Playlist: Feb. 27, 2009

(Update: You don’t need to know much French to appreciate the tour photos on Lê Quan Ninh‘s blog. He and Doneda had quite the day going from Berkeley to Stanford up to San Francisco — he’s posted pictures of all three cities and the belowmentioned sfSound event. Cool stuff.)

KZSU playlist for Friday, Feb. 27, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Highlight: Lê Quan Ninh and Michel Doneda performing live!

le-quan-ninhAnd they were loud! I’d heard both of them in a variety of contexts, but maybe because I’d just been sampling the CD from The International Nothing, I was in the mind of expecting quiet, calm interplay. Nope.

Quan used a bass drum as a platform, creating sounds with an army of objects — a rolled-around pine cone, or the ends of drumsticks rubbed along the top, or a rock lightly scraped against the tuning pegs. He started the set by blowing viciously through a cymbal hole onto the drum surface, a big stormy sound.

Doneda got into some subtle long tones here and there but also used his saxes for brash, raspy declarations. A lot of listeners probably had trouble placing the saxophone amid the din. It was cool.

The first hour of the show was devoted to the sfSound Microfestival of New and Experimenal Music, a three-day set of shows that includes some visitors from Europe and from elsewhere in the U.S. It starts tonight, as noted here.

In addition to the live set, we played CDs from other artists at the festival, interspersed with Kyle Bruckmann explaining the whole concept. Doneda and Lê also talked about how they met up musically in communist Poland in 1986, noting that the cheesecake there was so much better than what one can find elsewhere. Doneda declared their second, shorter improv to be titled “Cheesecake Forever,” and so it was.

Continue reading “Playlist: Feb. 27, 2009”

Live Music Friday: Lê Quan Ninh, Michel Doneda

It looks like we’re on track to have Lê Quan Ninh (percussion) and Michel Doneda (sax) down to the station tomorrow, to play a set of what I’d assume would be improvised music.

We’ll try to get their live set started around 3:00 p.m., on KZSU at 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or at

Both men are in town from France to participate in the sfSound Microfestival of new and experimental music, comprising mostly composed pieces but also some improvisation. Shows will be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at OCD Dance Commons.

Check the sfSound site for details on those shows.

Marco’s Return


Marco Eneidi is back in town for one show, this Thursday, Feb. 26 at the Luggage Store Gallery. He’ll be playing solo saxophone for one set.

Eneidi was an integral part of the local scene, but he moved away to Vienna about four years ago, partly out of disillusionment with the musical opportunities in this country. His playing is like a springboard with a fast-forward button, carving out long chains of notes in a style often compared with Jimmy Lyons. Like Lyons, Eneidi’s resume includes some studying under Cecil Taylor.

“The way he attacks and resolves what he plays is always felt in a very passionate, almost crying way,” drummer Donald Robinson wrote in the liner notes to his 2000 album, Straight Lines Skewed.  “In ballads he is beautiful and strong, in large improvised music ensembles he cuts through with a clear, distinctive voice.”

I don’t know why Eneidi has just the one show scheduled (his MySpace calendar listed about a two-week stay here). I hope people — by which I mean me, especially — make the most of it by showing up.

Arbitrary snippets from the Eneidi catalogue:

* Marco Eneidi, William Parker, Donald Robinson — Cherry Box (Eremite) … An energetic trio outing and a nice showcase not just for Eneidi, but for Robinson’s drumming.

* Peter Brotzmann, Lisle Ellis, Macro Eneidi, Jackson Krall — Live at Spruce Street Forum (Botticelli) … nice loud stuff, recorded in 2002. The last CD so far on Eneidi’s own label, to my knowledge

* Glenn Spearman — Free Worlds (Black Saint) … A posthumous compilation featuring Bay Area tenor saxophonist Spearman, a close friend and musical partner of Eneidi’s, in a variety of contexts. Spearman died in 1998, and Eneidi organized a few memorial festivals in his honor. Spearman is on Wikipedia, but his impact on the local scene goes far beyond that bare-bones entry.

* Marco Eneidi, Lisle Ellis, Peter Valsamis — American Roadworks (CIMP) … This trio toured as Sound on Survival, and for this particular recording, they seemed to concentrate on a laid-back, bluesy style.  IIRC, it’s a chance to hear a different side of Eneidi.  Sound on Survival also recorded for Henceforth Records.

* Donald Robinson Trio — Straight Lines Skewed (CIMP) … As noted above.  Robinson’s drums team with Eneidi on sax and Lisle Ellis on bass.

Gutbucket: The Outpouring

Gutbucket — A Modest Proposal (Cuneiform, 2009)

Ken Thomson, photographed by Cees Van de VenA Gutbucket live show brims over with intensity. You don’t get that soothing ballad to calm your nerves and rest your eardrums. (You did bring earplugs, right?)

Twice, I’ve seen this quartet live and been hacked to pieces. Saxophonist Ken Thomson looks so unassuming as he warms up before the show, but he splatters, hacks, and chainsaws his way through breakneck compositions and merciless solos.  Once it’s all over, he’s as sweat-drenched as any NFL player on Dallas astroturf in the dead of August, and possibly just as exhausted. Ty Citerman on guitar can dish jazzy complex lines, but he also clicks the pedals to turn into a metal hero and blast the audience with fuzz and distortion.

Make no mistake, there’s jazz to be had on their new album, A Modest Proposal. The Klezmer passages of “Lucy Ferment?” could match with any number of jazz bands, if you took away the rapidly speeding-up playing, the visceral, screaming outro, and the mind-blenderizing riff in Usain Bolt-fast 7/16 (I think?) time.

OK, bad example.

Source: Gutweb.comHow about the sax soloing in the clear-headed, melodic “C’mon It’s Just a Dollar?” It’s a chirpy and downright jazzy atmosphere, backed by fuzzed-out rock guitar chords, but it’s overall pleasant. Just don’t try it at the Village Vanguard.

“Side Effects May Include” starts with an out-and-out jazz head, in a very modern, Tim Berne mode. And it stays there, albeit with a couple of angular, offbeat guitar jabs written into the fabric, before flipping into a slower, sad composition that sounds like a completely different song. Then the ending comes back to punch you in the face.

Some songs you have to love just for their titles. “More More Bigger Better Faster with Cheese” delivers like you’d expect, with a snappy/happy, fast beat. It’s on the last track, “Brain Born Outside of Its Head,” that things finally slow down, but only in terms of tempo; it’s still an intense, towering composition.

New York bands don’t get out to the West Coast often; the audience is more sparse, as are the cities. It’s great that Gutbucket managed to visit a few years ago, playing at the Hemlock Tavern, and it’s lucky that I was in NYC to catch a set at The Stone. Maybe if I hang out in enough dark alleys, I’ll be lucky enough to be assaulted and beat up by these guys again.

Playlist: Feb. 20, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, Feb. 20, 3:00 to 5:15 p.m.

The upcoming week is jam-packed with promising live-music shows, including a few very cool ones outside the normal purview of my show. (I’m thinking of the Scatterbrain Jamboree, a benefit for the SF AIDS Foundation that’s being put on at Thee Parkside tonight and tomorrow.)

I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing Marco Eneidi, who’s back in town from Vienna for one show, Feb. 26, at the Luggage Store Gallery.  UPDATE: More info here.

Also setting up plans to host Le Quan Ninh and Michel Doneda next week — two musicians from France who will be in town to perform some modern classical stuff in the sfSound Microfestival (details at

Other highlights:

  • The Club Foot Orchestra, a ’90s Bay Area phenomenon, is reconvening at Amnesia on Sunday night as “Orchestra Nostalgico,” playing Nino Rota music. It’s a show I’d mentioned briefly here.
  • Opus Spongebobicum got mentioned here, and I’ve played it quite a bit on-air. This time, I borrowed a trick from fellow DJ Red West and played a few tracks in succession, to give people a chance to hunt out the Spongebob theme in the variations. Whether this counts as “fun” is an exercise left to the reader.

Continue reading “Playlist: Feb. 20, 2009”

When Frank Comes To Town

Gratkowski/Looney/Smith/Nordeson — Mimetic Holds (Balance Point Acoustics, 2008 )

Mimetic Holds, from Balance Point Acoustics (Source: emusic)Frank Gratkowski (clarinet/sax) seems to get over to the Bay Area quite a lot. (In fact, he’ll be here again around April 4 for, among other things, Philip Gelb’s food/music series.) Point is, Gratkowski doesn’t seem like a stranger, and maybe that’s why the rapport on this improv album flows so well.

This is abstract improvised music, as is usual for Damon Smith‘s Balance Point Acoustics label. Many tracks follow a pattern of slow, thoughful improvising that builds to a nice, loud frenzy. It’s not at all formulaic. It’s more that when you’re jamming with friends, and the moods and ideas click, it’s probably easy for the pace and volume to pick up. The result is a nice ride for the listener.

Take the 15-minute “Indexes Provolones.” It starts with relatively slow moving spaces and an airy, flutelike sound to Gratkowski’s careful clarinet notes. A quiet bass solo shows off some of Smith’s tricks, with the bow glancing and gliding across the strings. The second half opens up into some jazzlike group work, with bright clarinet and piano (Scott R. Looney) lines backed with some dense percussion (Kjell Nordeson), before turning fierce. Twice in the late minutes, you can hear the whole band surge forth, as if cranking the dials all at once.

“Mimetic Holds” is perhaps the most extreme track in exploring thoughtful silences and quiet, creeping progress. But it, too, develops into hard-clacking percussion with bass and clarinet doing faroff wailing sounds and ends with a more celebratory free-for-all. Overall, it’s a rewarding 13-minute journey.

You don’t always have to wait that long. “Any Icon Melody” has plenty of action from the get-go. “Badger Interlocks Kiwi” starts restlessly, with toneful sax improvising over a piano cascade and rustling bass/drums that quickly builds into faster playing and a fiery blast.

I should also point out that these titles, by themselves, are pretty darn cool. “Diverse Xenon Loops” and “Crablike Editing Works,” which really does start out crablike, are just scrumptious phrases.

Playlist: Feb. 13, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, Feb. 13, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Some highlights:

Continue reading “Playlist: Feb. 13, 2009”

Upcoming Shows: The Greenlief Five

Phillip Greenlief, at Bluesix with The Lost TrioYou don’t turn 50 every day (so I’m told). Phillip Greenlief is celebrating in fine fashion, with five shows starting with Valentine’s Day. Below, I’ve cut-and-pasted his show announcement and added some comments in italics. Happy birthday, Phillip!

concert #1 – an evening with the lost trio
phillip greenlief – tenor saxophone; dan seamans – bass; tom hassett – drums
saturday, february 14th (phillip’s birthday) 8:30 pm
@bluesix acoustic, 24th street (at treat street), san francisco, 94110

[For two decades, this trio’s been playing their mix of covers: standards, rock songs, country songs. They’ve got a great sound together.  Click at right for a full band picture taken at Bluesix.

Bluesix, by the way, is a Mission District housefront that hosts quite a range of interesting music. It’s the kind of place that makes you glad to live in a big city.]

concert #2 – improvised music at 1510
first set – michel doneda, tatsuya nakatani
second set – tom djll, michel doneda, phillip greenlief, scott looney, tatsuya nakitani
sunday, february 15, 8pm
@1510 performance space – 1510 8th street, west oakland 94607

[Doneda (sax) is in from France for a few concerts. Nakatani (percusssion) is on his way back to Japan and will be in the Bay Area for just this one night — listen to him here. Djll (trumpet) and Looney (piano/electronics?) are mainstays of the local scene.]

concert #3citta di vitti at improv hootenany
monday, february 16 9:30 pm
@the ivy room – san pablo street, just north of solano avenue, albany

[Jazz trio playing music inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.]

concert #4music for large ensemble [click for details]
compositions by greenlief for orchesperry, special guests, the cardew choir
tuesday, february 17, 10:30 pm
@the uptown – telegraph street@18th street, oakland

[Part of Weasel Walter‘s monthly Avant-Garde Tuesdays at this downtown rock club. It’s a free show! (Donation suggested.) Come out, see a sprawling 20-piece band of great local musicians — and help convince the Uptown that they’re doing a good thing by supporting this music.  With two opening sets, including a quartet with Weasel Walter.]

concert #5orchestra nostalgico plays nino rota
sunday, february 22 @9:30 pm
@amnesia, valencia street between 19th & 20th streets, san francisco 94110

[Amnesia’s a bar, but one with an affinity for jazz/world live music and the occasional out-of-left-field group, like the What Cheer? Brigade. Cool place; the music will fit the vibe, even if the band doesn’t fit the stage.]

Before and After, and After

Running pitifully late last night, I made it to Berkeley for a little bit of Lisa Mezzacappa’s Before and After. They took the first set at the Jazzschool, and I managed to catch the last few numbers. The band does terrific new compositions in the Dolphy/Ornette vein.

Got to see Aaron Bennett turn in a neck-throttling sax solo, and Vijay Anderson on drums was really impressive, both in his solo and in the regular drumming during the songs.

That’s the band I really wanted to see, but the Kasey Knudsen Septet afterwards was worth sticking around for. This was music in a more conventional vein, based off sources like Prokofiev and Shostakovich (including a horns-and-piano reading of the Piano Quintet in G Minor).

(About the headline on this entry … I don’t mean to relegate Knudsen’s group to the “After” category. Just couldn’t resist the play on words.)

The highlight of the evening was when all 11 players got together to form a jazz army. Mezzacappa led them through an arrangement of an old Very Very Circus tune by Henry Threadgill. While studying at Berkeley, she’d played in ensembles he conducted, and she said he’d jump and dance around the whole time, making it your job to play notes that would impact some part of his body. The Threadgill piece was huge fun, and Vijay Anderson and Knudsen drummer Jon Arkin ended it with a double-drum solo that stacked up the polyrhythms.

The other 11-piece piece was Knudsen’s “BPMG,” standing for Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Martha Graham, written specifically for this group.

Mezzacappa and Knudsen will be playing together in Thorny Brocky, the latest Aaron Novik band that includes Alisa Rose on violin and Marié Abe on accordion. That’ll be a free show at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13, at Adobe Books, 3166 16th Street in San Francisco. Novik was at the Jazzschool show handing out fliers in the form of mini comic books.

Shipp +2, Braxton +1

Matthew Shipp Trio — Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear, 2009)

shippYou can almost forgive someone for mistaking this for “cool traditional jazz.” Shipp’s piano trio frequently slips into some standard-sounding club-jazz soloing, with brisk, bright keys and deliciously wooden thickness to Joe Morris’ bass plucking. Whit Dickey on drums adds a chattery jazz feel and some nice cymbals rhythms.

But this is still Matthew Shipp, even minus the electronica dabblings he’s worked on in the last decade. On “Quantum Waves,” he sledgehammers the low notes, while the standards, “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” get the flying-off-the-road free-jazz treatment. “Roe” is catchy, but its sinister low-register melody is less cocktail hour and more SxSW; same with the creeping rainy-day comfort of “Mel Chi 2.” And then you’ve got the band just spouting large on “Zo Number 2.”

Anthony Braxton and Kyle Brenders — Toronto (Duets) 2007 (Barnyard, 2008 )

BarnyardBraxton’s Ghost Trance Music is like a brick wall, and to some listeners probably just as opaque. Seemingly endless matrices of nonrepeating pokes and stabs, one clearly discrete note after another, makes for an abstract kind of march that really stands out when, say, played during a radio show. Everything slams to a halt while the beat pulses on.

There’s a lot going on under the surface, though, and a listen to the full 30- or even 90-minute pieces on Rastascan‘s Six Compositions (GTM) 2001 reveals passages of passionate, jazzy soloing and playful individual improv. You can lose yourself wandering the magnetic fields of the pulse.

But that’s with 10 players; how does GTM translate to just two? It turns out, those freer moments stand out even more, as Braxton and Brenders work through lots of mood changes. They’ll play in composed unison for a minute or two — rigid, then free, then fast, then a slow break then fast again … and then shift into “soloing,” or at least a looser, improv-spiced passage. Moods and speeds can change every couple of minutes. It’s like a series of tricks joined together with brief improv periods, and it can be engrossing.

Toronto (Duets) is a 2-CD set, one composition per CD. Disk 1 is noticeably faster and perkier overall, but Disk 2 is equally rewarding, with some nice gentle improvising in the quieter spaces.