Rochester Fringe Goes ‘Instrumental’

Live band performs soundtrack along to graphic novel

Dave Chisholm has a knack for writing and illustrating comics and a gift for making music. Last year, he released the graphic novel Instrumental along with an accompanying soundtrack that he composed. The multi-instrumentalist has a doctorate degree from Eastman School of Music, and not only wrote all the parts for the ensemble, but also performs on the trumpet himself. The members of the band also represent the characters in the graphic novel, who are also in a band. The story line centers around the moral dilemma faced by a musician who is gifted a killer trumpet. Yes, the instrument literally kills listeners.

Luckily for those of us in the audience, this is a work of fiction. Even if it weren’t, I would have taken the risk. While the soundtrack has been performed live a couple times since its release mid-2017, this was the first time it has been projected onto a screen behind the musicians. The effect was spectacular.

The novel has seven chapters, each corresponding with a track on the album. As you see the characters in the ensemble playing, you hear their instruments being played live. The characters really come to life.

One of my favorite characters, the drummer of the fictional band, has an intense practice session at the beginning of the chapter entitled Decompression, and it was such a thrill to see and hear the drum solo played live by local percussionist Matt Bevan-Perkins. Syncing video and audio is no easy task, especially when the music is being performed live. As the drummer, Bevan-Perkins deserves kudos for setting the pace for the rest of the band so that it appeared seamless to the audience when the song ended at the same time as each chapter of the book. Bevan-Perkins was a stand-in for the Instrumental band, but performs regularly in Chisholm’s other project Talking Under Water.

The protagonist of the work is a trumpet player, so the trumpet is featured prominently in the performance. Chisholm has masterfully infused musical symbolism and applied principles of music theory to create harmony and dissonance as appropriate to the story line, and carrying through golden threads of melody that tie the work neatly together. The listener is swept along as the trumpeter marches through the frustration of grinding out a gig, soars to heights of celebration, then plunges into depths of despair. All the while, Chisholm is playing the role of both musician and conductor giving visual cues to bandmates.

One of those bandmates was saxophonist Colin Gordon, who performed an absolutely stellar solo during tonight’s performance.The string section was comprised of Chris Potter on guitar and Dave Kluge on bass. On the grand piano was Matt Curlee, whose part was featured prominently in the finale.

The audience members fell completely under the spell of Instrumental, and rewarded Chisholm and the Instrumental band with a standing ovation. The line to meet the musicians afterwards lasted nearly as long as the performance itself. If you missed the show, the graphic novel and soundtrack are both available on Amazon. Visit Dave Chisholm’s website for more information about his comics and music.

This event was one of more than 500 events that have been slated for this year’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. The state’s largest multimedia festival runs through Saturday, September 22.  A comprehensive list of events can be found at the Rochester Fringe website rochesterfringe.com. Stay tuned to NYS Music for continuing coverage.