Recently, the boundaries between our personal and private lives have become increasingly blurred. This effect was noticeably showcased in cérémonie/musique, the latest outing from saxophonist/ bass clarinettist Josh Sinton and his delightful understatedly-named trio What Happens in a Year.
Specifically, what has been happening with Sinton, and friends, guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Giacomo Merega: they have been following a simple musical manifesto: making music that is a) quiet, b) spacious, and c) executed at fast tempos.
On Sunday they performed live at Industry City – and live-streamed online – sharing their personal pandemic playing with the rest of us. Like much of Sinton’s work, cérémonie/musique consists largely of spontaneous improvisations. What was a little unusual in this instance was that the set was entirely spontaneous improvisation, from the whole trio.
They opened with slow swoops, hanging notes from an overdriven electric guitar phasing in and out. There were tentative excursions from Sinton’s low baritone sax that developed into a soulful lament. As he wailed alone, Merega’s bass occasionally wandered through, or Neufeld would pick at scraps. In phases with Sinton on bass clarinet the electric bass and guitar become more rhythmic, pulsing louder and lower. In this musical configuration the trio seemed most balanced, most blended. With his flute Sinton fluttered with a spider crawling guitar, before switching to producing sucking, puckering reedy snaps centre stage flanked by two guitarists hunched over and rocking on either side.
What Happens in a Year visibly and audibly matches how the musicians describe the project – as a ceremony, and a ritual outlet. One has the feeling that this is what their private sessions look and sound like, yet today they are just sharing their important personal musical moments with others. While their behaviour appeared the same as in their private sessions, the performance conditions and venue were clearly different. Previously Industry City hosted music events on an outdoor stage long before the pandemic, but weatherproofing preparations have begun for the unpredictable autumn weather and the coming winter. The trio played in a new temporary yurt that has landed in the courtyard space in front of the permanent stage.
Inside it is a weird haven – potted palms, warm light from paper lanterns, colourful floral wax tablecloths. A little unusual, perhaps: Sinton’s haunting musical approach typically feels better suited to dark peeling back rooms and basements, or dilapidated grand former members clubs. (See this review from 2019 at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn).
Photo credit: Laura Sinton
Acoustically it was unusual, too – wheelie bins trundled back and forth behind the band, audible through the unclad trellis sides of the yurt they are playing in. But the value of the gig to the musicians and crowd shone through. Merega has previously described the importance of cérémonie/musique for him: “A ceremony is a ritual and if I didn’t have rituals … I wouldn’t last a day. Among those rituals are making espresso, having breakfast with my daughter, and improvising with Todd and Josh.” I would add to his list: performing those improvisations in front of other people. Hopefully this is a ritual to be continued.