Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’
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)
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.
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.”
The world had better damn well miss Fred Ho. Radical, revolutionary, bandleader, writer, philosophizer — he was a brash, larger-than-life character, the type who doesn’t come into jazz’s orbit much any more. He championed the baritone sax specifically for its loud, unyielding sound.
His fight with colorectal cancer, which ended early this year, drew generous platitudes from the media, not for the tragedy of the story but for his inspirational energy and determination. He released CDs and was awarded a Harvard Arts Medal, and he managed to get one final master work onto the stage.
The ROVA Saxophone Quartet commissioned a work from Ho, back when. “Beyond Columbus and Capitalism” appeared on The Works (Volume 2) in 1996, and they’ll be revisiting it for a concert Sunday afternoon at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
The piece plays like a big-band suite, with those same tight horn harmonies and some aggressive swinging rhythms. Like most of Ho’s work, it’s a fun ride — and it includes a burly, unaccompanied solo for the baritone sax, of course.
For more about Ho, check out his Big Red Media web site (which automatically launches a music player, so be forewarned); an early 2014 NPR interview; a detailed, pre-cancer, 2005 interview for Harvard Magazine, and his elegant obituary in The New York Times.
Here’s the info about the concert, cut-and-pasted from ROVA’s mailer.
STRUGGLE FOR A NEW WORLD: Fred Ho Memorial
Sunday, September 7, 2:00 – 4:30 PM
Oakland Asian Cultural Center
9th Street #290
The memorial will feature performance by many of the forward-thinking artists touched by Fred Ho‘s significant cultural contribution. Rova will perform Ho‘s 1992 composition, Beyond Columbus and Capitalism, a work commissioned by Rova through The Meet the Composer / Reader‘s Digest Commissioning Program.
Other performers include: Ben Barson, Royal Hartigan, Mark Izu, Jon Jang, Masaru Koga, Genny Lim, Hafez Modirzadeh, John Carlos Perea, Akira Tana, Marty Wehner, Francis Wong, Brenda Wong Aoki, with speaker/emcees: Diane Fujino and Matef Harmachis.
August 4, Sacramento, CA, 7:30pm at Luna’s Cafe (Nebraska Mondays, w/Luis Clifford Childers
August 6, Sacramento, CA, (Grex at 10pm), Live Broadcast on v103, at Marilyn’s on K (w/Devon Galley, Ken Koenig)
August 8, Seattle, WA, 8pm, at The Woodshed (w/Insistent Caterpillars, Honey Noble)
August 10, Seattle, WA, 7:30pm, at Cafe Racer (at Racer Sessions)
August 15, Long Beach, CA, 8pm, 4th Street Vine (w/Don’t Trip)
August 16, Los Angeles, CA, 8:30pm, at Curve Line Space (w/Dead Air Trio feat. Joe Berardi)
Monster Music, which came out in February, is a nifty package of pop/prog characterized by bubbly and dreamy electric piano, swinging chords, and regular doses of fiery guitar. Rei Scampavia and Karl Evangelista, the wife/husband team who both contribute vocals, augment the Grex duo with other instruments, but this time, drummer Robert Lopez is a fixture on every track, which somehow makes the songs feel more, well, songlike.
I think of Grex as a prog band, but really it crumples musical styles into one multicolored mix, willfully dropping jazz melody, experimental improv, or rock attitude. A track like “Romancing Stone” reminds me a lot of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong with that pleasant, floating keyboard sound, although here it gets augmented with the more tangly, grumpy free improv that’s also a Grex ingredient. “Christmas Song” is a quirkier brand of prog, with a stringy melody spelled out on warbly keys and/or guitar to introduce Scampavia’s smooth, airy vocal.
Rock elements show up on “Hurdles,” a swirling, jamming piece that pairs fuzzed-out guitar and weighty electric piano, and on the psych jam “Guinea,” with its towering piano-chord theme.
This is the kind of album that’s easy to digest but has a lot going on under the surface, making for multiple rewarding listens. It probably makes for a good show, too, so if you’re on the west coast, don’t sleep on this one.
You can download Monster Music on Bandcamp.
He calls it the West Coast Acoustic Bicycle Tour. He’s done it before, touring the six New England states by bike, with his trumpet presumably included in his bags. (Good thing he’s not a bassist.)
One highlight of the tour is his septet performance at Los Angeles’ Angel City Jazz Festival on Sept. 27 and 28. But he’ll also be making a swing through the Bay Area, Sept. 16-19. His itinerary here includes the improvising group Orchesperry, a Braxton-blowing quartet with James Fei, and a duo with Myra Melford.
It was good to see Jim Ryan in high spirits for his 80th birthday concert last Sunday. The time slot competed with a few other good events, but the SIMM series at San Francisco’s Musicians Union Hall draws a good turnout. The room was nicely crowded and full of conversation between sets, fueled by cake and melting ice cream (the Union Hall’s performance space gets warm quickly).
Ryan handed out glow bracelets and laser rings that everyone had to wear, and he put on a good show in two sets of flute, sax, and poetry.
Beyond being a performer, Ryan has been an organizer and instigator on the scene. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, he ran a local zine, back when there were such things and most people didn’t have web sites. He also curated a few different weekly series, including one at the Starry Plough in Berkeley — a venue where the ownership and bookers are friendly to creative music, but the crowds sometimes aren’t.
I remember one show there with a group called Mosthumbz — out-there, jazzy stuff with a heavy improv component. The bar was full of regulars that night for some reason, and they were grumbling about the music. But one of their compatriots — a guy with an Irish accent, even — stood up for the music. “This is what I love about the ‘Plough. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, and he meant it. And he enthusiastically applauded every number.
Organizing creative-music shows certainly has its frustrations. Hopefully, little moments like that enhance the rewards.
Ryan’s birthday concert opened with Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing. The band played drummer Glenn’s thoughtful, chamber-like compositions, which seemed to be built around Ryan’s poems, with music and words serving one another as accents and punctuation. Ryan’s poems were a gradual tumble of thoughts, introspective scenes cut with surreal changes of direction and a sense of humor.
The band was heavy in tuned, percussive instruments — vibraphone (Rob Lopez), hammered dulcimer (Damon Waitkus), piano (Michael Coleman), and guitar (Karl Evangelista) for sounds that could be placid like deep water or rustling and restless like a mountain stream. Evangelista kept the guitar volume turned down, but still shredded madly in places, creating an oddly pleasant background fuzz — it was a nice effect. Their closing piece had everyone playing homemade can-and-string instruments, gently banging and plucking away.
For the second set, Ryan led a quartet with Scott Looney (piano), Jason Hoopes (bass), and Jordan Glenn (drums) in a long, jazzy improvisation that kicked off as a fast and heavy post-bop bounce. They kept that jazz vibe going for a second piece featuring Rent Romus (sax) and C.J. Borosque (trumpet), who along with Looney had been members of Forward Energy, a Ryan-led improv band. That piece took off like a screaming rocket and kept the energy going for the most part, a good upbeat way to close out the birthday celebration.