Intuitive Music From the Inside Out Review- Fulcrum Point at 20 hosts a weekend of improvisation

Stephen Burns, founder, Fulcrum Point New Music Project; photo by Elliot Mandel

On June 1, 2018, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, celebrating it’s 20th anniversary seasonpresented an unprecedented gathering of 10 globally renowned musicians at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. in Hyde Park for a rousing performance of improvisational “intuitive” music.  Fulcrum Point Founder and trumpet virtuoso Stephen Burns put together an event that transcended social and cultural limitations through international collaboration. Featured in this impressive lineup were be celebrated jazz saxophonist and legendary improviser David Murray, led by esteemed conductor and trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, and experimental jazz icon Kahil El’Zabar, conductor, composer and multi-instrumental percussionist.

Combining artists from Europe and the U.S., this profound and playful ensemble of musical innovators explored music’s power to unify and to inspire. Stockhausen played alongside his longtime collaborator, jazz pianist Florian Weber; together, these two form the acclaimed improvisation duo “Inside Out.” Additional guest artists included jazz trombonist Andy Baker, Latin violinist James Sanders, percussionist Ryan Packard, and bassist Luke Stewart.

Although this reviewer was not, unfortunately, able to attend, by all accounts the concert was an incredibly effective and energizing experience.

Markus Stockhausen, David Murray, Luke Stewart, James Sanders, Stephen Burns and Andy Baker at The Promontory; photo by Hank Pearl

Prior to the concert, Stockhausen, Burns, El’Zabar, Murray and Weber appeared live in improvised spotlighted sessions on radio stations WNUR and WBEZ; the first performance was described by Burns as “an invocation of healing”, the second as “a celebration”. To this listener, the second session was much more delicately intoned, and was preceded by El’Zabar’s touching and eloquent words directed towards “bringing all musicians, really all humanity to a sharing” and a description of the meaningful goals of the upcoming Promontory concert by Burns.

The following day, June 2ndStockhausen and Weber led a free workshop on improvised “intuitive” music with Chicago music students.

Next, a performance to showcase the collaboration, free to the public, was held on Sunday, June 3rd, from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM at Elastic Arts, 3429 W. Diversey, Chicago. Featuring student artists Andrew Bedows, piano; Eddie Burns, drums and rhythmic bass; Mary Halm, bass; Devin Shaw, piano and saxophone; and Sam Veren, trumpet, this was an amazing display of collegiality and conductivity. It was so intriguing to watch Stockhausen encouraging/cum/conducting the youth, drawing out their innate abilities to express themselves in unpracticed and uncircumscribed ways, allowing them freedom to explore their instruments and their congress without fear and hindrance.

Sometimes Markus would play his trumpet with one hand and gesture to the young musicians with the other- a most unique experiment with fun and classical/ jazzy results. Eddie Burns sustained an impressive rhythmic base with Mary Halm’s mellow bassline accompanying. Andrew Bedows boogied on piano with Devin Shaw on sax; at times, Bedows gave up the piano to Shaw; sometimes they played fourhanded- it always worked. Meanwhile, Sam Veren on trumpet wailed solo or gave Stockhausen a fine doubling.

Andrew Bedows, Eddie Burns, Mary Halm, Devin Shaw and Sam Veren

The subsequent concert, entitled “Inside Out: A Concert of Intuitive Music”, even with Weber at the less than “grand” Yamaha piano, was breathtaking. The duo played for well over an hour, including their original compositions Zephyr, Liberation, Better World, There is Always Hope, and Moon/Dream. In these startlingly beautiful works, Stockhausen’s trumpet-playing was so soulful and versatile it wrung the heart, while Weber made the piano shimmer like a rhapsody of silver bells.

Their musical sound ran the gamut from intimate to demonstrative, plaintive to triumphant, very quiet to strongly, colorfully assertive- in a word, mesmerizing. It is obvious that these 2 classically-trained performers were deeply immersed in the process of creative expression, of delving beyond the obvious or simplistic, looking hard and sharing richly, seeking connections- in their words- “searching for echoes, resonance, insights.”

I was able to interview the “Inside-Out” artists about the weekend’s activities, and in particular about Friday night’s concert. They were both particularly struck by the altruism of fellow musician Kahil El’Zabar, whom David Murray has notably and repeatedly referred to as “A visionary and a poet”. Their heartfelt and enthusiastic comments are paraphrased below:

Kahil El’Zabar, (his back to the camera), conducting intuitively at The Promontory; photo by Hank Pearl

Florian Weber said, “The whole idea of people from different races, countries, musical traditions spoke to me. I’ve worked with such diversity throughout my career. I like to be thrown together with people of different cultures and perspectives. Everybody brings something different! While we were rehearsing and in between playing we talked. Kahil (El’Zabar) gave me the feeling that I could embrace all of them; he gave off so much energy and took in so much energy! I felt so close to the other musicians…I was so moved…it felt like music really could be the world’s cure.” When I inquired how one could rehearse improvisation, he replied, “We connected as human beings. We played, then talked, then got in groups and embraced. We all shared our passions and feelings about music- that was a big part of the rehearsal. I had already learned not to stay in my comfort zone. We need to tear down- not build- walls”.

Markus Stockhausen explained, “Intuitive Music is the highest art; as an extension of improvisation it is completely free of any style. To do it with young musicians is a challenge; the freedom of expression is immense. For me, it’s been a long process, learning how to extend into intuition, very exciting. You must be totally focused on the now, and it begins with silence.” As to conducting such music at Friday night’s concert, he was very modest about his own efforts, but about El’Zabar’s conducting he recalled, “Kahil seemed to be composing as he was conducting; when conducting, Kahil appeared to be dancing”.

The connective thread through all of the discussions and performances, from the brief stints on the radio through the student and “Inside Out” concerts I heard was a spontaneous, joyous and respectful cohesion, a bridging of gaps, a deep and penetrating set of sounds. The musicians seemed to be excavating what is inside the soul up and out of their trained and talented selves through the instruments to a deeply touched audience. The eschewing of rigid forms, stereotypes and roles produced glorious sound, not dissonance, transformed the disparate into a beautiful whole. The truth is, inspired improvisation and intuitive musicality can unite to become a harmonious entity while “unimaginable sounds are coaxed from the instruments” and from the relationships of the musicians.

Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber, the “Inside Out” duo

Thanks to the Goethe Institute for bringing “Inside Out” to the United States.

For information and tickets to all the fine programs of Fulcrum Point New Music Project, go to the fulcrumpoint website

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Fulcrum Point New Music Project

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