Archive for June, 2009
KZSU playlist for Friday, June 26, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.
….. Ton Trio is led by former Chicagoite Aram Shelton. Nice sax trio pieces, little slices of free jazz. Liking this one a lot.
….. Jason Rigby‘s The Sage is an interesting slice of modern jazz with soloing that’s willing to take chances. Trumpeter Russ Johnson has a lot to do with that. I’m really digging the track “The Archer,” which uses Rhodes piano (Mikw Holober) to nice effect, creating a grooving double-soloing space that’s not quite fusion-y.
….. Speaking of fusion. I was inspired to dig up Christian McBride‘s stellar 3-CD Live at Tonic set after reading his touching essay about being a Michael Jackson fan growing up. His new album, Kind of Brown, just recently got to us and wasn’t immediately available for me — besides, the track I picked opened up the fusion gates for the Billy Cobham track. Fusion doesn’t always agree with me, but I enjoy letting the stuff take flight once in a while.
….. Sexmob meets Medeski is pretty much what you’d think, especially since it’s live: Rollicking spy-jazz themes, splashy organ grooves, and quiet avant-garde breaks that lead into big loud group segments.
….. Clara Rockmore was a classical-music theremin player who died in 1998. I took this track from a 1987 CD of hers.
….. “Bubble Wrap” by Brian B. James is a 22-minute drone — more like an electronic tone with a slow, slow pulse to it. Probably sounded terrible to anybody listening in their car.
Lineups for the Mission Creek Music Festival are out, and in addition to the usual rock/pop bands, they include some good representatives of improvised or jazzy music. Pinning down exact dates for exact shows is a challenge, though.
Mission Creek’s Facebook Page has a lot of the details, and you can see a few of the fliers up close. But the information there is listed in droplets; this page at Sonic Living provides a partial bird’s-eye view of the schedule, although they’ve subtracted some listings in the last 48 hours.
At any rate, there’s good music to be had:
* The show at the Argus Lounge lists William Winant, Weasel Walter, and Moe! Staiano, three terrific improvising percussionists. It appears they’ll be playing as a trio, which should be awesome. I’ve seen listings for this show on July 22, 23, or 24, so it’s anybody’s guess when this actually happens. (The flier above says July 22.)
(UPDATE 7/11/09: Per Ursula’s note below, this show is at the Socha Cafe, where Mission and Valencia intersect (!) in San Francisco. Details on this Facebook page, which is where I stole the nifty flier at left. Thanks Ursula!)
Aaron Novik is a clarinetist who plays in a wide scope of bands, many of them his own. He’s done Klezmer-tinged jazz (Gubbish), free jazz (Telepathy), modern fusion/improv (Kipple), metal (Simulacra, Edmund Welles) … and Thorny Brocky, which takes compositions from multiple Novik bands and puts them in a context that includes accordion (Dina Maccabee, who’s half of Ramon & Jessica) and violin (Marié Abe). Reverent Sisters and Poor Sweet Creatures were also on the bill that I saw.
I managed to get to the Go Left Fest at Yoshi’s San Francisco last night, and it was awesome. Six acts, headlined by Matthew Shipp (piano) / Marshall Allen (sax, EVI thingie) / Joe Morris (bass). Not a sellout crowd, sadly, but a warmly receptive one, folks who very much came to hear this kind of music.
Six acts in all, spanning four hours, including intermissions of varying length between acts. I’ve only got time to skim through the specifics.
The important thing is: They’re doing it again tonight (Tuesday June 23) and probably wouldn’t mind your support … It’s very hard for folks like these to tour the west coast, so it would be great to encourage Yoshi’s to continue sprinkling some outside acts into its schedule…
Anyway, the acts:
1. Beth Custer trio/quartet: A couple of pieces from her current Buckminster Fuller project, a couple of jazzy songs, and a catchy old-school jazz stomp called “Wag the Puppy,” written by guitarist David James.
2. Positive Knowledge: Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas (reeds, poetry) plus drummer Sunny Murray in the chair Spirit normally occupies. One long piece with lots of phases; generous applause for some of Oluyemi’s more breathtaking, overblowing solos on bass clarinet and soprano sax. Positive Knowledge weaves a spell of joyous improvised jazz, not only in Oluyemi’s playing but in Ijeoma’s recital, which often dips into abstract vocal sounds before returning to grounded, pre-written material. Sunny Murray was in a great mood, joking around with the audience while the band set up.
3. Myra Melford/Mark Dresser: Piano and bass, doing chamber-like compositions with a jazz jump to them (Melford’s specialty) and of course lots of improvising in the middle. Great rapport. My angle, behind the piano, was perfect for this set — I could see Melford’s light touch on the keys (even when she was splashing big chords with palms and wrists) and Dresser’s face and the top of the bass’ fingerboard. They finished with a really fun, small piece that gave Dresser a chance to goof around.
4. Ismael Reed: An author and poet, Reed performed with a band of sax (or clarinet or flute), piano, guitar, and drums. (Sunny Murray again, IIRC.) He started heavy, with pieces about the nonsensical waste of war and the unfair villification of “welfare queens.” Most of the remaining pieces dealt with jazz and jazz icons. Straight-up jazz backing throughout. Reed ended with the band playing “That’s What Friends Are For” — a bit cheesy, but his text was a thank-you note to various organs (heart, liver, and brain, mainly) for getting him this far.
5. Roswell Rudd: With Lafayette Harris on piano, who didn’t get enough credit from the crowd for his mix of standards-jazz styles, avant-garde dissonances, and rhythm-opening spacing. The set, sometimes augmented by trumpeter Earl Davis, was a mix of inside-out pieces (fairly straight stuff with free-ranging soloing) and some out-there screechiness. Fun, but Rudd lost track of the time; he announced a waltz piece written for his wife’s recent birthday but didn’t have time to play it. “You’ll hear that one tomorrow!” he said.
6. Marshall Allen, Matthew Shipp, Joe Morris: Playing together for the first time, and you always wonder if “first time” is going to be a letdown. It wasn’t. Shipp was stormy on piano throughout — in fact, I don’t think he ever stopped playing during any of the three or four long improvisations they did, aside from a Morris bass solo early on.
Allen was in prime form, wearing an Arkestra outfit and playing what I think was the “EVI,” an electronics gizmo controlled by a combination of breath, buttons, and dials. Lots of futuristic weirdness to be had there. The EVI produced the same kinds of sounds you’d get from laptop electronics, but with a more direct sense of control. It fit well but was turned up a bit too loud; Shipp’s playing is so tumultuous, it ought to eclipse the sax/reeds voice in spots, I think.
Again, I was behind the piano, so I got to watch the Matthew Shipp fireworks show. Man, he’s terrific. His hands seem to be flying everywhere in random stabs, but the chords that come out make so much sense. (Caveat: I suspect any pianist playing free jazz is like that.) He’s got a couple of trademark moves that were interesting to see in person — like one where he pokes a chord stacatto and (I think) hits the sustain pedal an instant too “late,” for a distant kind of echo/reverb. I’d never seen Shipp play before, so this was a particular treat. I’m going to go put his Symbol Systems solo CD on now.
Joe Morris gets a raw deal here — not only is the bassist often the hardest element of a combo to describe, but I couldn’t get a clear view of him with the piano blocking the way. His mercury-fluid guitar style does seem agreeable to the fast, wide-ranging wanderings of free-jazz bass, and that theory proved out well in this set.
A colossal interview with Tim Berne has been posted on Ethan Iverson’s “Do the Math” blog.
This has probably been mentioned, like, everywhere by now, but what’s a blog for if not to repeat the blather on other blogs?
I’m joking. (Well, a little.) I’ve only skimmed the interview, but what I’ve seen is fantastic, tracing the history of Berne’s career, getting into details about how bands like Bloodcount got formed and how the L.A. crowd (Nels and Alex Cline in particular) helped him get going. Iverson picks four tracks to plunge into, both in terms of music and history.
Steve Lehman Octet — Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi, 2009)
It’s like Steve Coleman‘s music taken to a stranger, spongier dimension. As with Coleman, the machinelike quality of the music — quick-fingered, mechanical beats; precise, stiff sax lines — doesn’t take away from its soul. You want to dance, but while the beat remains precise, the rhythms inside it are dense and changing. It’s like trying to catch a river with your hands.
The band has five horns, but the cool tremor of Chris Dingman‘s vibraphone is the defining voice, dotting the landscape like silvery beads of mercury. It’s the sound that you walk away with, and it contributes to the sci-fi feeling of the music, part of a busy and exciting future.
Some of the sound is based on spectral harmony, a concept where new harmonies are built from the overtones found in the attack and decay of notes. Examples of this appear right off, in the opening “Echoes,” which uses a straight-chiming rhythm backed by really odd-sounding horns doing a low, dissonant buzz. Lehman then joins in for some gazelle-prancing soloing that dances around the lines. Weird chords abound, stretched by unusual harmonies in the sax line.
The album ends with a coolly sinister/smooth transcription of “Living in the World Today” by GZA (a member of Wu Tang Clan), a tale told with horns babbling one or two at a time in chaotic precision.
Playlist for Friday, June 19, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.
….. Whoa, that new Steve Lehman Octet album is a kick. More about that later.
….. Bloom Project is, in this case, the duo of Rent Romus (sax) and Thollem McDonas (piano). They explore some nice spaces well beyond jazz, but in a style that sticks to traditional playing as opposed to the heavy electronics Romus has been using lately. The contrast is interesting (and probably worth a writeup sometime).
….. Pink Saliva is a trio of Montreal-area improvisers, documented on one of a few 3-inch CDs we’ve gotten from Majuma. It’s mostly lo-fi cacophany — I mean that in a good way — but the third track, played here, gets a little closer to jazz.
….. Andy Haas (sax) and Don Fiorino (guitar) are improvisers who craft a unique sound, one with heavy doses of world music and a subtext that I’m guessing comes from a lot of classic-rock listening during formative years. They’ve got two very different CDs in rotation with us right now. Hanuman Sextet can be traced back to psychedelia experiments with Indian music, but it’s also got healthy doses of jazz horns, lots of steel guitar (not your usual improv instrument), and some more down-to-earth grooving than you normally get from the psych crowd.
….. Radio I-Ching, also featuring Haas and Fiorino, goes in a tougher direction: Heavy drums powering fleet sax lines and often crunching guitar, a heavy dose of rock sound applied to a jazz-jam concept. The lighter tracks add swirls of world-music exotica, a tough-to-place mix of African, Cuban, and Asian styles. “Judgement Day” is like a late-night party in a Cuban jazz club, and “Topsy” is a bebop gyroscope out of control. But I’m particularly taken with their version of “Misterioso,” which is a raging blur of guitar and drums, dark and flitting, with the soprano sax suddenly piping in with the melody line.
….. Pop alert: The new St. Vincent is really good, richly produced, and packed with nooks and crannies of sound (strings! extra guitar!) that make for a great pop-record experience. As good as Annie Clarke’s first album was, this is miles ahead. Flotilla is an indie-pop quartet with a harp player (and yes, she gets a solo, on at least one track!) They’ve got a deliciously icy sound that reminds me of Call and Response’s Winds Take No Shape album.
So, I finally got my hands on Houseplant, the fifth disk from Jim Black’s Alas No Axis band. (If you like, you can read the self-indulgent history of how I first heard of the band in 2000.)
Black plays in a variety of out-jazz contexts. He can be a wonderfully delicate and subtle artist, but he also rocks out hard when permitted — a factor that makes for some standout tracks on Unwound , the 3-CD set from Tim Berne‘s Bloodcount. Alas No Axis nurtures that side of his playing, with compositions that let him bash away at a steady rhythm, but the band also takes long sojourns into drifting, languid territory, sometimes made powerful by a descending sax or clarinet line from Chris Speed, like a rainfall of dark feathers.
“Inkinos” opens the album in a bobbing, toe-tapping way. The drums and bass define a quick, straightforward rhythm behind slowly crystalline sax and guitar sounds. It’s a little different at first, but then the lead guitar/sax lines turn to long tones exploring different dissonances, as the band often does. Speed and Jensson eventually kick it into gear for a nicely rocking moment. “Malomice” is another piece that tickles the indie-rock center of my brain. It starts with a hard snapping rhythm and builds to a noisy ending.
The title track, “Houseplant,” is pretty and melancholy in a raucous way. “Naluch” burrows into a quietly heavy intensity, a slow beat with thick layers of guitar fuzz and the kind of plaintive melody line Speed is known for. It’s also got some long blaring sections that sound overdubbed, something I don’t recall hearing on past albums.
There are long, calm stretches too, as on the peaceful “Littel” and the quiet start to “Elight.” The track “Cahme” even has strumming acoustic guitar for a melodically folky touch.
The final track, “Dowstrum,” starts out calmly enough but wraps things up with a blaring howl.
At first listen, I’m not hearing Houseplant deviate from the formula in any major way, but that’s fine. The band has tapped a good, rich vein here, with a sound that comes not just from Black’s compositions but from the group’s collective arranging; Speed, Hilmar Jensson on guitar, and Skúli Sverrisson on bass play particularly creative roles that drive this band.
Now, if we can just find a way to get them to California for a few shows. If you’re reading from the NYC/Philadephia area, you can click the picture above for details about a June 23 show at Public Assembly (part of the Skirl party), and an unlisted June 24 show in Philly at the Art Alliance, which got a writeup in the Philadelphia City Paper.
You might not have heard of Marsh. I wouldn’t have either, except she brought her big band, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, through town a couple of times during the ’90s, and I happened to catch one of their sets at Beanbender’s in Berkeley. Great music, combining accessible big-band charts with twisty creative ideas and furious solos, led by Marsh’s ebullient vocals, and piercing vocal sounds, little squeaky hints that the band wasn’t afraid to take some chances.
What struck me was the realization of how rare it is for a band of that size to be able to tour at all, even for just a few shows in a handful of places. The economics just aren’t there, not with this country’s downright hostile attitude towards the arts. By rights, I should have gone a lifetime without encountering this music, even though Austin is not that far.
I’ll have to play some tracks in Marsh’s honor during my show this Friday. I’ve got a couple of ideas.
“Milky Way Dreaming,” from the album World Wide, opens with 10 minutes of celestial poetry and abstract music, an image of a sky full of wonder. The second 10 minutes are led by an irresistable bass riff that leads a coolly grooving beat. “Dervish,” from the same album, digs into a melody that’s almost a stereotype of “Eastern” music, but it’s catchy and energetic, and it’s hard not to smile at the ending as the whole band accelerates for chorus after chorus.
But most especially, I’m going to play “Riddles,” performed by Marsh and a piano trio (the Bob Rodriguez Trio). It’s a Richie Beirach composition, a hammering, surging bit of open-ended piano jazz that’s compelling in its own right. What makes it soar, though, is Marsh relaying the story of Oedipus and the Sphynx, complete with character voices and vocal effects, a monologue packed with tension and drama. It blows me away every time I hear it.
Peaceful rest, Tina. Your music managed to find someone out here.
I wasn’t at Kingman’s Ivy Room tonight, but I was a few weeks ago, and what better excuse to write a blog.
The Ivy Room is a mid-sized bar, plush and casual and friendly, located in Albany just blocks north of Berkeley, or so it felt to me as I drove up. The place is being kind enough to let the improv crowd take over on Monday nights, either for a few short sets or an all out Improv Hootenanny Night that has its own MySpace page.
It’s a fun atmosphere. There’s no cover, and the Ivy Room is airy and clean — the kind of place where you’re welcome to sit on the carpeted floor in front of the music area, and you don’t worry if anything’s been spilled there. (Caveat: Monday night crowds aren’t usually the spilling type.)
Some photos from my May 25 excursion. Yes, the date on my camera was wrong.
Up top, you’ve got Lisa Mezzacappa‘s Bait and Switch, the successor to Before and After. It’s free jazz, with compositions derived from the best segments of group improvisations. The result is like Ornette Coleman taken a step further into abstract territory and noise rock at the same time, with a mood that jumps like ’60s free jazz. That’s Mezzacappa on bass and John Finkbeiner on guitar.
At left is a second picture of the band, with Aaron Bennett (sax) at left. In this one, Vijay Anderson (drums) and Mezzacappa are obscured, making it look like the two white guys are all that matters. Hey, it was dark. All I do is point the camera and hope.
I don’t recall the details of the quartet at left. I’m pretty sure that’s Tony Dryer on bass at the far left, and two of the four members were from Norway (the guitarist and other bassist?). They, too, played a single long piece, concentrating on smaller, quieter spaces; the guitarist, in particular, buckled and thrashed to the music but was producing small crackles and crinkles, a kind of studied intensity.
It’s always nice to see a bar or restaurant take a chance on experimental music. A good cluster of these series has sprung up, maybe because venues are more willing to take chances in the face of recessionary crowds. The Make-Out Room (San Francisco, Mission District) has been hosting creative jazz on the first Monday of each month, and The Uptown (Oakland, downtown) is letting Weasel Walter curate an avant-garde program on third Tuesdays. The next of those will be tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be there, sleep cycle permitting.
You could argue it wasn’t worth the effort, but with a free evening and two interesting shows to pick from, I decided to try doing both. It meant catching only the tail end of Telepathy, but I’m still glad to have done it.
I’d been meaning to check out the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra for some time. The program last night was titled “Restless Dreams” and featured a wide variety of new music, with lots of bells and whistles: Tom Nunn performing a concerto for the sonoglyph, one of his homemade electroacoustic instruments; Michael Cooke debuting a piece for the Chinese sheng (a fragment of that music is pictured above), a newly acquired instrument; and a finale piece featuring electronics, lasers, a strobelight, and a fog machine.
It wasn’t all abstract music, either; some pieces were downright tuneful.
I do prefer the more opaque stuff, but some variety was nice.
The concert had a casual air, with the audience sitting attentively during the pieces but mobbing the stage during intermission and after the show, to congratulate friends in the ensemble, ask questions, or check out the sonoglyph — a board sporting a variety of metal percussion elements — up close. Nunn let people play with the instrument and posed for several pictures with it. Should’ve brought a camera.
A summary of all the pieces is beneath the fold. (Warning: it’s long.)
Patrick Cress’ Telepathy (see also here) is a creative jazz quartet that’s been around for some time. Their stuff is a mix of Ornette Coleman-like lines, touches of Klezmer, open group “soloing,” and the occasional careful/quiet piece.
The band is primarily Cress on saxophones and Aaron Novik on clarinet or bass clarinet. Drummer Tim Bulkley has moved to Brooklyn, although he was in town for this performance. I think the bassist this time around was David Arend, who’s appeared on past albums (but isn’t in the photo above). I liked his playing a lot, a good mix of strong tones and small clicks and harmonics.
Among the highlights: a sinewy, involved composition by Novik, and “Expressions,” dating back to 2002, which started with a driven Bulkley solo that led into a spirited composition. The band got pressed for an encore and did a quick run-though of “Lonely Woman,” with Bulkley’s jackhammering patter underneath the slow melody, played up brashly.
This is the kind of band that deserves the time and space to be nurtured, to work together night after night in live settings, perfecting the sound. I know, those days are long gone — it’s a familiar jazz lament but one that’s worth repeating, if only to remind the world of the possibilities it’s missing.
The new album, Alive and Teething, is available for download. (Oh, fine — it’s at iTunes too.)
I had a good evening overall, aided by the Parking Gods. If I lived in New York or Chicago, this would probably be the way I spent every weekend, and I’d be broke.