A World Tour at Home

Brad Shepik — Human Activity Suite (Songlines, 2009)

shepikHuman Activity Suite doesn’t turn out to be as “world-music” sounding as I expected, and that’s not a bad thing. The project, with seven of its ten songs linked to the continents, is more subtle than that. Brad Shepik presents contemporary, guitar-led jazz — it’s got surface similarities to Pat Metheny in places — that tours the globe to gather nudges and inspirations, not to rehash musical stereotypes.

Sometimes the ties are more obvious, as in the Latin jazz vibe and accordion solo on “Lima.” (Bandoneon is part of some South African country’s music, isn’t it? Am I stretching here?)

Sometimes it’s more subtle. “Blue Marble,” the African piece, borrows its rhythm and light guitar sound from African music, certainly, but it’s woven into a modern-jazz context, swimming in atmosphere; the tribal rhythm spun here conjures something more like a Native American resonance to my ears. It’s one of the Metheny-like pieces, and I should mention that I mean that in a positive way. “Waves,” the Asia-inspired track, uses the accordion in a dancing melody that seems to borrow from Indian or Persian rhythms — again, a nice mix of ideas without going for a direct and obvious Asian sound.

Even Antarctica gets a nod with “Stir,” a track that’s appropriately slow and has a steely touch, but isn’t at all icy. In fact, the melody’s quite warm.

The band is top-notch, by the way. The moods are set in part by having only one horn present (Ralph Alessi‘s trumpet), and the rhythm section of Tom Rainey (drums) and Drew Gress (bass) bring heavy New York experience from contexts such as Tim Berne‘s Paraphrase. Gary Versace handles keyboards and accordion.

As you’d probably guess, the album has roots in the global warming crisis. Shepik’s answer is an ambitious suite of songs that paint grand landscapes in a light more hopeful than dire. The polished sound gets close to being comfort-jazz in spots, but I admire the way Shepik turned this album into a big-thinking project, and I think he pulled it off well.

Playlist: April 24, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, April 24, 2009, 3:00 to 4:50 p.m.

The Gutbucket CD is pretty damn awesome, as I’ve noted before.

Most album titles link into KZSU’s Zookeeper database; the Album Review icon means there’s a review or description there as well.

Artist Track Album/Label
Gutbucket Head Goes Thud Album Review A Modest Proposal
Cuneiform Records

Iyer, Vijay Machine Days Album Review Tragicomic
Sunnyside Communications
Cheer-Accident Humanizing The Distance Album Review Fear Draws Misfortune
Cuneiform Records
Cline, Alex Clearing Our Streams Album Review Continuation

Revolutionary Ensemble Improvisation 2 Album Review Beyond The Boundary Of Time
Debris Push Yourself Around Rapture in the Church of Disre
Music and Arts Programs

Elias, Eliane Falsa Baiana Album Review Bossa Nova Stories
Blue Note
— (4:00 p.m.) —
Trio Hot Zbiggery Jink
Nemu Records
Oreka Tx Lauhazka Album Review Nomadak Tx
Harmonia Mundi Usa
John, Rocco Group Freedom Theme 3 Album Review Devotion
Coalition Of Creative Artists

Mcauley, Jim Five’ll Get Ya Ten Album Review Ultimate Frog, The
Drip Audio
Nuzion Big Band Cabbagetown Tango Halleluhah!
Third Eye
Mahanthappa, Rudresh / Indo-Pak Coalition Palika Market Album Review Apti
Innova Recordings
Sondheim, Alan Cluster 4 Album Review Boojum
Majmua Music

Maybe Monday G Unsquare

Jim Black and the 2-Hour Rainstorm

source:jimblack.comHouseplant, from Jim Black‘s Alas No Axis, won’t be available in North America until June, apparently. Yes, I could buy it online, but maybe I’ll just wait patiently. I’ve gone through worse for this band.

In 2000, the dot-com boom was still booming, and I was sent packing for one road trip after another. It was exhilarating as well as exhausting. Years later, I would learn that the paralyzing foot cramps and persistent sinus congestion could be cured by getting enough sleep, but that wasn’t an option at the time. I let myself get wrapped up in the drama — partly because the travel meant I could visit baseball stadiums and take in some Knitting Factory shows.

The height of my adventurousness came during a trip to Baltimore, when I found out drummer Jim Black would be in Philadelphia that same week, debuting his new band. I’d become a huge fan of Black’s, based on his playing source:chrisspeed.comwith Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. I’d tracked down CDs from band members Michael Formanek and Chris Speed, and from Human Feel, the quartet that Black and Speed populated in earlier days. A Jim Black-led band was something I didn’t want to pass up. I was traveling alone, tetherless. I had the budget to rent a car.

And so I made the daunting trip up I-95, the farthest I’ve ever driven for a show. The alien turf (in California, you don’t drive for two hours and cross states) was made worse by a downpour that pummeled me for all 100 miles. And while everyone on the east coast might know this, I didn’t: I-95 is a battlefield of speeding 18-wheeler trucks. In pouring rain. On a route I didn’t know. It was a white knuckle ride all the way.

Running late, I paid at the only parking lot I saw open (it was Sunday night, IIRC) and, soaking wet, walked up the steps to some unfamiliar theater that looked dark and shuttered up. I pried the door open. No one inside. It took several minutes to realize the show must be upstairs — in the third-floor attic, in fact. I had made it just in time. Alas No Axis, as the band would be called, had just finished their first tune (a two-minute blip) and were ready to lay into the song,  “Optical.” Guitar and clarinet traced relaxed, bobbing lines, while Black’s patient drumming created the illusion of a tempo continually slowing down, even though the song kept a strong pace. I sat down, feeling warm and welcomed. It was all worth it.

alasnoaxisAfterwards, Black sold us the Alas No Axis CD. Its official release date was still a week or so away; we were the first fans to get our hands on copies. Black is easy to chat up, so we talked about the band, about how guitarist Hilmar Jensson and bassist Skúli Sverrisson were both from Iceland. Wouldn’t that make gigs a rarity, I asked. Black shrugged it off. “They’re over here a lot,” he said.

I’ll admit, I didn’t believe him, and I felt a little sad to think I’d seen one of the few shows this band would ever play. I’m so glad I was wrong. Houseplant is the fifth Alas No Axis CD, and they seem to manage a tour every year, at least in Europe.

Black has forged a fresh sound with this band, and it deserves nurturing. It’s often closer to instrumental indie-rock than to jazz, particularly on songs like “Cheepa vs. Cheep” on the second album, Splay. I also catch the indie-instrumental vibe quite a lot on the third album, Habyor.

I don’t expect Houseplant to be any radical departure. Still, I’m anxious to hear what’s next up Black’s sleeve. A certain online retailer could get it to me for a reasonable price, but I don’t like to patronize them due to their wanton abuse of the U.S. patent system. (Yes, I know, the cry for a boycott ended years ago.) I can wait. It’s no more difficult than the dragons’ run up I-95.

Playlist: April 17, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, April 17, 2009, 3:00 to 6:30 p.m.

Too exhausted and too far behind to add much commentary, so I’ll let this one speak for itself. Notice that the Revolutionary Ensemble‘s last live performance is here, represented on disk by Mutable Music, and that the late LeRoy Jenkins makes a repeat appearance of sorts on the Jim McAuley disk; the two CDs were coincidentally added to rotation this week. More on that later, maybe.

Most album titles link into KZSU’s Zookeeper database; the Album Review icon means there’s a review or description there as well.

I’ve also started added links to the artist and label names. It’s time-consuming; as typing-intensive as my old playlists looked, I had it down to a cut-and-paste science that I’m still trying to replicate here.

Artist Track Album/Label
Dejohnette / Patitucci / Perez Seventh D, 2nd Movement Album Review Music We Are
Golden Beams

Revolutionary Ensemble Configuration Album Review Beyond The Boundary Of Time
Frisell, Bill We’re Not From Around Here Album Review Best Of Bill Frisell Vol. 1: Folk Songs, The
Nonesuch Records

Cheer-Accident Sun Dies Album Review Fear Draws Misfortune
Cuneiform Records
Trigger Something You Are Album Review All These Things
Mcauley, Jim Improvisation #5 [w/Leroy Jenkins, violin] Album Review Ultimate Frog, The
Drip Audio
Stein, Norbert / Pata Generators Die Zen Gabote (The Zen Commandments) Album Review Direct Speech
Pata Music

Cleaver/Parker/Taborn Fieda Mytlie Album Review Farmers By Nature
Aum Fidelity
Ratatat Shempi (Zongamin Remix) Album Review Shempi
Xl Recordings
— (4:00 p.m.) —
Shakers N’ Bakers The Roar Of G_D Album Review Yearning For Zion
Little I Music

Hartigan, Royal James Eagle Eye Album Review Ancestors
Innova Recordings
Del Sol String Quartet Hyo-Shin Na “Song Of The Beggars” Album Review Ring Of Fire
Other Minds

Coleman, Ornette European Echoes Sound Museum(Hidden Man)
Sparks Strange Animal Album Review Exotic Creatures Of The Deep
Lil’ Beethoven Records
Isotope Mr. M’s Picture Album Review Golden Section
Cuneiform Records

Ehrlich, Marty After All Pliant Plaint
Enja Records
O’connor, Mark‘s Hot Swing Trio Gypsy Fantastic Album Review Live In New York
Omac Records

Rajeev Taranath Raga Mishra Kirwani Thumri
India Archive Music
— (5:00 p.m.) —
Binney, David Here Is All The Love I Have Album Review Third Occasion
Mythology Records
Mahanthappa, Rudresh / Indo-Pak Coalition Apti Album Review Apti
Innova Recordings

Guberman/Ingalls Jack Dempsey [excerpt] Out Fishing
Go Kustom
Berthiaume/Sharp Phase Album Review Base
Actuelle Cd
Ornstein, Leo Three Tales: Rendezvous At The Lake [Sarah Cahill, piano] Album Review Fantasy And Metaphor
New Albion Records
Weber, Janice Suicide in an Airplane [composer: Leo Ornstein] Piano Sonatas No. 4 & No. 7

Microscopic Septet, The Twilight Time Zone Album Review Lobster Leaps In
Cuneiform Records
Ayler, Albert Prophet Spirits Rejoice
— (6:00 p.m.) —
Lane, Adam/Full Throttle Orchestra The Genius of El Segundo New Magical Kingdom
Clean Feed

Hamilton, Chico Abdullah’s Delight Chico Hamilton And The Players
Blue Note
Keezer, Geoffrey Arana Amarilla Album Review Aurea
Olekranon Skipjack Album Review Gaitan
Inam Records
M.O.B. Trio Play Some D Album Review Quite Live In Brooklyn

Playlist: Late Night, April 16

KZSU playlist for what was technically Friday morning, midnight to 3:00 a.m.

I love doing these late-night shows once in a while. Often I’ll try to play a little of everything, or do a rock show with the occasional experimental track thrown in.

This time, for whatever reason, I decided to go all-experimental, the exceptions being the new Cheer-Accident disk (which I’ve decided to play the heck out of, after reading their cover story in Signal to Noise recently), and Guinea Worms, an Ohio rock band whose 7″ record in our A-file caught my eye. (It’s got mild Beefheart overtones and is certainly offbeat, at least.)

Glenn Branca, who’s been underappreciated in my airplay history, got a good long stretch with the raucous opening movement of Symphony No. 2.

On the opposite end, composer Matthias Spahlinger got a 16-minute representation of quiet, albeit prickly and angular, music. Spahlinger is better known for eye-poking intensity; you can see an old writeup on his work at Paris Transatlantic (alongside a review of local composer David Slusser).

I’d decided early on to include something incomprehensible by Björk and to give some space to The International Nothing, a clarinet duo favoring long, dissonant tones, who appeared on a playlist back in February.

Continue reading “Playlist: Late Night, April 16”

Playlist: The Horror on Prog Mountain VIII

“VIII,” because this is the eighth time that I’ve teamed up with Ragnar of Ravensfjord and our buddy Zess Vurdin of the Kobaian embassy to bring to you prog rock: the good, the bad, and the truly, truly, ugly.

Zess provides most of the “good,” often in the form of obscure bands from around the world. Ragnar is well versed in contemporary U.S. stuff, especially now that we get regular servicing from Cuneiform, an outstanding label with a taste for prog. (And for jazzy bands like Gutbucket, as noted here.) All three of us bring far too much knowledge of prog’s’70s heyday and, unfortunately, its ’80s descent into Phil Collins/Asia territory.

We infuse the show with themes, so scan the playlist below and look for:

* Songs named after their time signatures

* A Bill Bruford retrospective, including solo work, work in unexpected places (Bruford drumming for Gong at a live show? Believe it!), and jazz/fusion dabblings. (That was my contribution; we played just snippets of Watanabe, Moraz, and Earthworks, but the Jamaaledeen Tacuma was good enough for a full 8-minute spin.)

* Solo works of the original King Crimson members! We skipped Greg Lake because he’s gotten, uh, the treatment in past shows, more so than any other prog musician, I’d wager.

* Prog bands from countries of the former U.S.S.R.

* The horror that was 3: To the Power of Three (which I remember hearing on the radio but cannot for the life of me remember any individual song) and this Jimmy Hots thing — Christian prog with heavily permed hairdos — that Ragnar found somewhere.

Continue reading “Playlist: The Horror on Prog Mountain VIII”

Axis Trio, Live On-Air: Canceled

Probably shoulda mentioned this earlier, for the two or three people looking forward to it … Axis Trio couldn’t make it to the Bay Area this week after all, so we’ve had to cancel their on-air appearance slated for today. Sorry about that!

In fact, I won’t be on the air at all today; I’ve ceded the afternoon to other DJs.  I’ll be back on the 17th.

We are still set to air “The Horror of Prog Mountain” from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (Pacific) on Saturday, April 11. My only concern is that the Stanford baseball game that afternoon might get rain-delayed, which could affect our start time. Cross your fingers for a sunny day.

Playlist: April 9, 2009

KZSU playlist for Thursday, April 9, 2009, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Just helping out by filling in some time while the student DJs settle their spring-quarter academic schedules. Rather than go the jazz route, I played a lot of different things, mostly pop:

Cool, down-and-dirty garage rock

Neko Case:
Still a touch of country twang, but her new album ventures out a lot more than that. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” has an infections ’60s girl-group vibe to it; too bad it’s also the Starbucks featured something-or-other track.

An instrument builder from the Atlanta area who plays something that’s a cross between a guitar and a harp. This solo album is very instrumental, closer to Derek Bailey than John Fahey.

Norweigan Ren-faire prog music, an upbeat rock that makes you think of knights and dark forests and Celtic things.

Veteran prog band brought to my attention by Signal to Noise magazine last year. I’ll be playing that CD a ton and might review it later.

Mark Delaney:
Banjo-led bluegrass. I picked an instrumental track that’s fast and features a lot of nice banjo technique in the form of bent and sliding notes.

Mars Ill:
Hip-hop with an intellectual bent, and good taste in samples.
Mark Delaney: Bluegrass banjo, insanely fast with lots of bent/sliding notes and other little gimmicks buried in the mix. This particular track, a fast instrumental, was worth a close listen.

Continue reading “Playlist: April 9, 2009”

One Last Revolution

Revolutionary Ensemble — Beyond the Boundary of Time (Mutable, 2008 )

source:MutableViolinist Leroy Jenkins died in 2007, which makes this 2005 recording the final Revolutionary Ensemble concert. The group was part of the ’70s loft-jazz scene and recently re-emerged for some concerts and a couple of recordings.

The CD opens with one composition from each member. Sirone‘s “Configuration” is a nice opener, starting with some excellent, knotty, unaccompanied bass and then opening up for some airy, melodic violin lines. It travels at a casual pace for a light and happy air.

Jenkins’ “Usami” is next, and while my ears might be missing something, it seems to be a duet of just him and Sirone. That’s just fine; the violin and bass duel nicely to form an involved, tangly piece.

Jerone Cooper‘s 19-minute “Le-Si-Jer” gives each member some substantial spotlight time. Jenkins opens it with fast, scratchy violin that gets joined by regal horn tones that I think Cooper plays on synth. Sirone takes a patient arco solo, and then Cooper takes over for the second half, playing chiramia (a double-reeded instrument), some drums, and some synth, often taking the instruments two at a time. The “regal” feel comes back here, as the Yamaha PSR 1500 puts forth some grand, sprawling chords.

It’s all wonderful music, but I’m more captivated by the two improvsations that close the album. The first opens with cool pecking and popping from the strings, later building into a blurry frenzy with vicious violin. The second source: All About Jazzactually gets into a light groove on Cooper’s drums, while Sirone burbles along on bass and Jenkins tosses out small, carefree flutters on violin.

Like most jazz trios, this is a democratic affair, but you can’t help but hear the lead voice most strongly — the violin, in this case. I find myself thinking back not to other Revolutionary Ensemble albums, but to Jenkin’s album, Solo, which came out on Lovely Music in 1998. It’s a live set packed with the kind of fleet and strident high notes Jenkins seems to favor, played in squeaky clusters and runs, showing off a style that’s derived from classical but rich with the freedom and spontaneity of jazz. He even opens the set with the classically tinged “Blues #1,” a terrific display of what Jenkins could do in a formal, tonal setting. (The same goes for “Folk Song,” played on viola.) The set closes with a free-wheeling take on “Giant Steps,” played to enthusiastic applause. It’s a nice way to remember Jenkins and makes for a good nightcap after enjoying Beyond the Boundary of Time.

Program Notes: Axis Trio Live, and Prog Horror

My KZSU schedule this week is going to be screwy, but worth it:

* Thursday, April 9, 9:00 a.m. to noon — Filling in for an absent DJ. Playing a little of everything: rock, metal, pop, jazz, world, hip hop, noise. People will hate it.

* Friday, April 10, noon to 3:00 p.m. — Axis Trio will stop by for a live on-air set! Followed by the usual jazz stuff. I’m swapping places with the normal noontime DJ just for this one week.

* Saturday, April 11, 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. — The Horror of Prog Mountain finally returns. You probably have no idea what that means, because it’s been two years since the last installment. Fellow KZSU DJ Ragnar of Ravensfjord and our buddy Zess Vurdin, from the Kobaïan embassy, join forces with me to present three hours of prog rock: the good, the bad, and the truly ugly.

All times Pacific. Our spring-quarter schedule is due to start on April 14, and I’m expecting to keep my Friday afternoon slot, although it’ll be interrupted by Stanford baseball for the first few weeks.