Archive for January, 2010

Playlist: January 29, 2010

Click here for the complete KZSU playlist for Friday, Jan. 29, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Notes:

* Aram Shelton’s Fast Citizens — “Big News” — Two Cities (Delmark, 2009)A band that used to be fronted by drummer reeds player Keefe Jackson but is now considered to be of rotating leadership, according to the CD cover. Shelton’s turn, at first glance, adds more abstraction to the mix, but it’s still a good free-jazz band with a rich late-’60s influence and a penchant for crazy solos, especially when it’s Fred Lonberg-Holm’s turn (cello).  Looking forward to giving this one a close listen later on.

* Noah Creshevsky — “Red Carpet” — To Know and Not To Know (Tzadik, 2007) … I’m not familiar with Creshevsky’s modern-classical work. This particular piece is a manic jumble, apparently built of spliced-up segments from a chamber ensemble.  The music sounds like it was active and jumpy in the first place and becomes even more so after Creshevsky’s edit.  Big three-minute fun, and it even ends on a traditional, classical-sounding final note.

* Gordon Beeferman — “No Meat” — Music for an Imaginary Band [7″] (Generate, 2009) … One of the three aforementioned 7″ vinyl releases we got from Generate. This one’s a jazz septet that puts the emphasis on the horns in a post-’60s setting. I may end up spinning both sides quite a lot.

* Komeda Project — “Ballad for Bernt” — Requiem (WM, 2009)I don’t know the music of Krzysztof Komeda. I do know the name, and that he’s a Polish film composer and jazz musician. So, I don’t know how typical this set of Komeda compositions is. As with the Herbie Nichols Project, the Komeda Project bears the goal of presenting its namesake composer’s music. This album doesn’t have the heaviness that I’d assumed Komeda would bear (that’s prejudice about Eastern European moods on my part); songs I’ve sampled have had the strong, traditional air of a midsized jazz ensemble. Even this one, which evokes a bit of a sad mood but doesn’t get despairing.

* Zevious — “Glass Tables” — After the Air Raid (Cuneiform, 2009) … Prog with a touch of menace in the guitar. A fairly heavy trio that favors the loud. Made for a very good pairing with the new Henry Threadgill album.

POP NOTES: Chloe Makes Music makes pretty solo guitar-and-vocal songs, bright and with a not-too-introspective vocal outlook. (“You have been stuck like a penny for months in the couch…”) ….. Greyboy Allstars aren’t really pop; they’re funky groove jazz that happens to feel poppy in the context of my shows.  They’re tied to the acid-jazz ’90s but presented music with more depth than most acid jazz had. We had tickets to give away to a show of theirs, so I gave ’em a spin.

January 31, 2010 at 4:38 pm 1 comment

Dana Reason Trio in Oregon

Dana Reason Trio — Revealed (Circumvention, 2009)

(Alert if you’re in Oregon: The trio is playing twice this weekend:

You can judge a CD by its cover. That’s one thing I’ve learned working at a radio station. Ninety percent of the time, when you see the cover art, you’ve got a good idea what the CD is going to sound like.

This is actually not shocking. Think about it: They pick the cover art for a reason.

So here we have pianist Dana Reason, looking all friendly and relaxed and at-home on her new piano trio CD, evoking comforting, gentle images.

But wait a minute — isn’t this the same Dana Reason who used to live in the Bay Area, who dragged dry ice across piano strings, who made a CD of abstract sound sculptures with Peter Valsamis? Who toured with Pauline Oliveros and Philip Gelb in the placid but abstract improvising trio The Space Between?

You bet!

“Transition” opens the CD with an abrupt, galloping free jazz. John Heward is slashing and banging on drums from the get-go, Dominic Duval is pumping out some high-pressure bass walking, and Reason, on piano, is dancing hyperkinetically up and down the board.  “Let’s Talk” is in the same vein, brisk and alive.

It’s on the next two tracks — and really, throughout more than half the album’s running time — that the warm cover photos seem apt.  “Revealed,” one of three Reason compositions, is drifting and gossamer, with abstract notes and dissonant harmonies that float on the air but aren’t left to linger very long. It evokes a slow feeling, even though Reason plays in an assertive voice and Duval’s bass is actually going quite fast. It’s relaxing but active, always adapting, and never settling on cloying treacle. (If only new age music were more like this.)

The album closes in a like vein with the thoughtfully moody “Dance of the Bass, Part 2.”  Crystalline drizzles of notes with lots of sustain, played under gnarled bass soloing that eventually coalesces into a catchy backing riff.

I know an album like this is a trio effort, with emphasis on the group, but it also happens to be a terrific piano album. The pieces and improvisations would sound grand in the resonant acoustics of a church, but they’re also intimate enough for a coffeehouse setting.  If you’re up for a three-hour round-trip drive, you have it both ways.

January 30, 2010 at 2:49 am Leave a comment

Myra Melford’s Be Bread @ Freight & Salvage

It’s fitting that, on a day when Steve Jobs announced a hotly anticipated new product, Be Bread was insanely great.

(Gawd, that’s awful. But how could I resist not making some allusion to the worst-named tech product in recent memory?)

Myra Melford is taking her band out for a spin, and it’s the exact sextet that appears on the CD The Whole Tree Gone, which came out last week. (As noted here.)  It’s the same band as on the CD, meaning three or four members had to be flown in from New York.

They’ll also play the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, on the 28th, and Arcata’s Redwood Jazz Alliance (Humboldt State area) on the 29th and 30th. (See press release.)

It’s a colorful band. The instruments got lots of attention and generated lots of discussion, especially Melford’s harmonium and the “other” clarinet that Ben Goldberg used on a couple of songs. (A contrabass clarinet, maybe? Looks like a small tuba on a stick.)  Brandon Ross spent the entire show playing a miniature guitar — a mandolin with a guitarlike body, basically.

Of course, some songs take on a different tenor in a live setting. That’s how it should be!  “Night,” one of my faves from the album, struck me as being slower and more studious, lacking the same gradual buildup of intensity; instead, it shot forwards after a long buildup.  On the other hand, “Knocking from the Inside” came across as more spiky and jumpy, an amped-up version, with blast-off solos including Melford pulling out all the stops for a dizzying, scorched-earth piano assault.

The dramatic, unsual theme of “Moon Bird” was especially effective live, and Stomu Takeishi’s bass solo included some nifty fiddling around: a metal bowl as a slide, some clackety “unplugged” electric bass sounds, and nice use of feedback.

The two sets ended with “The Whole Tree Gone,” which offered the opportunity for one last set of solos and a stop-on-a-dime ending. They stuck the landing, as they say.

The crowd, easily more than 100 people, loved the show. People applauded for solos, which I like, but that practice gets tricky when the music gets abstract.  Take Stomu Takeishi’s bass solo on “Moon Bird,” played with only Brandon Ross, also soloing on the mini-guitar, as accompaniment. It was clear when it ended — Takeishi went back to the central bass riff — but most people didn’t catch it, and it felt awkward to break the mood with applause moments later. The first half of “Equal Grace” featured lots of group improvising and a segment that you could consider a trumpet solo, but when that solo ended, the improvising continued — do you really want to applaud and break the spell?  It feels awkward.

The fiery, overt solos got the crowd going, though. Cuong Vu exploding near the end of “Moon Bird,” or that Melford attack on “The Whole Tree Gone,” got enthusastic responses.

This was my first trip to the new Freight & Salvage, by the way, which has been in its new location for five months. It’s sleek, clean, and roomy, and sports classrooms and offices inside the building. The coffee-serving area has been transplanted from the old space and looks exactly the same — so, still no espresso machine, but they’ve got fancy bottled root beer and ginger beer, and a variety of cookies and similar treats, some vegan.

January 28, 2010 at 1:53 am Leave a comment

Upcoming Bay Area Shows

This is not an exhasutive list; it’s just a clutch of shows that I’d love to see if only it were a five-day weekend.  You need more than this.  Go read The Bay Area Improvisers’ Network (bayimproviser.com) or the Transbay Calendar (.org), and bookmark them, and check them often so that the fuzzy happy goodwill of the local music community doesn’t wear off.

Anyway:

Weds. 1/27 — Myra Melford’s Be Bread at the new Freight & Salvage, Berkeley.  You already know about this.

Thu. 1/28 — Full Moon Concerts return to the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco.  Polly Moller organized 12 shows last year based around the themes of different types of full moons (here’s the Long Night’s Moon, from December), and she’s apparently up for another cycle. First up, it’s the Cold Moon: “Experience the lunar radiations and transmissions of Thomas Dimuzio and Scott Arford as seen only by the ear.”

Fri. 1/29 and Sat. 1/30 — Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet at the Hillside Club, Berkeley.  Mu-hahahahaha!  Unlike Beth Custer’s Clarinet Thing (previously noted), Edmund Welles is all bass clarinets and draws from an even wider musical stretch. Including metal. They’re not above doing a Spinal Tap cover (in intricate, meticulously transcribed form, I might add).  It’s been a 10-year labor of love for leader Cornelius Boots, and you need to read about it in this East Bay Express article.  (Separately, you can read what I thought of the band in 2008.)

Sat. 1/30 — Aram Shelton brings his Active Music series (previous reference) to Bluesix, a cozy venue situated in the parlor room of a SF Mission District duplex.  Shelton’s Marches will play, followed by the free jazz of Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch (previously noted here).

Sun. 1/31 — Citta di Vitti at Cafe Royale, San Francisco.  A trio organized by Phillip Greenlief (sax) and inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s films. Expect a spare but warm, jazzy sound, embellished with some rich sax soloing. Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and John Hanes on drums.

Mon. 2/1 — What, you missed Citta di Vitti on Sunday night?  Well here’s your chance:  Go see them Monday at the Make-Out Room, a bar that’s been handing the rock stage over to jazz folks once a month.  Citta di Vitti opens, followed by The Little Blue House Suite, and then Aram Shelton’s Ton Trio (previously noted here).

January 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

Tony Wilson Does Viola

I’ve just gotten done listening to the first section of The People Look Like Flowers at Last, the new one from the Tony Wilson Sextet (Drip Audio, 2009). I’d been meaning to pick this up anyway, but absolutely couldn’t resist after seeing that the album opens with “Lachrymae,” by Benjamin Britten. Wilson has really jazzed it up, and it works.

“Lachrymae” is a 20th-century classical-music piece for viola and piano. When I first started my irrational viola obsession, I found that the piece was everywhere. I ended up buying two versions, by violists Kim Kashkashian (on ECM and recorded pristinely, of course) and Yuri Bashmet (in a version rescripted for string orchestra rather than piano).  I’ve since seen it performed live. And now, here it is, in jazz version.

Now, my musical memory is far from perfect or even good, especially when it comes to classical. There are only three parts of “Lachrymae” that I can identify by ear or “sing” out loud. There’s the very beginning — which I don’t recall note-for-note, but I know it when I hear it. There’s the first variation that comes immediately after that: It’s where the tempo picks up and a recognizably repeated line kicks in. And late in the piece — the climax, I suppose, there’s some aggressive viola sawing — conjuring up dark, looming ghosts.

Wilson’s “Lachrymae” starts with the prelude, done up with harmonica and cello for a buzzy sound, heavier than the original. And then the first variation kicks in (“Movement #1”), with a surprisingly jazzy bassline and a kicking 7/8 rhythm (at least the first bar is 7/8; I lose track of the time after that) propelled by Dylan van der Schyf on drums and a light guitar line.  (The original is in 3/4, as you can see here.)

The quivering, sawing viola part (“Movement #10”)  is replaced by a stream of guitar notes played under dissonant chords formed by the sax and trumpet.  It seems calmer at first, with less abandon, but it goes on and on (as does the original), building tension and power not through overt means, but through the cumulative effect of all the notes. Wilson has also evened out the tempo — moving all (almost all?) the notes into eighth-note form to create a kind of robot babble, which helps push that cumulative effect forward.

Many of the movements include jazzy riffs that become ostinato backing for what I think are the viola parts: Wilson plays the viola part on guitar, and I think he wrote the riffs himself, or at least derived them himself from the original piano parts.  It’s going to be fun dissecting the original piece having heard this fresh interpretation.

To audiences that don’t know the original, “Lachrymae” probably comes across as a nice avant-jazz suite, with melody that’s nearly accesible but still angular and exploratory, and some nice moments for the cello, sax, and trumpet.

Because it’s got solos and improv segments, Wilson’s “Lachrymae” clocks in at about 30 minutes, compared with 13 or 16 minutes for the readings I’ve got.

I like Wilson’s music a lot.  I first picked up on him during a trip to his home base of Vancouver, where I picked up his album Lowest Note on a recommendation in an ad for the awesome Zulu Records store.  (Great indie store where the clerk also turned me on to Dan Bejar’s Destroyer.)  And his often rocking Pearls Before Swine (Drip Audio, 2007) includes a kick-ass version of “I Am the Walrus.”

January 26, 2010 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Myra Melford’s Be Bread’s Return

Myra Melford — The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12, 2010)

I’ve always liked Myra Melford‘s music, but The Whole Tree Gone is particularly crisp and exciting, mixing the briskness of her early albums with a polished, cinematic style.

(And you can hear it all live in Berkeley on Jan. 27 — the band’s playing at the Freight & Salvage that night. I’ve yet to see the new F&S building at 2020 Addison. Anybody got a report on what it’s like?)

The new album is with Melford’s band, Be Bread, which made its debut on The Image of Your Body (Cryptogramophone, 2006). That album was built on the perky jazz that Melford was known for in the mid-’90s — Cuong Vu‘s trumpet is a particularly handy tool there.  But it was also part of a developing phase born of Melford’s studies in India, an earthiness that’s especially drawn out when she plays the harmonium, a hand-pumped, accordion-like instrument. The track “Be Bread,” bearing the band’s name, echoes the happy sounds of a bazaar, with busy strings and airy harmonium chugging forward to the rhythm.

The Whole Tree Gone opens with something different, though. “Through the Same Gate” is propelled by some solid, clean piano chords, but Ben Goldberg‘s clarinet (a welcome addition) and Brandon Ross‘ acoustic guitar, along with  pillow-puff bass lines from Stomu Takeishi, create a comforting, organic setting: Italian villas with vine-covered porticos everywhere.

Most of the album goes for more of a modern jazz motif– lots of acoustic guitar, love the sound of those strings! — with Melford dishing the occasional piano frenzy. The title track includes some stretches of free ecstacy, with the whole group playing as piano notes rain down around them. It also ends on a strong, pulsing riff that’s got a very, well, very Melford-like sound. The core personality is there, but it lives in expanded surroundings.

The track I really want to point out isn’t one of the obvious ones, not one that might grab you immediately. It’s “Night,” which travels at a slow pace but has a tough, persistent intensity, right from the start. It’s pretty, but it’s also a moody, meaty piece, and I really like the Metheny-like wide landscape feeling that builds in the first half, like setting a stage. The song rewards the patient by building in intensity, leading up to a soft-crash of a crescendo; the band rides through the high-water mark like a boat casually riding an ocean swell.

There’s a similarity there to “Lace,” a slower-yet-tough track on Ben Goldberg’s Go Home. (And like “Night,” it’s that album’s third track.) “Lace” isn’t the fastest, catchiest, or funkiest song on the album, but damned if I don’t keep coming back to it.

It’s the newness of the sound that impresses me on The Whole Tree Gone. There’s a lot here that’s fresh, that provides new contexts for Melford’s dry-crackle style of free-jazz piano, and it seems to help push her solos to new edges.  The pieces have had the benefit of years of performance, with this band and others, and the result does feel like a finished (yet expandable) body of work.

Other tracks of note include “Moon Bird” (an 11-minute piece with some lovely composing that tests new harmonic ideas), and “I See a Horizon” (which has more of an old-school Melford sound).

January 25, 2010 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Playlist: January 22, 2010

Click here to see the full KZSU playlist for Friday, Jan. 22, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Details/notes:

* Matthew Welch — “Self/Non-Self And Luminosity In The Bardo” — Luminosity (Porter, 2009)You gotta love bagpipes.  That is, if you’re going to make it through most of this album, you have got to love bagpipes.  That’s Welch’s instrument, and this album compiles some of his compositions … for solo bagpipe … for three bagpipes … for five bagpipes.  It gets shrill; if I ever play the five-pipe track, I’ll warn the audience to turn down the radio first.

The plus side: With dronescapes being a perfectly acceptable form of experimental music, Welch’s work has an obvious home. (Think about it: bagpipes are the original drone instrument.)  Also, there are two 20-minute pieces for large ensemble.  “Symphony of Drones #1,” ironically, doesn’t drone; it’s a spritely, bustling group improv with some agile bagpipes thrown in the mix. “Self/Non-Self” is a different animal, a 20-minute concerto for harp and bagpipeless ensemble that does drone in parts, albeit against some nicely scattery harp plucking by Zeena Parkins.

* Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Jeff Arnal — “Brooklyn Mantra” (Generate, 2009)It’s a 7″, one of three such disks we got from Arnal recently.  Experimental jazz singles!  I love it.  The A and B sides here make up all of “Brooklyn Mantra.”  I wussed out of playing the A side, in favor of the noisier B side, which is dominated by a one-chord guitar rhythm from Diaz-Infante, over which Arnal plays various percussion. Energetic, abstract, and a bit lo-fi. I liked it a lot, and I’ll be anxious to hear the other two 7″ disks when I get time.

* Tim Berne — “Quicksand” — The Sevens (New World, 2002) … Just in a modern-classical mood today, I suppose. This album compiles pieces Berne wrote for guitarist Marc Ducret and/or the ARTE Quartet (a sax quartet).  “Quicksand” is a 25-minute piece that combines all three (Berne, Ducret, ARTE) for some lively improvisation and galloping composed segments. I skimmed off the first 10 minutes for radio purposes, but the entire piece would be worthwhile someday, even in a radio environment where most listeners aren’t paying full attention.

* Bruce Friedman — “MCT-4 with Duos” — O.P.T.I.O.N.S. (pfMentum, 2009)It stands for Optional Parameters To Improvise Organized Nascent Sounds, and it’s a graphical-score piece intended to be stretched into an improvisatory framework.  The CD starts with a 3-minute run-through of the piece by itself: a scattery, disjoint, group jumble that reminds me of Rich Woodson’s Ellipsis (which performs through-composed pieces of dense complexity, full of sharp precision corners).

That’s followed by three longer takes, extended to include solos (or, in this case, duos).  They all tend to be calmer than the first track, and each of the longer tracks has its own personality. There’s apparently a sense of form that can develop from the original piece. No wonder it’s being used in the music curriculum at a Vancouver college.  Read more about O.P.T.I.O.N.S. here.

….. Notice how everything this week was “pieces,” not “songs.”  Not intentional.  Either I was in a modern-classical mood today, or I’m just getting all fru-fru with how I describe the music. Maybe I’ll remedy that by dragging out some Gutbucket next week.

January 22, 2010 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

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