New Radio Time: 6-9 a.m. Tuesdays

For the fall, and possibly longer, I’m moving my radio show off of Fridays and onto Tuesday mornings, 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. Pacific. This starts tomorrow morning.

Upside: Easier parking. Quiet early-morning hours. Drive-time audience.

Downside: A lot tougher to get live interviews and live bands onto the show. And I’ll miss ending my work week by relaxing at the station, spinning brain-crackling music. By contrast, I’ll have to hit the ground running at work right after my show.

In the final tally, though, the Friday spot had its downside too, and after seven or eight years, I’m ready to try something different. I might return to the time slot when summer rolls around, and I’ll certainly claim some Friday time during December, when we’ll need subs.

For now, I’m commited to Tuesdays through at least January 5. Please tune in.

Spiller Alley

Larry Ochs, Miya Masaoka, Peggy Lee — Spiller Alley (Rogue Art, 2008)

source:, note the missing 'e'Stef got it right on his Free Jazz blog eight months ago: This is not-so-small music built on small sounds. I’ll echo him in calling it “light:” Even when Peggy Lee is bowing hard on cello, or Miya Masaoka is digging away at the koto, there’s an airiness to the sound. You’re in a whirlwind of feathers.

The quieter pieces display these qualities most strongly, highlighting the cello and koto with Larry Ochs working in small phrases on sopranino sax, careful not to crack the delicacy of the sound.

“micro mirror”* is a lovely quiet exploration with nighttime cello plucking and tense, soft koto trills. “neoNawi” is closer to what you might call a traditional setting. Lee’s cello carves bold, mourning lines, while the koto produces abstract plinks and, occasionally, one of those lovely bending notes.

The album opens aggressively with “nobody knows,” full of tumbling koto and, later, some high, squeaky cello. Ochs keeps a light touch, as on the quieter tracks, but allows himself more skronk with the tenor sax.

The 18-minute title track feels more like “regular” free improvisation, with that abstract and tart sound. Maybe that’s because of the long stretches of group work. Snippets of composition help ground the piece. They pop into view like tiny organized dances — there’s one about 12 minutes into the piece, another at the very end. On first listen, they seemed effectively placed, creating a nice listening journey.

“last light” is a surprisingly rugged piece. That’s what I get for peeking at the track times: You see a 4:49 song to close the album, and you assume it’s a quiet lullabye. It starts that way. But there’s some jazzy, growling tenor sax by the end, alongside scratchy cello. It’s one of the album’s loudest moments.

* I’m honoring the lower-case titles, which in this case are clearly delineated (as opposed to album covers where everything just happens to be in lower-case). It looks weird to me, and I don’t think I like it, but I’ll try it once.

Eric Hofbauer: Pocket Chops

source: and the infrared bandFighting jetlag on my recent run through Boston, I tossed my sleep cycle into the shredder, hopping the “T” one night to take in a jazz show at the “Y” on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge.

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer is a young guy with a casual and charismatic stage presence, and his Infrared Band was worth staying up for. Its compositions are jazz at heart, with the occasional free-form diversion and some adventurous soloing. Very nice outside-in stuff, fronted by Hofbauer’s jazz guitar but drafted with ample soloing space for everyone.

“The Chump Killer” is a standout of their playbook. You can’t miss it. Hofbauer explaned that the Chump Killer is a hero who searches the earth to go defeat evildoers and generally nasty people (“chumps”), and not necessarily in violent ways. After a cool, overlapping call-and-response theme between sax and guitar, the music took an extended break for saxophonist Kelly Roberge to play the roles of the Chump Killer and the Chump, using electronically enhanced, cartoony voices. His dialogue had the Chump Killer taunting the Chump but then winding up in some sort of trap. Pretty funny stuff (inspired by a kung fu movie, it turns out). The rest of the mini-suite followed, and given its chipper nature, you have to assume things turned out OK.

Eric Hofbauer (right) & the Infrared BandThere were also some tunes at once catchy and tricky, like “Pocket Chops.” Hofbauer explained how the term arose in conversation, when someone asked him — I can’t recall the story exactly, but I think he was telling someone about the contrast of playing in Boston versus somewhere else. “Oh, man, you gotta have pocket chops,” he said at the time. Of course, Hofbauer had no idea what that meant, but he rode with it and, years later, wrote it up as a piece.

In the rental car the next day, I took a quick sampling of the CDs I’d bought at the show: The Infrared Band’s Myth Understanding and Hofbauer’s solo acoustic American Vanity. Not the best listening environment, but it was the one available to me, and I thought a car listen would be an interesting blogging experiment.

Continue reading “Eric Hofbauer: Pocket Chops”

Buffalo Collision: Love and Hate

I confess I had to miss Monday night’s Buffalo Collision show. Bummed am I. Apparently it started late, according to this Tuesday hatred blog.

He was at least looking forward to the show. For the Monterey Jazz Festival (also a Buffalo Collision haunt, this time around), the Examiner sent a reviewer who’s “never witnessed a set so hostile to the notion of melody.” Wait’ll he gets a load of David Torn’s Prezens. He had better things to say about Jason Moran‘s “Feedback,” a noisy Hendrix tribute that sounds like it was pretty cool.

We all know BC deserves the love, though. Forrest Dylan Bryant took the Monterey set in stride, writing it up for his Jazz Observer blog.

Cake in 15 put up a nice review — with videos! — from a very recent show at the Dakota, on The Bad Plus’ Minneapolis home field. And dipping back to January, you can find a nice appreciation at Mapsadaisical.

As for the actual Monday show — anyone want to clue me in on what I missed?

Buffalo Collision Show Moved

codamapI’m not familiar with San Francisco’s Coda Jazz Supper Club, but it’s going to be the host to Tim Berne and Buffalo Collision tonight. (1710 Mission St. at Dubose, near the part of 101 called the Central Freeway.)

(UPDATE: Forgot to mention, in the first draft, that the show was supposed to be at The Independent. Hence, the “moved” part of the title. Carry on.)

It will be a trio version of the band, with Dave King (The Bad Plus) on drums and Hank Roberts, a longtime cohort of Berne’s, on sax. When The Bad Plus got interviewed on KZSU recently, King told me about growing up listening to Berne and Roberts’ music, and what a thrill it was to actually be in a band with these guys.

Their CD, Duck, got a brief mention here. Longer mentions are on All About Jazz and at Stef’s Free Jazz blog.

source: screwgun records.comBuffalo Collision played at the Monterey Jazz Festival yesterday — I was sorry to miss that — and was to appear in this trio format at The Independent tonight. No word on what provoked the move. I got tipped to it because I happened to browse past Ethan Iverson’s Do the Math blog yesterday. (Iverson is the pianist in The Bad Plus and Buffalo Collision; his blog also details some successful shopping during the band’s stay in SF.)

On its calendar page, the Independent says its tickets will be honored at the Coda Club. Start time is probably moved back to 9 p.m. (normal for the Coda club) versus 8 p.m.

Buffalo Collisions long, improvisatory brand of jazz will probably be a change of scenery for the Coda Club. Especially with the band lacking Iverson’s piano, which added some colorful chording on Duck.

(UPDATE2:) Jazz Observer got to see Buffalo Collision in Monterey!

High Zero

source:highzero.orgAhh, High Zero. In more flush days, when I traveled a lot for work and had the freedom to extend my stay to see music or baseball, Baltimore’s High Zero festival — featuring improvisers from around the globe, grouped in never-before-heard combinations, was a lucky hit. I’d read about the festival after the 1999 installment, probably because some local musicians had gone, and was lucky enough to be in the Baltimore/D.C. area the following year at just the right time.

I remember Jon Rose being more loose and joking than I expected, as he twisted a “metal” improv into “All Along the Watchtower,” complete with singing. I remember Toshi Makihara doing the heavy-duty drums to start that “metal” piece, and impressing me all around with his bag of tricks. They were in trio with pianist Lafayette Gilchrest — who’s better known for a thick-pulsed take on funky jazz, something I wouldn’t have discovered later if not for seeing him in this setting.

And I remember a fantastic set with Joe McPhee, Jack Wright, and Ian Nogoski, where Nogoski’s sine-wave electronics started ever so subtly in the mix and turned into a powerful backing drone.

Nice memories, being brought back this weekend as I read Lars Gotrich’s A Blog Supreme on the NPR site. Gotrich is doing some brief reviews of the High Zero sets he attended last weekend.

High Zero gives you a lot of music to experience, and as enjoyable as improv can be, I’ve found it’s very hard to describe multiple sets without repeating yourself a lot. Kudos to Gotrich for giving it a shot, and for giving such abstract music some exposure.

Thanks to Avant Music News for pointing this out.

Mini Hiatus

Not from this blog, but from the radio station. I’ll be off-air for the next two weeks, barring a possible (but unlikely) sub spot or two.

Then, starting Sept. 28, I’ll be moving the show off of the coveted Friday afternoon spot. Probably to early mornings (6:00-9:00 a.m.) or late nights (midnight, or possibly 9 p.m.)

Either way, I’ll still be around. Check KZSU’s schedule after Sept. 28 to find out where.

Playlist: Sept. 11, 2009

Gino Robair, who stopped by the station for that interview yesterday, also dropped off a few goodies for us to spin on air. I gave them a sampling later in the show.

source: rastascan. yes, i borrowed the exact image.

Full playlist is viewable here… and if you want to see the playlist of items spun during Robair’s interview, that’s here. Highlights/notes:

….. The New Black — [excerpt of, I think, side A] — The White Album (Rastascan, 2008). This is the album pictured above. Lovely, isn’t it! It comes as two black vinyl discs with black center labels inside black sleeves. No words, no art, no documentation.

The music was recorded direct-to-vinyl, and then the record duplicated for a limited 200-copy run. These are quartet improvisations (2 guitars, synth, drums) with a mysterious air. I played one of the more active sides, but there’s another that’s very quiet, built of small sparks of sound. It’s got an intensity to its silences. Side Four, or D, or whatever, consists of locked grooves. It was a full side-long improvisation, as A through C are, and the engineer selected needle-drop points to turn into locked grooves. How cool is that!

….. Gino Robair — I, Norton (Rastascan, 2009). From a demo of the forthcoming CD (Gino expects copies in-hand next week), we heard a variety of performances: Tom Duff as Norton, expounding; an acoustic instrumental passage from an sfSound performance, representing a band that Norton has stumbled upon while wandering; and an electronics piece of shimmering high-toned sounds, representing Norton’s death and his ascent into the light.

While the opera is meant to be disconnected from time and performed in arbitrary non-linear combinations, the CD is arranged to trace Norton’s life forward. It culls from multiple performances of the opera, and the electronics piece at the end wraps up beautifully with a heartbeat sound, something that popped up unexpectedly as Robair was doing live sound manipulation at the concert.

It’s going to be an interesting CD with a variety of sounds.

….. David Sait — “Waist Deep in Saigon” — Postage Paid Duets, Vol. 2 (Apprise, 2008). Sait plays guzheng and similar Asian stringed instruments. He recorded some solo improvisations, then mailed them out to partners such as Robair and LaDonna Smith to add their own sounds to. Volume 1 of the series was done entirely with Eugene Chadbourne.

source:….. John Butcher Group — “2” — Something To Be Said (Weight of Wax, 2009). This is an octet work combining acoustic instruments with analog synth and turntables (used for noise, not for beats), a hybrid of Butcher’s instructions and the group’s improvising.

Track 2 starts with an awesome cluster of percussion, a nice racket, tailing down into an active but quieter improv, a nice sense of action in an easygoing vein.

It’s the second release on Butcher’s Weight of Wax label. Considering the first came in 2005, you could call it a comeback.

Interview Day

Gino Robair stopped by the studio this afternoon to talk about I, Norton, his “opera in real time” that’s being performed fractionally at the SF Electronic Music Festival next week. Saturday the 19th, to be exact, as noted here.

(I’ll upload a picture when I get home retrieve my camera back the radio station. Unbelievable.)

I, Norton is built to be performed in pieces by varying configurations of musicians, singers, and an actor for the part of Emperor Norton. On the 19th, the audience will be treated to Tom Duff as Norton, accompanied by three electronics musicians doing live sound processing. Duff’s voice will be the only sound source they use.

The SFEMF is happening at Brava Theater (2781 24th St., SF) from Weds. Sept. 16 through Sat. Sept. 19.

The results should be really interesting. Robair described the stage setup as rather intimate, with the speakers surrounding Duff. So, rather than get sounds thrown at you from front-stage speakers, as is the norm, you get to hear the voices in Norton’s head, in a sense. Live video processing will be in the mix, too.

Robair also dropped off some recent recordings for the station’s library, including The White Album by The New Black, which is particularly exciting. Guess what color the cover is. More about this one later, when I post the playlist notes.

Later, The Bad Plus came by for an interview as well. Much different vibe; they’ve been doing this a lot, probably notching dozens of radio station stops over the years. After pausing for a coffee, they walked on in and didn’t need any directions before dutifully taking their seats at the interview table. The guys were certainly friendly, just very used to all this, and probably bracing for the same old questions.

We did go over their background: how they knew each other living in the Minneapolis area, how they decided the band would be a way for each member to play with his own voice. How Wendy Lewis does vocals on their latest album.

For a change of pace, I did ask the guys about Buffalo Collision, which led into a discussion of how Ethan Iverson (piano) and David King (drums) had grown up listening to the likes of Tim Berne and Hank Roberts, who were recording together quite often at the time.

Buffalo Collision plays Sept. 20 at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and a trio version, minus Iverson, will be at The Independent in SF on Monday the 21st.

Joe Morris and the Bass

Joe Morris — Wildlife (AUM Fidelity, 2009)
Petr Cancura, Joe Morris, Jason Nazary — Fine Objects (Not Two, 2008)

So, what does it mean for Joe Morris to become a bass player?

He’s been a guitar player for longer, of course, and his A Cloud of Black Birds (AUM Fidelity, 1998) was one of my earliest experiences with free-jazz guitar, and a baffling one. I liked what I heard, but I had trouble processing it.

source: aum fidelity.comPart of the problem is that I’m more aware of the fluidity of notes on a guitar as opposed to saxophone. Maybe it’s because I can play a little guitar. A sheets-of-sound cascade on sax sounds impressive, but a similar run on guitar has the added spike of, “I know where all the notes are, and I still don’t understand what he just did.”

There’s also the matter of chords and harmonies, which spring from a dizzying encyclopedia of possibilities. Ben Monder‘s CD, Flux (Songlines, 1995), astounded me on that front; it was like falling into an alternate dimension of harmony. There’s a touch of naivete in my response, though; listening to a straight-jazz guitar master like John Pizzarelli is enough to show you how deep a guitarist can dig even in the confines of a standard.

Bottom line, I like Joe Morris’ electric guitar work. It’s like hearing a whole new language.

But what about bass? There’s nothing new about a gifted artist playing more than one instrument, but something about Morris’ shift to bass seemed so committed, so consuming. It opened up some tantalizing questions: What’s his style there, and how does it relate to his guitar work?

I didn’t think I’d have the ear to come up with good answers, but I gave it a shot anyway, with two recent releases, Wildlife and Fine Objects. Both are trio discs with Petr Cancura on sax, and both are in a usual jazz trio mode — that is, the sax tends to sound like the lead voice even on fully collaborative tracks where every band member is “soloing” at once. I figured Cancura would cancel himself out, letting me focus more on the bass.

Let me warn you now: I’ve got no deep conclusions here. In fact, I worry that I might glorify Morris for things that other bassists have been easily outdoing, right under my ears. But here goes.

Continue reading “Joe Morris and the Bass”