Wally Cardona Quartet's 'Trance Territory'
fate places lump in throat
Misfortune and random happenstance have a way
of turning back the clock.
Plans, carefully laid or thrown together at the
last minute, stand equal chance of unraveling -- leaving you
nowhere to go but backwards. In the end, we all must answer
to capricious fate, and the proper response is always "Yes,
In the early 1990s, Portland art-rock stalwarts Tao Jones could
often be found laying down complex grooves for a loyal cadre
of fans, playing along with the likes of Caveman Shoestore,
Big Daddy Meat Straw, Hitting Birth and others.
Guitarist Dylan Vance would pivot at the waist
like a poorly designed bobble-head toy, fluidly tapping out
jazz-flavored fretboard antics to the delight of all. After
spending time in Sweet Honey Dijon Jazz Quartet and Groove Revelation,
Vance went solo. Or so it would seem.
I eagerly awaited his June 14 solo acoustic turn
at Mt. Tabor Theater and Pub. Perhaps I was the only one, as
he failed to appear for the show.
But Mt Tabor had other delights to offer, of which
I found myself forced to partake. Johnny Outhouse, an Erie,
Pa., drum and acoustic guitar duo, played an intriguing set
of dusty, monochromatic country rock. The guitarist/singer whipped
up a dust storm on the heavy choruses with some impassioned
strumming, but on the whole, the flavors weren't varied enough
for my taste.
Up next were the jam-band prog-rock efforts of
Switch. The band's angular, modal (or atonal) tunes showed promise,
even to my ears, which are not fond of this particular brand
of jamming. In this case, Switch betrayed a 'Maha-Phish-nu Orchestra'
Though the bassist needed to exercise some serious
restraint (instead of constantly running up and down the fretboard),
Switch occasionally landed a nice, cohesive groove.
Then the assault began -- a 20-minute-plus opus,
which contained not one, but two drum solos.
Only one (if any) drum solo per song, please,
no matter how long the tune. During this epic, the band members
appeared out of sync, frequently shooting angry-looking glances
at each other, as if they had plans for the meandering jam that
consistently went awry.
Regardless, the dearth of musical ideas contained
in this apparent improv made it an endurance test. By sticking
to structured tunes -- and holding back a bit -- Switch may
yet please its fans. As for me, I'll take the evil, caustic
funk of early-'70s Miles Davis whenever I need to hear a half-hour
of freestyle music.
The power of trance and dance
These thoughts are my extremely roundabout way of getting to
Trance Territory, a dance performance by the Wally Cardona Quartet,
with DJ duties handled by New York's DJ $mall Change.
The May 25 performance at the Portland Center
for the Performing Arts was a masterpiece.
Trance Territory combines the rave/trance scene
with Haitian voodoo rituals. Or rather, it makes explicit the
connections between rave culture and spiritual dances practiced
the world over. It's a small but fundamental leap in judgement
-- and about time someone made it.
DJ $mall Change spun records for the hour-long
performance, starting out with heavily filtered, muffled tracks
that highlighted the clicks and pops of his vinyl as a principal
The effect was subtle and insidious, creating
an atmosphere wherein the audience was tricked into appreciating
the loftier qualities of a musical genre many consider repetitive
After 30 minutes, the filters came off and the
full, pulsing, crisp and thunderous power of $mall Change's
selections became apparent. Those in attendance came to understand
the power of trance and dance.
Cardona's choreography was stunning, and the
spare look of the performance simply brilliant.
A lone light bulb hung from the side of the stage
for most of the performance, before the rear curtain was lifted
to reveal the monolithic stage door behind.
Near the end of the performance, the dancers (Cardona,
Johanna Kotze, Kathryn Sanders and Matthew Winheld) began pulling
long strips of duct tape from the floor, revealing a fluorescent
These elegant touches cast in stark relief the
beautiful, programmatic dances, which functioned like the music
itself, as gorgeous repetitive riffs with hidden cosmic meanings.
Cardona even managed to mess with the notion of time and space
itself during the second dance motif of the performance.
Sanders, at the front of the stage, rose from
the floor in extreme slow motion, while the dancer in line with
her at the rear of the stage did a frantic Fine Young Cannibals
The combination, implying that things seen in
perspective have a chronological as well as spatial relationship,
blurred the boundaries of our perceptions in the fashion striven
for by ritualistic dances.
Cardona's 2001 tour with Trance Territory, sadly,
is done. But Portlanders who know what's good for them should
start applying pressure on PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary
Art) to bring the quartet back as soon as possible.
Sometimes, when plans fail, they do so in order
to remind us of what we truly value in life, such as the power
of music and dance. Wally Cardona's Trance Territory planted
a lump in my throat with its unremitting beauty and purpose.