Grex is playing a CD-release concert tonight (Feb. 15) that doubles as a typhoon relief concert.
It’s a Berkeley Arts (2133 University Ave, Berkeley). There’s no cover, and all proceeds, including album sales, will go to the Philippines for Typhoon Haiyan relief. It’s a nice chance to experience some new music and donate to a good cause.
The bill includes:
- Grex, the free jazz/chamber rock trio of Karl Evangelista (guitar), Rei Scampavia (piano), and Robert Lopez (drums)
- Michael Coleman’s Enjoyer, a quartet (or more) led by keyboardist Coleman
- Jordan Glenn Chamber Ensemble, debuting a new long-form piece composed by Glenn
The new Grex album, titled Monster Music, features the new trio format (the band has been Evangelista and Scampavia, joined sporadically by friends) and should be available on Bandcamp soon.
This is the second version of Aram Shelton‘s sax/bass/drums unit, exploring Shelton’s compositions with a healthy respect for the jazz tradition and an appetite for the freedom of direction offered by free jazz.
Shelton founded Ton Trio shortly after coming to the Bay Area from Chicago. The second edition, with new rhythm section Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums, was created late in 2012 and built itself into shape through regular gigs at The Layover for the first part of last year. Now they’ve put out their first album, on Shelton’s Singlespeed label.
The trio is very much a jazz exercise, presenting melodic heads followed by some robust jazz improvising. In tracks like “Turncoats,” there’s a touch of Ayler-style marching, something I thought I’d heard in the first Ton Trio album, The Way.
“Freshly Pressed” is one of the faster tracks (and the longest, at eight minutes), with Shelton digging hard in to post-bebop soloing but also adding small touches of swing or traditional melody. This is a track where Shelton goes particularly far outside the lines, egged on by Vittum, who also turns in a snappy drum solo.
I think my favorite track is the speedy “Orange Poppies,” which opens with a theme that harkens back to maybe early ’60s jazz, followed by a terrific, rolling jam where Shelton savors one cascading run of notes after another.
I’m writing this one up a bit late — the band’s show at Duende starts in just a few hours — but hopefully the band will get plenty of other chances to perform live and continue pushing this music forward.
Polly Moller’s experiements with spoetry — poetry made from the babble of spam emails — has come to a fruition in the band Reconnaissance Fly, which adds prog-rock and avant-garde musical backings for a new kind of songwriting.
Now they’ve got their newest album out, called Flower Futures (Edgetone, 2014), and they’ll be promoting it with a show at the Berkeley Arts Festival space (2133 University Ave., Berkeley) on Saturday, Feb. 1.
It’s full of Canterbury sounds: electric piano, jazzy chords, and stumbling time signatures. Snatches of free improvisation crop up here and there. And flute! In addition to fronting the band with operatic alto vocals, Moller plays flute alongside the band’s woodwind or guitar leads.
Much of the music does feel patterned after the lyrics, which transforms the nonsense into something more ably amusing or even pretty. The musical passages never settle into verse/chorus patterns, but they occasionally lock in on particularly funny or strange phrases for some songlike repetition. Free improv segments on “The Party Constraint” and “Seemed to be Divided in Twain” form around controlled bursts, so that the abstract music actually makes more “sense” than the lyrics do — or, maybe the music helps create more meaning for the words.
The songwriting did start with the lyrics. Moller says she assigned spoems to band members who then wrote the music. “Tim [Walters, bassist]‘s tunes reflect his love for Rock in Opposition and progressive rock, Amanda [Chaudhary, keyboards] gave us our graphic scores for improvisation, and mine are kind of all over the place,” she writes in an email.
The album was more than four years in the making and survived a couple of band shifts — notably, saxophonist Chris Broderick departing, with Rich Lesnik taking his place. The band’s history makes for a pretty good read, actually. (By the way, these same folks formed the bulk of the Cardiacs tribute band founded by Moe! Staiano.)
You can hear parts of the album (and of course buy the whole thing) on Bandcamp. Try the ’70s prog sound of “Sanse Is Crede nza” or the Henry Cow chamber-funk of “An Empty Rectangle” for songs that’ll grab the ear quickly. I’m also partial to the proggy “One Should Never.”
On the first Monday of every month, jazz takes over the Make-Out Room bar in San Francisco’s Mission district. It had been more than a year since I’d gone, and I finally atoned for that this month.
I arrived in about the middle of the first set — the Nathan Clevenger Group, whose new album I’d just written about. The band’s sound relies on feathery harmonies of clarinet and sax that have to work just so; one of the strengths of the Observatory album is the silkiness in the recording. I’d imagine a venue with a bright sound, like the Luggage Store Gallery, might not be so conducive to that sound.
It worked in the Make-Out Room, though, which was a pleasant surprise. The band was locked in with the harmonies and their solos, playing for a decent-sized audience, many of whom had come to truly listen to the music. Late in the set, when guest Jason Levis stepped in as a second drummer, he and Jon Arkin got into a brief, unaccompanied drum battle– and I swear, the whole bar went silent for it. They even got a few laughs when they traded off quieter and quieter sounds (the machismo of silence). It was nice to see a jazz band capture that much attention in a bar setting.
Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa were up next as duo B, a reunion of their bass-and-drums combo. Duo B used to play around town quite a bit, and I’d imagine venue owners helped come up with one of their song titles: “So It’s Just the Two of You.”
Duo B was an acoustic act, but they added an electric guitar for this set, producing a heavy sound. While the guitar did have its mellow moments, the first of two improvisations started with an electrified, industrial feel. A later segment had Levis going nuts on the snare and high-hat with Mezzacappa delving athletically on the bass. The second piece was more of a long, glorious sunburst with elements of drone; it started with some prickly guitar in an adversarial approach but ended up as an example of nicely sustained mood and coloring.
The third act was apparently Denny Denny Breakfast, performing one long, unexplained suite. On the web, DDB seems to be a pop act, the musical vehicle for Bob LaDue. What we saw was different: a fairly large band playing a long, polished, complex suite full of tricky passages at breakneck speed. It was as if a marching band had grown up in a town where Zappa chemicals leaked into the water supply. Drums and/or vibes triggered goofy synth patches as well, adding a madcap Nintendo silliness to the music.
This wasn’t throwaway stuff. The band’s charts were long and, according to one guy I was talking to, really complicated. (The charts were also photocopied just a couple hours before the show, apparently.) It was impressive.
Take a look at what’s on The Stone‘s calendar in March:
3/25 Tuesday (KR)
8 and 10 pm
Tim Berne (reeds), Chris Speed (reeds), Mike Formanek (bass), Jim Black (drums)
Black is calling it “Not Bloodcount,” but of course it’s the exact lineup of Tim Berne‘s Bloodcount, the band that got me into creative music in the first place and whose reunion tour I attended in Philadelphia.
That’s the new model of The Stone: An artist gets a week to perform in whatever contexts he or she wishes. It can be a workout for a particular group, just like in the old days of the jazz clubs. More often, it’s a cross-section of a performer’s bands and projects, as Ben Goldberg is doing in the last week of February (first week of March). For Black, it seems, it’s also a chance to regroup with old mates from the ’90s.
With the name “Not Bloodcount,” though, he seems to be signaling that they won’t be playing Berne’s compositional suites. Bloodcount had a brief reunion in 2008, playing new material at shows in New York and Philadelphia, so a follow-up wouldn’t be out of the question, but it looks like the group will be trying something else at The Stone. Maybe an all-improvised set.
By contrast, the Ben Monder Trio‘s set, on March 26, is being billed as a reunion, with Monder on guitar and Ben Street on bass. I came across the trio on the CD Flux (Songlines, 1995), which had Drew Gress playing bass. I seem to remember discovering it while browsing at the Knitting Factory circa 1997. At the time, I was seeking out more of the Bloodcount crew’s previous work, especially Black, so it’s his name that caught my eye. What I found inside was some wondrous guitar work, with Monder spinning wispy chords that seem to never have existed before.
The opening moments of the track “Muvseevum” display what I mean. Here’s an old video of a live performance (with Street on bass):
Dust (Arabesque, 1997), also with Street on bass, has more traditional shadings. The chords are still tangly but in a mellower mode, and the guitar lines tap traditional paths more often. It’s good, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect on me as that first listen to Flux did.
Black’s residency will also include his own piano trio (which is supposed to have an album out sometime around now) but not his half-Icelandic Alas No Axis quartet. That makes sense; aside from the fact that Skuli Sverrisson and Hilmar Jansen might not be available on any given week, Alas No Axis already gets to tour fairly regularly.
Bay Area guitarist Nathan Clevenger has a pretty good formula down, using the tight, silky harmonies of conventional jazz charts and applying those sounds to modern composing ideas. Building from a sextet format with two saxes and a clarinet (Evan Francis occasionally provides flute as well), the songs are recorded with a quilted, gentle sound but create space for some spirited soloing.
Observatory is more a jazz sextet album than a guitar album, and it seems like it would be great music for late summer evenings, especially with tracks like “The Letting Down” and its gentle, bluesy air.
That track is also one of the few to feature Clevenger’s guitar, in a patient, gossamer solo. As on his previous album, The Evening Earth, Clevenger’s jazz guitar is in the background, shaping the music while the spotlight goes to the horns. They’re at the heart of the melodies and they get the bulk of the solos. (OK, yes, the horns outnumber Clevenger 3-to-1, so of course they’d get the bulk of the solos. The point is, Clevenger’s role is more as composer, bandleader, and accompanist.)
The overall mood is soft. If I were to play you the first 30 seconds of each song, you’d get the impression of an album of pretty and mellow songs, and that’s not inaccurate. But the music is set up to let the solos really cook. An example is the opener, “The Irreconcilables.” Here’s a touch of the catchy main theme and of Kasey Knudsen‘s alto sax solo toward the end:
I especially liked the opening of “Sleepwalker’s Anecdote,” where Clevenger’s guitar plays a kind of counter-melody that adds a scrambling feel to the pleasant horn lines. (The polyrhythmic drumming of Jon Arkin helps, too.)
And I should probably note the quirky track “Equinauts,” which adds Jason Levis on marimba for an extra touch of whimsy. You also get to hear Clevenger set his guitar on stun.
It’ll be on Saturday, February 8, just about all day. That’s 12:01 a.m. or thereabouts, until just about midnight the next night. Find out more and see the full schedule on Facebook.
You can listen worldwide at KZSU’s Web Feed, or in the Bay Area, you can tune us in on good old radio at 90.1 FM. Listening in the car with the windows rolled down, to spread the noisy goodness, is a particular pleasure (and totally comfortable in what passes for February ’round these parts).
Previous Day of Noise posts on this blog:
- Snapshots: Day of Noise (2013)
- Day of Noise 2013
- Day of Noise Is Done (aka Photos) (2012)
- Day of Noise Has Not Yet Ended (2012)
- Day of Noise Has Begun (2012)
- The Wire Mentions KZSU’s Day of Noise (2012)
- Day of Noise Returns at KZSU (2012)