What compelled the composer to use this particular ensemble? Why does this musical texture work best for this moment? Is there a better one? Should I be able to hear more of what’s going on right now? Is that sound really coming from that instrument? These and other questions, uncommon or irrelevant in the context of a Beethoven symphony or a Haydn string quartet, were front and center Tuesday night at Roulette in Downtown Brooklyn. The Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) opened its 2013 series with two consecutive nights of vibrant and variegated new works on 10 and 11 September, with a great showing from performers spanning formidable stylistic gaps.

The first concert was split between two extremes of intensity. The three pieces performed before intermission were composed by the pre-eminent and multi-talented Christian Wolff, and mostly occupied an ambient space somewhere between Bitches Brew and the sound of a brass ensemble discreetly warming up. Octet, commissioned by FONT for the TILT Brass ensemble, and Edges, originally written in 1968, were both heavily aleatoric. Octet was characterized by a broad, warm, even fuzzy sound, and the players held this general timbre consistently through the piece. “Fuzzy” also aptly describes the sense of meter – moments of arrival were usually eased into rather than attacked directly.

Making a better case for the value of aleatoric technique in chamber music, Edges featured Wolff himself on piano, along with the TILT Ensemble. The individual players seemed to have a good sense of proportion, keeping out of the action until they had something worth playing. Surprisingly sensitive glissandi in the trombones gave a sense of small motion, and the piece concluded with wheezing and expirational squeals, fading into the hush of the ventilation system. Delicate layering, and subtleties of dynamic range between pianissimo and mezzo piano, seems to be Wolff’s particular genius; that much, at least, was not totally improvised.

Between the two larger pieces, Joshua Modney and Gareth Flowers performed Duo for violin and C trumpet (2007). Unlike the other two Wolff pieces, Duo seemed more or less fully worked out, and for both the musicians and the hall, this was to the music’s advantage. Wolff’s mature treatment of gesture came through clearly, with the two soloists weaving the sparse lines into a delicate filigree of counterpoint.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the Roy Campbell Jr. Akhenaten Large Ensemble, a full-throated jazz grouping which consisted of drums, bass, vibraphone, amplified violin and (of course) three trumpets. I consider myself only passing literate in jazz generally, but even so Roy Campbell Jr.’s arrangements struck me as laid back in just the right measure to be casual without getting even a little sloppy. Campbell, one of the original co-founders of FONT 10 years ago, began with several pieces inspired by recent travel to Cairo. The first piece, Walkin to the Pyramids, was a through-composed multi-stage piece in the vein of Charles Mingus’ narrative works. The well-known Duane Eubanks gave a clean, mature performance in his turns at the mic, including a fluent and controlled hard bop solo, and consistently took bigger harmonic risks than either Campbell or Josh Evans. Evans, the third (and uncredited) trumpet player, was clearly the youngster of the trio and played with something to prove. This came out in fierce solos and hard entrances and exits, almost as though he were worried he’d underplay, but this edge served both his solos and Campbell’s music. A portion of R.C. Jr.’s Akhenaten, Camel Caravan, and Thanks to the Creator rounded out the concert with more straight-ahead and programmatic jazz.

With a whole series of concerts ahead, there was little pressure to encapsulate the capabilities of the trumpet in this one evening, but at the very least a case was made for the utter flexibility of the instrument. The presence of a violin in every arrangement made for an interesting inversion of the typical instrumental distribution. What happens when the bowed string sound is the exception, the timbral coloring rather than the harmonic backdrop? What the music said was that there is nothing in particular standing in the way. The violin can cut through brass just as brass can cut through string sound – exceptions will always do that. New York City readers should look for the rest of the series as it plays out in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the next three weeks for more proof of that.