Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.
The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.
Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.
Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.
Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.
The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.
Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.
You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.
Wow. In a septet context, Mary Halvorson’s music gets all warm and cozy.
That might be an impolite thing to say in avant-garde circles, but listen to the billowing horns in the title track.
A lot of Illusionary Sea is like that: lovely sounding horns and quilts of melody, but enough room for Halvorson’s prickly guitar grunge. Richly melodic elements were present with her quintets — “Hemorrhaging Smiles” on Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12, 2012) or “Crack in the Sky” on Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12, 2010) — but to my ears, they’re amplified with the expanded horn section of the septet.
The eccentric guitar lines that made Halvorson’s trio such a delight are still there. But listen to the almost circus atmosphere early in the guitar solo on “Smiles of Great Men (No. 34).” The horns add a bright sound, and Halvorson plays along with a swinging melody before taking the song off the rails.
Halvorson even shows her hand at traditional jazz comping on “Four Pages of Robots,” setting down the backing chords while one horn solos. Of course, that mode doesn’t last, and as the horns wind down the piece, Halvorson obscures throws sheets of guitar spackle at the melody. That’s one of Illusionary Sea’s best tricks: mixing jazz horns with attack-mode guitar in a way that makes sense.
So, when I talk about the music being “nice,” it’s less about losing edge and more about gaining depth. The compositions are still rooted in avant-rock guitar sketchings, but they’re fleshed out with sophisticated horns — a step further toward the jazz side of the spectrum. The ensemble’s progression from trio to quintet to septet seems like a reflection of Halvorson’s desire to say more with the music.
Being a jazz DJ, I would often pay tribute to musicians who had recently passed away. And I would remark on how these artists should be getting this attention while they’re alive, not only so they can appreciate being appreciated, but also to spread the word about a spark still glowing and, in many cases, still creating.
Electronic-music composer Bernard Parmegiani passed away recently, but whether he knows it or not, he got an evening of recognition out here in the Bay Area, as his works were showcased at the San Francisco Tape Music Festival last year.
I can’t say I’m a student of Parmegiani’s work, and I didn’t manage to attend his tribute concert. But I’m feeling a strange sense of contentment over the fact that someone gave him a spotlight while he was still around to bask in it, even if only in spirit.
You can sample Parmegiani’s work on YouTube, of course. I embedded a few videos in a previous post.
Hat tip: Avant Music News.
Carlos Alves “Zingaro”, Jean Luc Cappozzo, Jerome Bourdellon, Nicolas Lelievre — Live at Total Meeting (NoBusiness, 2012)
I love not only the sounds, but the pacing on the three long improvisations presented here. It’s a live performance from France’s Total Meeting Festival in 2010, and the quartet draws a rich variety of ideas from their acoustic instruments.
Most of the music doesn’t appear to move blazingly fast, and yet there’s a building sense of energy and tension that’s rather captivating. The players manage to sculpt narrative arcs that draw you in. On top of that, the album ends with a sudden and mildly surprising flourish that leaves you feeling pretty good about everything you’ve just heard. (I won’t give it away — it’s not that unusual an ending, just very sudden. I got a smile out of it.)
The first and last tracks (“Total 1″ and “Total 3″) feature Jerome Bourdellon’s flute taking command of the setting. ”Total 1,” has him playing in a sparkling, energetic mode, reflecting off of Zingaro’s violin and making you wonder why flute doesn’t come up more often in free improv. He’s takes the lead voice during some softer phases, where the flute takes on that calming voice, especially in the lower registers, but he can also dance and dart to play against Zingaro’s madman violin sounds and Jean Luc Cappozzo’s trumpet. Listen to him hold down the low registers here, gradually stepping into the background:
My ears kept gravitating toward the trumpet and the flute (or bass clarinet), but there’s plenty of drums and violin as well. Plenty of Zingaro, in particular: sawing, plucking, and romantically swooning. As often happens with improv, no one voice takes the lead for any long stretch. This is a thoughtful group effort.
There was no warm-up phase. Brötzmann opened the concert with a screeching blast of sax, and Nilssen-Love jumped in with full thunder — and off they went.
As usual, long stretches of the sound consisted of motifs, little screamed phrases that Brötzmann would repeat a few times over Nilssen-Love’s tumult before shifting to the next phrase. Some of the best parts, though, came when things quieted down and Brötzmann’s playing got more emotional.
One quieter phase had his sax turning almost romantic, but with the volume still turned up to at least 7 and with a ragged, buzzing sound, like a lament sung by a burly king who doesn’t realize his robes are in tatters. Later, there was a more properly soft phase, with Brötzmann playing solo, featured some hardier melody and a sensitive air, until he started ramping the volume back up, encouraging Nilssen-Love to pound his way back in.
I really enjoyed Nilssen-Love’s playing, and I hope it wasn’t lost on the crowd. His solos tended toward the loud side — one solo oversaturating the snare and cymbals to intentionally create that white-noise effect, another featuring incredibly fast, rumbling toms. (The snare and cymbals are his, and the rest of the drum kit was borrowed.)
For an encore, Brötzmann turned to a melodic motif, one with an Ayler-like marching-band flair. It’s a well-played tool from his bag of tricks and seemed appropriate for a quick finale number.
I’m not trying to say Kneebody and The Dismemberment Plan are at all alike, but they’re linked in my head. Both are bands of whom I’ve thought, “Man, if they ever come to town, I gotta see ‘em.” And lo and behold, I found out recently that both were indeed coming to the Bay Area.
Sadly, I can’t make it to The Dismemberment Plan’s Dec. 10 date at The Fillmore. (Subtle plug there, eh?) But I did make it to Duende for Kneebody’s sold-out, raucous show on Nov. 6.
Kneebody isn’t an indie rock band like The Dismemberment Plan is, but they’re probably the same age (maybe a little younger) and definitely have the vibe of a band that’s been together 12 years. (In a good way. Not in a Kinks or Oasis-brothers way.) And their music does groove and rock out; it’s just that it also gets twisty and partly minimalist — and includes swinging, blasting solos. The electric bass, electric piano, and drums create a rocking groove while the sax and trumpet push airy melodies drawn from a bright mix of post-bop and Ornette.
And I love the drums, that big sound Nate Wood can call up, sometimes pounding hard, sometimes sneaky and quick-handed with a trace of techno influence. That’s another link between the bands — in both cases, the drummer caught my attention early on.
So when Wood finally got a drum solo, to start the number “Trite” near the end of the second set at Duende, I was pretty stoked. It was a long dissertation on surges of sound, with stretches of quieter lightspeed pitter-patter. Nobody dozes off during the second set, dammit!
But the part I think most people liked, aside from the music, was the stage banter. These are intelligent and likeable guys who clearly love playing together. They take turns at the mic introducing songs, alternately praising and razzing each other in the process. They’re just hanging out, and you’re in the room too, and there happens to be a jazz show going on.
As for that “minimalist” comment, I’ll explain it by pointing to “Nerd Mountain,” which bassist Kaveh Rastegar introduced as a “typical Shane song” — which came out like an insult, and we (and the band) were entertained while he tried to back his way out of that one. What I think he meant was that Shane Endlsey‘s composing often seems to be built on simple non-patterns — an irregular chugging. It’s like Steve Reich on speed or Giacinto Scelsi in a fusion band. I have to admit “Nerd Mountain” didn’t hold my attention as much as it does on record, but then it shifted into “The Line,” which ended with a soaring hard groove.
Other moments I remember: After the band opened with the airy chords of “Lowell” (the single off the new album, The Line), Ben Wendel started a long, fluid, unaccompanied sax solo that led into a really nice song (possibly “Still Play,” also from that album). “Antihero,” a Breaking Bad-inspired song with its dramatic rising melody, was one of the more powerful, slower moments. “Unintended Influences,” written by electric pianist Adam Benjamin, included a gloomy breakdown that I really enjoyed. They ended with “The Slip,” an incredible tangle of a composition from Endsley.
For more about the band, check out this great interview with Rastegar, in Denver’s Westword.