Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’
There’s no Captain Beefheart cover tune on Comeuppance, the second album from the Bait & Switch quartet, but the influence lives on. John Finkbeiner colors the session with crackly guitar freakouts, and Aaron Bennett’s sax breaks orbit with slashing, free improvisations.
Bait & Switch is about Mezzacappa’s compositions delivered with serious attitude. Since the release of the debut CD What Is Known, they’ve had a few years to let that formula steep, playing their swingy themes, hard-driven free jazz, and spaces of free improvisation at gigs that have included the Monterey Jazz Festival.
“Le Crabe” opens with a characteristically scribbly theme that opens up into a free-blowing sax solo, Finkbeiner’s guitar chopping and chugging behind him. “Cruciferous” features a hard, scrambling guitar reminscent of Beefheart (whom they covered on What Is Known). Later in that song, Finkbeiner repeats a wacko glissando while Aaron Bennett solos on sax — the glissando becoming, in essence, the “composed” part of the song.
Each of those tracks is a mini-suite that includes a slower or more sublime phase, a chance to hear the band’s different personalities. “Old” plays that way too, contrasting a tart swing wrung from the jazz tradition with small interludes of spare and playful improvising.
“X Marks the Question” starts out like it’s going to be a slow, thoughtful piece — and it is, including a pleasant sax/bass interlude, until Finkbeiner’s guitar solo, egged on by Vijay Anderson’s insistent drumming, draws the band into a fiery blur. “Las Hormigas Rojas” plays around with a straightforward march beat, hinting at Mexican folk music while Bennett and Finkbeiner play scrambled mutterings, like kids in class talking behind the teacher’s back. And “Luna” is a slower track with an uneasy, foreboding air throughout. Finkbeiner plays a sublime guitar solo there, after some buzzy, high-energy sax from Bennett.
The past year has been really busy for me, in non-musical terms, and I’ve never caught up on a few of the things I’ve done since the fall. Most of them found their way onto these pages, but a few slipped past. Here’s the speed diary.
I was able to help only for the very beginning and tail end of KZSU’s Day of Noise this year, but it was still a lot of fun.
As usual, a small group of hero DJs made the Day of Noise possible, including Abra (who emceed all 24 hours) and Smurph, who I believe was on hand for most of the sound engineering.
I even manned a sound board this time. The group was Big City Orchestra, a quartet that used styrofoam as its main sound source. They bowed it, poked sticks into it (tuning them beforehand, because they started their set with a droney piece) and ran the sound through all kinds of effects. By the end, it was a wall of noise. It was pretty cool.
Pictures follow. I caught a few minutes of Karl Evangelista and Tom Djll’s band, Revenant, but didn’t get a chance to say hi; their set ended as I was helping set up the audio for BCO.
Here’s the photographic evidence.
Grex is playing a CD-release concert tonight (Feb. 15) that doubles as a typhoon relief concert.
It’s a Berkeley Arts (2133 University Ave, Berkeley). There’s no cover, and all proceeds, including album sales, will go to the Philippines for Typhoon Haiyan relief. It’s a nice chance to experience some new music and donate to a good cause.
The bill includes:
- Grex, the free jazz/chamber rock trio of Karl Evangelista (guitar), Rei Scampavia (piano), and Robert Lopez (drums)
- Michael Coleman’s Enjoyer, a quartet (or more) led by keyboardist Coleman
- Jordan Glenn Chamber Ensemble, debuting a new long-form piece composed by Glenn
The new Grex album, titled Monster Music, features the new trio format (the band has been Evangelista and Scampavia, joined sporadically by friends) and should be available on Bandcamp soon.
This is the second version of Aram Shelton‘s sax/bass/drums unit, exploring Shelton’s compositions with a healthy respect for the jazz tradition and an appetite for the freedom of direction offered by free jazz.
Shelton founded Ton Trio shortly after coming to the Bay Area from Chicago. The second edition, with new rhythm section Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums, was created late in 2012 and built itself into shape through regular gigs at The Layover for the first part of last year. Now they’ve put out their first album, on Shelton’s Singlespeed label.
The trio is very much a jazz exercise, presenting melodic heads followed by some robust jazz improvising. In tracks like “Turncoats,” there’s a touch of Ayler-style marching, something I thought I’d heard in the first Ton Trio album, The Way.
“Freshly Pressed” is one of the faster tracks (and the longest, at eight minutes), with Shelton digging hard in to post-bebop soloing but also adding small touches of swing or traditional melody. This is a track where Shelton goes particularly far outside the lines, egged on by Vittum, who also turns in a snappy drum solo.
I think my favorite track is the speedy “Orange Poppies,” which opens with a theme that harkens back to maybe early ’60s jazz, followed by a terrific, rolling jam where Shelton savors one cascading run of notes after another.
I’m writing this one up a bit late — the band’s show at Duende starts in just a few hours — but hopefully the band will get plenty of other chances to perform live and continue pushing this music forward.
Polly Moller’s experiements with spoetry — poetry made from the babble of spam emails — has come to a fruition in the band Reconnaissance Fly, which adds prog-rock and avant-garde musical backings for a new kind of songwriting.
Now they’ve got their newest album out, called Flower Futures (Edgetone, 2014), and they’ll be promoting it with a show at the Berkeley Arts Festival space (2133 University Ave., Berkeley) on Saturday, Feb. 1.
It’s full of Canterbury sounds: electric piano, jazzy chords, and stumbling time signatures. Snatches of free improvisation crop up here and there. And flute! In addition to fronting the band with operatic alto vocals, Moller plays flute alongside the band’s woodwind or guitar leads.
Much of the music does feel patterned after the lyrics, which transforms the nonsense into something more ably amusing or even pretty. The musical passages never settle into verse/chorus patterns, but they occasionally lock in on particularly funny or strange phrases for some songlike repetition. Free improv segments on “The Party Constraint” and “Seemed to be Divided in Twain” form around controlled bursts, so that the abstract music actually makes more “sense” than the lyrics do — or, maybe the music helps create more meaning for the words.
The songwriting did start with the lyrics. Moller says she assigned spoems to band members who then wrote the music. “Tim [Walters, bassist]‘s tunes reflect his love for Rock in Opposition and progressive rock, Amanda [Chaudhary, keyboards] gave us our graphic scores for improvisation, and mine are kind of all over the place,” she writes in an email.
The album was more than four years in the making and survived a couple of band shifts — notably, saxophonist Chris Broderick departing, with Rich Lesnik taking his place. The band’s history makes for a pretty good read, actually. (By the way, these same folks formed the bulk of the Cardiacs tribute band founded by Moe! Staiano.)
You can hear parts of the album (and of course buy the whole thing) on Bandcamp. Try the ’70s prog sound of “Sanse Is Crede nza” or the Henry Cow chamber-funk of “An Empty Rectangle” for songs that’ll grab the ear quickly. I’m also partial to the proggy “One Should Never.”
On the first Monday of every month, jazz takes over the Make-Out Room bar in San Francisco’s Mission district. It had been more than a year since I’d gone, and I finally atoned for that this month.
I arrived in about the middle of the first set — the Nathan Clevenger Group, whose new album I’d just written about. The band’s sound relies on feathery harmonies of clarinet and sax that have to work just so; one of the strengths of the Observatory album is the silkiness in the recording. I’d imagine a venue with a bright sound, like the Luggage Store Gallery, might not be so conducive to that sound.
It worked in the Make-Out Room, though, which was a pleasant surprise. The band was locked in with the harmonies and their solos, playing for a decent-sized audience, many of whom had come to truly listen to the music. Late in the set, when guest Jason Levis stepped in as a second drummer, he and Jon Arkin got into a brief, unaccompanied drum battle– and I swear, the whole bar went silent for it. They even got a few laughs when they traded off quieter and quieter sounds (the machismo of silence). It was nice to see a jazz band capture that much attention in a bar setting.
Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa were up next as duo B, a reunion of their bass-and-drums combo. Duo B used to play around town quite a bit, and I’d imagine venue owners helped come up with one of their song titles: “So It’s Just the Two of You.”
Duo B was an acoustic act, but they added an electric guitar for this set, producing a heavy sound. While the guitar did have its mellow moments, the first of two improvisations started with an electrified, industrial feel. A later segment had Levis going nuts on the snare and high-hat with Mezzacappa delving athletically on the bass. The second piece was more of a long, glorious sunburst with elements of drone; it started with some prickly guitar in an adversarial approach but ended up as an example of nicely sustained mood and coloring.
The third act was apparently Denny Denny Breakfast, performing one long, unexplained suite. On the web, DDB seems to be a pop act, the musical vehicle for Bob LaDue. What we saw was different: a fairly large band playing a long, polished, complex suite full of tricky passages at breakneck speed. It was as if a marching band had grown up in a town where Zappa chemicals leaked into the water supply. Drums and/or vibes triggered goofy synth patches as well, adding a madcap Nintendo silliness to the music.
This wasn’t throwaway stuff. The band’s charts were long and, according to one guy I was talking to, really complicated. (The charts were also photocopied just a couple hours before the show, apparently.) It was impressive.
Bay Area guitarist Nathan Clevenger has a pretty good formula down, using the tight, silky harmonies of conventional jazz charts and applying those sounds to modern composing ideas. Building from a sextet format with two saxes and a clarinet (Evan Francis occasionally provides flute as well), the songs are recorded with a quilted, gentle sound but create space for some spirited soloing.
Observatory is more a jazz sextet album than a guitar album, and it seems like it would be great music for late summer evenings, especially with tracks like “The Letting Down” and its gentle, bluesy air.
That track is also one of the few to feature Clevenger’s guitar, in a patient, gossamer solo. As on his previous album, The Evening Earth, Clevenger’s jazz guitar is in the background, shaping the music while the spotlight goes to the horns. They’re at the heart of the melodies and they get the bulk of the solos. (OK, yes, the horns outnumber Clevenger 3-to-1, so of course they’d get the bulk of the solos. The point is, Clevenger’s role is more as composer, bandleader, and accompanist.)
The overall mood is soft. If I were to play you the first 30 seconds of each song, you’d get the impression of an album of pretty and mellow songs, and that’s not inaccurate. But the music is set up to let the solos really cook. An example is the opener, “The Irreconcilables.” Here’s a touch of the catchy main theme and of Kasey Knudsen‘s alto sax solo toward the end:
I especially liked the opening of “Sleepwalker’s Anecdote,” where Clevenger’s guitar plays a kind of counter-melody that adds a scrambling feel to the pleasant horn lines. (The polyrhythmic drumming of Jon Arkin helps, too.)
And I should probably note the quirky track “Equinauts,” which adds Jason Levis on marimba for an extra touch of whimsy. You also get to hear Clevenger set his guitar on stun.
It’ll be on Saturday, February 8, just about all day. That’s 12:01 a.m. or thereabouts, until just about midnight the next night. Find out more and see the full schedule on Facebook.
You can listen worldwide at KZSU’s Web Feed, or in the Bay Area, you can tune us in on good old radio at 90.1 FM. Listening in the car with the windows rolled down, to spread the noisy goodness, is a particular pleasure (and totally comfortable in what passes for February ’round these parts).
Previous Day of Noise posts on this blog:
- Snapshots: Day of Noise (2013)
- Day of Noise 2013
- Day of Noise Is Done (aka Photos) (2012)
- Day of Noise Has Not Yet Ended (2012)
- Day of Noise Has Begun (2012)
- The Wire Mentions KZSU’s Day of Noise (2012)
- Day of Noise Returns at KZSU (2012)
Battlehooch plays at Slim’s on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.
Battlehooch — Hot Lungs (Timberline, 2013)
Last year, the rock band Battlehooch talked about making their next full-length album their biggest effort yet, and they weren’t kidding. Hot Lungs is a terrific rock album packed with sonic surprises out of all the instruments, a polished take on the sextet’s usual avant-garde take on pop-rock. It’s catchy, driven, funky music that does indeed rock — in fact, it represents the directions I wish classic rock had taken.
As a band, Battlehooch is full of bouncing-off-walls craziness and twisted creativity. Even the simpler songs, such as the good ol’ rock rhythm of “Hope,” are full of creative tricks — a random sitar riff, or jangly rapid-fire guitar playing the chords, or a sudden shift into a minor key. It’s just a two-and-a-half minute song, but there’s a lot packed into it; that’s typical of this band, and they took special pride in loading up these kinds of production goodies on the album.
“Joke” is the standout song here — snappy and catchy, set up around three not-so-standard chords for a mildly sinister sound. I love the way the sax, keyboard, and bass peck out simple, stabbing octaves to outline the melody. “Pickin’ Fields” is another highlight, with its spaghetti-western guitar line set to a fast beat. (That song also has a video that they showed during a Slim’s concert a year ago.)
They turn up the drama for a more cerebral kind of rocking-out on tracks like “Yea, That,” which features a colossal break led by fast, heavy-thumping drums and “Calisteniks,” which comes across as a soaring, serious-rock-anthem kind of song.
On the more pop side, “Seraphim” uses tight harmony vocals, flute, and old-timey piano to produce an upbeat yet serious piece of post-Beatles pop. And funk attitude crops up on “This Patience” and “Organic,” which fill the sound with gloopy bass and spastic synth effects, respectively.
Battlehooch is a find. They’re good musicians and creative songwriters who want to rock out but don’t want to fit into any convenient mold. Hopefully, Hot Lungs, which came out in February, is getting them some well deserved attention.