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Dig that baroque beat: Savion Glover.

Well-Tempered Tapping

By Mae G. Banner

Savion Glover

The Egg, Dec. 29

 

It takes a raft of verbs to describe Savion Glover’s performance in Classical Savion, two hours of improv tapping to a pantheon of composers from Vivaldi to Bartok. The man would slide, scrape, hit, pivot (clockwise and counterclockwise), jitter, shiver, skip, and strut. He would slam the downbeat of every phrase and snap off the end.

Or, like Mohammed Ali, he would float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And, with all this, he showed supreme respect for the music, stepping to the side of his miked maple floor or even leaping backwards off the floor to give a musical passage the center of attention. As always, Glover showed respect for his fellow musicians as well, giving the classical ensemble of four violins, two violas, and two cellos their full due as soloists, and later, bridging them with his jazz quartet for a final amazing number in which he and the instruments breathed as one.

But, in Classical Savion, it’s not the verbs that matter. Rather, it was the over-arching, almost spiritual quality of the concert as a whole that made it memorable. This was a new experience for the audience and, tellingly, for the classical musicians themselves.

Eight young virtuosi who probably never imagined you could tap to Mendelssohn (the big, orchestral-sounding Octet for Strings in E Flat Major), much less to Bach’s Air on the G String, responded to the lure of Glover, who egged them on to tweak the conventional tempos. You could see on their faces how happy they were with the power and joy of making these classical standards their own.

Glover did well by starting with sections from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, because we know all baroque music is made for dance. He let the music propel him into a beautiful improv that was perfectly in sync, sometimes dancing in call and response to the violins, sometimes skating backwards to let the music take over.

With the finale of Dvorak’s “American” String Quartet, he set a choppy rhythm and danced like a Halloween skeleton who has discovered jazz.

A pair of flutes made Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor sound Middle Eastern and exotic. Here, Glover introduced a thematic move, kicking his right leg hugely out to the side and letting it hover in the air. Spellbinding, and very much his own groove.

I loved Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances for their mad tunes and broken rhythms. Glover let the fiddles’ dissonance take him into realms of quietness that ended with a sudden thrilling leap. This and the Shostakovich were exhilarating.

After this thorough exploration of the classical canon, Glover went into a transcendent mode. Setting up a four-note ground-beat by jazz bassist Andrew McCloud, he proceeded to introduce every string player in turn, giving each one the widest latitude for an improvised solo. Some bowed, some plucked. Some played the blues, some let in a touch of bluegrass. It was clear these ensemble players rarely got a chance to shine solo, and clear, too, that they were all trying to surprise each other, to knock each other out.

This section was very long, almost trance-like with that recurring four-note bass line, but the audience, a rare full house, stayed with it every bit of the way.

Then, topping off the top-off, Glover’s own quartet came on for an extended reading of his composition, Stars & Stripes Forever 4 Now. In a way, this jazz work washed away the classical improv that had gone before. But, Glover, moving eye to eye with Patience Higgins on sax; Jared Crawford, drums; McCloud, bass; and Kurt Faussette, piano brought the whole experience full circle and proved that all music is one.

“If it sounds good, it is good.”


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