Julian Cowley in The Wire, February 2009
Roulette is a long-established New York venue for innovative music and intermedia art. Roulette TV is a series of half-hour programmes broadcast on the Manhattan cable network, each a showcase for an individual composer or interpreter to present and then discuss their work. The series is available online, and now 12 installments have been packaged onto DVD. 'New and experimental music' is the catchment area; baggy terminology, but what's deeply pleasing about this project is its avoidance of the usual suspects. It's not about flavours of the month or avant garde celebrity, and as a result it's consistently stimulating and sometimes revelatory.
Composer and trombonist Jim Staley has produced the shows. Video artist Terri Hanlon has directed them with minimal fuss and proper attention to the music. They are hosted by singer, multi-instrumentalist and performance stylist Phoebe Legere, who looks like a Fellini diva yet conducts a good interview. the theatrical artifice of her persona, her flamboyance and propensity for hyperbole, seem initially a distraction, but these ingredients actually create a welcome fizz around some of the musicians whose modesty or introspective seriousness in conversation might otherwise seem rather flat. Their brief chats with Legere frequently prove illuminating.
The music is never in need of that kind of support. One programme features the explosive and extrovert pianism of Kathleen Supove. Another presents a harmonically intricate, often blissful piano meditation by 'Blue' Gene Tyranny. Margaret Leng Tan demonstrates extraordinary refinement of ear and execution in her delicately coloured or subtly percussive interpretations of pieces for prepared piano. Marilyn Crispell approaches the keyboard with weight and concentration in a gripping dialogue with eloquent saxophonist Lotte Anker.
There's a double dose of composer and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, who like Crispell is usually filed narrowly under jazz. He remarks how taxonomic labels can divert creative music from its potential audience. Roulette TV's new and experimental rubric in fact means inclusiveness. Andrew Cyrille dispiays the breadth of his conception of drumming, alone and in combination with tuba player Bob Stewart and trumpeter Roy Campbell. Soprano Joan La Barbara demonstrates her art of sound painting, a stunning array of vocal techniques in symbiosis with subtle electronics. The underexposed Lois V Vierk talks about her intriguing music, highly original yet rooted in close study of Japanese gagaku tradition. There's an especially fine performance of her Manhattan Cascade by accordionist Guy Klucevsek. Best of all, for me, is a performance of Long Throw by its composer, David Behrman, at the piano and viola, with John King on electric guitar and viola, interacting with laptop software to produce wonderfully seductive and consoling music.
Some of the contributors here are unquestionably major figures, but none of them are obvious choices. A sense of looseknit community prevails. There's an element of mutual admiration, a gathering of diverse yet kindred spirits, comparable in feel to Phill Niblock's XI label or Thomas Buckner's Mutable Music. But as in those cases, any sense of indulgence is far outweighed by the rewards.