Archive for November, 2010

SF MOMA Thursday Concert

On Thursday Dec. 2, if you’re taking advantage of the SF Museum of Modern Art evening hours and half-price tix, consider lending an ear to sfSound Group. They’ll be doing a concert along with Italian composer Sylvano Bussotti.

Bussotti himself will play a piano accompaniment to his silent film, Rara, described as “filmed portraits of the Italian avant-garde” from the early ’60s. It’s being shown, as a restored print, in conjunction with the exhibit, Exposed: Voyerism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870.

Then, as the exhibits close at around 9:00 p.m., you’ll be able to stick around for an sfSound performance of multiple Bussotti works, with the composer participating. The program includes very recent works as well as pieces from the ’60s.  Details here.

It’s all free with half-price museum admission ($9 for most of us), but the museum’s promo blurbs warn that seating is limited.

Bussotti is one of those composers famous for graphical scores — wild, babbling ones, in his case. Graphical scores are a tricky item, because it’s often up to the performer how to interpret the abstract shapes and drawings involved. In Bussotti’s case, his pictures use standard musical notation as a foundation, twisting the staves and notes into Alice in Wonderland underbrush.  He seems to have multiple pieces called “Rara,” and one of them piles musical notes into the shapes of the letters “R” and “A.”

On one hand, a graphical score invites more of the performer’s personality into the piece, and it emphasizes the uniqueness of the moment. Every performance is a star that shines once, then vanishes. On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder if the composer is playing a prank or, worse, just phoning it in, scribbling stuff down and leaving it up to the musicians to make something of it. Maybe it’s a little of both; there’s certainly something of a serious prankster in John Cage’s work, right?

Some samples of Bussotti’s music are up on YouTube, including the austere sounds of the “Fogli d’Album” suite (which starts here) and some rustling inside-the-piano work on “Noveletta,” below.

UPDATE: For a deeper look at Bussotti’s music, his film, and how this program all came about, check out San Francisco Classical Voice.

November 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

Trapeze Project

Sarah Wilson’s Trapeze Project plays at Yoshi’s Oakland on Monday, Nov. 29, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets $14, plus a minimum of two food/drink items (but they’re pretty mellow about enforcing the second item).

Sarah WilsonTrapeze Project (Brass Tonic, 2010)

You might consider Sarah Wilson’s stuff to be pop jazz at first, but it’s interesting that she’s got the support of Myra Melford (piano) and Ben Goldberg (clarinet). On this album, they’re given ample room to wander about, turning the songs into layered tapestries rich in detail.

As Andrew Gilbert wrote for the East Bay Express, Wilson didn’t set out to be a jazz composer. Her first writing job, a 1995 commission, was completed on intuition built from Dixieland jazz and evenings spent at the Knitting Factory, back when it was a haven for outside jazz.

Trapeze Project is a bright, upbeat album, with a traditional jazz sense of melody and a lot of busy chatter from piano, clarinet, bass (Jerome Harris) and drums (Scott Amendola … this is one heck of a band she’s assembled). A lot of tracks work the way “Blessing” does, starting out with a pleasantly brassy theme — something you’d associate with a small circus, maybe — then getting into loose, swirling solos and comping. (Actually, traditional New Orleans jazz can get this way. I remember being struck by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, because they’d get into group-improvising stretches where they’d stick to the tune, yet nobody was playing any part of the tune any more, except arguably the drummer.)

I especially liked “Zebulon,” a jumping, bluesy romp with a terrific solo from Goldberg.

A lot gets made of the fact that Wilson sings — particularly on a folky take on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I like her voice; she’s closer to indie-rock deadpan than jazz crooning. She’s got three vocal tracks on here, plus some wordless singing on “She Stands in a Room,” a slower track where her “da da dum” vocals meet a chord that conjures a widely opening sky, a very nice touch.

(Bonus: Wilson’s show on Monday is early enough that you could head to the Berkeley/Albany zone for a nightcap at Kingman’s Ivy Room, where the Phillip Greenlief Quartet will probably still be playing: Monk covers and originals from a sax-and-guitar band. Greenlief’s Evander Music label released Wilson’s first album, Music for an Imaginary Play.)

November 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Apex

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green Apex (Pi Recordings, 2010)

This was one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year, pairing a bright young alto saxophonist with a lesser-known veteran of jazz. No pressure or anything.

As if realizing the weight of expectation, Mahanthappa and Green open the album with “Summit,” delivering the bobsled run that listeners would be hoping for. They trade lightning-quick lines on alto saxes, then combine on a bubbling little theme. Brief solos follow, starting with Green’s, and you’re opened to another layer of depth, as he throttles down just slightly for a more sophisticated kind of communication.

What’s nice about the album is the sense of team spirit. Mahanthappa is in the left channel, often favoring lower registers on his alto, and Green is on the right — but you don’t get a formulaic sense of “Here’s my solo, here’s yours.” They mix it up, and they fully showcase their powerhouse band, which includes pianist Jason Moran and drummer Damion Reid. Reid adds a stormy power surge that helps accent the strong sax work. He turns “Eastern Echoes,” a slower song, into a big, crashing wave, and he’s a propulsive force on “The Journey,” a suspenseful, dynamic Green composition. (UPDATE: Actually it’s DeJohnette playing on “The Journey.”)

I’d mentioned before that Green’s “regular jazz” compositions often get contrasted with outward-bound soloing. That’s apparently on his “Rainer and Theresia,” where Mahanthappa, in particular, tears it up with his solo. But on “Little Girl I’ll Miss You,” a Venice-canal-style ballad which seems to be Green’s trademark composition, his fast, breathy solo sticks closer to the chords, something he doesn’t always do (see 2008’s The Salzau Quartet: Live at Jazz Baltica on Traumton).  It shows how much adventure can be unearthed from a song while still coloring within the lines.

But of course, that’s not the story of the album. Much of the soloing is fast, crazy, and delightful — particularly on “Who?,” which spins ferociously against what starts as a skittery backdrop. Everyone gets a solo, except maybe bassist François Moutin — they make up for that by giving him space for an incredible solo to start “The Journey.”

I also liked Mahanthappa’s “Soft.” It opens slowly, loosening the boundaries for some interesting sax exploring, then abruptly shifts into a gallop that showcases the choppy, percussive style I associate with his and Vijay Iyer‘s previous work.

Am I quibbling if I say that Green hits the occasional very-high note that I’m not in tune with? Part of it is technique — he scrapes against that highest-note barrier with a tone that’s a bit ragged, although that might be on purpose (or an effect of the effort it takes to get to that note). Part of it is personal choice; in soloing on “Soft,” he grabs for a couple of long, high notes where I’d have hoped for a different direction. Quibbles. That Green is 75; still making music; still soloing with such intensity, accuracy and feeling; and getting this much publicity — it’s all cause to celebrate. This is a terrific album that very much delivers on the promise of its all-star lineup.

Speaking of which — Mahanthappa’s brief liner notes offer some insight into how they compiled this band, which includes Jason Moran (who was soon to become a MacArthur Fellow) on piano and Jack DeJohnette (drums) on four tracks. The short story is: They’ve all known each other for a while — and Green and Mahanthappa have a relationship that goes back 20 years, although they’ve only recently done any work together. To those of use who know these guys only through their records, these connections are invisible. As they strengthen over the years, they can produce some amazing results.

For more about the album, check out Pi’s preview video from this summer:

November 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm 3 comments

Another Good Venue Gone?

Shortcut: Skip my rant, below, and read this article on the KQED Website, where Fred Frith gets interviewed about what a tragedy it would be to lose 21 Grand.

Yes, it’s that special Thursday, and you know what I’m thankful for? All the people who bust their buns so I can see some good music shows.

I’m not talking about the musicians (for whom I’m plenty thankful, of course).  I’m talking about the people who run venues or weekly series, going through the trouble of finding a space, booking acts, and making sure everything happens according to plan, or a close facsimile thereof.

That’s a lot of work, and it takes its toll. Bars and clubs might like the idea of an experimental music night, but they lose enthusiasm as they get tired of losing money. Museums and galleries make fine settings, but they’re not necessarily outfitted to seat even a dozen people for a couple of hours — kudos to places like The Luggage Store, Meridian Gallery, Berkeley Art Museum, and a few others I’m forgetting.

And then … then there’s a place like 21 Grand, where the owners are music enthusiasts and open their doors to all sorts of artistic creativity.

How does the community reward them? By shutting them down.

The city of Oakland, pointing to what are called cabaret laws, says 21 Grand needs to conform to the safety codes for venues holding more than 49 people. The landlord won’t foot the $100,000 in necessary renovations, understandably. The fight’s not over yet, but it doesn’t look good.

The rules in question have to do with fire exits and the like — and while safety is worth worrying about, the city is miscategorizing 21 Grand’s music shows. Yes, the place hosted some rock acts, but it’s not a sweaty, wall-to-wall club crowd. For the improv shows, in particular, we’re talking about 10 or 20 people in their 40s and 50s, sitting still in folding chairs.

Nothing about that says “cabaret,” does it?

And yet, in draconian fervor, the city won’t let the place stay open. Another cultural resource lost, just because it doesn’t fit mainstream expectations and doesn’t make money. It happens repeatedly. The carnage circa year-2000 was particularly bad, as San Francisco cleaned out the DIY avant-garde spots in favor of pricey loft gentrification for dot-commers.

So, to Sarah Lockhart and Darren Jenkins and anyone else who made 21 Grand work through two location changes — and to everyone else to organizes venues and shows: Thanks, and don’t be discouraged. You do make a difference.

(For even more reading: See the article that OaklandNorth ran in October. A key quote there: “The city’s not offering a way out for us.”)

November 25, 2010 at 12:02 am Leave a comment

Endangered Blood, Richard Sears, Here, L.A., NYC

Stringing things together on the Web again:

1. Holy cow, some downtown NYCers are coming our way.  Endangered Blood will be playing at Studio 1510 (Oakland) on Friday, Dec. 10.  Here’s the calendar listing.

The band is Chris Speed (sax), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Jim Black (drums).  I’m familiar with the constituent parts but not the whole.  This Danish calendar says they “create a new sound that integrates swing, free jazz, and rock, while maintaining the experimental energy that all these musicians are known for,” and it points to another couple of more detailed quotes, from sources closer to home. The video below offers some clue as well.

Opening that show will be the Bay Area trio of Scott Looney (keys), Doug Stuart (bass), and Kjell Nordeson (drums).

Cool.

2. That show is part of a western U.S. tour, so they’ll be in L.A. too, at Blue Whale on Saturday Dec. 11.

3. Keyboardist Richard Sears will open for them in L.A., with a full band. (Photo at right by Dario Griffin.) I’d never heard of Sears before, but his album, Rick, is streamable on his Web site and sounds pretty dang cool — the title track blends a choppy, agitated guitar rhythm with the kind of lazyboat horn melody that’s found on some Chris Speed and Jim Black records.  Thus do we come full circle, if we stretch hard enough.

November 23, 2010 at 10:42 pm Leave a comment

Polyrhythm Madness

Kronomorfic (David Borgo and Paul Pellegrin) — Perambulate (pfMentum, 2010)

The rhythms on this album are just crazy. The song titles even look like they’d be full of intricate math tricks.

But it’s not just a forest of time signatures. What’s really brain-warping are the polyrhythms. That’s where you have a time like 7-over-5, where one instrument completes 7 beats in the same time that another completes 5.  You’re left with the sense that something’s obviously not 4/4-correct, but simple counting doesn’t help you understand it. The opening “Deprong Mori” is almost enough to give you motion sickness — catchy and yet impenetrable, a spinny ride that keeps swerving at the wrong time.

The sextet’s instrumentation is a good fit for the rhythmic chatter, with vibraphone, bass, and drums or hand percussion stacking up in tumbling, interlocking ways.  Atop that, there’s sax and harmonica, often playing their own line askew to the others. And there are solos — passionate, swinging solos that cut across the time lines, like jazzy braille darting through an other-dimensional sighted world. I’m impressed that the soloists don’t get lost.

I enjoy unusual time signatures. My experience with them started the way many listeners’ does, I would think, with the easy count-offs of prog rock (Genesis, King Crimson) and Dave Brubeck. Later, I explored Zappa’s world, where there are odd time signatures but also a richer complexity mined from modern-classical masters. And I enjoy, but haven’t deeply delved into, the through-composed pieces of Rich Woodson’s Ellipsis , which sound like they’re packed with insane metric complexities. Polyrhythms are a different level of intricacy, though, and one I haven’t studied much. How does one even begin to rehearse music like this?

Most of Perambulate does have a jazz feeling. “Dendochrone Currents” flows with manic percussion but carries a breezy feel, closer to the relaxation so many people associate with jazz (which masks an 8-over-12-over-15 brain-twister of a rhythm).  “Repolarization” is a mellower track that seems to rely on unmatched time signatures rather than true polyrhythms. (OK, I admit, I have no idea. It’s what the liner notes seem to indicate.) And then you’ve got the solos, such as the harmonica and vibes on “Perambulate,” where your brain is welcomed to skip the math and just enjoy the jazzy momentum.

So, if you’re ready to graduate beyond the simple wonderment of 7/8 time, this album might be for you. Many of the individual riffs are even hummable, but — well, good luck trying that. Better to lean back and absorb the whole feeling of each track.  Then read the liner notes where they explain all the numbers stuffed into each piece.

November 22, 2010 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

ALW Is Why They Have Seven-Day Waiting Periods

I’ve spent the past few days in Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, I found nothing there to feed the blog. (The Vijay Iyer post was written before I left.)

As you can guess by the music I write about, Vegas isn’t my kind of town. I was there for my job. I don’t begrudge the people who find it fun — my grandmother is one of them — but there’s not much there for me as a tourist.

Still, Vegas’ suburban growth, coupled with the fact that classic rock fans are now over-the-hill Vegas tourists, means some interesting rock music makes it there. Like the recent Matador Records festival and Guided by Voices reunion.

I read some listings for the weekends preceding and following my trip. The Carl Palmer band apparently is or was stopping by.  Singer Marc Cohn was a featured coming-soon poster. Neither is really my cup of tea, but after hearing Andrew Lloyd Weber piped through hotel lobby speakers again and again and AGAIN, I’d gladly have attended either show.

Or rather, I would have, if it hadn’t been for this bill: Aging punk bands Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. I really like Goldfinger. They’re an honestly good band. Lead singer John Feldmann was about 30 when they broke in 1996, and his maturity was an asset — bizarre as that might sound for a skate-punk L.A. band. The lyrics are intelligent, and while they touch on the ego-bluster of other testosterone-saturated MTV bands, you don’t feel like Feldmann takes himself that seriously.

Anyway, that would have been my pick. And then I’d hide in my room playing tons of Rudresh Mahanthappa tracks on the computer (having purchased the multidisk download package from his site). And I’d turn up the speakers to force my neighbors to hear something good, dammit.

I’m listening to the “All Out” show on KCSM-FM right now, and it’s so nice to be home.

November 11, 2010 at 11:28 pm 2 comments

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