Playlist: July 31, 2009

KZSU playlist highlights for Friday, July 31, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

source: yoshis; pic by peter gannushkin, used w/o permission….. The Mary Halvorson set was a treat: I played one track from Dragon’s Head, then one each from her bandmates, Ches Smith (drums), and John Hébert (bass), then capped it off with the soothing end track from Thin Air, her duo album with Jessica Pavone. That very trio is coming to Yoshi’s Oakland on Aug. 4, for one 8:00 set. After hearing all the acclaim for Halvorson over the past several months, it’ll be great to see her live.

source: CDbaby….. I’m also pretty excited that Go-Go Fightmaster is playing on the 10th, at the Ivy Room in Albany. (And bummed that I’ll be out of town that day.) Their song “Buffy Is Dead” opens with a dark, stomping guitar march and needling saxophones. The rest of their self-titled 2003 album goes all over the place, with lots of free jazz and some Monk, sometimes staying inside, sometimes veering wildly outside. The personnel are the same as for Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait and Switch, which is pretty amusing and gives them all extra reason to stick together.

source: long song records….. Acoustic Guitar Trio is Nels Cline, Jim McAuley, and the late Rod Poole, all plucking and scraping and bowing away at their instruments. It’s marvelous, dynamic work with lots of quietude amid the jangling, and it’s all the more poignant given the circumstances around Poole’s passing. (It’s interesting and nice to see that Poole’s tribute Web site makes no mention of that at all.)

source: public eyesore….. The Emergency String Quintet — really, the (x)tet, depending on how many guests pop in — is an all-strings improv project that Bob Marsh gets together occasionally. The results are sublime, producing abstract work that sounds awfully close to composition sometimes. They’ll be playing at Flux 53 tomorrow night.

….. I was going to play the Steve Martin banjo CD, The Crow, someday, believe it or not. But today, the producer, Jim McEuen (of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), randomly called during my show and offered himself to the station for interviews, which jogged my memory about it. We’re talking about the Steve Martin, doing an album of original banjo songs (and a CD booklet stuffed with liner notes written by him). A massive cast of studio musicians (KZSU fave Matt Flinner among them) makes it the “most expensive banjo album in the history of the universe,” or words to that effect. It’s in the liner notes. It must be true!

You can find the full playlist here.

Don’t Wanna Be a Radiolarian

Medeski Martin & Wood — Radiolarians II (Indirecto, 2008)

source: mmw.comI was all flattered that MMW named these albums after radio … but no! Turns out a radiolarian is one of these things. Ewww.

Medeski Martin & Wood have been getting more adventurous — departing from the groove more often, for instance — and like the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, they’ve been turning toward acoustic piano more.

(Not that there’s a direct correlation. If we take MMW as the first-generation jazz/jam band, for the kind of jazzing and jamming in question here, then JFJO is a second-generation unit. I guess The Bad Plus could be third generation, in a really loose and imprecise sense. They aren’t actually descended from the other two, but they would seem to share some common audience.)

There’s still an element of funk on Radiolarians II, but it’s masked by effects, or soft piano (as on the deceptively comforting “Riffin’ Ed”), or detatched, abstract improvising. The track “ijiji” (a.k.a. “I stared at the keyboard and couldn’t come up with a song title”) goes for a dark groove with all manner of detritus floating by, lots of little effects that add up to a nice junkyard of sound. Come to think of it, there’s also a track called “Junkyard,” which starts with a quiet, quiet improvisation before getting into a dark groove.

“Amber Gris” opens with quiet little criss-crossing riffs from drums, bass, and piano, a nice counterpoint exercise — but then it blasts into a loud variation on the same thing. Nice rocking track; they’ve even made a video for it.

As an aside, I’ll note that I’m running behind on my MMW homework; Radiolarians III apparently comes out in August, and Radiolarians I didn’t make it to the KZSU mailbox at all.

Playlist: July 24, 2009

KZSU playlist highlights for Friday, July 24, 3:00 to 6:15 p.m.

This is my first stab at not including the full playlist, just highlights. I don’t like the format yet and might continue tweaking it. Full playlist can be viewed here.

Spontaneous Music Ensemble — “Thirty-Five Minutes” — Quintessence (Emanem, recorded 1974)source:
….. It was a week to break out a large dose of “non- idiomatic” improv, as Derek Bailey liked to call it — abstract music several steps descended from jazz and soaked overnight in modern classical. We’ve got a small trove of recordings from the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, an early keystone of this music, and it’s been too long since I dipped in.

Big names adorn the 1974 “Quintessence” recordings (released on CD by Emanem): Bailey (guitar), Evan Parker (sax), Kent Carter (bass), and founders John Stevens (drums) and Trevor Watts (other sax). “Thirty-five minutes” is just short of 35 minutes long and shows how restraint was a crucial element to the band’s mission. It’s not like the burning free jazz of the time.

Dominic Duval, John Heward, Joe McPhee — “Undersound 11” — Undersound II (Leo, 2002)
….. Following that up, I played a 26-minute track from this trio, which recorded a couple of albums on Leo. It’s got a faster pace and more directly jazz-derived sound than the SME track, for a nice contrast. McPhee gets into plenty of extended sax twisting on this one — lots of multiphonics, for instance. And yes, the track is “Undersound Eleven” on the album “Undersound Two.”

Ed Palermo Big Band — “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” — Eddy Loves Frank (Cuneiform, 2009) …..Palermo has now put out three big-band albums devoted to Frank Zappa’s music; hence the title, Eddie Loves Frank. Joyous and rocking stuff. They even do a cover of “Night School,” which admittedly doesn’t sound like that hard (relatively) a track, but it’s always interesting to hear “live” readings of the no-humans tracks on Jazz From Hell. I’m feeling inspired to go listen to (and make another attempt at understanding) “While You Were Art II.”

Rakalam Bob Moses — “Exhalation #1” — Father’s Day B’hash (Sunnyside, 2009)
….. Some nicely sprawling, fiery free jazz on this album. I live the open, expansive sound of the 12-minute “Exhalation #1.”

Thomas Chapin“Radius” — Radius (Mu, 1990)
….. Grabbed this for some downtown NYC cred. Turns out it was a lot more “inside” (a lot more) than I’d anticipated. No matter; still good stuff.

Click here for the full playlist.

The Playlists Pile Up

It’s bothered me all along that the playlists screw up the search on the site. That is, you ask for an artist, and you get the 18 playlists that include that artist, burying the one substantial blog entry about him/her.

I’m probably the only one who uses the search box, but — hey, all the more reason to change something that bugs me, right?

So: What if I left the playlists off? I’d still list notable albums each week on this blog, but for the gory details, you’d go to our Zookeeper database — to pages like this one, or to this page of all my playlists since 2001.

From there, you can use the “Find It!” link to see who else has played a particular artist, CD, or track. It’s a powerful little tool.

It seems clunky to make people go elsewhere to view the actual playlist, but it might be more practical.

(Alternatively, if there’s a way to make the search apply onto to text that’s above the fold, that’d be an even better solution. I’m researching it, but not getting my hopes up.)

I doubt anyone scours the site often enough to care either way. But I’m open to any suggestions anyone’s got.

Vive Les Instants Chavirés

From the excellent Avant Music News site comes the unfortunate, but hardly surprising, news of financial trouble at Les Instants Chavirés, a longtime important venue for creative jazz, based near Paris.

Secondhandedly, I quote:

On Thursday July 2nd 2009 we were shocked to learn that the balance of the operational subsidy allocated to our Association by the General Council of the Seine-Saint-Denis Department had been slashed by no less than 25,000€ – a drop of more of 19% [with another 7,000€ having been cut from funding from the town of Montreuil.]

The lack of funding has forced us to cancel our Autumn season of concerts, video projections and exhibitions, in its entirety. …

… We urge you then to sign the online petition (, and write to Claude Bartolone, President of the General Council of Seine-Saint-Denis, and / or to the Mayor of Montreuil, Dominique Voynet, to inform them of what the Instants Chavirés represents in the local, national and international cultural landscape, and express your own commitment to the lasting nature of this project.

Tim Berne's Bloodcount: Low Life.  Source: winter & winterFunding for cutting-edge arts is always a problem, especially for music due to the patience required of an audience. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Les Instants Chavirés. It’s an important space.

And for me, it’s even a little sentimental. It was the recording venue for the Paris Concert trilogy of CDs that were my introduction to Tim Berne and to avant-garde music in general. I knew so little about the music. The recordings were so quiet, the audience inaudibly still. Les Instants Chavirés seemed like a faraway, mysterious place (because, to me, it was).

In 1999, I got my chance to see it for my own eyes. During a week-long stay in Paris, I snuck away twice to working-class Montreuil, just off the Metro map, where Les Instants Chavirés is tucked away down a street that might otherwise be populated by warehouses or industrial offices.

It’s a spare but comfortable room — at least, that’s how my mind chooses to remember it. I was there for two evenings. The first was with Jean Derome and Joane Hétu, performing as the duo Nous Percons Les Oreilles, and through them I learned of the ActuelleCD group of labels from Montreal. (I introduced them to KZSU, and we’re still receiving and playing their music!) The second was with Berne and Marc Ducret, playing as a duo to a packed house.

Places like this need a home. The silver lining is that Les Instants Chavirés is hobbled by a simple lack of funding. It’s not being uprooted with the kind of hostility that Bay Area venues have experienced as city officials chase them from one location after another. (The saga of 21 Grand is telling — check out what happened to them in 2007 — and it was worse during the dot-com bubble, when it seemed every square inch of San Francisco had to be offered up to the yuppie-loft gods.)

The music will soldier on, but it would be quite a blow to lose such a literally world-famous arts space. Bon courage, Instants Chavirés.

Heights of Thin Air

Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone — Thin Air (Thirsty Ear, 2009)

source: thirsty earThis duo is not meant to be a pop project, but it’s also intentionally not high art. And it took some getting used to, I have to admit.

Guitarist Mary Halvorson is involved in any number of exciting out-jazz bands, including her own trio and Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe, as well as plenty of improvising combos (lots of recent work with Weasel Walter, for instance). She’s the one who’s been all over the music headlines lately, but Jessica Pavone, a violin and viola player, has put out some impressive composed and improvised work, too — edgy and improvised, but with roots closer to classical music.

Together, they abandon all of that work in favor of simple songs and instrumentals, or so it might seem at first glance. The music is spare, with relatively simple melodies. Cloying, sometimes. When the tune “Clearing,” which opens their 2007 album On and Off, came up one too many times on shuffle, I realized I couldn’t take it any more.

But after a long listen to Thin Air and a revisit to On and Off, I started to “get” it. Maybe it’s more that I resigned myself to accept that this is how they wanted the music to sound. The presentation is honest and unpretentious, and it’s not calculated, according to a cover story in Signal To Noise. This is their songwriting; this is their singing.

The first thing most people are going to notice are the unpolished and diffident, almost sluggish, vocals. Songs like “For You or Them” include dissonances that are probably intentional (considering how lock-step their harmonizing is on other songs) but create an off-key ringing in your ear.

The instrument playing is often languid, too, with slow tempos and sad melodies that almost feel nursery-rhymey. But the experimentation and sophistication of Pavone and Halvorson’s other work is in there. Some of Pavone’s viola passages, in particular, get nice and showy. “Barber” shows a blatant classical influence and gives both players, especially Pavone, the chance to really cut loose with soloing techniques. “Lullaby,” another instrumental, has a pastoral feel, with touches of Renaissance music during a short pizzicato stretch.

It’s not all peaceful music, either. Halvorson switches on the distortion for songs like “Sinking” and “Thin Air,” with the latter featuring abstract clicking and improvvy scattered notes at the end.

Not everyone is as slow as me to convert to Pavone and Halvorson’s side. According to that StN article, Matthew Shipp wanted to sign them to Thirsty Ear immediately after seeing them perform. What seems like a half-baked attempt at simple charm has a lot more depth to it, if you look from a different angle.

Playlist: July 17, 2009

KZSU playlist for Friday, July 17, 3:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

Rent Romus stopped by to talk about the Outsound New Music Summit coming up next week. All the artists involved had contributed tracks to a promotional CD for — well, for situations just like this one:

source:….. Bonfire Madigan was a KZSU fave when I first joined, in 1998. I’m happy to find out she’s still performing — didn’t realize she even opened for Laibach. She’s a singer who plays cello, producing brusque songs that you might call tough-fisted, rough-edged folk (really it’s closer to indie rock, but not as “rock” minded as Rasputina). On Friday, she’ll be performing a 36-minute piece, “Portrait of the Artist as a Transliminal Criminal,” with accompanying film. Her site describes it as a one-time-only event.

WireTapMusic did a profile of Madigan back in May.

….. Natto recorded a couple of CDs on the 482 label earlier this decade. They practice a calm sort of improvisation, often meditative and probably influenced by Pauline OliverosDeep Listening aesthetic. Philip Gelb on shakuhachi (Japanese wooden flute)

….. Richard Waters is the inventor of the waterphone. It’s the instrument that made the V-ger sounds in 1980’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (If you don’t know what I mean, DO NOT go rent the movie to find out. Just watch Wrath of Khan and pretend there were no Trek movies before that.)

….. I’m not familiar with Peter Kolovos, but Rent described his guitar playing as a combination of noise and “surgical precision.” Who could resist?

And, notes from the rest of the show:

source: delmark….. After the glorious experimentalism of her Xenogenesis Suite, Nicole Mitchell comes back to jazz form, with a mix of straightahead stuff and some world-music dabblings. Renegades features a subset of her Black earth Ensemble, focusing on the strings: violin, cello, bass (plus drums and Mitchell’s own flute, of course.)

….. Nancy Wright is a local R&B saxophonist. Friendly bar-jazz stuff; it’s not my type, but I played it as a nod to our blues DJ, Byrd of Paradise.

….. Whoever Libellula are, they put together a nice hour-long drone on this CD. I selected an excerpt where things shift and tumble a bit.

source:….. Matt Haimovitz is a cellist who puts out modern classical CDs on his own label. This disc of cello/piano pieces has some good dynamic stretches, exciting stuff. The piece I played is titled “Part I,” but it comes in two parts, so we heard part 1 of “Part I.” I like that.

….. Annea Lockwood once did a nifty CD, The Glass World, that featured the sounds of all manner of glass objects. Zach Wallace is likewise working with glass on Glass Armonica, but where Lockwood did lots of vignettes, Wallace works on long pieces. “5” has a droney, humming sound that’s I would guess comes from a bow stroked across the armonica (it’s one of these) which Wallace built himself out of wine glasses. Dusted has more to say here.

…..For the show’s final hour, I looked in the direction of outward-facing rock, inspired by the Bonfire Madigan track. (She’ll be performing a 36-minute piece during Friday’s “InterMedia” show for Outsound.) The 9-minute Eddie the Rat track was a particular highlight for me. Continue reading “Playlist: July 17, 2009”

Vancouver Heights

source: drip audioPeggy Lee Band — New Code (Drip Audio, 2008)

If you’re reading this at all, then you know Peggy Lee refers not to the singer, but to a cellist who’s been a standout part of the Vancouver creative-jazz scene. Her band has been around for four albums now, previously as a sextet but expanded to an octet this time.

I haven’t heard the previous three albums, so I don’t know if it’s a result of the octet expansion, but: There’s a bigness to the sound, the kind of ambitious writing that’s made “cinematic” the de facto critics’ word for Pat Metheny. But Lee’s music isn’t as slick and airy as Metheny’s, in a good way; there’s a warmer, down-to-earth quality to the pretty melodies on her album, and a fresher, more raw feel to the avant-garde colorings on the edges — particularly from the two guitars in the lineup.

The album opens in inspiring fashion, with Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do” bursting forth like a cinematic helicopter shot of the Great Plains at sunrise. Brassy horns play a brightly comforting melody with just a tinge of sadness. Subsequent solos — especially Brad Turner on trumpet — keep feeding that mood. And when Lee’s cello finally gets some space of its own, alongside an elegant guitar solo (either Ron Samworth or Tony Wilson), it’s a bold and beautiful stroke.

Then, like a practical joke, the track collapses completely into free noodling! Always leave ’em off balance.

As if to show off avant-garde improv cred, the second track, “Preparations,” goes for small cave noises: ghostly wisps of cello; squeaked and scraped bowing; tiny, curled guitar sounds. A slow melody comes forth, decorated by strongly toned, hard-sawed cello lines. Eventually, the horns pick up another strong, wistful theme, played slowly under an emotionally punched duet of cello and drums.

“Shifting Tide” unfolds slowly into a nice melody led by cello and trumpet in unison. Jon Bentley on sax glides through the music, sometimes stepping outside the changes for some interesting corner turns, making for a grand and colorful solo overall. “Tug” uses more soaring melody lines to set up a very nice trumpet solo.

It all closes with another soundtrack-y showcase, the Kurt Weill song, “Lost in the Stars.” It’s a soft denouement, a peaceful closing-credits goodnight.

OK, so I’m about eight months behind the curve on this one. I admit it. Just look at the stack of reviews linked from the Drip Audio site. But it really is one terrific album, and I’m really happy to have finally gotten an earful of it.

Outsound Rolls In

source: outsound.orgOn Friday’s KZSU radio show (July 17), I’ll be hosting Rent Romus at about 5:00 p.m. Pacific, to talk about the Outsound New Music Summit, happening July 22-25 in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The summit is prefaced on Sunday, July 19, with “Touch the Gear,” an exhibition where electronic musicians lay out their instruments and contraptions for you to mess with. Yes, you get to touch the gear, to make noises on your own, to squiggle and tweak. If you’re lucky, Tom Nunn will be there with one of his homemade contraptions. And along the way, you learn where some of those electronic drones and blips really come from.

The rest of the lineup:

* Wednesday, July 22 — “Free Improvisation/Free Composition” — works with some jazzy roots.

    • Alicia Mangan and Spirit
    • ROVA
    • Vinny Golia.

* Thursday, July 23 — “Industrial Soundscapes” — probably noisy and/or droney stuff, with:

    • Peter Kolovos
    • Conure
    • Hans Fjellestad
    • Thomas Dimuzio.

* Friday, July 24 — “InterMedia” — multimedia works.

    • Jess Rowland with The Dreamland Puppet Theater
    • Kathleen Quillian & Gilbert Guererro
    • and the return of Bonfire Madigan, an old KZSU fave.

* Saturday, July 25 — “Introspection and Improvisation” — sets that could be quiet, but I wouldn’t count on it staying that way all evening, particularly the last set.

    • Natto (acoustic trio improv)
    • Ghost In the House featuring Richard Waters
    • Left Coast Improv Group (noted here)

Lots more details at the Outsound site. All events take place at the Community Music Center at 544 Capp Street (between Mission and South Van Ness, between 20th and 21st).

Yep, this overlaps the Mission Creek Festival, but Mission Creek is tapping an audience different from Outsound’s. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself with fingers crossed. Outsound has done well the past couple of years, so hopefully the turnout will be good this time around, too.

Pink Mountain: The Return Of

source: myspaceThe rock/noise colossus of Pink Mountain is playing at Amoeba Records for free tomorrow, July 15, at 6:00 p.m. in San Francisco. Woo hoo!

They’ve also got a new album they’ll be pushing with a mini-tour: a July 16 show at the Hemlock Tavern in SF, followed by shows in Portland and Seattle.

Pink Mountain is a quintet, a supergroup of local/ex-local improv folks plus Sam Coomes of Quasi on vocals and keys. They put out one album in 2006 that was just fanatastic: Big washes of guitar spinning dark psych rock or spiky noise, with jazzy sax twiddlings and thick synthesizers. They’ve appeared live a couple of times since then, and I’d always hoped the band would get together for some more recordings. Yes!

You can hear their sound on the Myspace link above, or at The Bay Bridged, a local-music blog, where you can also see a nice big picture of the new album’s cover.