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.

The Ageless Raga

Peter Walker — Long Lost Tapes, 1970 (Tompkins Square, 2009)

source:tompkinssquare.comPart of the small record store experience, for me, is to hear whatever the clerk is playing. Aquarius Records, in particular, always has something interesting spinning, and that’s how I found this Peter Walker album — a set of shimmering, single-chord psychedelic spots laced with jazz implications, Indian influence (tabla), and a laid-back kind of intensity.

I didn’t know about Walker before, but his revival in the public eye was a recent project of the Tompkins Square label. He’d recorded two influential psych/raga albums in the late ’60s, then vanished into regular life but continued studying guitar and eventually picked up an interest in Flamenco music. You can trace the steps in a fascinating Dusted Magazine interview.

It’s a 1970 recording that’s very 1970-sounding. (Walker even lives in Woodstock, N.Y., and recorded the session at Levon Helm’s house there — with Eddie Offord, of early Yes fame, engineering.) The opening “Meditation Blues” has Walker’s guitar pacing through the usual psychedelic tricks and twangs of the time, like a friendlier take on the climactic Doors music in Apocalypse Now. He’s paired with just drums and tabla, the latter from Badal Roy, who played with Miles Davis.

That’s a sparse piece. It’s followed by “Camel Ride,” and later “Missing You,” which have more of a full-band feel, including bass and Mark Whitecage (whose name carries free-jazz cred today) noodling on the flute. Perry Robinson, another known jazz quantity, appears on clarinet for the almost pastoral jam “Mellowtime.” Mystic floating-with-the-universe singing comes in on “102nd Psalm:” “I’m like a pelican of the wilderness. I’m like an owl of the desert.”

source:tompkinssquare.comTompkins Square convinced Walker to let these tapes get dusted off and shined up for public listening. None of the six tracks goes even eight minutes, but you still get the feeling of long, spacious journeys here. It’s a followup to the label’s A Raga for Peter Walker, which included four new ragas by Walker and like-minded contributions from other artists including Thurston Moore. As for the Flamenco stuff, you can hear it in the 2008 album Echo of my Soul (samples available here).

Playlist: May 8, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 8, 3:00 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. (Comments added during the day Saturday, May 9.)….. I’d already mentioned Brad Shepik‘s Human Activity Suite. Sean Noonan‘s Brewed By Noon (that’s the band name) is the same idea inside-out; the drummer mashes together African pop, traditional Scottish/Gaelic sounds, and a jazz-fusion guitar attitude, emphasized by having Jamaledeen Tacuma on electric bass. On top of that, he’s hired ringers from the NYC avant-jazz camp; Mat Maneri turns in a blazing viola solo on “Morpheus.”

Noonan made a nice bookending with banjoist Bela Fleck’s African all-star album and the percussive pellet rhythm of King Crimson‘s “Waiting Man.”….. The Marc Alban Lotz album is the soundtrack to some Dutch “multimedia project” about fish. It’s got lots of silly noises and sounds (a PVC-pipe flute, for instance) packed together in catchy, rhythmic little pieces. The result is probably appropriately otherworldy and cutesy for a fish show. Best of all, the project is called Bite!, which I happen to find really funny.

….. Once upon a time, Lydia Lunch, backed by a band that included Thurston Moore on bass, recorded an EP of gloomy rock songs called Limbo. In 1995, Atavistic packaged it with Drowning Lucy Hamilton, an EP of bass clarinet, piano, and/or guitar duets between Lunch and Hamilton, to form the Drowning in Limbo CD. It was cool to play “Friday Afternoon,” one of the Limbo tracks, although it’s quite a downer for an actual Friday afternoon (the calm start to the Shepik piece provided a good way out). The stark improv of the instrumental tracks sounds like good territory for mining as well, so don’t be surprised if it appears on another show soon.

….. Happy Apple and Sex Mob are co-headlining at Yoshi’s (San Francisco) on May 20 and 21. What a great billing. It’s a single admission for one full set from each band.

Continue reading “Playlist: May 8, 2009”

Slow Burn

Grosse Abfahrt — Everything That Disappears (Emanem, 2009)

source:emanemdisc.comThe name, they assure us, is German for “great departure,” and it’s assigned to a varying collection of Bay Area improvisers teamed up with European guests. This is the third such venture, with Le Quan Ninh (bass drum) and Frederic Blondy (piano) occupying the guest chairs. (More about Ninh here.)

Like the other Grosse Abfahrt album I’ve heard, erstes Luftschiff u Kalifornien (Creative Sources, 2007), there’s a patient aesthetic at work. Although <i>Everything That Disappears</i> isn’t as relentlessly quiet, the pieces build patiently, loose membranes of sound drifting by.

While you’ve got four different players doing some level of electronics, it’s not always easy to distinguish the electronic sources from the acoustic ones. Some of the high-pitched whistles on the third track could conceivably be coming from an acoustic source — a bowed piece of metal or styrofoam in Gino Robair‘s hands, maybe. It adds up to a swampy mystery, odd sounds that could be coming from wispy acoustic playing.

The opening track is a foreboding hum, atop which are sprinkled tiny sounds: metallic tinkles or the tap of a drum. The title here is “The lack Americans connected What disappears.” (Titles are taken from the first words in succeeding lines of a book, a very “This night wounds time” exercise.)

The minimalism there is an exception, though. Track 2, “negativity paradox achieved in humour realm” gets into some recognizable squiggles from the acoustic instruments, like Matt Ingalls’ clarinet, or the thumping of objects placed on Ninh’s drum, or the hush of air blown through Tom Djll‘s drumpet.

“Admittedly, social relations This” gets even noisier, packed with the crinkled and curled sounds common to acoustic free improv, ominous calm tones from the bass and/or bass drum, and smatterings of electronics added as otherworldly decorations.

Track 4 is the longest, at 38 minutes, and it opens like the start of a epic. A metallic hum, maybe some guitar feedback, and lightly ghostly sounds conjure up images of a barren desert plain. A slow-moving cacophany builds up — the individual sounds might flit past quickly, but the overall flow feels slow. You’re wading an ancient river here, not getting face-planted by a tsunami. The flow dissolves into brief silences or near-silences a couple of times — one intriguing example being just before the midpoint, where a calm percussion rhythm takes over, then gives way to subtle, hearing-test tones from the electronics. It ends with tense, high-pitched electronic squeals backed by what sounds like Ninh scraping mallets against the bass drum.

Track 4 even has an epic title: “geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters.”

It takes discipline for nine people to craft an improvisation with this level of delicacy. You might not like the band name, but this is a compelling ongoing project.

Playlist: May 1, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, May 1, 3:00 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.

The final set starts with Kyle Bruckmann‘s Wrack, which has a tough, aggressive middle but an overall slow aesthetic, and then gets into droney tones up through the Ellery Eskelin, which starts out with long accordion tones before getting into choppy, dynamic territory. That was a fun set to put together.

The Donald “Duck” Bailey recording is a modern one, in a quintet with Charles Tolliver (trombone) and Odean Pope (tenor sax). It’s got a progressive mainstream sound, if that makes sense — I’m not sure you’d call it free jazz, but it’s plenty creative with some compelling writing behind it, and of course some longtime ace musicians in the band.

Opened the show with some old, old Ken Vandermark stuff from 1993.

Continue reading “Playlist: May 1, 2009”