Playlist: December 15, 2009

Didn’t have the energy or the time to write up last week’s playlist…. but here are the notes on this week’s, for Tuesday, Dec. 15, 5:20 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. (Got to start early because I managed to get up early, and we didn’t have a DJ for overnights.  Did I mention KZSU is always ready to welcome new volunteers?)

Full playlist is here. Of note:

* Grosse Abfahrt — “Interkontinentale Luftschiffarht” — Erstes Luftschiff Zu Kalifornien (Creative Sources, 2007) … This band is a teaming-up of Bay Area improvisers (click the picture for a list) with German musicians — the latter being electronics experimenters Serge Baghdassarians and Brois Baltschun, for this album.  The group has a quiet aesthetic overall: lots of respect for silence, and low-key tones that can make the acoustic instruments difficult to identify.  Plenty of “insect chatter” moments of sound improvising as well.

* Bobby Bradford / Tom Heasley / Ken Rosser — “Varistar” — Varistar (Full Bleed, 2009) … The unusual combination of cornet, tuba, and guitars.    I’m not sure the sounds mesh all that well, physically, but I still enjoyed the playing on this track.  It’s a slow progression, with Rosser’s guitar in shimmering, echoey mode, and Heasley’s tuba providing long, heavy bottom tones.  There’s a patience and a sense of atmosphere here, and Bradford is careful not to let the agile cornet cut apart the sound too much.

* Donald Robinson Trio — “Camminare” — Straight Lines Skewed (CIMP, 2001) … Robinson is a top-notch free-jazz drummer who’s often overlooked in Who’s Who listings of Bay Area musicians.  He’s been a key element in bands led by the likes of the late Glenn Spearman or expatriate Marco Eneidi.  His trio album (his only stint as a leader, to my knowledge) consists of improvised jazz with Eneidi’s sax as the front voice alongside Lisle Ellis’ bass.  Much of the music is bright and energetic, with Eneidi flashing the jumpy style that resembles Jimmy Lyons’, but I’d always wanted to give this patient 15-minute track an airing.  Eneidi plays in a slower, airy mode, and you get more space to savor Robinson’s drums (particularly his brushes-on-snare sound).

* Roy Hargrove Big Band — “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey” — Emergence (Emarcy, 2009) … Old-school big-band sounds. Not my cup of tea, but if Roy Hargrove wants to be a big-band leader just once late in his career, I’m not going to tell him no.  Some of the songs on here get really cheesy, in a ’60s Vegas vein, but this one’s got a nice bluesy swing to it, recalling the older big band sounds but infusing them with a funky step.

* Fay Victor Ensemble — “Joe’s Car” — The Freesong Suite (Greene Avenue, 2009) … Fay Victor’s last album was spacey; this one gers even further out.  Lots of rock influence, including massive guitar passages, and a violent and downright eerie tone to the track “Stemming.”

* Bill Frisell — “Little Girl” — Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009) … Frisell’s Americana phase continues (as does the phase of having Jenny Scheinman on violin), this time with a theme:  The Depression-era photos of Disfarmer.  They photos have an enveloping emotional quality while also feeling stark and still. Learn more about the pictures and the quirky man who took them, at

* Ivano Torre — “La Danza Del Ghez” — Utopia (Altri Suoni, 2000) … Gotta love a band that includes a tuba, a cello, and the fisarmonica (whatever it is, it sounds like an accordion).  This track has a nifty tuba solo and, from Torre himself, a terrific, fast-paced drum solo over instrumental backing. Altri Suoni, one of several Swiss labels that used to send us stuff prodigiously; if you’re looking for adventurous yet melodic jazz with a tinge of Mediterranean folk musics, but without that ECM sound, you could do worse.

* Rhythm Kingz of Bushel Finland — “Rattlesnake Pan Soup” — Rhythm Kingz of Bushel Finland (Majmua, 2009) ….. Bizarro blues that later gets into chaotic improvised/psych.  It’s all tumbling and confused, like vague music out of an unsettling dream, with elements like deep throat singing or, on this track, crazed dobro soloing.

POP ALERT:  * Venice Is Sinking — “Azar Three” — Azar (One Percent Press, 2009) … This is an ambitious pop band that packs somgs with lush orchestration, plenty of frills (poppy trumpets, for instance) and elements of Sigur Ros-like washes.  The “Azar” tracks are instrumentals, starting with one that’s a grand symphonic opening that’s too grand — it’s like those winter days when too much sunshine pierces through your window.  The third of the Azar tracks is like that, too, but less frenetic, easier to take.  As for the pop songs themselves, like “Ryan’s Song,” they’re a ray of sunshine in a more delightful context. ….. Separately, the band Drummer does good, indie rock with nice poppy energy.

Erstes Luftschiff Zu Kalifornien (Creative Sources, 200s)

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