Daniel reviews 'A Jazz Musician Walks Into a Comics Shop' 

click to enlarge "A Jazz Musician Walks Into a Comics Shop" was performed Wednesday, September 19, at Lyric Theatre. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • "A Jazz Musician Walks Into a Comics Shop" was performed Wednesday, September 19, at Lyric Theatre.
On Wednesday, musician and graphic novelist Dave Chisholm presented the most fully realized version of his highly ambitious multimedia project, “Instrumental.”  The work has always existed as both a graphic novel and its jazz soundtrack simultaneously. But the Fringe Festival audience at the Lyric Theatre was the first to hear the soundtrack performed live in its complete instrumentation, alongside a projected slideshow of an abridged version of the book.

The graphic novel is a fantastical story about a struggling jazz musician named Tom whose luck begins to change when he’s given a mysterious trumpet that does miracles for his playing. It also seems to bring death and destruction whenever he plays it.

As strange as that story may seem, Chisholm’s accompanying music is similarly ambiguous and cryptic, but packaged in a cool-jazz aesthetic that is completely engaging. For this concert, Chisholm — a trumpet player himself — fronted a band of highly polished musicians: bassist Dave Kluge and drummer Matt Bevan-Perkins laid down persistent rhythms that managed to be in lockstep but sound loose at the same time; pianist Matt Curlee and guitarist Chris Potter provided a hazy, harmonic wash over which Chisholm and saxophonist Colin Gordon delivered ecstatic solos with sparkling virtuosity. In particular, Chisholm’s trumpet sound reverberated through the hall with an unforced charisma, and cerebral yet satisfying melodies.


The music exuded a cold, gritty realism that evoked Tom’s city surroundings, but there was also a surrealistic glaze to the composition. Chisholm and Gordon had undeniable chemistry, trading solos that enhanced the dream-like nature of the graphic novel's plot.

Though the performance felt like a teaser for the full book, it was the music itself that took center stage — complete with subtly shifting time signatures and moody chordal vocabulary. It sounded a bit as if Radiohead had made a progressive jazz album.

The whole experience felt enigmatic, almost inconclusive, but that only added to the intrigue. It was as if some secret had gone unrevealed, and the sense of mystery surrounding the graphic novel remained intact. My guess is that concertgoers who hadn't read the graphic novel were compelled to read the whole thing. Though familiar with the story, I want to read it again. Perhaps there's something “Instrumental” that I missed.

That's it for "A Jazz Musician Walks Into a Comics Shop" during Rochester Fringe 2018.
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