Posts tagged ‘yoshi’s’

Tim Berne Yet Again

My wife gives me a hard time about this: In 1999, we traveled to Europe, and I got to see Tim Berne twice on the trip.

What’s important is that I didn’t create our itinerary. By pure coincidence, our three-week trip crossed Berne’s path two times. It helped that this was my wife’s first time in Europe, so we were sticking to the big cities — but that’s never been enough explanation for her. She still calls shenanigans on it.

She’s not a fan of avant-jazz but she knew Berne’s name well by then. She knew I couldn’t pass this up. She came with me to see the Bloodcount quartet in Munich, and a week or so later, I ventured out alone to see Berne play duo with guitarist Marc Ducret outside Paris, at Les Instants Chavirés.

This was part of an unusual streak. My first six Tim Berne shows were in six different cities, only one of them in the Bay Area. Even more random than the European trip was the time I had to travel to Denver — the only time I’ve ever been to the city, as opposed to the airport — and Tim Berne was doing a one-off gig in Colorado Springs, on a night when I could make the drive in my company-subsidized rental car. That’s the kind of luck I’ve had. Drives my wife nuts.

Snakeoil: Promo pic used for postcard fliers for the Yoshi’s show. Source: Yoshi’s site; click to go there.

“Luck” is the right word, because while my first Berne concert did happen to be in San Francisco, we don’t often get chances to see downtown NYC musicians. For obvious reasons. It’s one thing for them to hit Philly, New York, and Boston even for sparsely attended gigs. Flying to San Diego in hopes of playing to 20 people, then driving yourself eight hours to Oakland for the next night’s show — that’s a whole other proposition.

Still, it’s not impossible. Berne had already arranged some dates before signing his record deal with ECM for Snakeoil (reviewed here). So, he’d done the legwork, but having ECM’s backing certainly helped in terms of audience size, he says.

So it was that I got to see Berne and Snakeoil play Yoshi’s in Oakland last month. I keyed on in Oscar Noriega‘s clarinet more that I did on my first CD listens.This might have been at the sacrifice of Matt Mitchell‘s piano, which I tended to notice less. Ches Smith, who played in so many Bay Area ensembles before leaving for New York, got huge whoops and applause when he was introduced on stage, and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t think he brought the tympani that he uses on the CD, but he did have a wide array of tricks and traps, including a vibraphone.

I had a great time, of course. It feels like I just saw Berne at Yoshi’s, performing with Michael Formanek. That’s two shows in a span of less than a year, with a longshot possibility of catching the trio of Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline in May. Apparently, I’m on another hot streak. Don’t tell my wife.

Yoshi’s doesn’t allow videotaping, so I’m not aware of video of this show. Below are videos of a couple of other recent Snakeoil appearances. The first is of better sound and video quality, despite some moments of shaky camera work. The second (“Scanners”) is shorter and more “home-video,” but you get to hear Berne make a crack about cracks about Oregon.

March 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm 1 comment

Where Everyone’s a Drummer

In the fine “echo chamber” tradition of blogging, I point out that someone else wrote up the last night’s Trio M show in La Jolla, near San Diego.

Robert Bush does a good job reviewing the show for the San Diego Reader, where the headline says the trio “astonished” the audience. Two things that stood out to me:

1. A great description: “On this night, everyone became the drummer, at some point.” Meaning each band member: Mark Dresser (bass), Myra Melford (piano), and of course Matt Wilson (actual drums). It’s an observation you can make about a lot of outside-jazz shows, but it seems particularly pertinent here, where Melford digs into prepared-piano sounds and Dresser explores the percussive side of his instrument. I liked it.

2. Dresser apparently played that Trio M show on Feb. 2 and a Los Angeles date on Feb. 3, flew to Anchorage for a show Feb. 4, and is returning to California for Trio M’s Feb. 6 gig at Yoshi’s San Francisco. That’s hardcore.

Trio M will indeed play in San Francisco on Monday, Feb. 6, ending a quickie California tour to support the new release, The Guest House (Enja, 2012). It should be a great show, but if I can get out on Monday, I might opt instead for the monthly jazz show at The Makeout Room in SF. It’s been too long since I’ve attended one of those, and I know I can’t make it to the March edition.

February 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Michael Formanek Quartet at Yoshi’s

Monday night’s crowd at Yoshi’s Oakland was  lively and responsive and actually a bit over-the-top, but when some big-name guys make the trek here from New York — hey, why not? I was happy to see them, too, and glad they drew a bustling, receptive crowd.

And it was good to hear Michael Formanek‘s band outside the spacious ECM shell of their record, The Rub and Spare Change. (Reviewed here.) I actually love that ECM sound, which I don’t find as antiseptic as some critics say, and which does leave room for a brilliantly burning energy. But live music, for many performers, benefits from being more visceral. That’s what we got: a more visceral, gut-reaction version of the quartet, with songs nourished by repeated live performances.

A review of the band’s recent L.A. gig noted that “Tonal Suite” was the opener — the five-segment, 17-minute “Tonal Suite.” I wasn’t sure how the audience would take to that, but they went ape over it. People didn’t applaud after solos — it’s hard with creative music, since a “solo” overlaps so heavily with the rest of the piece — but they seemed to be well into the groove with Tim Berne‘s spirited sax solo, and they appreciated Craig Taborn‘s bright piano splashes. It helped that “Tonal Suite” ends with an active, upbeat theme that gets repeated here and there, complete with a nifty false ending, like an inside joke.

Formanek’s writing, like Berne’s, uses complex melodies often jutting with odd-time-signature shards. The set mostly consisted of new pieces, mostly on the peppy side — that might be one reason the crowd stayed so engaged, although folks around me were also dead silent (a rarity at Yoshi’s) during Formanek’s one unaccompanied bass solo. One piece I remember in particular, “Rising Tensions,” was light on its feet and included a lovely yet electric Taborn solo. “Pong,” the set ender, came in a lovely chiming 6/8, likeable and relatively easy listening. (At the table next to me, after the show, a couple of people mentioned it being their favorite.)

Throughout, Gerald Cleaver was a monster on drums — lots of strength and sound — and Taborn’s piano was not only lightning-quick but fiendishly inventive. The band was loose and smiling

The encore was “Twenty-Three Neo,” the opening track to The Rub and Spare Change, which is based on a delicate and hypnotic piano line. They played it even more slowly, more delicately, than on the CD — a different kind of “visceral” breakthrough. Cleaver was a model of restraint, using silence as the glue to hold the piece, rather than breaking the careful mood.

Formanek has some roots in the Bay Area and mentioned the December passing of “Bishop” Norman Williams, crediting him as a major influence that steered him towards the edgier side of jazz. Good work, Bishop. Hopefully, you’d agree that you did good work here.

June 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm Leave a comment

Upcoming: Yoshi’s

Two Yoshi’s shows that shouldn’t be missed:

Mon., March 28, San FranciscoLisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch, six months removed from an appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, will be playing two sets of different music, at 8:00 p.m. and approximately 10:00 p.m.

Suffice to say, they’re a really good free-jazz quartet with some great ideas (sometimes radical, sometimes extensions of the jazz tradition) and a deliciously evil alter-ego as the band Go-Go Fightmaster. They also just might be the most frequently mentioned band on this blog, which is a function not of my stalking them, but of their appearances in high-profile circles, such as Monterey and the Village Voice. Here, look:

Wed., March 30, OaklandTrio M stops by on their way to the Brubeck Festival in Stockton. It’s the combination of Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums), who showed their collective stuff on a 2007 album, Big Picture (Cryptogramophone). It’s modern jazz with an agile personality, where the solos take wide turns at the curves and keep only a loose grip on the road. They’re all busy and don’t get together often. Just sayin’.

March 21, 2011 at 12:54 am 3 comments

Trapeze Project

Sarah Wilson’s Trapeze Project plays at Yoshi’s Oakland on Monday, Nov. 29, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets $14, plus a minimum of two food/drink items (but they’re pretty mellow about enforcing the second item).

Sarah WilsonTrapeze Project (Brass Tonic, 2010)

You might consider Sarah Wilson’s stuff to be pop jazz at first, but it’s interesting that she’s got the support of Myra Melford (piano) and Ben Goldberg (clarinet). On this album, they’re given ample room to wander about, turning the songs into layered tapestries rich in detail.

As Andrew Gilbert wrote for the East Bay Express, Wilson didn’t set out to be a jazz composer. Her first writing job, a 1995 commission, was completed on intuition built from Dixieland jazz and evenings spent at the Knitting Factory, back when it was a haven for outside jazz.

Trapeze Project is a bright, upbeat album, with a traditional jazz sense of melody and a lot of busy chatter from piano, clarinet, bass (Jerome Harris) and drums (Scott Amendola … this is one heck of a band she’s assembled). A lot of tracks work the way “Blessing” does, starting out with a pleasantly brassy theme — something you’d associate with a small circus, maybe — then getting into loose, swirling solos and comping. (Actually, traditional New Orleans jazz can get this way. I remember being struck by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, because they’d get into group-improvising stretches where they’d stick to the tune, yet nobody was playing any part of the tune any more, except arguably the drummer.)

I especially liked “Zebulon,” a jumping, bluesy romp with a terrific solo from Goldberg.

A lot gets made of the fact that Wilson sings — particularly on a folky take on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I like her voice; she’s closer to indie-rock deadpan than jazz crooning. She’s got three vocal tracks on here, plus some wordless singing on “She Stands in a Room,” a slower track where her “da da dum” vocals meet a chord that conjures a widely opening sky, a very nice touch.

(Bonus: Wilson’s show on Monday is early enough that you could head to the Berkeley/Albany zone for a nightcap at Kingman’s Ivy Room, where the Phillip Greenlief Quartet will probably still be playing: Monk covers and originals from a sax-and-guitar band. Greenlief’s Evander Music label released Wilson’s first album, Music for an Imaginary Play.)

November 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Amendola Approacheth

Drummer Scott Amendola is about to put out his first album leading a trio, Lift. It’s coming Oct. 19.

You can hear tracks by going to Amendola’s “Audio/Video” page. Click on “radio,” and the fixed program will start with the snappy funk of “Lima Bean” followed by the airy drum solo that opens “Lift,” the title track that sketches a peaceful twilight setting. (Then stick around for the high-strung funk of “59th Street Blues,” from Amendola’s first album.)

You can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but here goes. The surface is showing a reimagining of T.J.Kirk-type funk and a rediscovery of jazz territory. But the start to “Lift” shows there’s going to be room for some wide-open improvisation as well.

Amendola also has a love of African pop and a growing sensibility for electronics both as featured instruments and as backdrop. Those factors gave the Scott Amendola Band a broad scope. The most recent album, Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005) does have some funk and rock elements — one track could be a Crazy Horse instrumental — but it’s also got deep, ambitious pieces like the reverent “Cesar Chavez.”

That band also benefitted from a lineup of expansive players — Jeff Parker and Nels Cline on guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Lift pares things down to a trio, with Parker and S.A.Band bassist John Shifflett. But at the same time, Amendola has broadened his scope in compositions and in performance options — his electronics play some key roles in recent Nels Cline Singers albums, The Celestial Septet and the colossal Initiate.

Amendola is taking the trio on a small CD release tour around the Bay Area and up the coast.  (Note that the itinerary includes Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View — a neat local coffee house that’s willing to go out on a limb for the sake of good music. Support them!)

Sat. Oct. 23 — Blue Whale, Los Angeles
Sun. Oct. 24 — Dana St. Roasting, Mountain View, 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Oct. 25 — Yoshi’s Oakland, separate shows at 8:00 and 10:00
Tue. Oct. 26 — Earshot Jazz Festival (Cornish College of the Arts), Seattle
Wed. Oct. 27 — The Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, Ore.
Thur. Oct. 28 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, 7:00, or 6:00 if you want dinner beforehand

September 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm 1 comment

Beth Custer’s Do-Over

The Beth Custer Ensemble — Roam (BC, 2009)

Beth Custer managed to secure an autumn 2009 date at Yoshi’s San Francisco for a CD release concert for Roam.  That night happened to bring torrential rains that flooded Yoshi’s, canceling the show. The rain-check date is tomorrow, Jan. 5.

Custer performs in any number of contexts. She’s done improvised music (a clarinet pointed into a bowl was her trademark promo photo for a while).  Her Vinculum Symphony was an exercise in large-scale experimenting. She’s done jazz, with bands like Clarinet Thing (noted here).  She’s written any number of soundtracks for small films, plays, and dance productions.

Roam, though, is about songs — regular ol’ songs, often with jazzy backing.  Catchy stuff that AOR radio stations ought to take notice of.  It’s fun, but it’s also grown-up. Custer’s voice takes center stage, a lightly silky sound that can dig deep into earthly soul, and a tone that lets you know you don’t have to be in a hurry.

The album opens with a handful of unattached tracks, songs apparently written for no particular project. These are some of the best, actually; “Roam” is one the album’s more uptempo songs, but what really caught my ear were the slow funk drawl of “Hometown” and especially the serious-minded but soulful “Crux of Murder:”  “Stand up / To the droll of the masses / Raise high / To the call of your soul.”

Seven of the 12 songs feature lyrics by Octavio Solis, a playwright who’s apparently a big deal in such circles. (He’s done a few recent commissions for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at any rate.) They’re excerpted from musicals performed by the Campo Santo theater company.

“Jackrabbit” and the lingering, sad “God Made Night” shift the sound to real country. “The Ballad of Pancho & Lucy” and “There It Was” are less country-twangy and more into a whimsical mode. (The former is cuter but the latter rocks out more in the chorus and includes a nifty guitar-twang solo).

Extra bonus: The CD includes “Dymaxion Transport,” a cool little instrumental that’s part of a song cycle about Buckminster Fuller.  Clarinet Thing performed it at Yoshi’s, I think.  It’s got a soothing, swaying melody, followed by something like a prog-rock seizure.

Custer is backed by David James on guitar and Jan  Jackson on drums (they accompanied her for a short Yoshi’s set in June), with extra jazz power from Chris Grady (trumpet), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), and Graham Connah (piano).   (How great is it to see Connah’s name on a CD again. I know he’s performed occasionally as Admiral Ted Brinkley (semi-ret.), but I still remember the incredible jazz combos he led in the ’90s.) Connah is in mostly a supporting role here, but he gets a good solo in the mysterious, poking rhythm of “Will/Bill” and a crisp jazzy solo in “Roam.”

January 4, 2010 at 7:38 am 2 comments

Yoshi’s Goes Out

I managed to get to the Go Left Fest at Yoshi’s San Francisco last night, and it was awesome. Six acts, headlined by Matthew Shipp (piano) / Marshall Allen (sax, EVI thingie) / Joe Morris (bass). Not a sellout crowd, sadly, but a warmly receptive one, folks who very much came to hear this kind of music.

Six acts in all, spanning four hours, including intermissions of varying length between acts. I’ve only got time to skim through the specifics.

The important thing is: They’re doing it again tonight (Tuesday June 23) and probably wouldn’t mind your support … It’s very hard for folks like these to tour the west coast, so it would be great to encourage Yoshi’s to continue sprinkling some outside acts into its schedule…

Anyway, the acts:

1. Beth Custer trio/quartet: A couple of pieces from her current Buckminster Fuller project, a couple of jazzy songs, and a catchy old-school jazz stomp called “Wag the Puppy,” written by guitarist David James.

2. Positive Knowledge: Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas (reeds, poetry) plus drummer Sunny Murray in the chair Spirit normally occupies. One long piece with lots of phases; generous applause for some of Oluyemi’s more breathtaking, overblowing solos on bass clarinet and soprano sax. Positive Knowledge weaves a spell of joyous improvised jazz, not only in Oluyemi’s playing but in Ijeoma’s recital, which often dips into abstract vocal sounds before returning to grounded, pre-written material. Sunny Murray was in a great mood, joking around with the audience while the band set up.

3. Myra Melford/Mark Dresser: Piano and bass, doing chamber-like compositions with a jazz jump to them (Melford’s specialty) and of course lots of improvising in the middle. Great rapport. My angle, behind the piano, was perfect for this set — I could see Melford’s light touch on the keys (even when she was splashing big chords with palms and wrists) and Dresser’s face and the top of the bass’ fingerboard. They finished with a really fun, small piece that gave Dresser a chance to goof around.

4. Ismael Reed: An author and poet, Reed performed with a band of sax (or clarinet or flute), piano, guitar, and drums. (Sunny Murray again, IIRC.) He started heavy, with pieces about the nonsensical waste of war and the unfair villification of “welfare queens.” Most of the remaining pieces dealt with jazz and jazz icons. Straight-up jazz backing throughout. Reed ended with the band playing “That’s What Friends Are For” — a bit cheesy, but his text was a thank-you note to various organs (heart, liver, and brain, mainly) for getting him this far.

5. Roswell Rudd: With Lafayette Harris on piano, who didn’t get enough credit from the crowd for his mix of standards-jazz styles, avant-garde dissonances, and rhythm-opening spacing. The set, sometimes augmented by trumpeter Earl Davis, was a mix of inside-out pieces (fairly straight stuff with free-ranging soloing) and some out-there screechiness. Fun, but Rudd lost track of the time; he announced a waltz piece written for his wife’s recent birthday but didn’t have time to play it. “You’ll hear that one tomorrow!” he said.

6. Marshall Allen, Matthew Shipp, Joe Morris: Playing together for the first time, and you always wonder if “first time” is going to be a letdown. It wasn’t. Shipp was stormy on piano throughout — in fact, I don’t think he ever stopped playing during any of the three or four long improvisations they did, aside from a Morris bass solo early on.

Allen was in prime form, wearing an Arkestra outfit and playing what I think was the “EVI,” an electronics gizmo controlled by a combination of breath, buttons, and dials. Lots of futuristic weirdness to be had there. The EVI produced the same kinds of sounds you’d get from laptop electronics, but with a more direct sense of control. It fit well but was turned up a bit too loud; Shipp’s playing is so tumultuous, it ought to eclipse the sax/reeds voice in spots, I think.

Again, I was behind the piano, so I got to watch the Matthew Shipp fireworks show. Man, he’s terrific. His hands seem to be flying everywhere in random stabs, but the chords that come out make so much sense. (Caveat: I suspect any pianist playing free jazz is like that.) He’s got a couple of trademark moves that were interesting to see in person — like one where he pokes a chord stacatto and (I think) hits the sustain pedal an instant too “late,” for a distant kind of echo/reverb. I’d never seen Shipp play before, so this was a particular treat. I’m going to go put his Symbol Systems solo CD on now.

Joe Morris gets a raw deal here — not only is the bassist often the hardest element of a combo to describe, but I couldn’t get a clear view of him with the piano blocking the way. His mercury-fluid guitar style does seem agreeable to the fast, wide-ranging wanderings of free-jazz bass, and that theory proved out well in this set.

June 23, 2009 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

April 6 Freebies

Huh? Apparently Ab Baars is going to be in town tomorrow, he’s bringing Ken Vandermark with him, and Yoshi’s Oakland is letting you see their show for free.

source:yoshis.comNow, “free” is relative: There’s a $3 service charge involved, and Yoshi’s has a nominal two-drink minimum per set (although in my experience, the waitstaff rarely enforces the second drink). So, figuring in the price of a single soft drink, you’re looking at about $6, not counting parking if you end up having to pay for it.

That’s still about 1/4 of what it ought to be. At a time when Yoshi’s is putting up $50 John Zorn tickets and $55 Mos Def shows (with a backing jazz band, which sounds intriguing, actually), it’s a nice gesture — or, possibly, a concession to their inability to fill the house these days.

The bad news is that this conflicts with an 8:00-10:00 p.m. jazz show at the Make-Out Room, with a promising lineup:

It, too, is free. The M-OR’s calendar describes this as part of a “First Mondays” series curated by Johnston and Mezzacappa, which sounds like something worth supporting.

April 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

Zorn and The Dreamers

John Zorn: The Dreamers (Source: Tzadik)

Here’s how busy my week was: It isn’t until a full five days later that I bother to blog about the coolness of my lone John Zorn show at Yoshi’s.

DJ Mike and I went to the Saturday show, featuring Zorn’s band The Dreamers. This is pop Zorn. Very accessible, jazzy melodies — accessible in a Bacharach sense, almost verging on corniness at points. One song had the happy, dippy air of a 1950s department store commercial.

But this is a band that burns, and the sizzling jams that come out of these songs meld bluesy guitar; loud surf guitar (both by Mark Ribot, of course); South American themes and percussions; Cyro Baptista making as many noises as possible; and Joey Baron just tearing it up on drums, smiling all the way of course. The stage was packed with instruments. Zorn, sitting, conducted everything with satisfied glee.

Jamie Saft got to play three keyboards, alternating piano, organ, and electric piano. (I’m guessing all three keyboards were Yoshi’s own.) Trevor Dunn, a welcome face from the Bay Area scene of the past, was digging down hard on electric bass. Kenny Wolleson, another former local, played vibraphone throughout, adding that sunny touch to a lot of the melodies. Baptista, as mentioned, just played all sorts of stuff — drums, noisemakers, whitles, clangy metal spirals. I picture him going through security with these fat sacks of stuff, trying to explain that it’s for his job.

The crowd ate it up. Many of these songs, though instrumental, have the right rhythm, melody, and guitar elements to fit on rock radio, IMHO; a relatively progressive station like KFOG could easily sneak this music into a playlist. (The lamented KKCY of the late ’80s would have been all over this album.) People didn’t clap for most of the solos, but the band got thick standing ovations for the set and the encore (which appeared to consist of two Masada tunes.) Amoeba Records had a table in the lobby to sell Zorn’s Tzadik wares, and copies of The Dreamers got snatched up like candy-coated popcorn.

The Dreamers is quite “nice,” but there’s an attitude to it. Don’t picture black-and-white suburban smiles; think instead of those little cartoon guys on the album cover, and the connection to Japanese pop culture. It’s Zorn’s nod to jazz and pop, viewed not from a retro lens, but with a hipster’s eye. (You can get the cartoon guys on a T-shirt at Tzadik, by the way. Pricey, but potentially irresistable. By the way, I haven’t seen the inside of the CD package; be reminded that Zorn sometimes employs artwork that you wouldn’t take home to mom.)

March 19, 2009 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

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