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“…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 SF Offside festival is underway.
The highlight of the first night was apparently the Wiener Kids Family Band, in which Jordan Glenn’s trio was expanded to a glorious little mob. The Awaken Cafe, hosting the event, posted a blip on Vine that tells the story quite well.
Now, I have to admit I find animated GIFs rather annoying, so I won’t embed it here. But here’s where you can have a look:
SF Offside has been blogging little bios and interviews with the festival artists — for example, here’s one with the Howard Wiley Trio, which is playing at Duende tonight. I love this idea, as it lets the audience get acquainted with the music they’ll be facing.
You can view the entire lineup here.
Here’s a glimpse of what’s been going on at KZSU this Sunday. I made do with the iPhone and the UStream feed, as I forgot to bring my real camera. Captions and possibly more photos to follow.
The “what” that’s going on is the KZSU Day of Noise! Official explanation is on the Day of Noise page, and I blogged my own preview yesterday. If you’re seeing this on Sunday, April 14, 2013, go ahead and check out the aforementioned UStream video feed.
UPDATE: You can also check out some more professional photos at the KZSU Facebook photo stream (Facebook subjugation — er, subscription — not required). Note that I’m linking to the stream, so if you’re reading this significantly after April 2013, it might show a whole other set of photos.
Clarinetist François Houle will be down from Vancouver on Thursday, March 14, to perform “Aerials” at the Center for New Music (San Francisco). The solo improvised performance should be a nice chance to hear the clarinet fill the room and explore the acoustics of the Center. It’ll be followed by a duet where Zachary Watkins processes and feeds back the sound, turning Houle’s clarinet into an ensemble.
“Aerials” is not a set of specific songs, but an improvisational project Houle developed during a five-week residency in Italy, after nurturing the idea for years.
Houle explains more in this All About Jazz article from 2006. Aerials is a foil to Double Entendre, the album where Houle performs new-classical works solo with the aid of overdubs. (I gave it a mention in 2011.) For Aerials, his inspiration was John Carter, and his goal was to “make a strong musical statement.”
That, he did. Aerials could have been an exploration of every-sound-possible, but Houle edited his explorations to give the album a pervasive mood. It’s celebrates the room’s reverb but also its stillness; it’s an inviting sound that doesn’t let the air drag, even in the most reflective pieces.
“Liege” has the sound of a Native American flute, yet it wiggles and wanders, as if the clarinet were taking a drink. The last melody in this sample is the motif with which Houle started the piece; he returns to it, turning “Liege” into a kind of improvised song.
“Tuilerie” gets into a varied wandering, reminiscent of Evan Parker’s long sax solos of circular breathing. It’s rich in detail, with Houle jumping all over the clarinet’s range.
On the more sad and melodic side, “Pour Sidney” flows like a film noir ballad.
Read more about Aerials — the album and the process behind it — at Misterioso.
NBC Bay Area — the Channel 11 nightly news, basically — gave The Residents some love on Valentine’s Day.
I doubt there was an accompanying TV spot, but the NBC Bay Area web site ran a story that day about The Residents’ “40th Anniversary” tour, noting that no particular milestone of theirs appears to have happened exactly 40 years ago.
Cleverly, that gave writer Nicole Powers a chance to trace the band’s early history, getting more Residenty goodness onto the web site of — I can’t stress this enough — a TV nightly news operation.
Of course, why not give The Residents some ink? Their story is compelling even to the non-converted: A mysterious quartet that doesn’t reveal their identities yet has carved out a 40-plus-year career that’s included an impressive number of live performances. They deserve the publicity.
That’s 10:00 a.m.to 12:00 noon Pacific time, specifically.
It’s a one-off gig, subbing for another DJ at KZSU, and my first time on the air in about four months.
For those who had no idea I did a radio show, you can find old playlists in KZSU’s Zookeeper site.
This is almost two years old, from the March 2011 issue of Gramophone. But I didn’t have a scanner then.
It’s an album review. Enjoy.
… and ROVA has some photos of it up on Facebook.
The Kickstarter-funded filming of the Guelph Jazz Festival concert (reference here) also went as planned — an ambitious five-camera shoot assembled in relatively short time.
A Kickstarter update posted Monday by Larry Ochs (the “O” in ROVA, and the group’s manager) explains it all. Sounds like it was an amazing show.
Ochs brings up something I hadn’t considered: With “Electric Ascension” — a modernized realization of John Coltrane’s epic, “Ascension” — having already been released on CD, in 2003, would a second concert recording be redundant? Especially considering the band is almost entirely the same — minus Otomo Yoshihide and Donald Robinson, who are replaced by Rob Mazurek and Hamid Drake?
The final answer was No, Ochs writes: “It had its own arc, its own storyline.” Which makes sense, considering the improvisatory nature of the piece and even the 10-year span between recordings. I’d probably share Ochs’ trepidation if I were helping present the concert, but from a few thousand miles away, it was pretty easy to lean back and say “It’ll be great!”
Can’t wait to see and hear the results.
Some things from recent weeks that are worth your attention, if you haven’t found them already:
1. The recent SF Offside festival got a shout-out from NPR, in a story about grass-roots jazz efforts. An L.A. festival and record label also get listed, as does NYC’s club Small’s (highlighted here), which videocasts and archives its nightly concerts. (h/t: Alex Pinto, @pintobeans2885)
2. The AUM Fidelity label is turning 15 — congratulations to Steven Jeorg, who’s steadily serviced college radio with his releases. The Village Voice interviewed musicians for a nice oral history of the label. (h/t: Avant Music News and Improvised Communications)
But after seeing Signal to Noise, my favorite music magazine, shrink with the times — from monthly publication, to quarterly, and now to semi-annually — finding it in my mailbox last week was like an unexpected visit from a friend who’d been on vacation. The magazine’s format, style, and mission are all the same, packed with the same goodness including features, live-show reviews, and CD reviews. In other words, it feels like a normal issue, which is good.
Part of what’s inside:
- A Tim Berne feature written by Christian Carey, focusing on the current Snakeoil band.
- A feature on the Houston improv scene, past and present, featuring bassist Damon Smith, formerly of the Bay Area.
- A story on Loren Connors.
Big thanks to publisher Pete Gershon for keeping the faith, and to all the sponsors for keeping StN alive.
Find out more about the current issue (“current” will have hopefully changed, if you read this after October 2012) at SignalToNoiseMagazine.com.