Published Sep 02, 2018Yonatan Gat has finally met his match. The guitarist and master improviser is best known for his visceral live shows where he and his collaborators perform in the centre of the floor, the crowd in a tight circle around them — a wholly unique experience that allows the audience to take a close look at the intricacies of rock-based improv. His recent teamup with the Eastern Medicine Singers, an Indigenous drum group based out of Providence, Rhode Island, is a meeting of kindred spirits, two groups using the power of improv and in-crowd performance to bridge the gap between audience and performer.
After performing onstage with a bassist and drummer (a rarity for Gat), the trio quietly unplugged and took their places in the centre of the room, where the four touring members of the Eastern Medicine Singers were waiting for them, performing on a single giant drum. Gat's trio gave them some time before joining in, turning their melodies into guitar riffs. The collaboration was harmonious, two distinct entities working together and feeding off of each other in a showcase of mutual respect and musical talent.
Tracks from Gat's latest album Universalists, which features the Eastern Medicine Singers on one track, were used as launchpads for greater inspiration, stretching out into lengthy jams that traded focus between the Singers' rhythm-oriented style and Gat's psych- and prog-influenced riffage. The studio versions are more like sketches, snapshots of a particular riff in a particular space on a particular day; the live renditions really allowed the ideas to flourish, and the Eastern Medicine Singers provided a fun source of rhythmic weight to Gat's freeform sound.
Near the end, as the Singers led the crowd through a prayer — which found everyone, performer and audience member alike, with their hands on each others' shoulders — the border between audience and performer had all but been dissolved by the sheer power of music. By letting the audience in on the action, Gat and the Singers evoked a type of bodily experience that transcended mere observation.