—and moments later he’ll wax torrential on bass clarinet. Like-minded guests such as Hal Rammel and Steve Nelson-Raney, who share Prestige Atlantic Impulse’s delight in the adventure of unplanned music, sometimes join the trio.

“Unlike a lot of groups who work in similar musical veins, we really care what the audience thinks. We try to invite you into it,” DeLorenzo says.

Prestige Atlantic Impulse performs Oct. 28 at Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln Ave.