Angelica Sanchez Headed to Sacto, Bakersfield

I managed to see pianist Angelica Sanchez playing in Oakland on Saturday night, and she’s traveling with the same trio — Phillip Greenlief on sax, Sam Ospovat on drums — to Sacramento tonight (Luna’s Cafe) and to Bakersfield, of all places, the next day.

Maybe I’m underestimating Bakersfield, but I’ve never heard of a free-jazz show happening there. Don’t miss this chance. The show’s at The Intimate Theater, 2030 19th St., 7:00 p.m on Tuesday, May 26.

They did a terrific set on Saturday. Talking to Phillip and Angelica, they seemed a little fatigued — maybe “winded” would be a good term — and understandably so, because if I understand the timing right, they must have spent that day driving up from Los Angeles.

Winded or not, they put up some very enjoyable improvisations. Sanchez showed quick fingerplay, clever ideas, and a strong overall sense of atmosphere, of being able to build, sustain, and shift a mood. Greenlief focused a lot on extended technique, particularly during one piece where he played the bare sax mouthpiece most of the time.

Here’s one moment I really liked: Greenlief played in staccato phrases, haltingly, and then Sanchez began laying down lush, languid chords, turning a choppy theme into something that sounded nearly like a jazz standard.

I can see why they were enthusiastic about Opsovat’s contributions. During one of the more furious passages, his drums really added propulsion, an extra dimension that might have felt missing otherwise. Definitely an asset.

I’m now listening to Alive in Brooklyn, a DIY CD of a 2003 performance with Sanchez on electric piano, Tony Malaby on sax, and Tom Rainey on drums. Nice stuff, and while it’s obviously not going to be identical to the Bakersfield and Sacramento performances, it provides an inkling of what to expect. Here’s a very short excerpt from the 22-minute improv, “Chimera,” showing off some of Sanchez’s playing and a nice entrance by Malaby.

Angelica Sanchez in Town

NYC Pianist Angelica Sanchez will be playing in Oakland tonight (Sat., April 23), at 1510 Performance Space.

It’s part of a west-coast tour she’s undertaking with saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and drummer Sam Ospovot.  “We have been improvising together for several years, and that seems to be a good fit. It’s been really nice playing with Sam, he immediately brought the right stuff to the trio,” Greenlief says in an email.

I’m relieved. I’d heard Sanchez was out on the west coast this week, but the only specific show date I’d seen was in Bakersfield.  (Turns out there was also a show in L.A.) Greenlief reports that they got some paying university gigs rather easily, but other shows were harder to come by. That’s understandable, given the problems venues have been having.

Sanchez has made quite a name for herself in New York. Her 2008 album, Life Between, had a lineup of big downtown NYC names that was impressive, even if one of them was her husband (saxophonist Tony Malaby).

Her piano playing is edgy yet elegant, going for lyricism and texture more than percussive battering. Don’t get me wrong; I like percussive battering. Sanchez has a compelling style of her own, though, enough so that lazy critics like me can write about her without having to mention Cecil Taylor. (Jazz Rule No. 5: If there’s avant-garde piano, you have to compare it to Cecil Taylor.)

“Eschewing a youngster’s need to dazzle, Sanchez is subtle, tossing out gnarled chords, open almost elliptical phrasing, simple folk music-like melodies, and taunt mid-speed solos,” David Adler wrote in All About Jazz. You can read that clip and more on Sanchez’s press-quotes page.

Sanchez goes solo on her latest album, A Little House (Clean Feed, 2010). It’s got a mix of serious classical emoting, some standards-minded

Along the Edge shows signs of serious classical emoting (“Along the Edge”) and the dramatic weight you’d associate with jazz standards. (“Casinha Pequenina,” the title track, by Brazilian composer Francisco Ernani Braga.)

Of course, some of that New York sense of daring comes in, too. “Up and Over” is a repeated little gimmick that makes for a fun, accelerating ride, almost like a little musical dare that you hear acted out on your speakers. And “Giant Monks,” a title that wears its influences on its sleeve, traipses through a few different jazz fields before settling on a theme that’s like boogie-woogie mixed with pensive brooding.

A couple of the tracks add toy piano, usually played simultaneously with regular piano, as in the photo above. “I’ll Sign My Heart Away,” an old Western tune, fits the toy sound well and exudes a warm charm. “Crawl Space” is further out there, spare and abstract. “Mimi” closes the album with toy piano alone, a clinky, slowly cascading improvisation.

At 1510 tonight, Sanchez, Greenlief, and Ospovat will play at about 9:00 p.m. They’ll be preceded by the duo of Henry Kaiser (guitar) and Scott Looney (keys/electronics).

The Read: Apr. 21, 2011

Things I’ve found recently:

1. Tim Berne is on NPR! A review of Insomnia on Fresh Air: (My review of Insomnia is here.)

2. Gutbucket gets interviewed by the Fracture Compound blog. Learn about the compositional and rehearsal process behind their frenetic jazz/rock/punk songs.

(Gutbucket is coming to town: Tue. May 10 (Revolution Cafe, San Francisco); Wed. May 11 (Cafe Van Kleef, Oakland); Thu. May 12 (Hotel Utah, San Francisco). I haven’t reviewed their new one, Flock, on this blog, but I did write about the previous one.)

3. Steve Lehman‘s latest project: “Impossible Flow,” sounds pretty cool. You’ll recall he infuses his jazz with things like spectralism, a very scientific-sounding approach to harmony. Here’s a review of an “Impossible Flow” performance, written by the very cool Steve Smith:

4. Now on Ubuweb: a 60-minute documentary about Einstein on the Beach and its impact. It “changed forever the image of opera,” the narrator says at the beginning. But did it? My impression has been that Einstein is now viewed as a unique event in opera, a monumental, one-time accomplishment. People heard, experienced, absorbed, and moved on; even Glass’ subsequent operas were more conventional, right? Anyway, I’ve written before about my puzzlement and wonder at this major work, and it’s nice to have some explanations and to see some rehearsal footage to help me muddle my way through. I’m doubly glad to find this resource after hearing the whole opera.

Mahler vs. Braxton

Gustav Mahler’s 10th Symphony went unfinished, and there are competing completed versions that vie for attention. The most radically speculative, by Clinton Carpenter, fleshes out the body with pieces of the other symphonies, apparently.

Which led to this interesting comment in a Gramophone review:

“For instance, there’s the ludicrous Clinton Carpenter version where he brings in themes from other symphonies to plug gaps… this is just not the way composers work.”

That’s a comment from the May 2008 edition, which was quoted in the March 2011 edition as part of a review of the latest Carpenter-version recording.

The relevance here? “Not the way composers work” made me smile inside and think of Anthony Braxton, whose mammoth compositions include/encourage spots for other compositions to be poured in. Take the 4-CD Six Compositions (Rastascan, 2001; see also here). It opens with “Composition No. 286 (+ 147, 20, 69D, 256, 173, 6J, 162, 23A),” a 92-minute piece performed by 10 musicians.

There’s a difference in intent between Braxton and Carpenter, I know. I just thought the comparison was amusing.

Mahler’s 10th is an intriguing study in history and musicology. You can read about it on Wikipedia, but I prefer the detailed account found on the Petzold Book Blog.

Extra Dose of Tim Berne

Cornelia Street Cafe has started podcasting some of the great music acts they’ve hosted. And in installment #3, posted in February, you can hear a roughly 16-minute excerpt from Los Totopos, Tim Berne’s recent quartet.

The piece they’ve excerpted shows the usual Berne trademarks — in fact, the structure is reminiscent of old Bloodcount stuff, with composed group segments separated by some wide-open improvisation. Familiar territory, yet new: a spritely composition, agile piano from Mitch Mitchell, and Oscar Noriega mixing it up with Berne on sax. Nice drum work from Ches Smith, and I’m not just saying that as a way to get his name mentioned; check out the cool tuned percussion he adds near the end.

It’s another nice tidbit for those of us awaiting the eventual Los Totopos album, possibly arriving in 2012.

Elsewhere on there, you can find a nice snippet from the Tom Rainey Trio, with some dense, quiet playing by Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock.

Tim Berne’s Softer Side

Hugo Carvalhais Trio w/Tim BerneNebulosa (Clean Feed, 2010)

Tune in to the track “North” on this album, and you might question whether you’re really hearing Tim Berne. It’s got a pleasant theme that would go down well as dinner music, with writing that’s fresh but not deeply challenging, and quite relaxing. Even the sax solo, which displays plenty of Berne’s mechanics, fits so nicely within the lines that you’d wonder if it’s the same guy.

It is, and while Berne plus a postbop piano trio isn’t the most obvious matchup, he’s done things like this before. Nels Cline‘s first album, Angelica (Enja, 1988), is lyrical and downright pretty, and it’s got Berne on saxophone.

Bassist Carvalhais is definitely a scholar of jazz, and he’s got pianist Gabriel Pinto playing some downright nice postbop stuff here. But a listen to the full album shows you why he’d even think of adding Berne to the mix. Carvalhais seems to relish the possibilities of spare, wide-open playing, which does show up a lot on this album. The opening tracks give Berne plenty of space for skipping around the changes, and “Nebulosa part IV” combines Berne with Carvalhais and drummer Mário Costa in a fast-moving yet spare environment, full of stop/go energy in a dry, pianoless space. Both bassist and drummer seem to really be savoring the moment.

“Nebulosa part III” displays both sides of the album’s personality well. Pinto starts with some classical-jazz piano, using chord patters that are friendly but pensive, still in the realm of serious music. Berne’s planned entrance comes at the end in a sunburst, as he spatters notes in all directions.

Carvalhais also dabbles with synthesizers here and there, for a touch that’s a little bit modern and not so heavyhanded as to become grating. I probably would have been happy without the synths, but it does add another voice into the mix.

Overall, the album definitely tickles my mainstream-jazz center more than my free-jazz one. Don’t dismiss it as dull, though. Carvalhais and especially Costa put in some fine work here.

Carvalhais is a young bassist leading a young trio on their first studio album, and he’s part of Portugal’s jazz scene. The latter part matters; Clean Feed, a Portugese label, has done fine work documenting American free jazz, and I feel I owe it to them to tap their native country’s well. This album is a good place to start. It’s drawn some rave reviews, and more than a few critics will be keeping an eye out for what Carvalhais tries next.

Dina Emerson and Bees

Dina Emerson‘s latest project is a song cycle based on the lives of bees, and when coupled with some video of bees, it makes for a drifting, other-worldly experience.

She performed it Wednesday at Meridian Gallery, to a healthy sized crowd. Emerson was in touch with a few of the local arts scenes while she lived here.  She’s now in Vegas, singing for Cirque du Soleil — a tidbit that pretty much every writeup has to include, because it’s cool.

I know her best for her avant-garde work in different contexts. I’ve written about her improv work with Jonathan Segel as Chaos Butterfly. And she’s been the vocalist on countless CDs we received at KZSU — especially one favorite of ours, “The Most Unwanted Song,” created scientifically (and tongue-in-cheek) to appeal to as few people as possible. Naturally, it’s 1,000 times better than “The Most Wanted Song.” Emerson does opera rap about country lifestyles (combining the three most hated types of music), and kids sing about holidays. The best part is when they start running out of the usual “song” holidays and start doing Arbor Day and Ramadan.


Emerson’s setup consisted of her voice, tuned wine glasses, and an iPhone to trigger samples. Using an echo delay on the mic, she clinked the wine glasses, hit them softly with a mallet, or rubbed the rims, creating ghostly sound effects.

Her singing was mostly in long tones, with a stillness to the music, as if the songs were meant to be images themselves, built from pitch and timbre. The bee video behind her unfolded slowly, starting off with images of kids running through fields under an achingly blue sky, but spending most of its time on the bees themselves in the hive, buzzing around their cells, tending to larvae, doing the things bees do.

The songs carried a reverence for the bees’ endless toil. One song was about the new queen arriving, the old queen stepping down. Another was about the dance bees do to direct their cohorts to a source of pollen. Emerson also lifted some text from an old educational movie about bees that describes the drone, which “doesn’t do anything.” That made for a nice refrain on one song.

I don’t think Emerson actually used the sound of bees, but she did vocalize some “Zzzz”s for one song.

Emerson’s next Bay Area appearance appears to be July 21, when she’ll be the guest vocalist with Tri-Cornered Tent Show as part of the Outsound New Music Summit.