Terrence McManus/Carney & Co.

Ralph Carney's feet, and instruments of mischiefKind of a jazzy night at the biweekly SIMM series in downtown San Francisco last night. Terrence McManus presented a blend of electronics noise and dense jazz guitar. Then a quartet of Ralph Carney (sax etc.), Bill Noertker (bass), Mike Elias (guitar), and Dave Mihaly (drums) put up a fun set of improvised jazz.

To call that Carney’s quartet is probably incorrect. By the look of things as they set up, Noertker was the leader, or the instigator.

McManus (left) after his set, talking with NoertkerMcManus, working solo, used his electric guitar to produce a variety of crackling sounds. A brush pressed against the strings, for instance, or a screwdriver handled twirled against them. (Made great sounds with the strings muted with McManus’ other hand.)

He’d follow that up with flurries of jazz chords, stuff suitable for a club, full of twists and thick, mottled harmonies. Two extremes of music, in a way.

(I’d never encountered McManus before. He’s into some interesting projects, like a 60-minute composition called “The Machine” that’s going to be performed at The Stone in NYC later this month. A segment called “The Dream of the Ants” can be found here.)

Carney (sax) & Noertker (bass)The quartet then dug into a few amusing jams, taking a free-form, jazzy path. Elias on guitar used a pointillistic sound with a psych-rock reverb, for a spidery, spacey fee. But every now and again, as the mood got deep and probing, Carney would leap in to mess with his bandmates. Duck calls were particularly effective there (and you’d be amazed how much variety and musicality can be squeezed from those things). Carney also broke out two slide whistles, all manner of percussion, and an interesting instrument made by a guy in San Jose — it was a flexible metal tube with a springy feel and a saxophone mouthpiece and reed at the front. By bending the tube, Carney could produce different notes. Like the sax equivalent of a washboard bass.

Elias (guitar), Mihaly (drums)There were serious moments, too. During one particularly involved passage with Elias taking a lead role, Carney responded in kind with a gentle solo on pocket trumpet.

The Musicians’ Union Hall on 9th Street, where the SIMM concerts are held, has a piano, which everybody but Elias took a stab at. Carney and Mihaly each sat down at the bench, Carny splashing about with madcap, cartoony pecking, and Mihaly prodding with slower, serious chords (interrupted by Carney going all madcap on the drums). Noertker and Carney each reached into the piano once in a while to pluck strings.

Good stuff, and a fun pair of sets to have witnessed.