Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’

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

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

Grosse Abfahrt, the Latest Version, in San Francisco Tonight

Grosee Abfahrt and Birget Ulher at what looks like 21 Grand

Grosse Abfahrt, in a combination that does appear to include Birget Ulher. Source: sfSound.

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)

September 27, 2014 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Meridian Gallery Searches for a New Home

535 Powell St. Source: Joe Lasqo's blog.

535 Powell St. Source: Joe Lasqo’s blog.

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.

September 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm 3 comments

Bass Clarinet Quartet: Late Classic Era

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.”

September 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm 1 comment

Fred Ho Memorial Concert, Sunday in Oakland

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
Oakland 94607

The memorial will feature performance by many of the forward-thinking artists touched by Fred Hos significant cultural contribution. Rova will perform Hos 1992 composition, Beyond Columbus and Capitalism, a work commissioned by Rova through The Meet the Composer / Readers 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.

September 3, 2014 at 9:34 pm 1 comment

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