Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’
Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.
The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.
Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.
Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.
Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.
The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.
Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.
You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.
Earlier this year, I saw Phillip Greenlief conducting Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 255, at the In the Flow Festival in Sacramento.
A music fan named Charles has done dedicated work filming music concerts in that area. He got No. 255 on tape, and also recorded part of a rehearsal, for a feel of what it’s like preparing this kind of work.
I’ll embed both videos here. You don’t get to see these kinds of works live very often, so it’s nice to have a visual document to refer back to.
Jack o’ the Clock, the terrific Bay Area prog/pop/art-song band, has another performance coming up on Friday, Nov. 8, at the Starry Plough, with Inner Ear Brigade and guitar man Chuck Johnson (who opened for Fred Frith’s Gravity show last year).
It’s been great to see a band like this multiple times, hearing them add new songs with each set. I’m thankful they’ve managed to stick together this long and develop a following.
They’ve attracted one notable fan in particular: Mike, who runs the Avant Music News site. He recently published a lengthy interview with the band’s singer and principal songwriter, Damon Waitkus, talking about the compositional process, the influences behind the new album (All My Friends), and the possibility of a 2014 release. Read it all here.
Below is a video the band’s recently posted — a new song called “Twenty-Two, or, Denny Takes One for the Team,” performed live at Viracocha.
More about July’s Outsound New Music Summit, this time from the jazz-and-compositions concert that was titled, “The Axiom” …
I wrote about the concluding act, Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, here (now with pictures). The rest of the evening was solid as well — and Bruckmann’s wasn’t the only impressive long-form, world-premiere piece. Lewis Jordan got a great reception for his jazz suite, “Only Children.”
The suite felt large, musically tracing the path from childhood to old age, and featuring a poem of Jordan’s about the adults that children become. It began with a springtime feel, content and innocent. Later motifs included a fun Mediterranean-sunset air that became the backdrop for one of India Cooke’s best violin solos.
Overall, the piece carried on in rich jazz tradition, with engaging solos and, in some places, group work over forceful, swinging bass riffs. I liked the way John-Carlos Perea held the music together during those passages.
Toward the end, the group settled on a gentle, almost weary riff that sounded like a concluding statement. It seemed to repeat one time too many … just lingering … and then, it burst into a jaunty blues, not too fast but saucy and lively. It definitely put a smile on your face. They jammed with that for a few minutes before letting Karl Evangelista erupt into an all-out guitar freakout.
I like to think this part of the suite was meant to show a bursting of happiness and activity late in one’s life, as opposed to the resignation of being used up. In that light, “Only Children” left a feeling of joy and hope in the air.
Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland played a strong set mixing free jazz with heavy, sky-high psych. It included a few new pieces from a sci-fi-influenced suite about “Dr. K.” and also at least one from the Lords’ considerable catalog. The quartet lineup was enhanced by two players from Columbus, Ohio: Hasan Abdur-Razzaq (sax) and L.A. Jenkins (guitar).
Abdur-Razzaq — part of the Rejuvenation Trio album that I reviewed a couple of years ago, added a deep sense of the jazz tradition, while Jenkins’ guitar colored the mix with psych reverb. Both were good complements to the Lords of Outland sound — Jenkins fitting the music’s dark sci-fi overtures and Abdur-Razzaq helping tether it to jazz. C.J. Borosque delivered some crisp trumpet solos, and of course, we got a few minutes of Romus playing two saxes at once.
Overall, a great show. Bruckmann’s “…Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” has now been studio-recorded for eventual release, and one can only home Jordan’s “Only Children” can similarly live on.
It’s hard writing a concert review weeks after the fact, and admittedly harder when you’re talking about electronic music — a genre that poses inherent problems of language. The music lends itself to some obvious descriptors (“swampy,” “crinkling,” “droney”) but it’s hard to resist calling everything “metallic” and “abstract.”
That said, I did enjoy “Vibration Hackers,” the computer-music night at last month’s Outsound New Music Summit. Three real-time ensemble performances were interspersed with two fixed-media performances — “tape music” pieces — all with some organic sounds mixing with the inorganic.
As with the SF Tape Music Festival, speakers were installed all around the Community Music Center. The Center’s cozy size made it a little difficult to get the full surroundsound effect, as the speakers closest to me dominated the sound. I could have fixed that by moving to a more central spot, but the house was pretty full, and I was content not to move. It was still a good listening experience.
One advantage to this type of music is that the performers don’t need to be on stage. So, in a nod to the “guys checking email” aspect of laptop concerts, the fixed-media performers — Fernando Lopez-Lezcano and Ilya Rostovtsev — worked from a console in the middle of the audience. And the opening act, #MAX, played from the balcony area that’s behind the audience.
The highlight for me was the more-than-duet of Ritwik Banerjee, Joe Lasqo, and their music software agents, Maxine and Maxxareddu — all accompanied by trippy, kaleidoscope-infused visuals by Warren Stringer. They didn’t have Maxine and Maxxareddu play unaccompanied, something I was kind of hoping would happen, but that was fine — the quartets with Banerjee’s sax, Lasquo’s piano, and the two machines created a sublimely bustling collision of sounds.
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest.
I attended two nights of the Outsound New Music Summit and enjoyed both concerts immensely. But before going into detail, I wanted to post something about Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, because they’re coming to Los Angeles tonight (July 28) and Sacramento on Monday (July 29).
Having now seen the hour-long piece they’ll be playing, “… Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire,” I can say that if you’re in either of those locales, you don’t want to miss it.
It’s loads of fun, filled with silly, old-timey-jazz melodies made up to the songs in Thomas Pynchon’s novels. (The piece itself is all instrumental, so Pynchon scholars can have some fun trying to guess which song is which.) Sometimes the melodies are played straight. Sometimes they’ve got some twisty improvised backing, and sometimes they overlap, with half of the septet playing one melody and the other half playing something else (I think I even heard three overlapping songs at one point.)
Bruckmann’s madcap, turn-on-a-dime composing stays mostly upbeat, sometimes relentlessly so, packed with pulse-pounding free-jazz motifs and some vicious soloing. It’s divided into three movements, for V, The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, which might be another point for Pynchon scholars to geek out on: How do the moods of the movements differ, and what’s the relationship to the books?
The piece is certainly packed with improvising and creative moments. The famous screaming across the sky that starts the third movement is represented by a jittery group improv, but the mood doesn’t take long to shift back into skewed cartoon smiles.
And it all launches very quickly, showing off free-jazz chops in the first instants of the first movement. Tim Daisy’s drums have a lot to do with that. He’s an absolute monster, delivering two pummeling, exhilarating solos with distinct personalities.
28 Jul 2013 | WEHO Library, 625 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood | 8:00
The rest of Saturday evening’s Outsound concert was a big success, too, with a packed crowd enjoying debut pieces from Rent Romus and Lewis Jordan. Thursday night’s computer-music show was great as well. More on those later.
Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland — Thee Unhip (Edgetone, 2012)
The Outsound New Music Summit is a labor of love for all volunteers but especially for Rent Romus, who not only runs the whole shebang but does an aces job raising funds and gathering sponsors. It’s been a while since he’s booked himself to play at the festival, though.
Lords of Outland will be part of the final night’s performance, Saturday, July 27, a show subtitled “The Axiom” and running with the theme of blended composition and improvisation. (It will include Kyle Bruckmann’s large-scale, Pynchon-influenced piece, as previously mentioned.)
Originally a jazz band with Romus channeling late-era Coltrane on his sax, Lords of Outland has developed a dark side in the past several years, delving into electronics and sound-experimentation for a more ghoulish atmosphere. Ray Schaeffer’s down-in-the-mud electric bass certainly helps on that front, but outright electronics and the occasional ferocious free-for-all make for a more overtly ghoulish atmosphere.
Jazz is not dead in these tracks. “If Ornette Grew Cacti” opens up with an appropriately prickly take on what could have been one of Ornette’s danceable themes. From there, it goes into a speedy free-jazz attack — Philip Everett’s drumming fills the air with joyous cymbal clashing, and Schaeffer jams madly on bass. There’s also the tuneful and almost traditional “Temple of Dolphy, which shows off Romus’ sax soloing in a relatively light and uncluttered setting.
Throughout the album, C.J. Borosque shows some great work on trumpet. She’s positively screaming on “If Ornette Grew Cacti” and opens up “Planet of the Plutarchs” with some terrific improv, starting with vocalized growls and moving into bright, quick riffs. That track blooms into a bright free-jazz jam, with the bass adding a touch of psych here and there.
The free jazz and noise sides converge all over the place but are used to particularly good effect on “Dedicated to Lord Kraken off Titan off the Shores of Saturn,” where Romus cuts through thick electronics with somber, reverent sax in long tones, a ceremony of respect. In the end, it all explodes into a free-jazz celebration.
This final concert of the Summit should be a doozy. In addition to the Lords and Kyle Bruckmann, the bill includes Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large, a quintet bolstered by guitarist Karl Evangelista and violinist India Cooke. Here’s the Outsound “In the Field” video introducing Jordan, a veteran of the Bay Area jazz scene.
(See also: Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland.)
Joe Lasqo and Ritwik Banerji have each been working on electronic-music software that reacts to the surroundings. I wrote a bit about their efforts, and a performance of Lasqo’s, back in February.
They’ve spent a good part of this year refining their music-improvising software in advance of this performance — where one goal is to have the two musicbots play off of each other, to see where they’ll go without human intervention. Lasqo told me the idea was inspired by a Cornell experiment that squared two chatbots off each other; you can see those results here (and it’s embedded on the Outsound schedule page as well — nice touch).
The music here will be of the computer/laptop variety — meaning lots of interesting sounds and effects, as opposed to actual notes and chord changes, most likely. Banerji’s research at the University of California does involve a jazz-improvising program, so the possibilities are lurking in the background.
He and Lasqo will be adding music to the performance as well — sax and piano, respectively — so some part of their set will have an acoustic influence. Video artist Warren Stringer will be accompanying them as well.
Strange results can occur when machines are left to think for themselves. One early experiment in genetic semiconductors — that is, chips that program themselves, tweaking the program over time — yielded a chip that had an unconnected bit of circuitry in the corner. Theoretically, this was extra baggage that could be cut, but when it was, the chip stopped working. I find myself wondering what the musical equivalent of that would be, and whether it’s anything we’d be able to spot aurally in Thursday’s performance.
The Banerji/Lasqo performance is one of five on Thursday night, a program titled “Vibration Hackers” and filled with computerized and synthesized sounds. Other performers include the CCRMA Ensemble, Ilya Rostovtsev, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano, and the ensemble #Max.
Some resources to prep you for the show:
- Joe Lasqo’s own preview of the whole concert, with a small mention of his improvising agent, Maxxareddu.
- Hear Banerji’s improvising agent, Maxine, in an earlier stage.
- Banerji’s eloquent essay about his research.
- Not music-related but worthwhile: An encounter with AI robot Bina, told by Jon Ronson at a Story Collider event. Be warned, his conclusions about AI aren’t so optimistic.
“…Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” is a concert-length “free jazz phantasmagoria” inspired by the early novels of Thomas Pynchon, scored for a septet of oboe, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, viola, bass and percussion. The title comes from the group W.A.S.T.E. in The Crying of Lot 49, and the piece incorporates some of them made-up songs in Pynchon’s texts.
I think of Wrack as an out-jazz group with chamber-music leanings, and while they’ve played a variety of styles, “Awaits” is different due to its size, if nothing else. Considering the work it entails, it’s nice to see the piece getting three performances next weekend — full schedule at the bottom of this post.
For a deep dive into the Pynchon aspect and the compositional process, read this interview with Bruckmann by Chamber Music America, which funded the project.
There’s also a half-hour video interview produced as part of the “In the Field” series filmed for the festival.
Finally, I had a few basic questions that had been itching at me, and Bruckmann was kind enough to take a few minutes to email some responses…
Q: What made you decide to write a long piece in the first place?
Bruckmann: I wanted to challenge myself to attempt a longer form. To date, Wrack compositions have always been self-contained entities — 5- to 10-ish minute forms (I suspect a holdover from “rock band” mindframe) that could extend as far as 15 minutes or so when the improvisations really took off. But my experience stretching things out to a half hour with On Procedural Grounds inspired me to see if I could go further and keep it coherent and cohesive.
That intention evolved in tandem with the Pynchon concept, and that material really seemed to demand a sprawling, kaleidoscopic sort of treatment — something that could ideally feel as intricate and exhausting as the novels themselves. In the end, the composition has wound up being quite a collage, and as such maybe is only just barely more of a “long form” than a carefully sequenced album — I’m also struck by how much it was informed by my history as a college radio DJ!
Q: When writing a large piece, is there pressure to make the themes/ideas “bigger?” I’ve always wondered about that.
Bruckmann: Interesting question — probably, but I think at least in this instance there’s a chicken/egg problem. Pynchon’s novels – like so much “encyclopedic” postmodernism — definitely have a way of containing the universe, or at least tangentially hinting at its presence within the bloody mess. But so does a Mahler symphony, for that matter. And while I tremendously respect restraint and concision in art, I think I’ve always tended to resonate more naturally with audaciousness — extremity, proliferation, OCPD, and the delicious stew of megalomania and self-loathing that both those two gentlemen, for instance, appear to have.
I don’t know that the music I’ve written can be said to have much profundity – or even “thematic” content at all, for that matter — but I was repeatedly surprised at how much (somewhat embarrassingly 19th-century) autobiographical psychoanalysis seemed to keep bubbling up. I suspect that was all internal, and a listener wouldn’t necessarily know or care.
And that’s just fine with me, as long as it at least comes across as having some heart — I do not intend for this to be an arch and snarky joke.
Q: Wrack is a pretty unusual combination of instruments (oboe, viola, trombone) … when you started the group, were you going out of your way to pick less common instruments?
Bruckmann: Absolutely. I was choosing specific people in the Chicago scene as much as instruments, but there was definitely resonance for me with picking black sheep of both the orchestra and jazz combos. In Wrack’s first phase, I was also particularly interested in a dark, woody timbre, with all the contrapuntal possibilities inherent to having two winds and two strings with staggered and overlapping ranges. When Jeb Bishop had to step out, a bass clarinet worked perfectly in the trombone’s place, while making some balance issues even easier. Now I get them BOTH, plus Darren Johnston! The trumpet definitely suggests “jazziness” more emphatically, but that’s fairly crucial for this piece. And the pairs of woodwind, strings, and brass make the options practically orchestral.
Upcoming performances of “Awaits”:
27 Jul 2013 Wrack | premiere of …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | Outsound New Music Summit | Community Music Center, 544 Capp St SF | 8:00
28 Jul 2013 Wrack | …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | AD HOC #8, presented by SASSAS and the City of West Hollywood | WEHO Library, 625 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood | 8:00
29 Jul 2013 Wrack | …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | Nebraska Mondays Creative Music & Jazz Series | Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th St, Sacramento | 7:30
The 12th annual Outsound New Music Summit comes to San Francisco’s Community Music Center next week.
The annual Touch the Gear expo, featuring hands-on demonstrations of electronic instruments and effects, takes place Sunday, July 21, followed by four concerts later in the week — not to mention special events such as a composers’ discussion.
You’ll find the schedule at the Outsound site. I’ve been meaning to crank out a couple of related posts, which will hopefully emerge soon — and I’ve put a summary at the bottom of this post.
In the meantime, you can learn about the artists in detail through a series of video interviews conducted by Rent Romus. Titled “In the Field,” the series is something he’s put together for the past few summits, and he’s got quite a lot of them in the can for this year.
Embedded below is the interview with Jordan Glenn of Wiener Kids. You can explore more of these videos on the Outsoundpresents channel on YouTube.
And now for that summary of the Summit. As with last year’s slate, they’ve organized the shows into themes… click the titles to see a listing of artists. (Sorry, but there’s so many, even by cut-and-paste standards…)
Weds. July 24 — “Drift Flow Swing” — three takes on composition and improvisation, with nods to classical and jazz.
Thurs. July 25 — “Vibration Hackers” — computers and AI, a very digital evening.
Fri. July 26 — “Emanation and Artifacts” — found objects and electronics, showcasing some very non-traditional musical ideas.
All parts of the Summit take place at the Community Music Center: 544 Capp St. near 20th in San Francisco’s Mission District.