Spirited Music in San Jose

I might as well be honest: I had a dread of being the only audience member at Works San Jose last night, where Jim Ryan brought in a couple of improvising bands.

But the show drew a handful of people, including some passers-by who saw and heard the music from the sidewalk — a very pleasant surprise. Downtown San Jose deserves credit for having some edgy art museums downtown, Works being one of them, but they’re overshadowed by the children’s museum and the Tech museum, and on weekends, by the dancing-and-alcohol nightlife that’s just blocks away.

Still, a few people showed up and seemed to like the experience. That’s great. Quite a few more onlookers lingered by the windows, one or two at a time.

They were drawn in by the music and the promise of an experimentally jazzlike band, but a few theatrics helped too.

The aesthetic behind Ryan’s Left Coast Improv Group includes improvised poetry and vocalizing, and Bob Marsh got up from his cello to deliver a poem about revolution. (“Is it in your socks? Do you wear it on your wrist?”) He then brought up a couple of audience members for an improvised faux-ballroom dance, showing off a little whimsy.

The Improv Group consisted of sax/flute, bassoon/sheng (Michael Cooke, from the SFCCO), two cellos (Marsh and Doug Carroll), trumpet (Darren Johnston), and Ryan drawing from a collection of small percussion. They played sublime stuff, mostly longer pieces. Carroll and Johnston took advantage of the gallery’s big, empty spaces by wandering around (yes, Carroll plays cello).

The first set came from the trio The Spirit Moves Us, with Ryan on sax/flute, Marsh on cello, and the one-named drummer Spirit. And Spirit does play a huge role in the band’s sound, with his free-jazzy style of long drum-rolling statements, often tough and stabbing.

It was terrific stuff, with the drums filling the echoey space. (In actuality, that can be a problem; I’ve seen shows where the drums eclipse everything because of the acoustics. But in a trio setting, with amplifiers for Marsh and for Ryan’s flute, it worked.) They did quieter pieces, too – Spirit busy on brushes, Ryan improvising on flute.

Ryan has put out a CD for The Spirit Moves Us on his own Jimzeen label. Hoping to give it a listen soon.