If you blinked on Tuesday night, you might have missed the Austrian trio known as Mario Rom's Interzone, easily one of the most entertaining and scintillating acts at this year's festival. I have yet to hear a group of musicians -- anywhere -- with a more serious sense of play. The band opened its first set at The Little Theatre with "Rise of the Black Centipede" -- already a clue -- and from the outset, with Lukas Kranzelbinder's manic, finger-plucking bass solo, Mario Rom's squealing trumpet, and Herbert Pirker's revelatory rim rolls overflowing with timbral versatility, it was obvious the audience was in for an experience that would be both fun and aurally challenging.
Equipped only with drums, double bass, and trumpet, Interzone's instrumentation is odd for a trio. And yet spatially, the low, rumbling thunder off the rhythm section leaves plenty of room for Rom to cut through with biting articulation. The result is a rare, taut musical atmosphere in which the wonderfully rowdy attitude emanating from Kranzelbinder and Pirker is punctuated by Rom's clarion tone. At times, Interzone sounds like a rambunctious, spastic mini-marching band that has chronic fits of swing.
One of the highlights of Interzone's spellbinding set was the hallucinogenic interlude during "Shooting Wild Bill Edwards," in which lethargic yet ethereal bass glissandi and ambient finger rolls on the drum heads provide the trippy backdrop to cavernous echoes in the trumpet.
Overall, Rom's quiet and unassuming demeanor belies a dynamic musical charisma, his instrument shifting in tone from electrifying and bright to blue and sultry at a moment's notice.
Also, do you remember how I called Nick Anderson (of Stephane Wrembel's band) the most exciting drummer I'd seen at the festival so far? I was wrong. Herbert Pirker is an absolute dynamo, painting with sounds in such a smooth and innovative way that I'm thoroughly convinced that he's explored every sonic possibility on the drums.
This approach is also representative of Interzone as a whole: this is clearly a band in love with sounds, and it's found a way to share that love through songs that are at once wholly accessible and innately avant-garde. No easy feat. Visit mr-interzone.at to see and hear what all my fussing is about.
The solo piano set from George Colligan at Hatch Recital Hall from earlier in the evening was certainly quieter than Interzone's performance, but it wasn't any more subdued. Colligan seemed in perpetual motion, with an irrepressible flurry of momentum carrying him fluidly from note to note and phrase to phrase.
It all felt a bit unwieldy, but the pianist's energy was undeniably potent. Colligan is blessed with a natural feel for the piano keys and an ear for detailed articulation. This sensitivity -- combined with inspired use of rubato and a sophisticated, subtly dissonant chordal vocabulary -- generated intrigue as the pianist offered his interpretations of tunes like Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica."
In a live concert setting, it sometimes makes sense to concentrate fully on the sound, without being deterred by any visual distractions. In this case, I found it impossible to avert my eyes from Colligan's hands as they engaged the keys with a poignant combination of forceful intent and loving care.