Moe Staiano has something interesting in the works: a 40-minute composition for nine electric guitars, bass, and drums. It’s called “Away Towards the Light,” and he’s presenting it on May 28 as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, at Gallery 308 in Fort Mason.
Moe is a percussionist, and lately he’s been active with his rock band Surplus 1980 (see here), but he’s also led some intriguing projects with the large group Moe!kestra. Some of those pieces have a performance-art element — the most obvious one being “Death of a Piano,” in which Moe would demolish an old piano while the orchestra “accompanied” him.
While his music tends to favor big, loud sounds, he’s dabbled in chamber music, too. Here’s a nifty piece written for Sqwonk, the bass clarinet duo of Jon Russell and Jeff Anderle:
That performance was part of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual, day-long series of concerts. I’ve never managed to attend, but the lineup is always intriguing, sitting loosely in the realm of new chamber music with shades of pop. Part of the idea is to present music that’s not easy to categorize.
Switchboard is gearing up for a 10th anniversary festival on June 10 at Z Space (450 Florida St., San Francisco). Kronos Quartet is going to headline, and the organizers are hoping to crowdsource some of the costs — you can find the campaign at generosity.com.
In past years, Switchboard has used Soundcloud to post short interviews with the musicians. I liked that idea, and I’m hoping they do it again this year:
To close out, here’s a set of random Switchboard links I collected a couple of years ago, a mix of previews and reviews:
Eivind Opsvik — Overseas V (Loyal Label, 2017)
If I had to pick an overarching mood for bassist Eivind Opsvik‘s Overseas V, I’d say nervous energy. The compositions practically quiver with it.
“Izo” feels faster than it really is, for example, because the moderately fast bassline is augmented by a rolling, relentless guitar riff and tumbling bits of piano and sax. Some music conveys emotion; this track conveys “Keep moving, for god’s sake!”
Many of the songs, such as “I’m Up This Step” and “Brraps!,” are based on off-kilter repetition. The former sets up an angular, crooked space, with boundaries drawn and sometimes broken by Kenny Wolleson’s drums and Brandon Seabrook’s choppy guitar. “Brraps!” feels like it’s constantly shifting. You start off-balance, and then the music gives you a shove.
Judging by Opsvik’s comic pantomiming in video for “Brraps!,” that’s just the effect he’s going for.
Even the more serene tracks are deceptive. “Shoppers and Pickpockets” morphs from peaceful ballad mode into spiky piano from Jacob Sacks, augmented with Tony Malaby’s murmurs of sax. The cool, fluid “Extraterrestrial Tantrum” builds into shifting stormy melodies, undercut by what sounds like electronic percussion and Opsvik’s own echoey arco bass.
I’ve been aware of Opsvik and his Overseas album series, but this is my first time listening closely to his blend of cerebral jazz and jittery rock. The slower, pretty tracks are well worth your time, but the majority of the album is out to get your fingers and toes moving, if not more.
Dialectical Imagination — The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture (Atma Nadi, 2017)
The piano-drums duo of Dialectical Imagination is all about chasing a big sound, but not in a noisy way.
Eli Wallace (also of the Bay Area trio Sound Etiquette — who play tonight at Octopus Literary Salon, incidentally) provides jittery and hammering piano laced with jazz and classical elements. It’s like heavy, elegant drapery crashing down on your head. That’s paired with the thunderous but sure-handed drumming of Rob Pumpelly, formerly of prog band miRthkon.
“Angel and the brute” is a good way to describe both sides of the music — it gushes lushly in one moment, then screams with adrenaline-rush urgency.
The 12-minute “Sky in Eye Free of I” is a good example. It opens with some sophisticated, jazzy dabbling — Pumpelly on brushes, even — that soon begins to speed up and unravel. By minute 8, Wallace is stabbing mercilessly at the bass notes while Pumpelly, now using drumsticks, batters away deftly.
“Immutable Light” is a power play, with Wallace sternly hammering away for a dramatic opening and Pumpelly taking a strong solo full of toms rolls and cymbal crashes, in a style closer to serious classical percussion than metal-like thrash. “Rungs” is another good example of high-energy bobbing and weaving, possibly the most exhilarating track on here.
One dial down the notch in intensity is the jittery “Turnabout,” where both players show tasteful restraint during Wallace’s hyperactive splashing.
“Deepest View’s Horizon You” starts out describing vast, mysterious caverns, then dissolves into a lyrical and downright pretty ending for the album.
If you buy the album in physical form, there’s a fun twist: It comes on “faux cassette” — a USB drive in a cassette-shaped housing. You can also download and stream the album on Bandcamp.
Rent Romus’ theatrical project, “Road to Aacheron,” got a couple of performances last weekend in Berkeley. It’s a story built around a series of arias — improvised vocal monologues, mostly in made-up tongues — telling a story influenced by the sci-fi and horror writers of the 1930s (think H.P. Lovecraft).
Sifting through an ancient book discovered by a colleague, a professor finds a portal into (of course) a mysterious and dangerous world, a planet populated by a civilization whose technology and hubris are on the verge of rending their universe apart.
The production fit nicely on the relatively small stage of Berkeley’s Finnish Kaleva Hall, with simple but effective lighting creating a pocket of eerie darkness around each performer. The story is mostly driven by the narrator (Roderick Repke, Romus’ uncle) who was standing to the side of the audience at a mic’ed lectern. The 10-piece musical ensemble started at the foot of the stage and extened outward, to the side of the audience — Kaleva Hall is cavernous and had plenty of space for all this.
The story starts with the professor, played by Dean Santomieri singing in the grave, steady tones you’d associate with opera. His part is in English and is pre-written, tracing his exploration of the book and his colleague’s notes, and his growing sense that something troubling is happening.
The other characters are various denizens of Aacheron — the high priest, the scientist, and so on — singing in gibberish and sound conveying a sense of an ancient language but also reflecting the characters’ motivations and emotional states.
Musically, what drives the production are the mini-ensembles backing each vocalist — subsets of the musicians, chosen to convey particular moods. Santomieri’s narration was accompanied by an oboe adding curt, angular responses — a nice foil that added a sense of foreboding and mystery, but also a voice of pert curiosity.
Another aria that people liked was Polly Moller’s role as the high priestess of Aacheron, accompanied by a group featuring flute, recorder, and (if I’m remembering things right) vibraphone.
That segment was a cool oasis after the spiky intensity of Bob Marsh’s character, Sareith, the High Priest of Aacheron, dressed in the awesomely abstract costume you see in the photo up top. He dug into his role with relish and fervor.
Mantra Plonsey was deliciously mad as the architect of Aacheron, reciting bits of English accompanied by saxophone. (“I cannot pay the rent!” “You must pay the rent!” It’s from W.C. Fields, Tom Djll told me later.) And quite a few of the musicians in the audience said Kattt Achley’s airy soprano aria was their favorite, portraying the scientist who might have a way to avoid catastrophe.
Romus performed an aria-less version of “Road to Aacheron” — using a quartet of instrumentalists, with Romus narrating — during KZSU’s recent Day of Noise. You can find that performance on the Day of Noise archive — it’s number 19 on the list. Romus has extracted part of it on Soundcloud as well.
He wasn’t bragging; he was bemoaning. He has to put up with the crowded stores and parking lots — not to mention the even thicker traffic on I-110.
Maybe it was coincidence, but that evening as I headed to Little Tokyo for Weller Court, the small, clean shopping center that houses the Blue Whale jazz club, I think I caught a taste of what he was talking about. Orochon, the spicy ramen counter, was overflowing, with a line outside waiting for tables. And at the Blue Whale itself, all the seats were filled when I came in at the beginning of the Armen Nalbandian Trio’s first set.
During my infrequent visits — maybe three in the past six years? — I’d become accustomed to almost having Weller Court to myself. I was expecting a nearly empty Blue Whale. It was Tuesday night. It was raining. And yet, Little Tokyo was alive and jumping.
I wasn’t the only one surprised. Pianist Nalbandian was too, as he happily told the crowd at the end of the first set. It was a pretty live crowd, too.
I was in L.A. this past week for a work assignment, and it wasn’t looking like I would have a chance for an evening out, especially with early morning events to attend each day. The quartet Sigmund Fudge — straightahead guitar/keys-led jazz with a touch of attitude — was tempting, but I didn’t have the energy Monday night and already knew I’d be struggling the next morning.
But Tuesday at about 8:00 p.m., I found myself with a surprising reserve of energy. Before fatigue could catch up with my body and brain, I headed for Japantown. Nalbandian seemed like a good bet, with a rhythm section of familiar names: Eric Revis on bass and Nasheed Waits on drums.
Nalbandian’s music draws from traditional jazz, as you can hear on the solo records on his Blacksmith Brother label, but he’s also a fan of noisy tricks such as playing the inside of the piano. He used the trio format nicely, giving Revis and Waits (and himself) plenty of leash.
One number had an extended intro from Waits that you wouldn’t call abstract — but it wasn’t your typical drum solo: clicking and fast, with irregular stresses. Revis, at center stage, was fun to watch, especially during his hard-digging solos.
They played a couple of world-premiere tracks including one that I think was called “Nogu,” named after a restaurant. (The crowd got a good laugh out of that. I think we were all expecting a metaphysical Asian backstory.) The set-closer, “Aries,” was a relatively long, episodic piece with lots of high-throttle group improvisation.
There was also an ornate Nalbandian solo (was it “Just a Gigolo,” or am I remembering that from the radio?) and a reading of Monk’s “Light Blue.”
Nalbandian hangs out in some big circles. His website includes a glowing quote from Matthew Shipp, and he’s recorded with Han Bennik, an improv session that mixes swing with creative mischief. In May, he’s presenting a trio with saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer Guillermo E. Brown. That will be at E.T.A. in Highland Park, another Los Angeles-area venue.
His one album with Revis and Waits is called Quiet As It’s Kept (Blacksmith Brother, 2011), and it features Fender Rhodes rather than acoustic piano, for a sound that’s more quilted but no less high-energy.
The use of turntables as noise/improv instruments has long fascinated me, mostly in the sense that I wasn’t sure how it was done.
My interest got piqued by four CDs released in the span of about one year by Martin Tétreault and Otomo Yoshihide, both “playing” turntables. The discs — Grrr, Tok, Ahhh, and Hmmm — document a European tour in 2003, with each CD meant to reflect a particular mood (the titles are hints).
I enjoyed those albums and spent a lot of time wondering how they created all those sounds, and what it really meant to “play” a turntable. Some sounds resembled a characteristic record scratch or the scraping of a finger against the needle. But what were they doing the rest of the time?
Only now did it occur to me to go look.
In my defense, YouTube’s avant-garde catalog was more sparse a decade ago. But in 2017, a quick search for Tétreault answers my questions right away. My French isn’t good enough to follow along with this interview, but the visuals say it all: He uses discs that are wrapped with different textures, giving him different sounds to play with.
He also uses a sound board (as shown in the photo up top), which gives him a few more options.
Well. Now I know.
By the way, Yoshihide and Tétreault had an established musical partnership before those 2003 concerts were recorded. Here’s a sample of their work from 1999.
A bit of stream-of-consciousness on a day off from work …
I wrote a little bit about it last fall, but Jeff Kaliss of San Francisco Classical Voice has done a comprehensive interview with Mezzacappa, going through the details of the score. She discusses which natural processes or phenomena inspired each movement (the longevity of trees, the tiny lifespan of the mayfly) and discusses a new movement, Szygzy, that will feature Wayne Grim, the Exploratorium’s staff artist, who converts celestial data into electronic music.
A week later will be the CD release concert for another of Mezzacappa’s projects, avantNOIR. The self-titled album came out on Clean Feed Records in January, and I’ve been listening to it in spurts, mostly in the car or via the laptop.
I haven’t given the album a proper, full listen, because I’ve been on the go. I spent most of last week in Barcelona for work (no sightseeing, and only one meal at a restaurant) and spent quite a lot of time chauffeuring kids in the time before and after the trip.
One thing I’ve discovered: My primary music-listening medium has been my work laptop. It was just fastest and easiest to collect everything there. That’s a problem, as I’m discovering this morning: The reason for my day off is that I’m between jobs, voluntarily. I handed in that laptop on Monday. I’m already itching to get it back.
The music is all here, at home, in CDs and vinyl and hard-drive backups. Some of it is in the cloud, I suppose (that’s unintentional, though, a side effect of today’s music services). But it turns out, I got addicted to the convenience of the laptop. It was always on and often right in front of me.
None of that means anything; it’s just interesting. This didn’t happen with my last job transition, which means my music-listening habits have changed radically in just four years.
All of my post-Barcelona busy-ness meant I missed a couple of good shows last weekend. Saturday was the Toychestra reunion, as noted here. Sunday night was a prog show including Jack o’ the Clock and Reconnaissance Fly. Jack o’ the Clock doesn’t have another local show planned soon, but they’ll be performing at Seattle’s SeaProg Festival in June, which sounds pretty cool. Reconnaissance Fly’s next gig is in April, at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco).