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Cleve Pozar: Selections from Cleve Solo Percussion

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March 11, 2012 7:00 pm

On March 11, the Firehouse Space will host a special performance from Cleve Pozar, a 70-year-old percussion master who appeared on Bill Dixon’s landmark 1966 LP, Intents and Purposes, and later went on to master the Afro-Cuban drumming tradition of Batà. Pozar will present a concert of material from Cleve Solo Percussion, a rare self-released record from the early ’70s; the event will mark the first time in more than three decades that Pozar has performed these works. Originally the Cleve Solo Percussion project incorporated a complex system of live analog-tape loops; for this revival, Pozar will employ a newly streamlined set-up including an electronic marimba and drum kit, foot pedals and a musical bicycle wheel.

Born Robert Frank Pozar in 1941, Cleve has led a long and fascinating musical life. Growing up in Eveleth, a small Minnesota mining town, he took to drumming early and began playing in polka bands. After developing an interest in jazz as a teenager, he studied percussion at the University of Michigan, where he met and collaborated with future new-music luminaries such as Robert Ashley, as well as the pianist Bob James (later to find fame as a pop-jazz crossover artist). James and Pozar worked together in a tight-knit trio with bassist Ron Brooks, and after winning several honors at a 1962 collegiate jazz festival, the band recorded for Columbia, yielding James’s Bold Conceptions LP, produced by Quincy Jones. Later, the trio backed Eric Dolphy at a 1964 Ann Arbor performance, which took place just three months before Dolphy’s death.

Pozar and James continued to collaborate in New York, recording the challenging, fiercely original LP Explosions (ESP-Disk, 1965), an early fusion of contemporary-classical and free-jazz strategies. Pozar continued to work in this vein with the trumpeter Bill Dixon and appeared on Dixon’s renowned 1966 LP, Intents and Purposes (recently reissued

by International Phonograph, Inc.). Soon after, Dixon produced Pozar’s debut LP as a leader,Good Golly Miss Nancy—featuring John Coltrane associate Jimmy Garrison on bass, and bass-trombonist Michael Zwerin, who had performed in Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool ensemble—which showcased a droll, sparse take on avant-garde jazz. The title track consisted of a brain-bending “duet” between Pozar’s drum kit and a prerecorded tape piece by the composer Michael Sahl.

In the late ’60s, Pozar settled in Boston with his wife and son. There he studied with famed jazz drummer Alan Dawson, worked with the pianist Gene Ashton (later to be known as Cooper-Moore) and developed the body of work that would become Cleve Solo Percussion. During the ’70s Pozar frequently performed these pieces live, setting up loops using Echoplex tape machines and jumping between drum kit, marimba and other instruments. Pozar returned to New York in the mid-’80s and taught drums in after-school programs. He developed an interest in Latin percussion and began experimenting with self-devised electronic set-ups that allowed him to reproduce complex rhythms–originally executed by multiple players—on his own. After taking more than a decade off from music, Pozar returned to this electronic-percussion concept in the ’90s and applied it to his latest passion: the Cuban drumming tradition of Batà. During the past several years, while living in an unfurnished basement in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Pozar mastered his homemade electronic-Batà set-up and documented his performances of traditional pieces in the style. Using foot pedals and the four-mallet technique he learned in college in the early ’60s, Pozar plays the roles of three hand drummers simultaneously.

The concert at the Firehouse Space surveys the last 30-plus years of Cleve Pozar’s ongoing percussion odyssey. Pozar will perform selections from Cleve Solo Percussion, as well as a piece from his electronic-Batà repertoire, offering a well-rounded perspective on a truly uncategorizable career.

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