Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival

source:matthewsperry.orgThe 7th annual Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival happens this week. This is a gathering of local musicians from free improv circles, plus special guests from out of town (trombonist Gail Brand from the U.K., in this case). All proceeds go to Matthew’s memorial fund, which helps support the wife and daughter he left behind — which is why the prices are set the way they are.

Details are available at (and were cribbed from) The shows are:

* Tuesday June 2 | 8pm | $6 – $100 sliding scale (pay what you want within that range)
Studio 1510, 1510 8th Street, Oakland
Lesli Dalaba
Trio with Fred Frith and Jason Hoopes, and duo with Gail Brand (UK)

* Thursday June 4 | 8pm | $6 – $100 sliding scale
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street, San Francisco
Co-presented by Full Moon Concerts
Orchesperry and Treasure Mouth — [the latter being a kind of improv karaoke with singers reacting to lyrics handed them on the spot… click here to get to some sound samples.]

* Friday, June 5 | 8pm | $15
Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street, Berkeley
Gail Brand: Solo, duos, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets with: Gino Robair, Morgan Guberman, John Shiurba, Tim Perkis and Tom Djll

source:, via

… To repeat the tale: Matthew was killed in a traffic accident in 2003, when his bicycle was hit by a car. The incident was a shock to the local music community, especially given how young Matthew was, and how well his life was going. He’d gotten work with Tom Waits, and he was in the band for the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And he had a 2-year-old daughter to treasure.

I didn’t know Matthew personally. Probably never introduced myself to him at any point. But I got to see him play multiple times. His acoustic bass was augmented with a fifth string, clearly a homemade addition, with a tuning peg several inches above the others. He was prolific when it came to live shows with varying ensembles, but he left behind relatively few recordings, some of which have only been surfacing in recent years. The Sonarchy album that was reviewed here would be one example, and John Shiurba released a CDR series to benefit Matthew’s family.

As I write this, I’m home after a long day trip with my own children, one of whom is almost exactly the age of Matthew’s daughter, and I reflect again on how lucky I’ve been in this life. I’m looking forward to seeing at least one of the shows this coming week — but if I miss them all in order to spend time with my family, I’m sure Matthew would understand.

Playlist: May 29, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 29, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Things of note:

….. The Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival is on next week; I’ll post more later, but you can learn all about it at Supermodel Supermodel is a band that included him and UK trombonist Gail Brand, who will be a guest at the festival.….. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society is a “steampunk” big band, which is a cool concept, but most of the steampunk aspect is in the album artwork, photography, and (possibly?) costumes on stage. It didn’t translate well on radio. Then again, if I’d played the 11-minute “Phobos,” listeners would have heard a nice steampunky rhythm, like train wheels, starting and ending the piece. I opted instead for “Transit,” partly because it’s got an Ingrid Jensen solo.

….. “Thelonious,” taken from a 1994 live album, is a straight blues with some nice overblowing in Hamiett Bluiett‘s sax solo.

….. Don Ross and Andy McKee are a couple of acoustic-guitar wizards in an instrumental folky vein (think Michael Hedges). “Hoover” is a snappy, fast piece, ear-catching.….. Hal Galper‘s Art-Work is a straight piano trio. Well, maybe not that straight. “Take the Coltrane” opens up with a kaleidoscope of piano splashing before settling into that nice piano-trio mode. He’s got Reggie Workman and Rashied Ali behind him, so it’s not lightweight stuff.

….. I’m not familiar with contemporary composer Yehudi Wyner, but the daunting, dramatic opening to his “Lyric Harmony” symphony seemed a good exit from the insanity of Jarrod Fowler (noted back on May 15). “Lyric Harmony” is a modern classical piece, dark and challenging but still very classical sounding, making it difficult to mesh with other musical types. Maybe it worked; maybe I was trying too hard.

….. The Wooden Birds are an indie-pop band who are headlining a Sunday night (May 31) show at The Rickshaw Stop, organized by our own DJ Canuck.

Continue reading “Playlist: May 29, 2009”


source:mirthkon.comI just got done playing miRthkon on the air — which, combined with this writing, makes me a liveblogger, I suppose. Taste the excitement.

They’re a local band that augments two-guitar prog rock with a saxophone and bass clarinet, and they make good use of all the pieces available to them. The horns bring in some credible free-jazz jamming and soloing, while the guitars shred forth with odd time signature melodies.

I played “Zhagunk” from an EP, The Illusion of Joy, that came out in 2006; they’re finally releasing a full-length CD and doing a show at the Starry Plough tomorrow night, May 30, to celebrate. I can’t make it to that show, but considering how I’ve been blown away by them two times previous, I’m thinking it’s going to be great.

All Hail The Dorf

The Dorf — The Dorf (Leo, 2009)

source: janklare.deWe got this CD from Leo Records with no explanation (in fact, if anyone’s got the names of the tracks, we could use them). So, what do you do? You drop the disc in the player and expect … well, in my case, I expected one or two players, doing acoustic experimental improv, or maybe a thick-blanket of electronics/synth sounds.

Nope. The Dorf is an avant-garde party band!

Once you get into the second track, you’re exposed to electric guitar jitters with a hint of punk, followed by a danceably jazz-fusion middle. The fourth track goes outright disco, with that pulsing “one-one-one” beat and some funky ’70s horn charts. Touches of “regular” big band charts touch a couple of tracks, and you do have some Euro-experimental songs too — one track is a shimmering drone, another full of fragments of tunefulness with lots of white space.

The explanation, provided on the Leo site, is that The Dorf is a monthly happening at a jazz club in Germany, led by Jan Klare. You do get the sense that this is well practiced music played with gusto, a band that’s doing more than just a one-off set of tunes.  The band certainly has its artsy side, but I’m thinking this picture describes them pretty well.

Playlist: May 22, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 22, 3:00 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.

A trainee named Leigh was helping me out with this show, doing much of the engineering and planning one full set on her own (that’s the pop grouping with Belle and Sebastian in it).

Steve Adams of ROVA Sax Quartet fame is doing a CD release show this weekend for his trio disk. ROVA themselves are also having two performances at Kanbar Hall in San Francisco. We played some tracks to note those shows, as well as little nods to Sun Ra’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come (the album with “Lonely Woman” on it, although I opted to play a lesser known track).

Continue reading “Playlist: May 22, 2009”

BBC Invasion

This looks like it was a hell of a show:…

It’s “The BBC,” consisting of Tim Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline. That page is a set of photos posted by blogger and better-photographer-than-me Laki Sideris, from the Melbourne Jazz Festival.

A full description of the festivities published by The Age uses the phrase “noise jazz” (hey, there’s a shock). The BBC was part of a larger set of performances; The Age namedrops Ethan Iverson, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Scott Tinkler (cool Aussie trumpeter), and a saxophonist I haven’t heard of named Julien Wilson. Whoever he is, he hired Jim Black for his band, and that’s a good sign.

John Zorn (Was) on WNYC

Being not from NYC, I’m slow to catch up on things like the “Ear to Ear” show on WYNC. But the interviews they’ve got archived are fantastic.

Case in point: the John Zorn discussion from Feb. 1, which I’ve just now heard. It’s an engaging 75 minutes with lots and lots of insights into Zorn’s philosophies and work process. He’s basically always working in some form. He notes how the songwriting can’t be forced; as you’d expect, it happens when it happens, as in the 300-song burst that became Masada Book II.

They spend a good amount of time talking about his movie soundtracks. He avoids the normal give-and-take process with the director and instead just puts a package of music together, then walks away. He also doesn’t take payment for this — his compensation is from the CD that’s produced, I guess.

His reasoning is that music writing is something he’s done since he was a kid, and it seems to demean the act if he gets paid for it. I sympathize, and I might do the same in his shoes, but for different reasons. I’ve found that once a passion becomes work, it loses some of the “passion” quality. To be precise: I enjoyed writing show reviews for the Bay Guardian, and I’d be glad to do it again if I could find the time and energy — but no matter how much I enjoyed the music, it was work.

Zorn also expresses a love of Bert Kaempfert’s music, noting Kaempfert’s pioneering use of acoustic and electric bass in the ’60s. I’d never been aware of Kaempfert, but the bass thing gets mentioned elsewhere, too, so it’s something to look out for.

They play lots of Zorn’s music, too, including soundtrack work; a selection from The Dreamers, the project I got to see at Yoshi’s in March; and the opening of “Astronome,” the ear-blasting opera Zorn did with Richard Foreman. It’s a really good interview. Zorn is more than accommodating and shows a good sense of humor. Listen to the end, where he starts going “Spock…! Spock…!”

Playlist: May 15, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 15, 3:00 to 6:20 p.m.

….. Fareed Haque, frequent cohort of Zakir Hussein, plays a “world” music-tinged jazz that’s good but too melodic and easy for my taste. On a hot day like today, though, Haque’s summer-festival jamming hit the spot.

Jarrod Fowler: Percussion As Percussion

….. The Jarrod Fowler “Percussion” As Percussion album is a descent into madness. Tracks consist of overlaid spoken pieces — narrations, film clips, who knows what else — creating a relentless jumble. One track is even the combination of all others played backwards; it’s the harshest and most unsettling of all, and they put it second. Now, apparently there are some structural principles underlying all this, or at least that’s what’s hinted in the lengthy, hyperacademic liner notes, which walk that line between deeply serious and seriously messed up.

….. “Le-Si-Jer” isn’t the best track on the Revolutionary Ensemble album, but I wanted to have given its full 19 minutes an airing at some point. It features long solo spaces for each of the three members: Leroy Jenkins doing airy, squeaky violin figures; a patient arco solo from Sirone on bass; and reverent tones from Jerome Cooper on the chiramia, an oboe-sounding reed instrument. It’s a good track, but the real highlight on the album are the two improvisations at the end, where the three players show off some nice group intercommuicating.

….. Fever Ray is the solo project of Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife. Intersting songscapes, with heavy cinematic synths and careful, slow vocals. Atmospheric, a great listen. The show also included one of the dreamier songs from hip-hop artist Yoome.

Continue reading “Playlist: May 15, 2009”

Way Down Under

A few months late, I’m catching up on Cheryl E. Leonard’s Antarctic adventure. Leonard is a Bay Area musician who got a chance to study in Antarctica for a few weeks, and the results are chronicled in her “Music from the Ice” blog.

Unlike Henry Kaiser, who became the first musician to record in Antarctica, Leonard isn’t an oceanographer. Her specialty is in making music using natural objects as instruments — sand, rocks, water, pine cones.

Antarctica has always fascinated me — not just the land itself, but the act of actually being there, the day-to-day life that the researchers lead. Leonard’s blog satisfies both curiosities, with pictures indoors as well as out, and some detailed explanations of just what it takes to get to Antarctica and to live down there.

But the sounds are why Leonard was down there, and the blog includes lots of tantalizing snippets — penguin chatter, ice cracking, the melodious clanks of icicles falling down a crevasse. Leonard has indexed many of them on the blog’s front page, but it’s more fun to discover then inside the actual entries.

The descriptions of Antarctica itself are the highlights, but one of my favorite posts describes the ship journey back to Chile and the civilized world. Some nice pictures there, too.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. And keep an eye out for Leonard to produce some recordings from the sounds she’s collected, and/or performances with some of the new “instruments” she found.

And if you’ve got a taste for music and sound in Antarctica, check out what Kaiser’s journal, or Douglas Quin’s project from 2000.

That Pounding in Your Head

Peter Evans/Weasel Walter Group — Oculus Ex Abyssus (ugExplode, 2008)

Weasel Walter and Mary Halvorson — Opulence (ugExplode, 2008)

source: ugExplodeWeasel Walter and Peter Evans, along with the still ascending guitar hero Mary Halvorson, recorded a live session for WFMU that will be played Wednesday, May 13, at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time. The “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love” blog mentions it here.

The past year or so has been prolific for all three musicians, and it’s been fruitful in terms of Walter’s collaboration with the other two. In other words, these folks have been already doing some darned good work together. Walter’s Web site promises a CD-R and DVD with the three of them.

The first side-long improvisation on Oculus, titled “The Eyes of Hell,” starts with a snap, diving straight into a spiky, ear-poking mood. Each player contributes dots of sound, or short lines, to create a busy canvas. Within a minute or two, they’re really going at it, a fierce tumult. Evans’ crisp, aggressive trumpet style — showcased with the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing — is a great counterpart to Walter’s punk-infused free-jazz drumming, and they provide plenty of rapid-fire clatter together.

Damon Smith can more than keep up with them on bass, and he’s strong enough in the mix to not get drowned out. Paul Hartsaw on sax rounds out the quartet, putting up fluid squiggles to add to the fray. Maybe it’s a matter of sheer volume, but I find myself keeping Evans at a mental front-and-center position.

Of course, these guys are too professional to just blow aimlessly. The fast quartet flows are fun to get swept away in, but then the group will stop for a new statement — a brightly jagged Smith/Evans duet, or the quiet closing moments with fast bass bowing by Smith and circular-breathing spirals from Hartsaw.

“Ex Malum Adveho Sonitus,” the other side-long piece, opens with the same ferocity, but its mad cacophony has a more lingering tone to it, particularly when Evans hands out long, grumbling tones on the trumpet as opposed to the slash-and-burn strategy on side A. At a couple of points he seems to carry out some circular breathing on the trumpet — or maybe it’s Hartsaw’s sax that I’m mistaking for trumpet — or maybe Evans just has incredible lung capacity.

There’s also a good quiet break that lets the swarm clear but doesn’t lose the tempo or flow. From there, the band builds back into a frenzy for a nice conclusion.

Did I mention that Oculus is on vinyl? It’s on vinyl, shiny green vinyl with an orange center label. Oooh, shiny. And it was recorded at the very cool New, Improved Recording in Oakland.

Havlorson/Walter: Opulence
Havlorson/Walter: Opulence

Opulence (on CD) was recorded in 2007, presaging Halvorson’s arrival as someone the New York Times would write up. (She and Jessica Pavone are also on the cover of the current Signal to Noise magazine.)

Halvorson’s edgier guitar playing, with distortion cranked up on her jazz guitar, is no surprise, given some of the indie-rock leanings on her Dragon’s Head CD. It’s a good match for Walter. “A Diamond Encrusted Frisbee” and “Rare Vodka from the Fourteenth Century” also get appropriately ragged, and Halvorson goes for the all-out rock sound on “Lapis Lazuli Nights,” a blazing rock instrumental with Walter adding appropriate drama on cymbals and bass drum.

But she and Walter try the opposite trick, too, showing that Walter’s hyperkinetic noisemaking can work in a free-jazz setting. “(Rich)” Corinthian Leather starts with Walter playing in rapid-fire mode, but softly. Halvorson joins in with her more standard jazz guitar sound, with fast, deft sketches and, later, sparkly high twangs like sideways falling stars.

Yes, I mentioned Opulence before — here.