Percussionist Chris Graham talks to the audience in Bowling Green State University’s Bryan Recital Hall before the IKTUS concert Monday (Nov. 16) as guitarist Jay Sorce looks on.

IKTUS Combo stops by Bowling Green on its way to deep space

IKTUS Combo is a new music ensemble that looks like a jazz band and promises some “straight up rock-n-roll.”

That shape shifting was on display when IKTUS performed the Music at the Forefront series opener Monday (Nov. 16) at Bowling Green State University.

The illusion starts with the instrumentation: saxophones, mostly tenor, played by BGSU graduate Erin Rogers; electric and acoustic guitar played by Jay Sorce; piano by Andrea Lodge; and percussion by Chris Graham.

With Graham concentrating on marimba and vibraphone, the music had the kind of complex lines that called to my mind the jazz work of Lennie Tristano, without really sounding much at all like it. Elements of minimalism were also at play, with insistent cells running through several pieces. Each piece, four for quartet and two duos, exploited the textures of the instrumentation in its own way. So now let me dig into my bag of descriptors to try to give a sense of what went down.

The combo opened with “Variations on a Still Point” by Chris Cerrone. Then piece commences with a six-note phrase hammered out and resolving with some soft marimba. “Variations” served as a good introduction to the undertow of rhythm, a groove that’s hardly even implied but it was there in “Variations” and throughout the program.

Sonata for Guitar and Piano by Charles Wuorinen was the first of the duos, pairing Sorce’s acoustic guitar with Lodge’s piano. Here’s where that Tristano link came up. The way the phrases conjoined brought up Tristano’s work with guitarist Billy Bauer. But this of course was totally different. The linear expansion of the piece was punctuated throughout by an occasional kerplunk on the piano, and at the end Sorce delivered some chords with flamenco-like flair.

“Hout” by Louis Andriessen, dating from 1989 the oldest piece on the program, is one of the main stays for this instrumentation, Rogers said. The performance showed why. Written as a barely-canon canon with the tenor saxophone starting, joined a sixteenth note later by electric guitar then a sixteenth later by marimba, then a sixteenth later by piano, the line spins out in near unison, a strange continuous echo. At one point, the saxophone introduces a classic blues lick into the mix. The lines unfold dynamically as if on a trajectory to deep space “Hout” left a buzz behind at intermission.

The second half of the program was devoted to pieces written within the decade.

First up was “Color Fields” by Mikel Kuehn of the BGSU faculty. Not surprisingly given Kuehn background, the jazz influence was most implicit here. The piece opened with shimmering textures with jagged interjections of bebop influenced phrases. Kuehn also plays with the textures the ensemble offers particularly the dry acoustic guitar against the glow of vibraphone.

“Nucleus” by Alex Mincek was primal — saxophone and drum set. That’s a staple of free jazz. This was not a sustained explosion, though there were explosive moments. Rogers on tenor employed a myriad of effects, key tapping and tone-less breathing and overblown notes. Graham matched that by caressed, tapping, and rapping on his kit until the point that always comes, the drum solo. After that the piece just has to end.

The concert had one more piece to go. “Localized Corrosion” by Philippe Hurel toys with the illusion of acoustic instruments emitting electronic machine sounds. Embedded were bits of melody, almost hummable. Then came Sorce’s hard rock guitar solo. Now the time for applause and a couple curtain calls, then to home to check out a Tristano recording to realize IKTUS Combo and Lennie don’t sound at all alike.