Another Joëlle Léandre Gig

Joëlle Léandre, Maguelone Vidal, Raymond BoniTrace (Red Toucan, 2009)

Joëlle Léandre is one of those wandering improvisers, an instigator who swoops into town, records with a couple of new or old friends, then moves on. Obviously, this gives each recording a different character, but they’re always anchored by her meaty, almost visual style of bass.

One thing that’s consistent is the setting, always laced with subtlety. Léandre favors bandmates who respect silences without using outright pauses; it’s not lowercase improvising, because there’s a constant sense of motion, but the pace can be relaxed, the volumes less than 11 or even 8. Trace, with Maguelone Vidal on sax (especially soprano) and Raymond Boni on guitar (electric or acoustic), fits that mold.

Without drums, it’s nice to hear how the trio pauses and breathes, tiny stops that punctuate what could otherwise be a rather shrill performance. Vidal gets some abrasive whines out of the soprano on tracks like “Joseph et Joseph” or “Tractile” — long, slow howls that make a nice table-setter for Leandre’s busy basswork, especially when she’s playing arco.

There are definite classical overtones on tracks like “Gros Dilemme” — and not just because the bowed bass can sound so classical. It’s the saxophone there that seems, in spots, to be following the carefully carved lines of a recital, spices with occasional, small knots of fast-jazz skronking.

The album is sometimes spare and often slow, but comes across as extroverted. There’s some nice bluster, on “Tube,” for instance. But I’m drawn toward “Des Prunes,” which takes the bluster down a notch but still keeps an aggressive, dark momentum rolling … or “Cumuls,” a languid piece with relaxed (but shrill) soprano sax.

Carla Kihlstedt’s Pandaemonium

I’m still sorry to have missed “Pandæmonium,” the graphical-score composition performed by ROVA for the Other Minds festival a few weeks ago.

Carla Kihlstedt wrote the piece based on the book by Humphrey Jennings, which collects writings on “the coming of the machine.” The writings span the years 1660 to 1886, but I have a feeling their thoughts, criticisms, and fears are a lot like what we consider today. (I also have a sinking feeling that many of the fears proved true, and we’ve just adapted to a worsened world. That’s how I feel about television, for instance.)

ROVA has posted a three-part interview with Kihlstedt and her helper about the thought processes behind “Pandaemonium.”

I’d still like to hear “Pandaemonium” sometime, even on CD. But something in Part III of the interview rings true: The uniqueness of things is vanishing. A live performance, even of a piece that’ s been performed to death, remains unique.  Does a mass-distributed recording of that performance dilute the uniqueness?  What would the writers in Pandaemonium (the book) think of my experiencing the music — which includes “sheet music” in the form of one-of-a-kind cloth-stitched designs — through the lens of a recording?

Switchboard Festival, Aaron Novik

Gubbish and Kipple are two sides of the Aaron Novik coin.  (A coin that has about six sides, if you want to take the analogy literally.)

On the grand org chart of jazz, Gubbish draws a dotted line to Patrick Cress’ Telepathy (see here and here), mixing energetic small-group jazz with dashes of Klezmer, a love of odd time signatures, and a touch of snarkiness at the bottom of it all.

Kipple was an improvisational project of Novik’s, leaning towards grooves with funky bass and electric piano.  A comparison to Electric Miles would be too easy and too far off the mark;  I like the description of “retro future,” drawing a futuristic sound out of the space jams of the psychedelic past. Kipple doesn’t go too heavily for the synthesizers or the loops, but it does have repeated riffs that make for some good beats.

Why bring this up, considering both albums are so old? Partly because I played them on the air today (so, consider this a preview offshoot of the March 26 playlist posting).

And I did that because Novik’s Thorny Brocky — another band with a sound I’d guess is apart from these two — is the opener at Sunday’s Switchboard Music Festival in San Francisco.

Switchboard sounds like an eclectic good time: eight hours’ worth of bands from multiple stripes of the spectrum.

Of the other bands I know: The Real Vocal String Quartet brings a classical air to new-folky instrumental music; their new album isn’t at all “avant-jazz” but once I give it a listen, I might still write it up here, so there.  And the festival ends sometime after 10:00 p.m. with miRthkon, a local prog band that I geeked out about here and here.

David S. Ware Returns

David S. Ware — Saturnian (AUM Fidelity, 2010)

Like closure and a new beginning all in one: This is the concert that Ware performed on Oct. 15, 2009, his first show after a life-saving kidney transplant.

The recording, roughly 39 minutes, consists of three pieces, each played on a different type of saxophone.

Track 1: The saxello, fleet and darting. It lacks the wonderfully blusterous punch of the tenor sax but it’s still a delight, opening the concert with an energetic vibe like the sound of good health and grateful  joy. I guess there’s no reason to assume Ware’s sax playing would have suffered — it’s not like he had arthritis or asthma — but it’s still nice to hear, quickly, that he’s in top-notch form. He goes nuts with a high swirling riff near the end — it’s a repetitious passage but inserted at the right point to make what’s effectively a climactic moment followed by a long conclusion.

Track 2: Stritch, a.k.a. Beuscher straight alto.  Lower register, still blurry fast in its phrasing. But this time, Ware settles into a generally calmer demeanor, more conversational, or maybe more like a monologue, with fewer of the quick-flip runs of tough-to-discern harmony. Wraps up nicely.

Track 3: Finally, that tenor sound!  Rich and throaty, starting with a few introductory notes, a tap on the shoulder, before touching on deeper sounds and fast-running phrases. There’s a raspy soulfulness to the quick flurries of notes, with low barks to punctuate phrases. It ends in an ecstatic upper-range squeal and a brief, spoken thank you from Ware.

It’s interesting to hear Ware against a blank backdrop; he seems to use the space differently than he does with his quartet, which is dominated by that grand, reverent, towering sound (as on this video clip from the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival 2004).  And the concert is a nice snippet of history.

So good to hear Ware back in action and back to health.  Now, if I can only manage to see him play live someday.


Minamo [Satoki Fujii/Carla Kihlstedt] — Kuroi Kawa [Black River] (Tzadik, 2009)

Minamo, as Fujii and Kihlstedt now call their piano/violin duet, is producing strong music that’s just this side of classical. These pieces combine the stern precision of serious chamber music, opened up with the rhythms of jazz soloing and the daring openness of improvised music. They have an overtly classical sound but tickle my ear the way good jazz improvising does.

The two have performed together since at least 2002 and released an earlier CD, titled Minamo, on Henceforth Records out of San Diego (a label with some really intriguing titles in its young catalogue).

I thought I would favor the longer pieces, but the short snippets on the 18-track Disc One, the one recorded in-studio, caught my ear more. Combined, they sometimes play like multiple movements of a single, thought-out piece, each movement conveying its mood and then stepping aside. Most of these tracks don’t cross the 3-minute mark and stick to one mood or sound, yet they pack the detail of novellas.

“Kagami” (“Mirror”) is a spooky hallway, marked by alien high squeaks of violin and the metallic crash of hands on bare piano strings.  “Suiheisen” (“Between Sky and Water”) is a slow interlude, leading into the playful chamber sparseness of “Koneko” (“Kitty”).

“Kibo” (“Hope”) uses accordion and trumpet violin played in sad, small figures. “Chihisen” (“Between Sky and Land”) plays like a sonata but throws some jazzy chords from the piano, little curveballs in an otherwise slow, emotional sonority.

The five longer pieces (and one exciting 3-minute encore) are on Disc Two, recorded live at the 2008 Vancouver Jazz Festival.  Despite what I said about liking the short pieces, I do enjoy hearing how Fujii and Kihlstedt take advantage of a wider margin of time, whether it’s a slowed-down contemplative seriousness that builds (“Aoi Saka”/”Blue Slope”) or a quiet rustle giving way to an upbeat allegro dance (on the title track, which includes some of the best moments on the album).

The passages of extended techniques that show up on both discs are admirable, but some of the strongest effects come from more traditional playing, whether in calm contemplation or flashy slashing and pounding. You can sense this strongly on the live track, “Midori No Shinkiro” (“Green Mirage”): It has a wispy segment consisting of swirly sounds whispered off of metallic strings, but it’s afterwards, when it settles into a more classical-sounding mood, that it reaches a deeper level of improvisation.

Playlist: March 12, 2010

Click here for the complete KZSU playlist for Friday, March 12, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.  A few notes:

* Ornette Coleman — “Song X” — Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar, 2006) ….. In celebration of Ornette’s 80th birthday earlier this week.  A fast-and-crazy song (most of the album is in that vein) that includes a drum solo and a violin solo.

* Biréli Lagrène — “Lullaby of Birdland” — Gipsy Trio (Dreyfuss, 2009) ….. I do like spinning the gypsy jazz once in a while. And OMG, does he ever shred on the acoustic guitar solo here. Insane.

* Eri Yamamoto — “I Was Born” — In Each Day, Something Good (AUM Fidelity, 2009) ….. Yamamoto’s piano playing has a gossamer touch that’s sometimes difficult to integrate into my show.  Hers is a piano style that wins you over slowly, rather than clubbing you over the head a la Cecil Taylor.  But she’s got some avant-garde cred, having played with William Parker both as a side musician and as a leader. This is one of the more brisk, upbeat tracks on her new album.

Ornette at 80 (Bix at 107)

On the West Coast, I’m still not too late to wish Ornette Coleman a happy 80th birthday.

I was out of town in November when he played at Davies Symphony Hall, possibly the only time I’ll realistically have a chance to see him. (I keep crossing my fingers for some kismet on my annual business trips to NYC, but it’s like hunting fireflies with a frisbee.) And now, I’ve nearly missed the all-day tribute to Ornette on radio WKCR.  I redeemed myself by catching the last 15 minutes.

Kudos to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for not forgetting one of that city’s musical sons. Reporter Preston Jones went to NYC for an interview that ran about 10 days ago.  Sample Ornette quote:  “I think every human being has a moment of something no one understands but themselves.”

The New York Times was less on top of things; Corey Kilgannon’s blog entry refers to realizing it was Coleman’s birthday and requesting an impromptu visit. Coleman, busy writing music, grants the interview (more like a casual chat), oblivious to birthday-party preparations around him.

On the east coast, the day has ended, and WKCR is now into its all-day Bix Beiderbecke tribute, honoring the short-lived trumpeter’s birthday. (They do this for a lot of jazz greats; WKCR is a treasure for any stripe of jazz fan.)

Not knowing much about Bix, I just now looked up his bio in Len Lyons’ The 101 Best Jazz Albums, an excellent resource, published in 1980, that covers jazz from the earliest days up to the then-modern free jazz.

I’m glad for the education, but … good gravy, it’s depressing. Bix died young, and “while he was alive, his name appeared in print only three times,” Lyons writes. A jazz legend who battled alcohol, died young, and was underappreciated by the general public in his time… guess I should have seen that one coming.

All the more reason to appreciate that Ornette is feted and still an audience draw. His 2006 album, Sound Grammar, was a real ear-opener; you could argue it sticks to the crowd-pleasing fast stuff, but it’s so amazingly fast, so bursting with energy. Ornette is 80 and still creating, and still around to hear the applause. That’s something we should all be grateful for.

Quotables, Visuals

I’m about to sit down and listen to the Minamo album, Kuroi Kawa [Black River], for the first time: a double-CD on Tzadik of Satoko Fujii and Carla Kihlstedt, in piano/violin duos.  I’d sampled the title track but haven’t given the whole thing a proper listen.

I find myself pausing, though, to contemplate the quotation on the CD booklet.

The albums in Tzadik’s Oracles series, devoted to women in experimental music, come with quotations. Carla Kihlstedt once told me it was a requirement for her album, Two Foot Yard.  And her choice was unique: She used a note she’d written herself, as a child, to her parents, apologizing for falling asleep during a Mozart concert.

For Minamo, she and Fujii chose a quotation from Japanese poet Akiko Yosano, from 1911. I feel like I shouldn’t spoil it by typing the full quotation, but it’s about mountains moving.  Not in the geological sense of earthquakes and faults, but in a larger, sweeping sense, poetic yet literal. “You need not believe it,” she writes. And then she ends with two lines about the awakening of the world’s women — something as unbelievable in 1911 as mountains moving, and just as powerful. I like it.

I guess I just spoiled it by giving away the ending. Oh, well.

I’m enjoying the art, too. The CD tray photo looks like some black-and-white scan out of cellular biology… until you read in the credits that it’s a photo of Denali National Park, by QT Luong.  Suddenly things make more sense — that white curve is a frozen river; the black patches above might be the unfrozen spots of a lake. It doesn’t look as good as the shots you’ll see on Luong’s Web page, but it gives you a sense of the majesty of the place.

You just don’t get these kinds of things from digital downloads.

ROVA Meets Nels Cline

ROVA & Nels Cline Singers — The Celestial Septet (New World, 2010)

One perk of the Other Minds festival was the healthy selection of CDs at the merch table — from the composers, the performers, and Other Minds’ own stacks.  Amid those on Thursday night was a surprise: the about-to-be-released CD of the ROVA/Nels Cline Celestial Septet.

The band combines the ROVA Saxophone Quartet with the guitar/bass/drums trio called the Nels Cline Singers. A 2007 show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley was the band’s debut, I think, followed by a show at Yoshi’s in May 2008.

These shows were a real treat, providing lots of free-jazz fireworks and healthy doses of Nels freakouts. One song that stood out in memory was “Trouble Ticket,” a crackling Steve Adams composition that had the kind of dynamism that seemed suited for radio; it’s why I chose to play that track last Friday.

But the song I really wanted to hear was a memorable Cline composition that was a standout of the live performances.  Its middle part involves the four ROVA players wandering offstage and out of the auditorium altogether. Gradually, they work their way back, each playing small, relatively quiet phrases.  They work their way back to the stage and surround Amendola, like space rocks drawn to a gravitational center, and they continue to play in snippets while Amendola records and processes the sounds into an electronics stew.

The piece was untitled at the time and I’m guessing it’s the same piece that goes by “The Buried Quilt” on this record. Lacking the live-performance aspects, the studio version settles for a pause in the dark intro, after a segment of clamorous drums by Scott Amendola backed by dissonant sax parts.  From there, tiny sax sounds start to dart and swirl, then give way to an explosion of sound. From there, it alternates: loud brazen sax, then a bluesy-quiet sax/guitar duet, then more bombast, eventually ending with grand, sweeping gestures.  It’s a fitting way to end an album, and the piece presents a wide enough canvas to be a worthy listen on its own — but it’s still a particular treat live.

The album opens with a daring choice: Amendola’s powerful composition “Cesar Chavez.”  It’s got the emotional weight of a great song but not the feel of an opener: crawling, atmosphering.  Its combination of sorrow and hopefulness made for a strong closing to Amendola’s 2005 album, Believe.  As an opener, it’s not the obvious pick, but it brings a sense of gravitas that serves the rest of the album well.

Albert Ayler-like passages pop up like guideposts during the 25-minute “Whose To Know,” written by Larry Ochs.  That track includes plenty of exciting stretches including a killer bass solo from Devin Hoff.  Ayler also figures into the formula of the 2.5-minute “Head Count,” another Ochs track that includes prodigious Cline feedback.

The Celestial Septet gets officially released on March 15.

Playlist: March 5, 2010/Other Minds

Click here for the full playlist for Friday, March 5, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

I started with the intention of playing just a little bit of Other Minds-related music.  (See here and here.)  I wanted to show off the new ROVA/Nels Cline and something from Carla Kihlstedt, and figured I’d wrap it up with Kidd Jordan.

But upon searching our awesome KZSU music database (, or better yet, try this out), I was able to about double the amount of stuff I had to play.  Here’s the rundown.

* ROVA & Nels Cline Singers — “Trouble Ticket” — The Celestial Septet (New World, 2010)
… Album comes out March 15, but ROVA had early copies on sale at the show. They’ll be there tonight as well, I’d assume. More on this later.

* Minamo [Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii] — “Kuroi Kawa – Black River” — Kuroi Kawa – Black River (Tzadik, 2009)
… More on this one later, when I’ve given it a full listen. Chamber-like duets of violin and piano, with occasional bouts of violence.

* Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, William Parker — “Living Peace” — Palm Of Soul (AUM Fidelity, 2006)
… Ecstatic jazz. Jordan doesn’t just blow fast; the opening is a keening, moaning lament; then things heat up over the next 14 minutes.

* Gyan Riley — “Yubalation” — Food for the Bearded (New Albion, 2002)
… Hadn’t encountered Riley before. His classical guitar has the density of John Fahey and the beauty of Spanish guitar. I picked a track that teams him up with viola and percussion, but he’s fascinating solo as well.

* Tom Johnson — “The 1287 Five-Note Chords [excerpt]” — The Chord Catalogue (XI, 1999)
* Tom Johnson — “The 78 Eleven-Note Chords” — The Chord Catalogue (XI, 1999)
… Couldn’t resist. Johnson is big on using combinatorics as a compositional tool. For instance, his “Combinations” for string quartet, one of the pieces being performed tonight, assigns notes so that each member plays one of four notes, and they cycle through all possible combinations. The Chord Catalogue is of similar mind, but quite extreme: It’s every possible chord in one octave. Played in order. I recall a review in an avant-garde-friendly magazine, and even they had a hard time dealing with this one! I love the idea — seriously love it, and if someone pitched it to me, I’d be all in favor of it. And to play the piece perfectly requires intense concentration on the player’s part. But I don’t know if I have the stuff to listen start to finish.

Luckily, Johnson adds pauses (assigned at mathematically chosen spots) but it’s still monotonous. And written, when you consider the pauses are pre-planned. What’s amusing, when you play the 11-note chords right after the five-noters, is that Johnson had to slow down markedly in order to play them.

* Tom Johnson — “Eighty-Eights” — Music for 88 (XI, 1991)
… A combinatorics piece that’s easier to take: Solo piano, where each of the 88 keys is used exactly once. But Johnson divides the keyboard into sections and patterns, so that you get melody, tempo, and mood variations as the piece progresses.