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Bill Cole and the Untempered Ensemble

If you head out to one of the shows being put on by new UVA Arts Administration residents Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble, odds are you’ll hear more than a few instruments you’ve never heard before.

Cole has built a reputation on his unique method of drawing Eastern instruments rarely heard in contemporary pop music into the jazz fold. The Untempered Ensemble is a septet and will feature didgeridoo, Asian double reeds, kora, theremin, Ghanian flute, Indian nagaswarm and shena, Chinese sonas, and Korean hojok and piri at varying times through the performances. With no standard Western chordal instrument and the tuba being the most Western horn on display here, the typical American jazz timbres are basically absent. All the more interesting is that a lot of the pieces to be featured in the performance are expanded arrangements of piano compositions by Don Pullen.

They blast far beyond mere exotica; this is nothing like the “world music” with the 1992 Microsoft Paint album covers you see on street vendors’ tables or in coffee shops. The septet builds deep, multifaceted grooves for soloists to cut across with sheets of sound and long, sputtery lines. Some cuts from the group’s record Sunsum are out in the YouTube ether and are definitely worth the quick search; expect to find quick-footed, heavily chromatic tunes named for transcultural proverbs like “Great Loss Is Yours If Your Love For Another Is Not Returned” and “A Scar Is Never So Smooth as Natural Skin.” But don’t expect white-hot global jazz burners for the entire set. The Kora-featuring compositions especially have rich harmonic character and ephemeral beauty.

Featured players include Warren Smith, Joseph Daly, Ras Moshe Burnett, Alex Blake, Lisette Santiago, and Althea Sully Cole. The shows are co-sponsored by the Charlottesville Jazz Society, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, UVA Arts Council, Kluge-Rube Collection of Aboriginal Art, UVA Arts, and the McIntire Dept. of Music. Through the residency program the players will be around all week holding lectures and demonstrations about their highly unconventional instruments.

Check out the shows Wednesday, November 16th at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, and Thursday, November 17th, and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Shows start at 8PM.


Tom Sobolik is a second-year who is currently honing his throat singing technique.