URSEL SCHLICHT'S EX TEMPORE as part of the FRESH EARS FAMILY SERIES at the Music Gallery (197 John), Sunday (September 12), 7 pm. $15, students $5. 416-204-1080. Rating: NNNNN
Three years later, Ex Tempore's live performance sounds like everything a 9/11 memorial should be. It's a calming celebration of our freedom to determine our own lives and affect the world around us.
It's all about what's really going on, which reminds me that a star-studded cover of Marvin Gaye's song What's Going On was one of the few early artistic responses to the fall of the twin towers. Too many people felt silenced by the Bush administration's fear-mongering.
Back then, amid the tumult of emotion and über-patriotism, even What's Going On's tackily overcrowded collaboration seemed sincere. Now it comes off as the pop music world's most cooperative career move.
As for country singers, some wanted blood and weren't afraid to say so. Toby Keith summed up this mood well in his song Courtesy Of The Red, White, And Blue, which included loaded lyrics like "You messed with the U.S. of A. / We'll put a boot in your ass / It's the American way."
Critics lavished praise on Bruce Springsteen's mournful 9/11 tribute record, The Rising, but there's not much that's timeless or lasting about it. Listening to it now has the same effect as rereading an old get-well-soon card.
Enter German-born, Brooklyn-based pianist/composer/professor Ursel Schlicht. One year after the attacks, the highly accomplished musician produced and performed in Ex Tempore 2, a week-long international collaboration commissioned by the city of Kassel, Germany, featuring artists from the U.S., India, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
The mostly instrumental performances were simple, symbolic and open to interpretation, a sombre means of expression, not presumptuous or literal enough to try to set the margins for an event that signified so many things to so many people.
"Initiating Ex Tempore was my attempt to find a meaningful artistic response to the frightening backlash in the political and cultural climate since September 2001," Schlicht explains in an abstract for a speech she'll give on the subject Friday (September 10) at the Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium. It's titled Ex Tempore: The Development And Practice Of An Artistic Vision In Response To World Conflict.
Schlicht was shocked by the immediate bias against all Middle Eastern cultures, regardless of evidence about who had been behind the 9/11 attacks, and by the sight of neighbourhoods covered with U.S. flags. "The need for music as a means of communication and open-mindedness toward other cultural, political, philosophical, religious-spiritual points of view, ever necessary, became even more urgent," she writes.
Ex Tempore was such an ideal tool of musical communication that she adapted the week-long performance into an ensemble featuring vocalist Gabriele Hasler, percussionists Hakim Ludin and Ravish Momin, flutist Jamie Baum, balafonist Balla Kouyate and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Terzic.
This product of one of the most potent reflections on 9/11 plays the Music Gallery Sunday (September 12).