KNOXVILLE — Like the multi-armed Hindu Kali, goddess of eternal energy, the Terry Riley Quartet, which played a Big Ears performance at the Bijou Theatre Friday night, seemed to have hands in minimalism, jazz and Indian ragas.
Made up of Terry Riley playing the piano, his son Gyan Riley on acoustic guitar, Tracy Silverman on electric viola and Ches Smith who brilliantly played an array of percussion instruments, the quartet offered a program of five extended pieces.
Four of the pieces began with Terry Riley setting a pattern on the piano that was picked up by the other instruments. Sometimes the patterns were developed as fugues and sometimes as canons. All of them created music that was somewhere between trance music and jazz improvisations.
The first piece, "Missy Gono," named for the imaginary friend of Riley's granddaughter, introduced the tone of the evening's music, with each of the musicians taking a solo turn.
The second, "Bagasheva," was an invention on a classical evening raga. It featured vocals, with Terry Riley setting the initial vocal intonation, then Gyan extending it, or sometimes doubling his father's voice.
Accompanying the vocals was Silverman's viola, magically sounding like a hybrid of a bowed string instrument and an Indian sitar, while Smith accented with passages on the vibraphone that were played with mallets.
Next came a gorgeous arrangement for the quartet of sections from Riley's famous "Salome Dances for Piece," originally written for the Kronos Quartet.
Following that was "Mela's Mantra," written by Gyan Riley, a trio for guitar, viola and percussion written by Gyan Riley.
Finally, the quartet played "Ebony Horses," a return to classical Indian genre with vocals from Terry Riley that were a mixture of a Tuban throat wail and jazz scat singing.
Broadly fitting under the umbrella of minimalism, this concert was anything but minimalistic. The layering created densities and complexities that revolved and shifted in almost endless patterns.
It was captivating and thoroughly entrancing.
There will certainly be much more from Riley as the Big Ears weekend progresses. Don't miss Bang on a Can All-Stars of Riley's groundbreaking performance of "In C."
Harold Duckett is a free-lance contributor to the News Sentinel.