Architeuthis Better Not Step on My Lawn

Architeuthis Walks on LandNatura Naturans (Carrier, 2010)

The CD gives no indication that you’re listening to and Amy Cimini on viola and Katherine Young on bassoon. Maybe the idea is to absorb their identities into the duo, to force you to think of the music as coming from a single entity, a single mind.

Maybe I just overthink these things.

Those who’ve heard Young’s solo bassoon album, Further Secret Origins (Porter, 2009), won’t be surprised at Moment One of this album, when a buzzing, throbbing bassoon sound drops into the scene, followed shortly by scribbly, scratchy viola bowing. Young pumps away at one tone, then another, in a jumpy Morse code, while Cimini works the viola through aggressive gestures thick with glissando.

The music is organic, with the two instruments played acoustically, no effects. It sounds mostly improvised, with all the dynamism that the label implies. Some tracks linger on one trick or formation for a while, like the upward duet squeaking on “Glitterbird,” but the sound is full of variations and pulse.  Young’s Origins relied on dronelike states, with the bassoon adding pockmarks that added up to a feeling of activity and motion. The same process is hinted at here, but Cimini’s viola is more wild. The two together create a vivid sense of color.

One composed-sounding passage shows up on “The Field,” when Young and Cimini drop out of a really interesting, bubbling improv and tiptoe into a careful melody. As the composed line starts to unravel, Young sticks to airy tones of concentration, while Cimini plucks strings in a spare but  quickening cadenza.

The bassoon’s dronelike scraping takes over on “Surgeon of Fades,” providing a stucco backdrop to some pulsing, downcast viola playing. That one ends with some nifty, high-register viola sawing with a simultaneously plucked lower string — which sounds really music-techno-geeky, but it’s a neat effect.

Working With Time

Fred FrithRivers and Tides (Winter & Winter, 2003)

Technically, I haven’t listened to this album, but I’ve heard the music, after finally seeing the Thomas Riedelscheimer film, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time.

Frith’s music is the aspect that got me to know about this film in the first place. For such a gentle, quiet setting, he applies an appropriately minimal touch — small bursts of tone or sound, surrounded by blank space. Influences from Chinese and Japanese music are evident.

Like Goldsworthy’s art, the music is thought out, chosen to blend with the surface. It’s not ambient, and there’s a variety of sounds, produced mostly by Frith on guitars, violin, berimbao (Brazilian stringed instrument that he infuses with a zen Asian touch), and samples. He’s also got a band of bass, sax, and drums at his disposal, producing atmospheric sounds, not trio jazz.

The movie’s not about Frith, obviously, but his music gets its moments, particularly at one point near the end. It has to do with a large-scale installation Goldsworthy did in New York, a commission that, unlike most of the art in the film, is built to withstand time and the elements. What makes this segment so effective is that you see the work up-close, in progress, and it seems unremarkable. Then they show you what he was really doing, and — well, I won’t spoil it (and you can’t miss it). Frith’s faster-paced, chiming theme quickens the pulse of the movie at this point, rightly so.

If you don’t know Andy Goldsworthy, his art uses materials found in nature, and it’s often ephemeral, meant to be destroyed over time. The opening sequence has him breaking up icicles, melting the ends of fragments to form his trademark switchback shape, positioned as if weaving in and out of a rock. The serpentine icicle is made possible by the pieces refreezing into place, and it shines (literally) as the sun strikes it. The sunlight “makes” the piece, and eventually unmakes it.

For Goldsworthy, it’s all mostly about making a deeper contact with his materials. But there’s something being said as well about the strength and indifference of nature as it pushes forward, going around or through Goldsworthy’s pieces.

It’s not necessarily about destruction. Some pieces aren’t complete until being overwhelmed by the elements. Consider the dome of driftwood in the photo above. When the tide comes in, the edges drift away, but the structure stays intact — and gets carried off into the current, down an estuary. “You feel as if you’ve touched the heart of the place,” Goldsworthy says — one  of the many small, profound sound bites set against placid backdrops of nature.

The film also demonstrates the risk that I suspect is present in all art but doesn’t get discussed much, especially in the visual arts. There must be sculptures that crack incorrectly, paintings that go astray because of an incorrect line.

So, here, we get to see Goldsworthy painstakingly build a bowl shape out of rings and rings of flat stones, only to have the whole thing split apart, collapsing downwards like children’s blocks. The film then goes on to show what he was trying to build: an egg shape, standing on its fatter end (so this “bowl” was just the beginning). There’s one in an airport. One on the side of a mountain road. One made of ice, sitting in a river. And finally — the one Goldsworthy was trying to build, completed this time.

He puts the final pebbles on the top. Then the camera dissolves forward to the tide rising, turning the egg into a small hill. That’s juxtaposed with another egg, built of brick, in a field — where it’s the overgrowth of plants, rather than the tide, that buries the “cone,” as Goldsworthy calls it. As he points out, the shape is gone, but still there.

Keeping the FMP Catalog Alive

The FMP catalog has done some strong, extensive work in documenting the great improvisers of our time. That includes lots of European creative music from the likes of Peter Brotzmann, but also American masters, including an extensive set of Cecil Taylor recordings in permutations from huge orchestras down to a duo with Gunter “Baby” Sommer. (Does he have a solo album in there as well? I’m not sure.)

For all of that gushing, though, I don’t have many FMP albums. They weren’t easy to find in the States; they were expensive; and, apparently, they’re now gone. Out of print.

Enter Destination: Out, the terrific blog for free jazz analysis and sample tracks. They’re offering FMP albums for download, for $10 apiece — actually $8 if you move before Oct. 4.

“We’re be rolling out a couple of additional titles every few weeks. We’re starting with two favorites, from two key bands in the FMP stable — the essential trios of Peter Kowald, Wadada Leo Smith, and Gunter Sommer; and Schlippenbach, Parker, and Paul Lovens.”

You’ll find the full explanation here.  The Destination: Out download store is hosted at Bandcamp.  (You can give the albums complete listens, as well.)

Amendola Approacheth

Drummer Scott Amendola is about to put out his first album leading a trio, Lift. It’s coming Oct. 19.

You can hear tracks by going to Amendola’s “Audio/Video” page. Click on “radio,” and the fixed program will start with the snappy funk of “Lima Bean” followed by the airy drum solo that opens “Lift,” the title track that sketches a peaceful twilight setting. (Then stick around for the high-strung funk of “59th Street Blues,” from Amendola’s first album.)

You can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but here goes. The surface is showing a reimagining of T.J.Kirk-type funk and a rediscovery of jazz territory. But the start to “Lift” shows there’s going to be room for some wide-open improvisation as well.

Amendola also has a love of African pop and a growing sensibility for electronics both as featured instruments and as backdrop. Those factors gave the Scott Amendola Band a broad scope. The most recent album, Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005) does have some funk and rock elements — one track could be a Crazy Horse instrumental — but it’s also got deep, ambitious pieces like the reverent “Cesar Chavez.”

That band also benefitted from a lineup of expansive players — Jeff Parker and Nels Cline on guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Lift pares things down to a trio, with Parker and S.A.Band bassist John Shifflett. But at the same time, Amendola has broadened his scope in compositions and in performance options — his electronics play some key roles in recent Nels Cline Singers albums, The Celestial Septet and the colossal Initiate.

Amendola is taking the trio on a small CD release tour around the Bay Area and up the coast.  (Note that the itinerary includes Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View — a neat local coffee house that’s willing to go out on a limb for the sake of good music. Support them!)

Sat. Oct. 23 — Blue Whale, Los Angeles
Sun. Oct. 24 — Dana St. Roasting, Mountain View, 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Oct. 25 — Yoshi’s Oakland, separate shows at 8:00 and 10:00
Tue. Oct. 26 — Earshot Jazz Festival (Cornish College of the Arts), Seattle
Wed. Oct. 27 — The Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, Ore.
Thur. Oct. 28 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, 7:00, or 6:00 if you want dinner beforehand

Upcoming Shows: Sept. 20-29+, 2010

UPDATE 9/24: OMG, the People & Thingamajigs festival, mentioned at the bottom, made it onto cable TV news. Check out The Rachel Maddow Show, and look into Kent Jones’ stuff.

It’s one of those times where a lot of interesting shows have clustered. You can keep up with Bay Area creative music shows at BayImproviser or Transbay Calendar — they use the same calendar database.

Here’s a summary of some upcoming events, including an unusual number of multiple-show appearances. All shows are eveningish (8 or 9 p.m., usually) unless noted. 

The Lost Trio — The longstanding Bay Area trio that turns pop songs into jazzy takes that aren’t cheesy. They also cover Monk, Ellington, and country tunes, creating solid platforms for peppy jazz exploration. (Previous mention here.)

    • Mon. 9/20, not really The Lost Trio but the same sax & drums paired with a guitar, at The Ivy Room (see below)
    • Mon. 9/27, The Ivy Room (San Pablo Ave. @ Solano Ave., Albany, really close to Berkeley)
    • Wed. 9/29, NOON concert for SFJazz (Levi Strauss Plaza, San Francisco, free!)

Marco Eneidi — Alto saxophonist Eneidi is back from Vienna again, with a couple of exciting programs on his itinerary. (Previous blog entries here and here.) The second pairs an Eneidi ensemble with Kihnoua, the malleable Larry Ochs group that just might be performing in bare-bones trio form this time. (Previous entry on Kihnoua.)

    • Thu. 9/23, quartet with Ava Mendoza (guitar), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums), plus electronics/noise acts, at First Church of the Buzzard (2601 Adeline @ 26th, Oakland)
    • Fri. 9/24, quartet with Vinny Golia (woodwinds), Mezzacappa, Anderson; plus Kihnoua, at Community Music Center (544 Capp St., San Francisco)

Wrack — Kyle Bruckmann first convened this group in Chicago, and he’s now bringing the idea with him to the West Coast. With viola, bass clarinet, and oboe, Wrack puts a distinctively different sound on its chamber jazz improvising. It’s more tart, slightly sour. You can easily hear that the instrumentation isn’t the usual, and on CDs, it’s been a terrific experience. Wrack plays twice by themselves and once with ROVA.

    • Fri. 9/24, College of Marin (Lefort Recital Hall, at Sir Frances Drake and Laurel streets, Kentfield)
    • Sat. 9/25, Trinity Chamber Concerts (2320 Dana Street, Berkeley)
    • Fri. 10/1, Community Music Center (544 Capp St., btw. 20th/21st, San Francisco)

Other Minds — I don’t know who Dane Rudhyar was, but if Other Minds is this interested, so am I.  They’ve put together a Rudhyar program that’s getting a couple of dates:

    • Mon. 9/27 at Swedenborgian Church (2107 Lyon St., SF)
    • Wed. 9/29 at Valley Presbyterian Church (945 Portola Rd., Portola Valley)

Coltrane Tribute — It’s Coltrane Birthday season, and I would assume there’s a concert or two every year around the Bay Area that I’m not aware of. This time, though, one of them lands in the Luggage Store Gallery, a regular improv spot. Dan Plonsey, Steve Horowitz, and Vinny Golia will represent on the saxophone, and there’ll be readings as well.

San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra — The classical new-music group convenes again. Serious music in a neighborly atmosphere. The theme this time is “Animal Vegetable Mineral,” and the slate includes pieces by the late Jorge Liederman, the non-late Terry Riley, and SFCCO members.

Music for People and Thingamajigs — The 13th installment of this annual festival celebrating not only experimental music but creative, new instruments. The Thingamajigs folks are a bona fide nonprofit group that takes to the schools, teaching children the joy and education that can be found in building instruments and messing around with sound.

Mehldau’s Metheny Side

It’s not avant-garde by any stretch, and some of the musicians who’ve noticed themselves on this blog might be appalled to be put in this company, but — yes, I listen to regular jazz on occasion, including Brad Mehldau’s latest, Highway Rider.

The album augments his trio (which he’s ending, apparently) with Joshua Redman on saxophone and a chamber orchestra on a few tracks. It’s ambitious and strikes me as sounding particularly Pat Metheny-esque.

I’m not a fan of big string sections with jazz. Yes, they can dial up the drama, but a lifetime of TV and movies has my brain linking a cinematic sound with corniness.  Not always, but usually.  I recall some years back, when KZSU, by total coincidence, received a spate of jazz CDs that added string quartets, mostly in unimaginative wannabe-classical arrangements. That didn’t help.

(This is part of what impressed me so much with Yoni Kretzmer‘s New Dilemma, mentioned in the previous post. His string trio forms a bona fide jazz rhythm section that’s swinging, serious, or vivacious when appropriate. They’re non-symphonic.)

Some of the orchestral touches are novel, though. The contrabassoon gets a low, low passage to end “We’ll Cross the River Together,” for instance. And overall, I appreciate the bigness behind the orchestrated pieces. It’s cinematic and spacious. Maybe the drive-in screen on the album cover is apt in that sense, minus the associations with dilapidation and obsolescence.

Metheny has done similar big-sky work with chamber orchestras. Secret Story (Geffen, 1992) impressed me in places. The ending to “Finding and Believing” uses strings for depth behind a fast, breezy two-chord pattern that’s at once soaring, sentimental, hopeful, and even rocking.

That’s the kind of Metheny connection that comes to mind as I listen to Highway Rider. And on some of the compositions, like “The Falcon Will Fly Again” (a small piece without orchestra), I can almost convince myself Metheny was the composer.

But Mehldau and Metheny aren’t the same person, and that’s easy to hear on the album they did together, Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006). Their melodic sensibilities differ; Metheny being airier, with a deeper ’70s-fusion influence (or maybe it’s all those ECM memories in my head that I’m hearing), Mehldau favoring a snapping energy and a subversive craving for sneaky dissonant moments. Their solos on “Ring of Life,” one of two tracks that includes Mehldau’s bandmates Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), highlight the contrast: Mehldau’s puzzle-like take on fast club jazz followed by Metheny’s horn-sounding synth guitar touching on warm, gray-skied fusion. (Someday I gotta hear the full album they did as a quartet.)

The best part of Highway Rider, though, is that not every track tries to be huge. That would get tedious over the course of two CDs. Small pieces with the regular trio (or quartet, with Redman) make for good breaks from the swelling strings and provide a more crisp experience, a peek into a smaller world that’s no less rich or intense.

I haven’t thoroughly listened to Highway Rider yet, but anyway … that’s what came spilling out of my brain on a first listen, searching, consciously or not, for those Metheny parallels.

Yoni Kretzmer: Shades of Tim Berne

Yoni Kretzmer’s New Dilemma — s/t (Earsay, 2009)

First, the story. Every now and again, I do a news search for Tim Berne — partly to see if he’s up to something that I don’t know about, but also to find like-minded artists. Berne’s name comes up often when a creatively-minded musician’s influences get listed, and he doesn’t get tossed around as lightly as John Zorn. (Zorn is apt but tends to be a go-to guy for music journalists who aren’t really into this stuff.)

Thus did I find the name of Yoni Kretzmer, an Israeli saxophonist. A search on the Downtown Music Gallery site revealed a CD of Kretzmer’s. On a visit to NYC, I asked about it; DMG had mostly sold out of the copies he’d left them while on tour, but proprietor Bruce Lee Gallanter, who knows the store better than I know my disheveled office, tracked down a stray copy in the back. It was a lucky break, because as with a lot of creative musicians, Kretzmer’s strongest distribution network is his own two feet. DMG wasn’t expecting another shipment any time soon.

Kretzmer is a tenor saxophonist with a flowing, agile style that certainly shares some colors with Berne. You can hear it early on in this CD, with an exciting, darting solo alongside Daniel Feingold’s drums on “2-700,” just the two of them, bright and joyous.

The rest of the band is a string trio: cello, bass — and, yes, viola.   They’re the rhythm section, defining the unusual and very enjoyable sound on the album.

Their parts truly are closer to a jazz rhythm section than a string quartet. Listen to the wandering, upbeat composed line on “2-700,” twisty and pleasant. You could easily picture a downtown NYC band performing with a sax and guitar. It does remind me a bit of Tim Berne’s music.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Kretzmer is a Berne clone. He’s not. It’s just a side effect of the way I discovered the CD. Plus, the artwork reminds me of Steve Byram, Berne’s artist of choice.

Look, here’s a non-Bernian moment: “Drunken Morning,” a flowery composition where the strings take the lead, opening with some elegant cello soloing and a gossamer sax accompaniment. It’s elegant, respectful, and mellow — and yet has an undercurrent of attitude. Little tricks between the cello notes — tiny glissandos or liberties taken with timing — show off a jazzy bent.

If none of this sounds out-there enough for you, “Mess in A” sometimes lives up to its name — in a good way. The track ends up in a space with viola and cello playing a deliciously tense set of chords, the backdrop for Kretzmer’s soloing and some spare but swinging bass comping by Ehud Etun.  “She Knows” starts off with a stark improvisation — slashing strings, wandering sax, quietly rumbling drums. To me, it’s the first track that really captures the stark grayness of the album cover. It gives away to a calm tune that drifts across a slow march rhythm.

I know I just said the strings don’t play like a classical quartet, but some of their best moments come from that kind of precision.  One crescendo in “Harder” includes the viola and cello sawing away at chaotic high notes, but doing so in lock step.

I like Kretzmer’s playing a lot, too. I like his control and his creativity, his attention to melody, and the careful placement of rasping or buzzing notes, just enough to add edge.

He’s playing at Downtown Music Gallery on Oct. 10. If you’re in New York, maybe you can hit him up for some CDs then.

More about this particular CD at All About Jazz.  Kretzmer can be found in a more conventional setting with the quartet Rats, hearable on Myspace and, in samples, at CD Baby.

UPDATE: Well, according to this, Kretzmer has moved to NYC and has a trio album available. So, now you’ve got no excuses.


KihnouaUnauthorized Caprices (Not Two, 2010)

Performs Friday, Sept. 24, at the Community Music Center, San Francisco, along with the Marco Eneidi & Vinny Golia Quartet.

Vocals are a weak area for me, by which I mean, I sometimes have trouble getting into avant-garde vocalizing. The swoops and screeches and groans just don’t click with me sometimes; they’ve got an artificial feel next to the music.

Kihnoua is a trio where you can’t miss Dohee Lee on crazed vocals: babbling, wordless singing, the patter of spoken nonsense syllables. But with this group, the vocal sounds seem to mix well with the whole. That concept of voice-as-instrument works, as Lee does indeed treat her vocal chords as an instrument, often a backing one.

Lee knows when to get subtle and when to solo. And Larry Ochs‘ sax, sticking mostly to conventional playing, becomes a soothing, jazz-infused balm next to Lee’s raspier or pricklier playing.

On top of that, these are some nicely crafted pieces — probably improvisations guided by frameworks provided by Ochs.

For instance: The ending of the 19-minute “Nothing Stopped But a Future” is a glorious long tail, a group work that sustains its dark intensity as a climax, then tails off to make way for a Lee solo — it’s a terrific group effort, if it wasn’t all planned — and an all-out tumult as a finale.

I also like the gray-skied tumble of “Weightless,” which actually carries some of the more extreme vocalizing on the record — starting with whispery, raspy sounds and culminating in a mad babble delivered with froth against Amendola’s intense drums. That’s a well crafted passage — Lee eventually drops out, leaving the drums to continue the solo.

Ochs has convened different versions of Kihnoua over the years for one-off performances, always with a guest instrument added to the usual trio (Ochs on sax, Lee, and Scott Amendola on drums). Cellists Joan Jenrenaud and Okkyung Lee were there for the two performances I’ve seen, one of which was played under rather adverse conditions — I wrote it up back in 2008.

On this record, Kihnoua becomes even more of a party. The trio is joined by Liz Allbee on trumpet most of the time — man, I wish I’d seen her perform with the punk-instrumental Mute Socialite — and adds Jeanrenaud, Fred Frith, and Carla Kihlstedt for the aforementioned “Nothing Stopped.”

Formanek Preview

Speaking of bassists

People in Europe already have their hands on the new Michael Formanek album, The Rub and Spare Change.  (Previous words about this: “Mr. Bother Returns,” from June 1, 2010.)

Those of us in the U.S. have to wait until Oct. 12, or buy imports at today’s disastrous exchange rates.

In the meantime, here’s a promo video that provides a taste of some of the music. Yes, it’s got that ECM sound.

Found via the front page of Tim Berne’s Screwgun Records page. That same site tells you Formanek’s quartet will be performing Oct. 27-29 in NYC (the Jazz Standard!), Philadelphia (Art Alliance), and Baltimore (An Die Musik), and Oct. 31 in Portugal.

The Bass Stands Alone

Henry GrimesSolo (ILK, 2008)

So, can I do it? Can I make it through a two-CD set of solo bass — solo bass! — a set that documents an uninterrupted improvised performance?

Sure sounds daunting. You all know the jazz joke about “when drums stop,” right?

Solo turns out to be an easier listen than it appears. Grimes shows he’s still got not only bass chops, but rhythm and some tunes in him. The atmosphere is more springy than academic. And he alternates between bass and violin, taking the intimidating edge off the “all solo bass” stigma. (Yes, that invalidates this entry’s title. Blogger’s prerogative.)

On top of that, the CD isn’t the single uninterrupted piece I was expecting. Each CD has only one track on it, and the whole thing does appear to have been recorded without interruption. But the performance is filled with long pauses as Grimes switches instruments. You even hear the clacking of a bow being put down, or the sounds of the bass being moved into place. I’m guessing he’s taking some breathing time in there as well, letting the music resettle inside his mind.

So, it’s an easier listen than you might gather. Inside the dauntingly blank, deep-colored packaging is a warm shower of colors.

The music is mostly an exploration of sounds and tones. When using a bow, especially on violin, Grimes tends to stay in one tonal center. This lets him use open strings to put long ringing tones into the mix, letting them blend with a scattering of other notes. Lots of double-stops (moments of playing two strings at once) show up on the violin passages. The result is almost like a drone, but more dynamic and colored. It’s screechy, recalling Leroy Jenkins.

Grimes’ bowed bass goes further out, adding a deeper variety but following similar strategies. It’s the pizzicato bass passages that I like best, though. That’s partly because I love that sound in the first place. But it’s also because these passages are where Grimes really digs deep. The changes in melody, rhythm, speed, and ideas all come more quickly and feel more considered, less instinctual, than the violin or bowed-bass segments.

I appreciate that the session carries the feel of a performance, rather than a practice. Grimes speaks only once or twice, fragments of words to himself, and he makes an effort to get each new segment moving quickly, without tentativeness. As Dusted Magazine notes in its review, the time passes quickly because there’s just so much going on.

Other bass releases that come to mind:

Michael FormanekAm I Bothering You? (Screwgun, 1998) ….. Solo bass, with Formanek playing compositions rather than pure improvisations, a touch that’s a bit different.

Peter Kowald and Damon SmithMirrors: Broken, but No Dust (Balance Point Acoustics, 2001) ….. Kowald was a master improviser and an idol to Smith, who must have been overjoyed at the chance to do this recording. Smith more than holds his own in a set of meaty, tough-fisted improvisations.

Any other suggestions?