Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’

Return to The Hub

Topology of The Hub. Source: perkis.comA laptop ensemble seems novel but not all that impossible these days. Last year, I even wrote about the laptop orchestra that’s a college course at Santa Clara.

But laptops used to be relatively expensive and exotic little beasts, back when personal computers’ capabilities were much more limited. And computer networking was even more primitive — in fact, the very act of “networking” your computer wasn’t something to take for granted.

That was the environment in the late 1980s when The Hub pioneered the idea of a computerized music ensemble, not only performing with the machines but networking them together as well.

The Hub hasn’t quit, either. They put out a 3-CD set on Tzadik six years ago. And they’re making a live appearance Tuesday, April 22, at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

It’s fascinating to read Tim Perkis‘ notes about The Hub’s operation back in the day. Some of the technological limitations actually sound more intriguing than frustrating.

At first, they used a home-built networking hub. Later, they used MIDI, which was indeed intended to connect computerized machines to musical instruments but didn’t have the flexibility we’d take for granted today. For example, MIDI expected information in the form of musical notes. The metallic screeching and shattered-glass sounds we expect in laptop music today wouldn’t be so easy to convey.

The Hub rose to the challenge by composing for these limitations. Perkis describes a sparse composition of his titled “Waxlips:”

Each player is requested to make his program have the following simple behavior: he had to be able to receive requests to play one note. When the request was received he should play the note, and then send a request to someone else in the group to play one note. This outgoing request must be computed from the incoming one in such a way that the same request in always generates the same request out. For example, any time I asked John Bischoff to play a C#, that would always cause him to issue a request to Chris Brown, say, to play an Ab. The mapping must be deterministic, and static. Every now and then I would send out another special message that meant “change your mapping”, along with a pitch set of allowable pitches to request. I would also start the process off, and jump start it again when necessary by spraying new notes into the network.

This piece always came out very different each time it was played: usually we would end the piece when it fell into a simple loop of some kind; sometimes, if one of the players wasn’t working properly there would be a leak and all the notes would keep dribbling out.

That’s part of a detailed 1999 article Perkis wrote for Electronic Musician magazine. You can read the article on his web site and get a lot of insight not only into how The Hub’s technology but into some of its strategies for composing. Those strategies would still be valid under today’s richer forms of computer networking — although I’d be interested to see how The Hub might be stretching its boundaries. It’s worth a look Tuesday night.

April 21, 2014 at 10:26 pm Leave a comment

Comeuppance: Still Baiting and Switching

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & SwitchComeuppance (Not Two, 2013)

Lisa Mezzacappa -- Comeuppance. Click to go to Not Two Records.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.

April 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Catching Up: Adam Rudolph, Reconnaissance Fly, Dawn of Midi, Battlehooch

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.

Chihuly Glass. The colors. So many colors.

We went to Seattle and saw the Space Needle and the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. This has nothing to do with music; it just made for easy, colorful photography — which is generally not a strength of this blog.

Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic orchestra

I enjoyed a trip to NYC in October, where I stopped by Roulette to see Adam Rudolph’s Go : Organic Orchestra. Lively horns, lots of percussion, and odd time signatures everywhere. Loads of fun.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts

I saw Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts back in February, as advertised. They played a great set that included singer/flautist Polly Moller taking up the guitar for a few songs. The band sounded great, and Larry the O, the drummer, was a revelation — a real dynamo.

Dawn of Midi, in San Francisco

Dawn of Midi came to San Francisco performing Dysnomia, their through-composed piece for piano, bass, and drums. It’s full of polyrhythmic grooves and electronica-sounding minimalism. They drew a pretty heavy crowd to The Chapel, so word’s gotten out. Apparently, they’re coming back on June 15.

Battlehooch at Cafe Stritch

Battlehooch came down to San Jose to perform at Cafe Stritch, a downtown spot that’s hosting jazz on the weekends and rock acts midweek. It was a blast, as you’d expect. They were on their way to Idaho for a festival, and they mentioned that they’ve got shows in Oakland every Friday in April.

April 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

KZSU Day of Noise 2014

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.

Smurph, our head sound engineer, setting up what's normally a meeting room. We use two studios for Day of Noise, so that one band can set up while another is playing.

Smurph, our head sound engineer, setting up what’s normally a meeting room. We use two studios for Day of Noise, so that one band can set up while another is playing.

Brian B. James opened the 24-hour Day of Noise. The potted trees, collected from around the station, were set up in the studio for the sake of the webcast, which we ran on UStream throughout the day/night.

Brian B. James opened the 24-hour Day of Noise. The potted trees, collected from around the station, were set up in the studio for the sake of the webcast, which we ran on UStream throughout the day/night.

The Day of Noise tradition: the autographed T-shirt.

The Day of Noise tradition: the autographed T-shirt.

Revenant (three-fourths of it, anyway): Karl Evangelista, Michael Coleman, Tom Djll

Revenant (three-fourths of it, anyway): Karl Evangelista, Michael Coleman, Tom Djll

Revenant percussionist Nava Dunkelman, captured through the hazy Studio A window.

Revenant percussionist Nava Dunkelman, captured through the hazy Studio A window.

Big City Orchestra setting up. Cheryl Leonard is on the left, and Nina Lynn Hollenberg is third from left ... didn't write down the men's names, unfortunately.

Big City Orchestra setting up. Cheryl Leonard is on the left, and Nina Lynn Hollenberg is third from left … didn’t write down the men’s names, unfortunately.

Cheryl E. Leonard.

Cheryl E. Leonard.

Sticks stuck into the boxes were tuned to specific notes (yes, tuned -- it wasn't easy) and bowed to produce groany tones.

Sticks stuck into the boxes were tuned to specific notes (yes, tuned — it wasn’t easy) and bowed to produce groany tones.

BCO played three pre-planned movements that culminated in stabbing and sawing the styrofoam. It was a heavily noisy finale.

BCO played three pre-planned movements that culminated in stabbing and sawing the styrofoam. It was an appropriately noisy finale.

Syrofoam bits clung to the performers' hands and got everywhere. Probably should have seen that coming.

Syrofoam bits clung to the performers’ hands and got everywhere. Probably should have seen that coming.

Less than 30 minutes after BCO's set, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a lot of elbow grease.

The stuido less than 30 minutes after BCO’s set, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a lot of elbow grease.

3 Leafs closed out the Day of Noise 2014.

3 Leafs closed out the Day of Noise 2014.

March 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

Grex: Typhoon Relief Concert (and New CD)

MonsterMusicReleasesmallGrex 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.

February 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Aram Shelton’s Art of the (Next) Trio

Aram Shelton‘s Ton Trio II plays Sat. Feb. 1, at Duende (Oakland), with the Cory Wright Outfit.

Ton Trio IIOn and On (Singlespeed, 2014)

Source: Singlespeed Music; click to go thereThis 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.

February 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

Reconnaissance Fly Turns Spam Into Prog Rock

Reconnaissance FlyFlower Futures (Edgetone, 2014)

Source: Bandcamp; click to go therePolly 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.”

January 30, 2014 at 9:30 pm Leave a comment

Monday Make-Out, January 2014

Nathan Clevenger Group @ the Make-Out Room, SF

Nathan Clevenger Group, bathed in the Make-Out Room’s red light.

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.

January 26, 2014 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

Nathan Clevenger Strikes Again

The Nathan Clevenger Group plays Monday, January 6, at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco at 8:30 p.m., the opening act in the venue’s monthly jazz program.

Nathan Clevenger GroupObservatory (Apoplectics, 2013)

Source: NathanClevengerMusic.com; click to go thereBay 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.


January 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm 1 comment

KZSU Day of Noise: Saturday, February 8, 2014

Day of Noise: at kzsu.stanford.edu or 90.1FM, Feb. 8, 2014

Thanks to the efforts of Abra (@abraRadio), KZSU will again present the Day of Noise: 24 hours of drone, electronics, ambient, improvisation, and … well, NOISE!

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:

January 4, 2014 at 10:39 am Leave a comment

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