Prog Out on Sunday, Dec. 14

Interesting progressive-rock-related bill coming up Sunday night, Dec. 14, at a venue I’m not familiar with: Leo’s Music Club (5447 Telegraph Ave, Oakland):

MiRthkon is a prog band mixing heavy guitars with saxophones and bass clarinets, a mix of rock intensity and cerebral whimsy. My last mention of them was a show with Kayo Dot. Here they are live in a more recent show: Rock in Opposition 2013.

Surplus 1980 is Moe! Staiano’s post-punk band, a spastic loudness that’s gleaming with intelligence. They’ve been on hiatus; the band’s most recent output was a 10″ vinyl record that’s available at Squidco, among other places.

Jack o’ the Clock — which mixes the bucolic and the highbrow in a stew of prog, folk, classical, and jazz, is the band I’ve seen the most often out of these three. They’ve been taking a break as well, woodshedding new material, according to the emailer they sent out. Here’s some audience video of a performance from September a year ago.

December 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

Henry Plotnick Goes Blue

Henry PlotnickBlue Fourteen (Blue Tapes, 2014)

Henry Plotnick: Blue Fourteen (Blue Tapes)Often compared to Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley, Henry Plotnick is a modern composer using synthesizer loops to build dense pieces, packed with layer upon layer of fascination. He came to KZSU’s attention with his album Fields and is now back with a cassette and download release, blue fourteen. (That’s how the Blue Tapes label names its albums.)

Plotnick’s music verges on new age, I have to admit. For all its mystery, it’s got that calming-yet-upbeat mood, full of clockwork bell sounds, mostly in major keys. Still, I’ve really enjoyed his two albums and his willingness to explore long-form works. At this time of year, all the chiming sounds even make Plotnick a pleasant alternative to Christmas music.

Blue fourteen doesn’t rely on sheets of orchestral strings as much as Fields did — which I guess is another way of saying Plotnick has been expanding his vocabulary of sounds. Some catch my ear better than others. The foundation of “Izles” includes a couple of 8-bit loops that can get on the nerves after a while.

But his new strategies work, and they show off Plotnick’s strength in building and retracting layers to create a 10- or 15-minute story arc. “Wapati” is a particularly exciting piece, where Plotnick glitches up some of his samples, kind of like noise soloing, and even improvises on piano for a spell. I’m also partial to the organized chaos of “Mechanolatry,” where the loops don’t build a fully melodic form and the rhythms criss-cross unevenly. It’s perpetual-motion factory, happily clicking and whirring away.

Then there’s the scattershot feel of “Sun,” which keeps up the happy, floaty mood but in a series of disconnected rhythms, like multiple tracks colliding. It coalesces into a warm, soothing wash to finish the album.

Blue fourteen is a limited-edition cassette and a download; you can sample it on Soundcloud. You can read more about Plotnick on Wondering Sound, upvote him on the Dazed 100 poll (where readers have pushed him up to No. 25 from No. 94), and hear him live on KZSU’s 2015 Day of Noise on Sat., Feb. 7.

December 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment

KZSU’s Next Day of Noise: February 7, 2015

The Day of Noise, a 24-hour celebration of noisy, spiky, brain-scrambling music is coming back to KZSU. Many thanks to DJ Miss Information for coordinating it once again.

Featuring a series of artists rotating every 30 or 60 minutes, the show will be broadcast from midnight to midnight on Saturday, Feb. 7. You’ll be able to listen online, and I assume there’ll be a video stream as well — and of course, Bay Area residents can tune in at 90.1FM. The whole schedule’s on Facebook, or click the diagram below and stare.

Schedule for KZSU's Day of Noise 2015

December 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

Tim Berne’s 60th

Somehow I missed that Tim Berne was doing a 60th-birthday series of shows at The Stone in October. Not that I could have gone, but it would have been cool to at least note it.

Luckily, there are several videos of the shows posted on YouTube by KjReilly. Seems Berne used the opportunity to play a bunch of new compositions, some of them quite long.

Like this one: “Embraceable Me,” running at more than 70 minutes. You get all the usual traps of a Tim Berne long suite, including a few spans where the band plays the heck out of a composed theme and brings it to an exciting crescendo. It feels like it goes on for one episode too many, but it’s still an enjoyable ride.

The band, Cornered, is an expanded version of Snakeoil, the band Berne used on two albums (so far) for ECM. Bassist Michael Formanek and guitarist Ryan Ferreira are the added pieces. Different permutations of these players also played as Acoustic Snakeoil (the original piano-drums-horns configuration), Electric Snakeoil (adding Ferreira, in a move reminiscent of Marc Ducret playing with Bloodcount), Decay, and Cornered.

December 5, 2014 at 8:39 pm 3 comments

Bristle: A Jazz & Strings Prospectus

Bristle plays Fri. Dec. 6 at Maybeck Studio (1537 Euclid Ave., Berkeley) and Sat. Dec. 7 at Luna’s Cafe (1414 16th St., Sacramento).

BristleFuture(s) Now(s) (Queen Bee, 2014)

Bristle: Future(s) Now(s)

Source: Bandcamp. Click to go there.

Packaged amusingly to look like a corporate annual report, Future(s) Now(s) is an upbeat mix of chamber music (in a fun, bopping mode), stretched-out improv, jazz, and surprising touches of folk music. And you get a bit of corporate swag if you buy the hardcopy CD version.

It’s a strong second outing for Bristle, an album where you can sense how much they enjoyed playing this music. Reeds player Randy McKean, who lives outside the usual Bay Area orbit, in Grass Valley, Calif., has retained the band from the first album, titled Bulletproof, and will be showing off the new tunes at shows in Berkeley and Sacramento, Dec. 6 and 7.

Songs on Future(s) Now(s) were all written by either McKean or fellow reeds player Cory Wright. Combined with Murray Campbell on violin and Lisa Mezzacappa on bass — no drummer — the quartet strides through mostly playful and upbeat compositions that show some intelligent twists and turns and often give way to short stretches of improvisation.

“Whistle Tune” features a relentlessly happy but complex melody led by piccolo. Most of the piece seems to be composed, with piccolo and clarinet popping up with tiny bursts in front of a lumbering, almost smart-alecky, arco bass by Mezzacappa. “Escherish” shows off more of the band’s jazz proclivities, with an early sax solo over a quietly bubbling rhythm line. That piece gives way to a more serious stretch of unaccompanied solos connected by somber composed phrases.

The band’s sense of fun comes out in some of the bouts of pure improvsation. “Butts Up” includes moments of almost slapstick clacking and whistling; “Conference Call” includes some high-pitched improv moments that sound like a flight of birds.

But the best improvised moments come early in “Hick,” where all four players criss-cross ideas, like friends skipping stones on a beach, all clinging to a folky idiom that eventually gives way to the country violin riffs that give the song its title.

The most serious of the pieces, “Sie Sev Lah,” combines low strings with what are apparently two half-clarinets; McKean and Wright took their instruments apart and attached the mouthpieces to the bottom halves. The result sounds close to regular clarinets, but maybe more tart, like a trumpet. Even this track, amid the dead-serious violin/bass chords, includes some joy in the form of buzzing and trilling clarinets.

December 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm Leave a comment

The Hole Left by Yoshi’s

Yoshi's San FranciscoYoshi’s in Oakland, at Jack London Square, is still in place. But the San Francisco location, part of a fantasy revival of jazz in the Fillmore district, changed owners July 1, and its replacement switched to a new name, The Addition, sometime this month.

Yoshi’s SF was never able to repay a $7.2 million loan from San Francisco’s redevelopment agency; a bankruptcy agreement has the city forgiving $5 million of that loan.

The articles linked above list reasons why Yoshi’s was an awkward fit for its neighborhood. The SF club was a carbon copy of the Oakland club, for instance; I thought that was a nice touch, but the high-end Japanese cuisine and quilted, highbrow interior didn’t catch on with the Fillmore neighborhood. I have to believe the opening of the SF Jazz Center didn’t help, either, as that’s now the premiere stop for any name acts coming through.

Turns out the locals weren’t so interested in jazz anyway, which is why both Yoshi’s locations, but especially the San Francisco spot, began booking outright pop acts.

Pop now dominates Yoshi’s Oakland, although the club is still trying. The Bad Plus is doing a three-night run, and Marcus Shelby still gets booked. Ernie Watts and Joey DeFrancesco are on the upcoming calendar as well — not really my stuff, but it’s still a chance to raise the jazz flag.

Look, I understand business is business. Jazz — or really any entertainment that’s more for the cerebellum than for the lizard brain that loves loud noises and flashy lights — isn’t a moneymaker any more. I can’t say I could run Yoshi’s any better. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be unhappy when a sympathetic venue closes down, or even when its attention to the good stuff starts diminishing. The Addition has booked a lot of jazz for November, but it’s mainstream stuff — and besides, The Addition is not going to identify itself as a jazz club.

Duende has shrunk its music calendar as well, although it hasn’t watered down the mix to the extent Yoshi’s has. Ownership says the revenues couldn’t justify running the attic space for music every night, which is believable. I also have to assume that patrons had limited taste for hearing the occasional electronics buzz or Nels Cline-style freakout over their meals.

But one of Duende’s founders had an honest interest in the music, going back to the heyday of The Knitting Factory (another club that eventually gave up the jazz thing). I’ll take what they can offer as long as they can offer it.

The thing to do, of course, is to look beyond the clubs. There are so many other venues that offer a welcome that feels less temporary. The Luggage Store Gallery, the SIMM series, Berkeley Arts, and others I’m forgetting — they’ve been offering creative music on a regular basis for years. The Center for New Music is a younger operation built strictly for new-music interests. The Oakland Freedom Jazz Society no longer has a regular slot at Duende’s but has been finding other places to host shows — here’s a pair of solo clarinet sets they’re presenting at Studio Grand (another venue to mention) on Dec. 3.

I’m leaving out many others, I’m sure. Just understand that there are a lot of options for creative music in the Bay Area. Check out BayImproviser.com if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Yoshi’s has faded from the creative jazz radar, but Bay Area music fans still have a lot to be thankful for. The hole was filled some time ago.

November 29, 2014 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

Bartok at the Deli

greenlief wright bartokI can’t say I’m “into” Bela Bartok, but I tapped into some of the string quartets. I was egged on, unintentionally, by a friend who mistook the stern violin-pulsing intro to King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part 1″ for a Bartok piece. This wasn’t a friend who’d be into King Crimson. I figured I had to check out Bartok.

The string quartets didn’t scream Crimson-ness to me. What Bartok is better known for, apparently, is his use of Hungarian folk idioms. That side is the basis for a duo project that Phillip Greenlief and Cory Wright have been working on — two clarinets playing selctions from Bartok’s 44 duets (originally written for violins), adding stretches of solid improvisation.

They’re playing Monday, Nov. 17, at Saul’s Delicatessen in Berkeley. It’s a restaurant that hosts live klezmer music regularly — and Greenlief and Wright have played their Bartok music there before.

I saw them perform some of these pieces in April, at Studio Grand in Oakland. It was a fun session, and relaxed. Greenlief and Wright had the whole book of 44 duets ready to pick from. Between pieces, they’d briefly huddle and pick which of the short duets they’d string together to form the next song.

What few notes I scribbed down are lost to time, but what I remember is that the set was fun. You really could hear the elements of folk music in the themes, and Greenlief and Wright used those springboards to spin long improvisation, wringing the jazz out of Bartok’s notes.

Given the amount of variation that’s possible with this project, it’s good to see them performing it multiple times. Monday’s show will be their last performance in 2014, though.

November 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

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