There aren’t a whole lot of scenarios in which the jazz trumpet player Dave Douglas would end up on stage with the avant-garde hip-hop producer Daedelus, but for approximately five minutes at New York’s Town Hall last Thursday, that’s exactly what happened. The pairing came early in “A Night of Round Robin Duets,” an event that was part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival taking place in the city throughout the month. If the events in its first week emphasized musical individualism, two key events in its second were preoccupied with the possibilities of collaboration. That theme was explicit on Thursday, where 18 performers shared the stage over the space of 90 minutes. Their appearances were staggered: one performer played for five minutes, was joined by a second for a five-minute improvised collaboration, then a third performer entered and the first left. Though the event seemed designed to match up artists from different musical universes, the best moments came from pairings where the two musicians shared roughly the same lexicon. Douglas’s long, sonorous trumped playing never really gelled with Daedelus’s post-apocalyptic production style, but it slipped tongue-in-groove into the clattering drum style of Shigeto, who took the stage after Daedelus left. The pairing of James Carter and Marco Benevento was similarly inspired, the former blasting out chaotic, scrambling sax lines, the latter filling in the spaces with cascading piano. Other duets were more problematic: Jamie Lidell‘s collaboration with Alan Toussaint mostly existed in a state of suspended animation as the former wrestled with a seemingly endless array of technical difficulties. Toussaint vamped gamely, but the wait became tedious the longer it went on. Similarly, Marc Ribot‘s collaboration with drummer Terri Lynne Carrington struggled and kicked, never seeming to find the groove it was seeking.
The collaborations that took place Friday night at Knockdown Center in Ridgewood, Queens, were both more accidental and more compelling. Dubbed “Hardcore Activity in Progress,” the event united 15 artists whose music tends toward the abrasive, with each of them performing in different rooms over the space of five hours. Because the Knockdown Center is mostly a wide-open space, and because some of the performances overlapped, the result felt like one night-long song that changed shape repeatedly, but never fully abated. So the violent, strangled jazz of the Thing on the main stage gave way to the long, shrieking guitar playing of Reg Bloor in a room near the back; the hammering grindcore of British group Napalm Death set up the thumping, doomy hip-hop of the Florida rapper Gunplay. Though they spanned genres, all of the acts on the bill made a kind of aesthetic sense. The apocalyptic hip-hop of the Los Angeles group clipping. paired well with Tim Hecker‘s similarly haunting, static-suffused compositions. Near the middle of the evening came the pianist Lubomyr Melnyk, who played one long set that consisted of continuously-falling sheets of piano. It was so beautiful it brought a hush to the room — a palate-cleanser halfway through a night of chaos. Then, just as suddenly as his set began, it ended, and it was back into the abyss again.