Last year, I finally got to attend, and it was a real treat. What’s performed are prerecorded pieces that resemble today’s experimental laptop music. No, they don’t use tape; the pieces are played digitally — in total darkness with a 20-speaker sound system. A planetarium for the ears.
Pieces vary from metallic rushing noises, to alien waterlike sounds, to musique concrète (a high-def Revolution 9, in a sense). They do bring the lights up between pieces and let you know what’s coming next.
As usual, the three-day event has a different program each day. Depending on the day, you’ll get to hear:
Old works from classic practitioners of the genre: Varèse, Xenakis, Ligeti, Ussachevsky
A “celebrity” piece, this time from The Fireman — which consists of Youth (bassist from Killing Joke) and Paul McCartney. No, I don’t mean some other Paul McCartney. They’ve got a pop album out now but apparently did two electronica/trance albums earlier.
Note that the artists won’t actually be there, except probably the local ones. Most are too far away, too busy, or too dead.
You can see the SF Weekly make fun of the event here. (I think that’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, as if to say, “We’re on your side.” Needed a lighter touch.) More reasonable writeups of past shows are here and here.
The festival runs Jan. 30, Jan. 31, and Feb. 1 at CellSpace in San Francisco.
I’m listening to Shakti, the much-lauded David S. Ware CD that officially got released this week, and I’m struck by the change in his style over the years. Shakti‘s quartet playing is still edgy but has such a warm, cushiony feel.
But wait — is this just me? I mean, I’ve recently sampled Dao and Cryptology, CDs from about 15 years ago: aggressive playing with pointy corners. Shakti is certainly different from that. But is it all that different from Ware’s work of five or even 10 years ago, when he got that brief contract with Columbia? Am I just being fooled because Matthew Shipp‘s marble-hall piano chords are replaced by Joe Morris‘ jazz guitar?
Time for a taste test. I go to Ware’s Live in the World and drop a 2003 disc into the CD player. I hit shuffle.
(OK, shuffle is bad: It picks “Lexicon,” three minutes of scorched-earth blasting. That’s the encore track, so it doesn’t count. Next.)
Go ahead, listen. It’s got Goldberg’s clarinet strolling by with a light Klezmer influence. Funky beat like Scott Amendola might lay down. Guitar that sounds like Charlie Hunter. A trumpet that could well be Ron Miles.
Go Home, consisting of those four guys, recently recorded an upcoming CD in New York, as mentioned on Hunter’s blog. And they’ll be playing a few gigs very soon in Northern (including Northern) California:
Click the Arcata link for three more tracks: A slower one with a looser feel, a jumbly out-jazz tune heavy on the improvisation, and one with coolly Spanish/Flamenco tones (using my own possibly inaccurate understanding of those terms).
Parker’s stuff is commonly put in the free jazz bin, and with good reason. He’s been involved in a lot of free-improv projects, and he plays with tried-and-convicted free-jazzers like David S. Ware. He’s put out a solo bass album exploring the possible sounds of the instrument. His big-band work with the Little Huey Creative Orchestra, while often grooving, includes plenty of free-jazz elements. Parker is undeniably a giant of free jazz.
But his quartet’s work might be better served if critics would categorized as just plain modern jazz: post-bop compositions with healthy, grooving rhythms to them. Much of Petit Oiseau certainly fits that bill. Sure, there’s some wild fire to the solos from Rob Brown and Lewis Barnes, and there’s no glossy piano like you’d hear in a typical jazz-club date, but the rhythm is infectious and the writing is catchy. The cover art by David Kroll is misty and tranquil, but the music inside pops and percolates.
The 17-minute “Groove Sweet” is a great example, a suite composed of a few different grooves serving as bedrock for some tasty soloing. “Talaps Theme” is another nice jam, one that’s down at a more radio-friendly six minutes. “Four for Tommy” is forcefully chugging bop, a jazzy good listen, while “Malachi’s Mode” inserts a touch of joyous South African tones.
It’s only towards the end of the album that the quartet explores more experimental, inner-space territory. “Dust from a Mountain” opens with mystical wood-flute tones, later opening up for a big-sky, searching sax solo. “Shorter for Alan,” which I’m guessing is a play-on-words tribute involving Wayne Shorter (I’m drawing a blank on the “Alan” part, though), has its jamming aspects but uses a dark, abstract theme and incorporates some freely played group work as well as an introspective unaccompanied bass solo.
In addition to the mixing of styles (without messing with the notes themselves, apparently) the presentation will have a heavy visual element added, making it more theatrical. The Quartet has a rich history of its own, having debuted in a Nazi prison camp in 1941 — there’s even a book about it. Krakauer and Haimovitz are focusing in particular on Henri Akoka, a Jewish clarinetist who played in that premiere and later had to escape for his life. Full details in this article. (That link’s reg-free, for the time being.)
Stanford Lively Arts’ own page for the event is here, although I think that info gets wiped out once the event’s done.
The Messiaen party concludes in more straight-laced fashion, with pianist Christopher Taylor on Feb. 22.
The Winter & Winter catalog covers a wide swath, including traditional classical music, new music, avant-garde jazz, Uri Caine‘s crowd-pleasing hybrid projects … even the edgy complex funk of Steve Coleman and Cassandra Wilson, in their younger days on the old JMT label. But folk rock?
OK, I’m being a bit disingenuous. I’ve heard Hank Roberts‘ albums Little Motor People and Black Pastels, where a complex, jazzlike theme will suddenly give way to country-hoedown double-stops on cello or a downright catchy riff. I’m aware that his airy voice, while usable to ghostly effect on songs like “Black Pastels” or Tim Berne‘s “Betsy,” is also suitable for a gently sad fireside song.
This doesn’t imply Roberts isn’t “cool” enough to hang with the downtown NYC’ers. Check on the frenzy in the opening minute of “’30s Picnic,” the closing track on Little Motor People. Listen to the delicious pizzacatto pattering that crops up frequently on Green — as well as what sound like hammer-on notes, quickly flittering by, guitar-like but with the richer sound of cello wood.
The point is: Roerts isn’t afraid of a melody or even a catchy song. “Azul” opens the album with just Roberts: cello and wordless vocals, a softly drifting melody. It’s only later that Jim Black‘s drums intrude, gradually, and Marc Ducret‘s guitar eventually opens up a new direction with a menacing but not overbearing buzz.
Melody plays a bigger role in the suite “Bernie,” which includes the songlike “Prayer” and the track that’s named “Bernie” itself. Dedicated to Roberts’ mother, the song uses three(?) overdubbed cellos like a small choir, reflecting joy, mourning, longing, and memory.
Two outright songs — you know, lyrics and everything — grace the album, and other tracks like “In the ’60s” glide like rock instrumentals, a slow Neil Young vibe in the guitars (I think I’m hearing more than one, overdubbed) and amplified cello. “Cola People” is brisk and catchy; “Long Walk” is a slower pace, a mix of contentment, nostalgia, and warmth.
If you’re looking for something edgier, there’s the “Lenape Suite,” which shows a Native American inspiration in the menacing chanting of “The Departing Hunter’s Song” and the powerful gallop of “War Dance Song.” (The Lenape are a tribe that occupied what’s now New York and New Jersey.) It wraps up, surprisingly (unless you’ve read the back cover, I guess) with the climbing, soulful riff from “Jersey Devil,” an old tune from Roberts’ days with Miniature.
There’s creativity, adventure, and spice to Mario Pavone‘s inside/out jazz, but it also won’t scare off your Brotzmann-fearing friends. Things stay in step, sticking to modern bop composing and some edgy soloing — it’s one step closer to the deep end than your usual jazz-club fare, but your head’s still above water.
Ancestors cracks the mold a little by stretching into freer and more aggressive spaces. It’s two-fisted work, with quirky composing that gives way to hard-blowing solos. It feels like a major step for an already accomplished leader.
It’s a two-sax band, with one seat held down by Tony Malaby. His recent Warblepeck (Cello Trio) and Tamarindo albums have been mind-blowing, full of twisty ideas. Malaby helped push boundaries on Pavone’s Boom album and sounds like he’s been let loose here.
Malaby is paired with Jimmy Greene, who’s unfamiliar to me but can be sampled on MySpace and researched on All About Jazz. I’m guessing it’s Malaby who digs deep for a growly ferocity during the first solo on “Ancestors,” then Greene who takes a lighter approach but still ends up sour-toned and sweaty as his solo gains velocity. Greene is less rough-edged in his playing than Malaby but no less energetic, and the contrast of their styles is like an extra splash of color.
Peter Madsen on piano is longtime musical partner of Pavone’s, and his playing here is tougher and his soloing more abstract than I remember hearing on previous albums. You could argue he’s got more to do with Ancestors‘ sound than do the sax players. I’ll have to revisit his Sphere Essence solo album (which is a Monk tribute and doesn’t strive for this kind of jugular attack, admittedly) or seek out his Prevue of Tomorrow.
All this work is grounded by — sometimes led by — Pavone’s own thick, throttling bass lines and hardy solos, and Gerald Cleaver‘s funky/free drumming. This is exciting, substantial stuff.