Ivy Room Wednesday

I don’t get to the Ivy Room often for their Monday and Wednesday creative music shows. The crowd tends to be sparse, but since there’s no cover, you get a mix of regular bargoers and local musicians, and it gives the Ivy Room some activity on what would otherwise be a slow couple of nights.

That was particularly true last Wednesday, in the middle of the storms that have peppered us off and on this week. I cozied up with a beer and some good music; chatted with Rent Romus about this summer’s Outsound Music Summit and with Jim Ryan about upcoming shows for his Forward Energy ensemble; and watched a little basketball, hockey, and ESPN baseball news headlines on the silent TVs above the bar. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday night.

Some Wednesdays are curated by Aram Shelton, the Chicago jazzman who’s lending us his services while he studies at Mills College. This time it was a set of mostly energy jazz — improvised on-the-spot, often going for speed and gusto.

The duo of Mike Forbes (tenor sax) and Mark Miller (drums) started the evening, with Henry Kaiser sitting in on guitar for about half of the short set. Their improvising showed some healthy energy, but they might have overdone it. Forbes and Miller looked winded by the end. Miller on drums never reached supersonic speeds, sticking instead to a loud and slowish style that I thought showed some metal influence. Forbes mostly pecked around at sax but did show off a few nice runs.

Aram Shelton was next with a group he calls Marches — two saxes, two drummers, bass and keyboards. At least some of their set was covers — they started with an Archie Shepp tune, for certain — and it wouldn’t be surprising if Shelton’s own compositions were in there as well. Really good stuff with space for wide-open soloing. All the saxophone work was good, but I really liked one spot where just the bass and keyboard played, really tearing it up.

Third and last was the trio of Josh Allen (sax), Henry Kaiser (guitar), and Mike Guarino (drums). I’d seen Allen before — big ecstatic-jazz tenor sax with a booming voice. Kaiser’s guitar was actually hard to hear over Allen and the drums — my god, the drums. I’d never seen Guarino play before, and he’s a monster. Big, loud, fast, precise.

I don’t know when the next Wednesday session will be, but in the meantime, The Lost Trio (brief note on them here) have been playing at the Ivy Room on most Monday nights.

One Delicious Note

My obsession with the band Cardiacs isn’t going away. Worse, I’ve found I might not be able to make it to the May 8 tribute/benefit show planned at Cafe Du Nord (gasp!).

But I can make up for that:

This Saturday, March 26, I’ll be playing Cardiacs music on-air at KZSU and am slated to interview Moe! Staiano and/or Dominique Leone, two of the benefit’s organizers. Start time will be sometime after 10:30 p.m. Listen in at 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or kzsulive.stanford.edu.

(UPDATE: That time originally read 9:00 p.m., but my show’s being pushed back to accommodate NCAA basketball coverage. Unfortunately, that means I don’t know what time I’ll actually be on-air, but it should be around 10:30.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been stocking up on some of the band’s catalogue. (Available only on iTunes in the ‘States.) Much of it can be heard on YouTube, including a 16-part posting of a live concert, professionally videotaped. It’s the same concert released on CD as All That Glitters Is a Mare’s Nest, and here’s a good place to start:

I’m also digging some of Cardiacs’ later stuff, after the keyboardist, percussionist, and sax player departed, leaving something closer to a straight guitar band.

They didn’t get to record very often, so one of their chances yielded enough material for a 2-CD release, Sing to God. And it’s from there that the sheet music at the top of this post comes from — it’s the solo to a pretty damn cool song called “Odd Even.” It goes more and more off the rails and ends on that deliciously sour B-flat note that’s highlighted, after which the vocal comes back on a C chord.

Too technical? Basically, that last note is just perfectly wrong, and yet not too wrong. The way it simultaneously ends the solo and transitions back into the song is either a stroke of genius or an accident blessed by the muses. You’ll find that note at 2:44 in this “video.” [UPDATE: Video got taken down once the Cardiacs catalog became available on iTunes. I’m OK with that.]

In an interview archived at Cardiacs.org (online “museum” for the band), guitarist Jon Poole recalls putting the song together: “Tim had programmed the weird bit in the middle of Odd Even and left me to find a guitar line amoungst the chords so I was sat on my own dropping myself in. When he came back it was done and he was very happy… particularly with my choice of last note!”

In the Documents section of Cardiacs.org, you can also find the transcription of “Odd Even” that I excerpted above. The transcription was done by a fellow named Dan Schmidt.

Upcoming: Yoshi’s

Two Yoshi’s shows that shouldn’t be missed:

Mon., March 28, San FranciscoLisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch, six months removed from an appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, will be playing two sets of different music, at 8:00 p.m. and approximately 10:00 p.m.

Suffice to say, they’re a really good free-jazz quartet with some great ideas (sometimes radical, sometimes extensions of the jazz tradition) and a deliciously evil alter-ego as the band Go-Go Fightmaster. They also just might be the most frequently mentioned band on this blog, which is a function not of my stalking them, but of their appearances in high-profile circles, such as Monterey and the Village Voice. Here, look:

Wed., March 30, OaklandTrio M stops by on their way to the Brubeck Festival in Stockton. It’s the combination of Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums), who showed their collective stuff on a 2007 album, Big Picture (Cryptogramophone). It’s modern jazz with an agile personality, where the solos take wide turns at the curves and keep only a loose grip on the road. They’re all busy and don’t get together often. Just sayin’.

Back on the Air

… In small, temporary spurts, at least. Did my first KZSU shift in six months.

I did an impromptu sub spot for DJ Fo this morning, sticking mostly to jazz that wasn’t too extremely out there. Towards the end of the show I made room for the blues and world music Fo also plays.

You’ll find the playlist here in Stanford’s Zookeeper database.

It looks like I’ll also be on during prime time Saturday night, March 26 (9:00 p.m. to midnight, Pacific time). I’m hoping to play some Cardiacs music to plug the upcoming benefit show for Tim Smith (May 8 at Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco, as noted in the previous blog post). And the rest would be the usual adventurous jazz, improv, noise, and whatnot. Please tune in!

Cardiacs Attack

I’ve spent several evenings now obsessing over Cardiacs, the British band that’s going to be the subject of a tribute/benefit concert on Sunday, May 8, at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.

In the ‘States, their music seems to only be available on iTunes — a shame for those of us who don’t like tithing Apple and don’t like restrictions on our music. (Yes, iTunes went DRM-free, but that doesn’t equate to freedom.) Even so, if the band gets a couple of dimes from my iTunes purchase, then some good comes out of it all.

Cardiacs comes in two flavors: One is bouncy, evil-clown music with crazed chords going off the rails, virtuoso insane keyboard riffs, strangely metered songs (lines that go on for 5 or 7 or 9.5 measures rather than the usual 4 or 8), and some saxophone for artsy cred and even a jazzy uplift. The other is a more straight guitar band, with a burning post-punk sound… and strangely metered songs and occasional saxophone — you get the idea.

Cardiacs songs can be thick and complex — comparisons to Zappa and Beefheart abound — but Cardiacs can also turn a searing pop tune. “Is This the Life” was their one minor hit in the mainstream, dark and anthemic and big, simple enough for radio, too calloused for a John Hughes soundtrack. It rocks.

I’d not heard of Cardiacs* until Moe! Staiano started talking on Facebook about putting together that benefit show. Tim Smith, the guitarist and songwriter, suffered a heart attack and subsequent strokes about two-and-a-half years ago and is still in hospital. Efforts to aid in his care have included a benefit CD (my copy’s in the post, as they say) and things like Moe!’s upcoming benefit show. Need the details again? May 8, at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.

I’ve been delving into Cardiacs’ catalogue via YouTube, and now I’m going to start collecting the albums proper, in electronic form. This band is amazing.

You’ll hear me say more about them between now and May 8, and beyond, I’m sure. For now, here’s a video. Their most “grab ya” song is probably “Tarred and Feathered,” but this one, “R.E.S.,” seems to have been an important one in their history, and it’s the one that really got my attention. I can’t get its various pieces out of my head.

* It turns out Amy X. Neuburg and Herb Heinz played Cardiacs on my radio show way back in 2004. I’d invited them to bring some CDs and help enlighten the masses, and one of their choices was apparently Cardiacs’ Guns.  Going to have to dig up that tape from my closet!

Swallowed by Blue Whale

Just spent a week in L.A. with The Nels Cline Singers and Steve Coleman’s new one as driving music. And while I didn’t have much free time, as often happens on these trips, I did want to take an evening to stop by the Blue Whale.

It’s a jazz club in Little Tokyo, downtown, tucked away in an upper corner of an open-air shopping center. It’s surrounded mostly by restaurants, ranging from upscale, traditional-looking Japanese to hipster-friendly ramen. I’d come to know the Blue Whale by seeing it on the itineraries of various artists — in fact, a ROVA show that’s coming in May got a blurb in last Sunday’s L.A. Times.

Most of the time, the Blue Whale features music a little closer to the mainstream. Really, any kind of jazz could be presented there. The decor is very modern, done up in colors of granite and concrete and stainless steel. It can be a hip watering hole (complete with vicious mixed-drink prices) or a serious art-music venue (complete with poetry on the ceiling).

One caveat: There’s no talking allowed during the music. You can order food and drink at the bar, but that’s far back enough from the stage that you won’t be heard. For all its loungy trappings, the Blue Whale is serious about the music.

The seating is minimalist: couches around the perimeter and big ottomans in the center that double as chairs and food tables. When I got there, people had already surrounded the perimeter, and I felt too self-conscious to plop down in the center, closer to the stage. During the night, though, that center area filled up pretty well. There were at least 50 people there by the end of the first set.

The performer that night was pianist Kait Dunton, presenting music mostly in a quintet format with trumpet and sax, sometimes paring it back to a standard trio. Imagine a comforting piano jazz infused with bumpy time signatures and some unexpected turns into stoney chords. The saxophonist turned in some fairly usual soloing, but the trumpeter took free rein to get into some spattery and squeaky sounds, some of which were particularly effective (and got a good reaction from the crowd) during a piece called “Night.”

Most of Dunton’s material was original and new, as new as the previous weekend. The second set consisted of one long suite, “Mountain Suite,” conjuring a journey down a path, through “Night” and dreams, and ending at the mountain. Nice stuff.

Dunton’s slightly older stuff is available on a 2008 CD — see CD Baby.

(Hey, I’ve heard of those guys…)

sfSound Radio: Live

It appears I misunderstood the nature of today’s 24-hour long sfSound Radio broadcast. I thought they would be playing around by literally sticking a microphone out of a window and broadcasting the street noise. But at midnight this morning (Pacific time), some folks were actually playing music live. It was improvised, of course — non-idiomatic stuff, lots of acoustic guitar. Sounded really good.

As of about 6:30 a.m., sfSound actually was broadcasting street noise (which answers the question of how they got people to perform in the wee hours — they apparently didn’t). Now, as of 7:00 a.m., I’m hearing repeating bursts of soft noise, as if someone’s sampled the street noise or is playing it back in chopped-up form through some computer algorithm.

Now I don’t know what to expect during the rest of the day, which makes this a little more exciting. Tune in for yourself; you’ve got until midnight, and who knows what you’ll hear?

Listen in at sfsound.org/radio.html. (Warning: The audio starts automatically.)

(UPDATE: Something occurs to me. No matter what happens, they can chalk it up to being part of the “live” concept. For example, if the broadband connection gets severed somehow — it becomes a Cagean exhibit of indeterminate silence, or something. Win!)

Kafka, Kihlstedt, Concerto

One year after marveling at Lisa Bielawa‘s “Kafka Songs” at the Other Minds festival — almost in time for the next Other Minds festival, actually — I’m finally realizing that “Kafka Songs” has been available on CD for years. Call me slow.

Bielawa more recently worked with Kihlstedt and violinist Colin Jacobsen on a double violin concerto, performed with Colin Jacobsen. On this piece, as on “Kafka Songs,” Kihlstedt’s voice and violin are put to use simultaneously, creating a role that’s rare in classical music and probably challenging to pull off.

First, to the part many of you knew all along: “Kafka Songs” came out on A Handful of World, (Tzadik, 2007),  paired with two of Bielawa’s vocal works.

At Other Minds in 2010, Kihlstedt introduced each of “Kafka’s” seven movements by reciting the text to come — an important step for those of us who’ve always had trouble interpreting the words in classical singing. That’s not on A Handful of World; you’re flying blind. On the plus side, this keeps the mood of the piece intact — there was a bit of fourth-wall breaking in Kihlstedt’s introductions — but I liked that touch with the live version. It made us consider the texts as well as dwell on the music.

As I recall from last year, there’s a definitive character to each of the segments — the flutter of a bouncing bow, on “Lost,” or the massive intervallic leap that recurs on “A Handful of World,” set up each time by three quick notes, a poise-and-jump reflex. Each is like a little study in a different violin technique, accompanied by slow, airy singing drawn from the gray skies of Kafka’s world.

The suite has some of the emotional weight you’d associate with Kafka, and yet it’s not too heavy. The gentle, fading riff that ends the piece even has some lightness to it.

(Side note: The Kihlstedt photo above, shot by Harold Carr, is from the very performance I saw, at Other Minds 15 in March 2010.)

“Double Violin Concerto,” included on In Medias Res (BMOP/sound, 2010), is more about the orchestra — that is, it’s about the soloists, but I found myself getting snared into the sound of the full orchestra, sometimes at the expense of listening to the actual lead violins. It’s a patient, moody piece, and the soloists’ fireworks are subtle. On “Portico,” the calmly sad opening movement, the soloing is almost camouflaged by the gossamer background strings.

Kihlstedt’s vocal soliloquy comes in the second movement of three, “Song,” wandering slowly against a repeated arpeggio (you can’t help but recall that Bielawa once sang in the Phillip Glass Ensemble). It’s another movement with a slow mood, but more tense than “Portico,” more suspenseful. The mood bursts open when Kihlstedt’s song — taken from Goethe’s Faust — winds up dramatically, calling up the entry of some circusy brass to quickly end the movement.

There’s some lovely very-high-register dialogue in the third movement, “Play Within a Play.” For a couple of passages, the two violins toss phrases back and forth, as if completing each other’s sentences. Late in the movement, they ally in a series of unison and near-unison phrases, finally teaming up with the orchestral strings sometimes answering with the same theme. This movement, taking up about half the total concerto time, was where I could really savor the sounds of the two soloists.

The Double Violin Concerto gets a brief mention in this NY Times review, from which the photo below was cribbed.