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

Glenn Spearman & Splatter Trio: Gone, Not Forgotten

Glenn Ito was one of my main PR contacts at KZSU in the early to mid-2000s. He lived in Sacramento and played an active role in the music scene there — and was also a frequent visitor to the Bay Area for concerts, a two-hour drive each way.

I’m late in discovering this, but Ito put up a YouTube channel with audio recordings from various northern California shows, most probably dating from the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker project, from 1993, comprises about half of the 15 videos there. But I was especially happy to find some gems from crucial artists who called the Bay Area their home.

Here, you can catch the beloved Splatter TrioGino Robair (drums), Myles Boisen (guitar), Dave Barrett (sax) — in a performance with Myra Melford (now a Bay Area resident) on piano.

And here’s the late Glenn Spearman, overblowing his heart out on Albert Ayler’s “Mothers,” with Donald Robinson on drums and Lisle Ellis on bass.

That trio, by the way, gets a glorious mention in a Spearman obituary penned by musician 99 Hooker. Skip straight to the bottom of this page.

Spearman is gone, and the Splatter Trio is inactive, but it’s wonderful to have some more of their music documented and available. Thanks, Glenn.

November 14, 2014 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Waves Upon Waves: Ernesto Diaz-Infante

Ernesto Diaz-InfanteWistful Entrance, Wistful Exit (Kendra Stein Editions, 2014)

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Wistful Entrance, Wistful ExitErnesto Diaz-Infante has played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and a swath of other stringed instruments (including piano) in a variety of settings from prickly to the sublime. This album features one guitar with lots of reverb, playing calm, repetitive figures. But unlike a computerized piece, or the high-precision mirrors-on-mirrors of classical minimalism, the variations come not only from calculated changes but from the human variations of hands on strings.

The effect is a hypnotic shimmer — simple, graceful image left to drift and slowly change. The ocean metaphor suggested by the album cover is apt.

The titles of the three 15-minute tracks on Wistful Entrance, Wistful Exit form the phrase “this long moment,” which is an apt way to describe ambient music: a place where the instant is stretched, where you can step aside and be a bystander to the passing flow of time. “This” and “Long” are similiar in character, with the sound of a plectrum gently dragged across the strings, describing a meditative, ringing chord followed by two more sympathetic notes. One section of “Long” reduces to just a chord, which further strips down to just two notes for a while, basking us in the simplest essence of harmony.

“Moment” uses straight strumming to form a pulse along with a one-note bass drone (probably just the low “E” string on the guitar). It’s a tougher, cavernous sound that keeps up a faster pace while sticking to that droning aesthetic. The track starts slow, continuing that meditative theme, but shifts into a slow gallop by the end.

Stretched across 15 minutes, the effect is subtle. If you’ve got this on as background noise, you might be surprised at how differently you’re engaging with the music by the end of “Moment.”

November 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm Leave a comment

Celebrating Sun Ra at 100

(UPDATE 11/15: Amanda at the Catsynth blog has posted a review of the show. Sounds like it was a great time.)

Sun Ra turned 100 this past spring, and Bay Area musicians don’t want to let the moment pass without doing something big around it.

So, there’s going to be a celebratory concert at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco) on Wed., Nov. 12, at 7:00 p.m.

Source: Ransom Note (theransomnote.co.uk), although they probably got it from somewhere elseDetails are below, as listed on the BayImproviser calendar.

Of particular note is the big band that will play — and the fact that they namecheck Beanbenders, a venue and music series that contributed enormously to the local music scene in the late ’90s — and, on a personal note, a catalyst for me to start getting in touch with that scene. And Beanbenders did host the Sun Ra orchestra, back in 1996.

For a gathering of old friends to celebrate one of their great common influences, the Beanbenders name serves as a nice proxy.

As for Sun Ra’s Arkestra, it’s still going strong. You can read Marshall Allen’s thoughts in a recent Washington City Paper interview — and of course, the Arkestra played in San Francisco last year.


Friendly Galaxies – An Evening of Celebrating Sun Ra at 100

— Set 1: Reconnaissance Fly (Amanda Chaudhary: keyboard/electronics; Rich Lesnik: reeds; Polly Moller: voice, flutes, guitar; Larry the O: drums, and Tim Walters: bass/electronics) perform a mixture of Sun Ra tunes & originals

— Set 2: Techno-griots Electropoetic Coffee (poet NSAA + guitarist Ross Hammond) continue and extend Sun Ra’s tradition of Afro-Futurist poetry+music madness

— Set 3: UBU RA BIG BAND, assembled by laptopist/pianist Joe Lasqo from the luminous gas remnants of the Beanbenders supernova & other far corners of the universe, travels through the sonic space of Sun Ra’s repertoire, with video by Warren Stringer.

Sun Ra looking regal. Source: BayimproviserSteve Adams – electronics
Aaron Bennett – saxes/reeds
Myles Boisen – guitar
Phillip Greenlief – saxes/reeds
John Hanes – percussion
Joe Lasqo – keyboards/electronics
Lisa Mezzacappa – bass
Dan Plonsey – saxes/reeds
Jon Raskin – saxes/reeds
David Slusser – saxes

Space songtresses: Barbara Golden & Kattt Atchley
Astro-Terspichorean dancers: Evangel King & Nan Busse
VIdeo artist: Warren Stringer

Cost: $10 non-members, $7 members

Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco).

November 10, 2014 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

Russ Johnson’s Jazz Meetup

Russ JohnsonMeeting Point (Relay Recordings, 2014)

Russ Johnson: Meeting PointMeeting Point is a modern compositional showcase for trumpeter Russ Johnson, fleshed out by Chicago free-jazz stalwarts, but it’s also got some flavor of a good old bebop quartet. “Clothesline” could serve as a statement-of-purpose, a swingy and unhurried number that sets up some cracking solos from Johnson and bass clarinetist Jason Stein. “Chaos Theory” is a similarly tumbling bop, with a theme that takes a while to play out, making for a fun ride.

What struck me first, though, was the simple, chugging beat of the bass clarinet on “Lithosphere.” It lends a trace of old-timey jazz stomp to an otherwise contemporary sounding composition. Just a trace. You might not hear it, but it helped cement that feeling of past-meets-present in my mind.

This isn’t a retro album, though. Stein, Anton Hatwich (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) are fixtures of the Chicago free-jazz scene, and Johnson astutely uses their talents in crafting longer-form pieces and in outright burning it up when it comes time for solos. “Chaos Theory” appropriately shifts into a group exploration before Stein gets to cut loose on bass clarinet (which he plays throughout the album), augmented by Johnson’s bleats and burbles, and egged on by Hatwich and Daisy in free-bop mode.

Each player also gets an improvised duo track with Johnson — abstract short pieces tending toward the subtle side. That’s especially true on the duo with Stein, which plays with long tones and Feldmanesque quiet.

Early on in the album, however, Johnson deviated from the more “obvious” jazz fun to present “Confluence,” a 15-minute suite that’s effectively the second track. I enjoy it, but it’s a character from a different novel: studious and involved. It opens with an introspective solo by Johnson, setting up a quiet energy. That gives way to the theme: a simple, jazzy figure that touches off a lengthy bass clarinet solo where Stein ultimately heads into buzzy multiphonic territory.

It’s nice stuff, and when the simple theme re-emerges at the end, emerging from a stormy group tumult, you feel like you’ve completed quite a nice little journey. For the listeners preferring the swingy side of the music, “Confluence” might be an impediment. I like to think of it more as Johnson astutely making the most out of his resources — in terms of his composing skills and his choices of bandmates.

Read more about Russ Johnson in The Reader, published by the Chicago Sun-Times.

November 9, 2014 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Free Time in Indianapolis

Luna Records, by Eric Murray on FlickrA vanishing pleasure of travel is my ritual of visiting CD stores. “Vanishing” because CD stores are vanishing — but also because so much of my travel is related to tech conferences, and so many tech conferences have moved to the wasteland of the Las Vegas strip.

So when an opportunity arose to visit Indianapolis, I eagerly bit. It was a conference I would have attended anywhere in the Lower 48, but the chance to visit a city I’d never seen before was an extra perk.

On my final day, I took a car well north of downtown, into the Broad Ripple neighborhood, to visit Luna Music and Indy CD & Vinyl. Luna sounds familiar; I associate them with Guided by Voices, and I vaguely recall a GbV release or two that I pre-ordered through them. Indy was new to me. Neither disappointed. Both were full of CDs and vinyl (as opposed to the used DVD sections overrunning the Bay Area’s otherwise excellent stores) and had friendly, knowledgeable staff. What a great way to spend a morning.

Indy Records, Indianapolis, via John McNicholas on FlickrBiggest surprise of the trip: Indy Records has a small jazz/classical section, but next to it was a packed row full of Tzadik CDs. Lots and lots of Zorn (in fact, the section placard had Zorn’s name), but other artists in the catalog were there, too. This was recent stuff, not a patch of circa-2005 leftovers ordered by “that one guy who quit like a year later.” I knew I had to buy something.

I might never be in Indianapolis again, but I’ll gladly linger in both shops again if I return. Here’s the total haul:

  • WooIt’s Cosy Inside (Drag City, 2012; orig. release 1989) ….. The new Woo record was playing inside Luna, and I got caught up in the ambient vibe. Not quite new age, not quite new techno. Like an instrumental version of The Postal Service, with a similarly innocent and friendly vibe, populated by some guitars, some electronics. The new issue is vinyl-only, so I grabbed a random CD as a souvenir.
    Spiritual Jazz 5: Esoteric, Modal and Deep Jazz from Around the World, 1961-79
  • V/ASpiritual Jazz 5 (Jazzman, 2014) ….. 1960s jazz from around the world! And wow, it’s amazing the things people were doing in Argentina, Japan, India, and Turkey, not to mention some expected hotbeds like South Africa. The music here is one step short of free jazz but takes modal and post-bop ideas to special heights. Highlight of the trip. It was available at both Luna and Indy, so I’m guessing it’s not so hard to find.
  • Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock RenegadesChoreographed Man of War (Fading Captain, 2001) ….. Noting the story above, I had to buy a GbV-related issue at Luna. I recall some of these songs fondly from live shows but had never picked up the album.
  • Medeski, Schofield, Martin, & WoodJuice (Indirecto, 2014) ….. I can’t always get into MMW or Schofield, but this album caught my ear at a listening station. Must have hit the right mood. Plus, the 11-minute deconstruction of “Sunshine of Your Love” is anything but cheesy.
  • BadbadnotgoodIII (Innovative Leisure, 2014) ….. Kind of a cross between hipster dance instrumentals and redefined, intelligent jazz. Highly accessible and probably closer to electronica than to creative music — steady beats, and predictably repeating riffs/chords — but different enough that I wanted to bring it home for a longer listen. This one was highlighted in the Indy jazz section.
    budos
  • The Budos BandBurnt Offering (Daptone, 2014) ….. An instrumental rock band with tinges of biker blues, metal guitars that don’t overwhelm the sound, and a real horn section. Big, fun, dramatic. Found these guys because they were featured on Luna’s web site when I was doing my research.
  • The Nels Cline SingersMacroscope (Cryptogramophone, 2014) ….. Should have picked this up many months ago, but didn’t, for highly explainable reasons.
  • Lily & MadeleineFumes (Asthmatic Kitty, 2014) ….. NPR-friendly folk rock with gorgeously tight harmony vocals. Lily & Madeleine were coming to Indianapolis, so this one was inescapable at both stores. I finally got worn down.
  • Eyvind KangGrass (Tzadik, 2012) ….. Arbitrary selection from the aforementioned Tzadik section at Indy. Four quite pieces of varying instrumentation. Haven’t spun it yet.

Final note: Every staffer at both stores was significantly younger than me, which was good to see. Record shopping has a tactile experience and a community aspect that can’t be replicated online. I understand why downloads dominate the industry, but it’s nice to see that record-store vibe living on.

(Luna Record-Store-Day photo by Eric Murray; Indy photo by John McNicholas. Both via Flickr, Creative Commons license.)

October 31, 2014 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

Rent Romus’ Otherworld Cycle

The Defense of the Sampo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Source: Wikipedia. “The Defense of the Sampo” [a magical item in the Kalevala], by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Tonight and tomorrow (Oct. 25 and 26), Rent Romus will be presenting a new, jazz-sounding project with some deep personal ties.

The Otherworld Cycle” is a suite honoring his Finnish roots. It’s based in part on the Kalevala, an epic of Finnish antiquity that tells the creation legend and other grand myths. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s massive and, well, truly epic.

That’s one influence among many. You can read the full backstory on the project’s Indiegogo page, where Romus describes the cycle as:

a culmination of over 14 years of research into intersection between modern composition, improvisation, and Finno-Ugrian traditions in music. The Other World thematic abstractly reference the Uralic “Body of Memory” embedded in Romus’ musical psyche refracted through the multi-faceted lens of improvisation and postmodern jazz.

In addition to basses, saxophones, and drums, these performances will include some guest players and some traditional instruments: overtone flutes and a kantele (kind of a Finnish zither).

The shows are Oct. 25 at 8:00 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 3:00 p.m., both at the Community Music Center (544 Capp St., San Francisco).

Here’s an excerpt from the cycle, performed by a small ensemble:

October 25, 2014 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

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