Kinds of Kings, a six-member composer collective dedicated to producing inclusive work and advocating for underheard voices, celebrated the opening of their 2019-20 season at Roulette on October 24 with a concert titled Afterimage. Teaming up with ~Nois, a Chicago-based, new music focused saxophone quartet, the evening featured one work for saxophone ensemble by each composer in the collective, each exploring a different musical style.
The first piece on the program was Emma O’Halloran’s Night Music, a sweeping work built on the backbone of catchy repeating phrases. Inspired by her year living in Miami, Night Music was characterized by dramatic shifts, from energetic rhythmic layering to a soft, slow middle section. ~Nois brought out the drama with animated performance and seamless group dynamics.
Two premieres – Susanna Hancock’s HIATUS and Maria Kaoutzani’s A shore to shore – were next. HIATUS was a meditation on the dichotomy of silence and noise, alternating between unison trills, sharp silences, and drones. A shore to shore, inspired by the unpredictable motion of the sea, opened with stark, dissonant, lyrical melodies that eventually exploded into an upbeat canon.
Witty banter from ~Nois’ soprano saxophonist, Brandon Quarles, passed the time as the stage changed over for Shelley Washington’s BIG Talk. BIG Talk, a baritone saxophone duet performed by Washington and ~Nois’ János Csontos, was an immersive, biting response to the prevalence of catcalling and sexual harassment. It began with Washington reciting visceral poetry as Csontos changed into heels onstage. A call-and-response work, mostly performed in the gravely, deep register of the baritone saxophone, an urgency was palpable as they abruptly interrupted each other with fast-paced melodies.
The next piece took a turn in another direction. A saxophone quartet inspired by John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Finola Merivale’s Kenopsia sought to depict the sounds of eeriness, using slowly moving dissonance, blowing, and percussive, rhythmic motives to create a deeply unsettled atmosphere. The piece built off of phrase fragments, sweeping in and out of the fold, using sonic elements to create the feeling of abandonment.
The lights in the hall then turned off. ~Nois lit string lights wrapped inside of their saxophone bells and a video of a barren field was projected on a screen. They began to play Gemma Peacocke’s Dwalm, a lyrical ballad marked by ruminative harmonic exploration. Dwalm, a piece that Peacocke composed for ~Nois at the 2018 Blackbird Creative Lab, was the work that started the collaboration between ~Nois and Kinds of Kings. It began like a lullaby, but as the music progressed, a current of energy built into a rhythmic groove.
At the end of the night, the audience cheered “encore,” and ~Nois re-entered the stage to perform an arrangement of Katy Perry’s 2010 pop hit, “Teenage Dream.” Although the music explored that evening spanned a vast range of styles, an infectious zeal was the undercurrent that tied it together.