You could argue it wasn’t worth the effort, but with a free evening and two interesting shows to pick from, I decided to try doing both. It meant catching only the tail end of Telepathy, but I’m still glad to have done it.
I’d been meaning to check out the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra for some time. The program last night was titled “Restless Dreams” and featured a wide variety of new music, with lots of bells and whistles: Tom Nunn performing a concerto for the sonoglyph, one of his homemade electroacoustic instruments; Michael Cooke debuting a piece for the Chinese sheng (a fragment of that music is pictured above), a newly acquired instrument; and a finale piece featuring electronics, lasers, a strobelight, and a fog machine.
It wasn’t all abstract music, either; some pieces were downright tuneful.
I do prefer the more opaque stuff, but some variety was nice.
The concert had a casual air, with the audience sitting attentively during the pieces but mobbing the stage during intermission and after the show, to congratulate friends in the ensemble, ask questions, or check out the sonoglyph — a board sporting a variety of metal percussion elements — up close. Nunn let people play with the instrument and posed for several pictures with it. Should’ve brought a camera.
A summary of all the pieces is beneath the fold. (Warning: it’s long.)
Patrick Cress’ Telepathy (see also here) is a creative jazz quartet that’s been around for some time. Their stuff is a mix of Ornette Coleman-like lines, touches of Klezmer, open group “soloing,” and the occasional careful/quiet piece.
The band is primarily Cress on saxophones and Aaron Novik on clarinet or bass clarinet. Drummer Tim Bulkley has moved to Brooklyn, although he was in town for this performance. I think the bassist this time around was David Arend, who’s appeared on past albums (but isn’t in the photo above). I liked his playing a lot, a good mix of strong tones and small clicks and harmonics.
Among the highlights: a sinewy, involved composition by Novik, and “Expressions,” dating back to 2002, which started with a driven Bulkley solo that led into a spirited composition. The band got pressed for an encore and did a quick run-though of “Lonely Woman,” with Bulkley’s jackhammering patter underneath the slow melody, played up brashly.
This is the kind of band that deserves the time and space to be nurtured, to work together night after night in live settings, perfecting the sound. I know, those days are long gone — it’s a familiar jazz lament but one that’s worth repeating, if only to remind the world of the possibilities it’s missing.
The new album, Alive and Teething, is available for download. (Oh, fine — it’s at iTunes too.)
I had a good evening overall, aided by the Parking Gods. If I lived in New York or Chicago, this would probably be the way I spent every weekend, and I’d be broke.
Here’s the SFCCO program in scant detail:
1. Philip Freihofner’s “Obelisk” … A piece for tape and solo saxophone. The taped part was a slow, pretty chiming of marimba and vibraphone, maybe, in the parallel fourths that are associated with “Asian” music. Over that, Adams bleated composed lines that didn’t draw from jazz scales but had that kind of verve. A nice brisk start.
2. Lisa Scola Prosec, “Voodoo Storm” … A quartet piece inspired by a late-night dream about skeletons dancing in the yard. The clarinet (Rachel Condry) took the lead, spinning spookily playful lines while the other instruments (piano, cello, trumpet) conjured a slowly gathering storm. I found it upbeat overall but with good hints of malice.
3. Davide Verotta, “Verso L’immagine Feroce” … For nearly the full ensemble, a piece meant to give the feeling of continual ascending to a higher state. A good piece with interesting tension throughout. I was especially struck by the two violins — not just the lines they played, but the fact that two violins can pack that much of a punch by themselves.
4. Allan Crossman, “Plasticity” … This was the sonoglyph concerto for Tom Nunn. Nunn’s parts included direction as to which part of the sonoglyph to play — it’s essentially a palette of metal objects to be struck or scraped with combs — with the specifics improvised, although Nunn worked out some ideas in advance. He worked from a score of the full ensemble’s parts, so there was more going on than, “Guy jams on sonoglyph randomly.” Moreover, the ensemble’s parts were written to mesh with the tonalities of the sonoglyph. The concerto included a short duo-cadenza for Nunn and percussionist Anne Szabla. Nunn’s back was turned to the audience, but that let us see the sonoglyph, and it put him in eye contact with Szabla for that cadenza.
5. Loren Jones, “Eagle Bear Woman”/”Two Islands” … A surprising change: Two strongly tonal, melodic pieces for the full ensemble, with a soaring beauty you’d associate with film soundtracks.
6. Michael Cooke, “A Baby Sleeps” … also with variations on the Taiwanese lullabye by Lu Chuan-sheng. Cooke has written up the piece’s origins on his blog. The piece featured Gangqin Zhao on the guzheng (stringed instrument like a koto) and Cooke on the sheng, a mouthpiece-based organ of sorts that can be used to generate chords. Much of the time, the sheng — pronounced “shung” — rode long tones to move the gently lyrical piece. The second half featured a propelling cello riff backed by the ensemble to create some bright harmonies.
7. Mark Alburger, “King David Suite” … Three pieces taken from the Bible, mostly using David’s pre-King days as a theme. Alburger introduced each part with an amusing description of what was going on. These were active pieces with lots of chase-scene dynamics, all conducted with glee by Alburger.
8. Erling Wold and fognozzle, “In the Stomach of Fleas” … The aforementioned lights-and-smoke piece, with fognozzle providing electronics that mostly served as a heavy, abrasive background (he also got a “solo” at one point). It’s a piece about the bubonic plague reaching San Francisco around 1900, so it was appropriately disturbing, with the strings tossing and turning in chaotic, shrill ramblings and glissandos. Very cool, especially with the lights off and the lasers dancing on the Old First Church ceiling. At left is a “before” picture, taken by fognozzle, showing the archways that would later be coated in fog and blue & green lasers. At one particularly dramatic point, the strobelight lit up the whole archway for a stunning effect.