Eric Vloeimans’ Eurojazz

(Eric Vloeimans plays at Duende in Oakland, Monday Oct. 13.)

Eric VloeimansOliver’s Cinema (Challenge, 2013)

Eric Vloeimans: Oliver's CinemaWhen I first started exploring creative music, an unexpected find was the European classical/ folk/jazz mix that I think is often called Eurojazz. That’s how I came to know it, anyway — that blending of jazz composition and improvisation with the towering structures and oddball harmonies of modern classical music, all played with a Parisian sidewalk-cafe vibe. Sometimes there would even be an accordion in the band, just for good measure.

Pago Libre comes to mind as an example. A couple of their CDs were on the doorstep at KZSU shortly after I arrived, as I recall. Pachora, a Balkan-jazz quartet including Jim Black and Chris Speed, was another early find and an obvious link in the Downtown NYC chain I’d traced after discovering Tim Berne’s Bloodcount.

Stacked in there somewhere is Eric Vloeimans, a Dutch trumpeter with a light touch and a wistful nostalgia in his playing. It’s likely I crossed his path because he was playing at Yoshi’s; I remember being charmed by his 2004 album Boom-Petit but lost the thread after that.

Vloeimans kept churning out music, though, and his latest band is a trio — with cello and, yes, accordion — playing cinematic sketches in Oliver’s Cinema. The name happens to be an anagram for Vloeimans’ name, but the “cinema” part fits the gently emotive music. Many of the tracks seem to come from still, thoughtful moments rather than high drama, and they’re very visual. “L’Amour des Moules” is a chatty stroll down a verdant park path; “Fellini’s Waltz” is a rich ballet of fantastical elegance.

It’s not far from what I remember of Vloeimans’ earlier work: lyrical, charming songs with a pretty touch, showcasing his crystal trumpet tone in a restrained setting. As with European cinema itself, there’s a lingering mix of happiness and sadness here. “Papillon” is a bittersweet slow song that’s so achingly French, and you can picture it representing fond memories or lost dreams, or both.

I’m not cinephile enough to recognize the classic soundtrack pieces on this album — “Papillon,” “Cinema Paradiso,” and “Rosemary’s Baby” among them. But the album still speaks to me with its depth of atmosphere; it’s subtle and hovering, rather than soaring and loud, and the understated nature sets the tone for what would be an equally understated — and therefore very nice — movie.

October 11, 2014 at 10:17 pm Leave a comment

Lisa Mezzacappa Trio

Lisa Mezzacappa TrioX Marks the Question (Queen Bee, 2013)

Lisa Mezzacappa: X Marks the QuestionThe sound of a conventional jazz guitar adds a touch of comfort to bassist Lisa Mezzacappa’s trio outing recorded last year. But just a touch. As you’d expect from the musician who’s given us the wildness of the Bait & Switch quartet and the electronics-laced atmosphere of the Nightshade group, the Lisa Mezzacappa Trio isn’t much for convention.

“Ghost Dance,” for instance, is written by Mike Pride, the drummer who crafted the raucous Drummer’s Corpse album. The song is even-handed in its fast tempo, but it splashes with noise — Pride goes heavy on the cymbals, and Chris Welcome’s guitar spews forth madly before setting into a solo.

Still, this trio isn’t as splatterpunk as Bait & Switch gets. Welcome does stay with a traditional jazz-guitar sound, even when doing nontraditional things with it, as in the scribbly line on “1989,” spinning back and forth like a top quickly wound and unwound.

Overall, this is a solid modern take on the jazz guitar trio, edgy without tipping into extremes of loud or quiet. Welcome’s contributions bring out the richness of the guitar, as you’d expect; “Jazz Brunch,” in particular, is slow and breezy and downright nice. And Pride’s “Negakfok” is a swingy, easygoing number that’s closer to what you’d expect from a jazz guitar band.

Among the more “out-there” moments is “The Deep Disciplines,” by Mezzacappa, introduces wide-open improvisation that comes to a full boil. Pride’s “Pottie Mouth,” by contrast, is careful and quiet, an expansive use of space, but again heavily focused on improvisation.

October 5, 2014 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

Blue. Just … Blue

I have not listened to Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Blue (Hot Cup Records, 2014), other than the samples on Squidco. But one of those samples is the opening passage to “So What.” I don’t have Kind of Blue memorized, but I do know those opening bars, and it sounds like they really did reproduce the track — every note.

Click for larger version. Why do you want a larger version?

Click for larger version. Why do you want a larger version?

That’s the concept behind Blue, which you might call more a performance-art piece than a normal album. It’s a re-creation of Kind of Blue, as close to the original as they could get, with lone saxophonist Jon Irabagon overdubbing the Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly parts.

The re-creation does seem to include the solos — again, judging by the one solo passage I know by heart: the first notes of the “So What” trumpet part. What’s more impressive is that they re-created the drumming, something I hadn’t considered before listening. In some ways, Kevin Shea had the hardest job of all.

It’s easy to pass off Blue as a joke, but the more I think about the idea, the more I feel myself getting obsessed with it. It seems like an irresistible personal challenge. To pull this off is worth some bragging rights. And what better way to not only pay homage to a record that, most likley, tops the list of early influences for all these guys, while at the same time getting deeper into the music, finding out what made it tick and sparkle.

I can see how this could build into an obsession over the years, until that day finally comes: “OK, let’s do this. Seriously, let’s get to work.” And Downtown Music Gallery notes that this is Peter Evans’ last album with the band, so it’s nice to bow out with a keen bit of precision jazz acrobatics.

I’m not sure I’m going to buy Blue. But I’m glad they did it.

October 4, 2014 at 11:05 am 1 comment

Grosse Abfahrt, the Latest Version, in San Francisco Tonight

Grosee Abfahrt and Birget Ulher at what looks like 21 Grand

Grosse Abfahrt, in a combination that does appear to include Birget Ulher. Source: sfSound.

The improv collective Grosse Abfahrt will be convening tonight — Saturday, Sept. 27 — in San Francisco at the Center for New Music. It’s a 7:48 p.m. show that will include out-of-town guest Birget Ulher on trumpet.

The general idea is that there’s a core group of GA players, Bay Area residents, who play occasionally and always bring outside guests into the fold, usually creating a largish ensemble of eight to 10.

You can read more about the group, and hear a sound sample, in this post from last year.

For this year’s show, I thought I’d ask Tom Djll, via email, something that’s been gnawing at me about this group — and about free improv in general, really — for a few years. Namely: If you’ve got a rotating cast of characters, how do you define a group “sound?” Or do you even bother; is it a matter of picking the people you know and trust?

Here’s what he said:

GA has not really kept its “core sound” over the years. It has definitely changed since 2004. It changes with every new iteration, really. You may hear the same language bits from the individuals over a long period of time — I certainly do — or you may not. I definitely told the players what I had in mind on the first few gatherings. There have been scores on at least two occasions, #1 and #10. I tend to think of the player mix as a big part of “the score.”

There have been at least two occasions where I felt the group sound was so far away from my conception of what it’s supposed to be that I hesitated to call it a “Grosse Abfahrt.” #2 was one of those, which was a live show done at CMC. I don’t remember the year. Sometimes all it takes is for one player to take over to tip the thing over into the zone Where Tom Is Unhappy With the Esthetic. That happened on #2, #5 and #13. #11 was too dense — too many players in a tiny space. Yet on each one of those occasions there were moments and passages of The Sublime. And that’s just my judgement, which is only worth exactly what any other person’s judgement is worth.

But, as you say, it is all very much “a matter of trust, knowing that [we] all know each other and have the same general concept in mind.” But just that would be boring. There has to be some disruption from time to time. That’s my specialty!

So, as you’d expect with free improv, there’s an element of unpredictability, and it’s up to the players to mold the piece as a whole into the right form.

Here’s the lineup for tonight’s show:

Birgit Ulher (trumpet)
John Shiurba (guitar)
Gino Robair (percussion/electronics)
Tim Perkis (electronics)
Kanoko Nishi (koto/piano)
Bill Hsu (video)
Jacob Felix Heule (percussion)
Tom Djll (trumpet/electronics)
Kyle Bruckmann (oboe/english horn)

September 27, 2014 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Taylor Ho Bynum in Palo Alto

bynum-bikeTrumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum is closing out his week’s stay in the Bay Area on his west coast bicycle tour. You’ve got two chances left to see him — in duet with pianist Myra Melford, Fri. Sept. 19 at the Center for New Music; and with clarinetist Ben Goldberg on Sat. Sept. 20 in Palo Alto.

The Palo Alto show will be outdoors in the afternoon — 1:00 p.m. at Lytton Plaza, in the thick of downtown. Kudos to Mark Weiss for getting that arranged. (The Plaza isn’t on Lytton street. It’s a University and Emerson.)

Bynum is biking his way from Vancouver to the Mexican border, playing shows along the way. You could think of the whole trip as one extended performance piece. His next stop will be in southern California, where he’s got a couple of dates at the Angel City Jazz Festival the weekend of the 27th.

He’s been blogging the trip and posting recordings to Soundcloud. Here’s how it started — with a crash and a sunset.

September 17, 2014 at 11:48 pm 1 comment

Meridian Gallery Searches for a New Home

535 Powell St. Source: Joe Lasqo's blog.

535 Powell St. Source: Joe Lasqo’s blog.

I suppose it’s true that all things must pass, but it’s still sad whenever a music venue gets uprooted for economic reasons. The latest example being Meridian Gallery, which left its Union Square home in San Francisco last week.

The gallery’s landlord gave an advance warning of sorts, demanding $100,000 to cover upcoming rent. In pure business terms, Meridian got a fair shake — the gallery could have stayed if it could raise the kind of money that San Francisco’s hyperbolic spiral of rents commands. Of course, it couldn’t.

As unfortunate as this is for the visual artists and the musicians whom Meridian supported, the real tragedy might be the loss of a space for its youth arts program, which served the city’s at-risk high schoolers. Meridian, which spent seven years on Powell Street, has moved before and will now move again, but of course, relocation isn’t free. It’s another example of how it costs money to not have money.

Many thanks to proprietors Anne Brodzky and Anthony Williams for providing a home for creative music. Some results of those efforts can be heard on the compilation album Earth Music, released in 2011 on the Innova label.

Meridian’s home page still shows a “Donate” button, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind the help.

September 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm 3 comments

Bass Clarinet Quartet: Late Classic Era

We are witnessing the Late Classic Period of Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, apparently. You can bear witness to the last days of this period on Sept. 12 when the quartet plays in a bass-clarinet-heavy concert at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

The show includes the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk and a performance of a bass clarinet nonet by Jonathan Russell. If you don’t like the sound of the bass clarinet, this will not be the place to be.

As for Edmund Welles’ different eras, bandleader Cornelius Boots lays out the whole chronology on his blog. This wasn’t a decades-long master plan; it’s more that, with benefit of hindsight, he sees the phases of his musical development. He’s been nurturing the idea of a heavy bass-clarinet band since the late ’90s (the Inspirational Era), developing some songs as part of hard-rock band Magnesium. I got turned on to Edmund Welles during the band’s Early Classic Era, as the album Agrippa’s 3 Books came out, and what I’ve written on this blog has covered the Classic Era and beyond.

Boots’ other foci have included teaching — the Edmund Welles album Tooth and Claw now has a companion book that teaches you how to play the songs — and the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. He recently recorded a shakuhachi album, Mountain Hermit’s Secret Wisdom, in a cave, exploiting the acoustics to produce meditative pieces such as “Banshiki” — listenable on Bandcamp.

But he’s also playing metal on the shakuhachi, making clever use of athletic tongue-trilling and the instrument’s ability to bend notes. Here’s his cover of “Run to the Hills.”

September 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm 1 comment

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