Five years ago BAM/PFA launched L@TE, a music series curated by Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill that transformed the gallery space into a reverberant concert hall. Given Cahill’s commitment to performing and presenting new music in various forms and permutations it’s not surprising that she booked minimalist pioneer Terry Riley as the opening act. In a neat feat of closure, the pianist will be on hand again Friday for the final L@TE event as BAM/PFA makes its slow transition into its new building at Oxford and Center (which is slated to open in early 2016).
Still a creative force at 79, Riley will be joined by his son, guitarist and composer Gyan Riley, an important figure in his own right who released a beautiful improv-laced album last year, Eviyan Live (Victo), featuring the acoustic collective trio Eviyan with violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová and clarinetist (and former Berkeleyan) Evan Ziporyn.
Gyan was in his late teens when he first started performing with his father, a musical relationship facilitated by his budding interest in improvisation. “He had some groups that were largely improv based, working with long rhapsodic forms and relatively complex structures,” Gyan says from his home in New York City. “He noticed I’d gotten interested in improvisation and invited me to participate in some of the shows.”
The duo emerged gradually out of casual situations when they’d “be at home playing together for fun,” Gyan says. “We realized this works as a duo, which is convenient. We can combine it with family activities.”
Steeped in two great improvisational traditions, jazz and classical Hindustani music, Terry Riley has never stopped evolving. His music is a potent, hand-crafted amalgam that retains elements of the radical simplicity of his early work, and the extended melodic phrasing he studied as a disciple of the revered North Indian classical vocalist Pandit Pran Nath (with whom appeared regularly in concert as accompanist on voice, tambura and tabla up until his death in 1996).
“When I heard him it was kind of a mystery,” Riley told me in an interview several years ago. “Even though I studied with him for 30 years, a lot of the mystery went with him. He could carry the whole audience along with his own breath as a singer, and immerse them so deeply in the music without using any razzle-dazzle techniques, just the sheer spiritual force of his music.”
The program for Friday’s performance will be announced from the stage, which is probably when the decisions about what to play will be made.
“He’s been really busy and I haven’t been able to touch base with him about that,” Gyan says. “It doesn’t really matter, there’s a list of things that we know, mostly his music and some things of mine. There was a period when we were playing a lot together and rehearsed a fair amount, at least by his standards. But as the shows are fewer between we’re not rehearsing at all. We just know it’s going to be fun.”
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