Marco Eneidi 2011

Alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi is back in the Bay Area for a handful of shows.

He’s based in Vienna nowadays but has been coming home to the ‘States about once a year; I previously wrote about his 2009 visit.

You can check Bayimproviser.com or TransbayCalendar.org — or Marco’s own site — to see all his planned shows. Here’s a quick rundown:

Thurs. Sept. 8 (tonight; sorry for short notice) @ El Valenciano (1153 Valencia Street, San Francisco) — Quartet with guitar, bass, and drums. Part of a 4-act bill of jazz at this Mission District bar.

Sat., Sept. 10 @ Studio 1510 (1510 8th Street, Oakland) — Peforming in duo with drummer Spirit.

Sun., Sept. 11 @ Amnesia (853 Valencia, SF) — Quartet again, at a Mission District bar again (quite a nice venue, actually).

Tues., Sept. 13 @ Viracocha (998 Valencia Street, SF) — Trio w/bass and drums. The locale is an art gallery that’s started hosting music shows curated by Laura of the Fenderhardt blog. They’ve got three local jazz acts booked for this particular night; should be great.

With the exception of the 10th, Eneidi’s bandmates will be Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Donald Robinson (drums), and usually Ava Mendoza (guitar).

By the way … buried in those aforementioned calendar links is a hint that Eneidi has done a forthcoming album with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris. That might be related to the 2010 music samples you can find on Soundcloud.

Lastly: I’ve only now discovered an Eneidi interview conducted by Taran of Taran’s Free Jazz Hour back in 2005, shortly after Eneidi made the move to Vienna. Nicely detailed stuff, covering lots of ground. A transcript is available on All About Jazz, and a podcast recording is at Taran’s old site. Each version appears incomplete (that is, there’s something on each of those sites that’s not on the other), so check them both out. Happy reading/listening.

Playlist: September 7, 2011

Full playlist is on file here. Some notes:

Wooley/Looney/Smith/Walter — “Anglewise Blind” — Scowl (ugExplode, 2011) ….. Recorded in 2008, when Weasel Walter (drums) and Damon Smith (bass) were still in the Bay Area (along with Looney), this is a nice slice of free improv, with Walter showing off some of the agile, restrained jazz-influenced drumming that he’s so good at. This one reminds me: I keep meaning to give air time to Scott Looney (piano), maybe his Urban Ruminations album with Oliver Lake, Paul Smoker, and Lisle Ellis.

Sir Roland Hanna — “20th Century Rag” — Colors from a Giant’s Kit (Ipo, 2011) ….. This album features solo piano recordings from a few sessions in the years before Hanna’s death. It ranges from poignant ballads to jovial standards. This is one of the Hanna originals, a ragtime tune with some chromatic colorings and a classical-recital air. It’s playful and modern — not avant-garde-angular modern, but still modern.

Matana Roberts — “Rise” — Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres (Constellation, 2011) ….. In listening to snippets of this one, it struck me as emotionally uneven, often raw. Which isn’t bad; it just makes for an awkward fit in some sets. This week, I paid attention and realized it’s an album about slavery — about the injustice, the heartache, the anger, and the stain that remains on the present as well as the past. That explains the keening cry at the start of this song, rough yet soulful and with a touch of blues. Actually, it’s a wonderfully emotive start to the album — a cathartic sax blast at first glance, but with subtle shadings and depth. Almost a product of acting more so than musicianship. This track ends with a quieter, gentle mood, maybe a thankful mental pause after the struggle. For a nifty writeup with more background, see Pop Matters.

Bela Fleck — “Life in Eleven” — Rocket Science (Entertainment One, 2011) ….. I admire Fleck’s music, but his smooth jazzy sympathies don’t blend well with my show. Still, it was fun to give this a spin — I mean, come on, it’s called “Life in Eleven,” and it’s so fast that you can’t immediately count out the elevens. I might also play “The Secret Drawer,” which is a 2-minute track of Futureman‘s Drumitar.

Ornette Coleman — “Sounds and Forms for Wind Quintet” — The Great London Concert (Arista, 1975) ….. A 24-minute piece that almost resembles a take on minimalism, or maybe Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music (which I don’t think existed in 1975). The winds play in little pulses, with occasional long pauses as if they’ve come to the end of a sentence. And so it goes… for quite a long time. I used this one as the sound bed during mic breaks, but the long pauses made it awkward. I also played the final 7 minutes or so, which wrap up with some quickly spun phrases, a very jazzy coda that got the audience hollering.

The Read: September 6, 2011

1. In July, Mercury News critic Richard Scheinin posted his top jazz albums for the summer, and as usual, he’s shown an ear for the unconventional. Lisa Mezzacappa‘s Bait & Switch‘s What Is Known made the list — congratulations! — as did Peter EvansGhosts, which I really already knew I needed to hear. I’ll be checking out Tarbaby‘s The End of Fear, based on Scheinin’s description. Nice list overall. I’m so grateful that the Merc retains a reporter to cover jazz and classical, including live performances.

2. Speaking of whom. Scheinin reviewed the 40-year Philip Glass retrospective performed at Glass’ Days and Nights Festival in Carmel Valley. I liked this part:

“You have to wonder: In 250 years, will there be an ‘early music’ debate over the most authentic way to perform Glass’ music? With a piece like ‘Dance 1’ (also from ‘Einstein [on the Beach],’ it followed intermission), how do you bring it all into balance — the kaleidoscope colors, the spaciousness as well as the density, the slick repeating modulations, the pulsing motion?”

3. Recently, I brought up Keith Jarrett while writing about Craig Taborn‘s solo piano album. Nate Chinen took it one further, putting Taborn  in the context of a history of solo piano.  (Hat tip: @fullyaltered, a couple of months ago.)

4. DIY venues are the heart and soul of avant-garde music, a tradition exemplified by the loft jazz era of the ’70s. A July article in the Toledo Blade describes one such venue in Ohio, the Robinwood Concert House. It’s written with sincere and respectful curiosity, aimed at an audience that’s never heard of such goings-on. And the narrative crosses paths with a Bay Area group, Basshaters (Jacob Felix Heule on “cymbals and machines” and Tony Dryer on electronics). For me, the story is a reminder not to take places like Robinwood for granted.

The Big Catchup: Recent Shows

Unintended consequences: When I saw a spate of shows in late July/early August, it ate up the time I would normally use to blog about them. Only now am I catching up, by typing things here and adding pictures to my Flickr account. (Because it occurred to me about two weeks ago: “Oh yeah… whatever happened to my Flickr account?”)

So, here’s my really busy week-or-so, or, How I Spent My Summer.

Necessary Monsters
@ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
July 30, 2011

As noted here and very briefly here, I did manage to see the staging of this very special project from Carla Kihlstedt. Neither a play nor a concert, it’s a theatrical musical experience that will hopefully have a continued life on the stage.

The stage was set to resemble a dissheveled office or attic, with storage boxes and papers everywhere, as if we were sorting through the discarded paperwork of the mind. There’s no storyline; the central character and narrator, played by Denmo Ibrahim, introduced each of nine songs based on monsters from fables and folklore. Her lines were in the form of extended definition, like encyclopedia entries, with dramatic and sometimes funny text that was poetically rendered.

Kihlstedt shaved her head for these performances, an edgy look that worked well with the richly rough-edged look of the costumes that transformed each band member into one of the monsters.  Kihlstedt played violin and sang most of the lead vocals, often harmonized by Theresa Wong, who hit some high high notes and did an overall amazing job. Wong was also playing cello and got an early showcase as the Squonk (no relation to the Genesis song, other than using the same legend as a source).

Most of the songs were in Kihlstedt’s style of mixing emotional Eastern European folk with classical and jazz elements. Her husband, Matthias Bossi, got to perform something closer to a showtune as the One-Eyed Being, a highlight that hit in about the middle of the show. The Being got played up as quite the narcissist, as Bossi ate up the stage, crooning in an old-timey jazz growl, with jazz hands and high kicks, even. It was a crowd favorite.

Or so I assume, because the audience didn’t clap between songs, and we should have. It’s one of those things: Do you clap after each piece, like you would in normal theatre, or wait for the completion of all movements, as in the symphony? People didn’t clap after the first number, “Squonk,” so that sort of set the tone. I think it would have been a more engaging performance for us and for the performers if we had applauded. In any event, the show got a standing ovation at the end, so people were obviously into it.

What’s next for the project? A recorded version will eventually come out, and Kihlstedt’s Kickstarter page mentions the possibility of a touring life for the show. That would be exciting. It would also be great if Kihlstedt has time to start fleshing out the other half of the Imaginary Beings Project, where the fans help craft new mythologies.

Photography wasn’t allowed at the show, but Pak Han took some crisp shots that are viewable here.

Time Is Now, Not Money
@ Bird & Beckett Books
July 31, 2011

Already blogged here.


Libertas and z_bug
@ Luggage Store Gallery
Aug. 4, 2011

Libertas is an improvised-jazz trio, fierce and loud. Sometimes a bit too loud; Wade Driver’s drums tended to overpower the music, but that’s partly a function of the Luggage Store’s bright sound. I did like the forcefulness, though. Tom Griesser is a saxophone whose resume includes a lot of nice inside-jazz projects; Libertas seems to be his outlet for doing something edgier and cathartic. He was terrific, bouncing with energy both in his playing and in his stage presence. The third member was Liz Byrne — of the Kirby Grips, I think, which is so cool — playing electronics and samplers from gizmos laid out on an ironing board. It’s good punk jazz with some technical chops. Here, go listen for yourself.

z_bug, formerly a quartet, was pared down here to a duo, with Sheila Bosco on drums and David Leikam playing synths and/or electric bass, with high volume and heavy distortion. They turned the lights down for these slabs of industrial jazz. I remember thinking of the pieces as spacey psychedelic jams, roaring and blistering and even hypnotic. A great couple of sets from both bands.

Lisa Mezzacappa & Nightshade
@ Old First Church
Aug. 5, 2011

Already blogged here.


Bait & Switch Octet
@ Berkeley Arts
Aug. 10, 2011

I couldn’t resist the chance to see Mezzacappa’s band expanded to an octet, with the addition of vibraphone, electronics, and two more horns. It was a grand overlapping of Bait & Switch, Mezzacappa’s Nightshade, and the jazz quartet Cylinder. From the latter camp, I remember trumpter Darren Johnston getting a lot of soloing time.

The show started with just the quartet, playing some old favorites off the What Is Known album and some new tracks hopefully destined for another album. Then came the octet, which offered the chance to try some more expansive charts, including one really experimental-looking one, and some longer, suite-like pieces. (That’s how my ear remembers it, anyway; I could be mistaken.) The band’s aesthetic — free jazz based on some catchy composing and a garage-band attitude — still came across.

This performance was part of the Berkeley Arts Festival, which is presenting a few dozen music acts at an art gallery near U.C. Berkeley during the summer and fall. They’re really pouring it on from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31, with a lot of edgy jazz — it’s worth checking out.

I would imagine this was a one-time performance, but they did record it, so … you never know.

Lisa Mezzacappa and Nightshade

Lisa Mezzacappa & NightshadeCosmic Rift (Leo, 2011)

Nightshade is essentially a new-classical quintet, performing compositions that reserve large spaces for improvisation. But while you get frequent episodes of scribbly improv — furious crackles and scrapes on John Finkbeiner’s electric guitar, for instance — there’s still a concert-hall studiousness to the music. It’s not something that would come off well in a bar.

It was a treat, then, to see the group perform at Old First Church in San Francisco last month. The church hosts chamber music concerts regularly, from the very traditional to the new and outbound (like this one, from 2009).

Old First was a natural habitat for Nightshade. Sounds thrive and resonate there; they can be relished and absorbed. The resonance isn’t echoey, it’s more of a magnifying effect — you can hear everything, from the quietest musical details to the frustratingly loud rustling of your own jacket as you scratch your arm.

Nightshade’s sound relies on a lot of vibraphone (Kjell Nordeson), played in sleek and modern lines. There’s no true lead voice, though; clarinet (often bass clarinet, from Cory Wright), guitar, bass (Mezzacappa herself), and subtly tinged electronics round out the group. The written themes often follow dreamy, glassy melodies, striking onto a few jazzy moments before opening up into solos or improvising.

The electronics are a surprisingly subtle touch. Tim Perkis isn’t just thrown in there to make noise. He’s handed a score like any other player and abides by it. Now, his part must have a higher level of improvisation (or at least randomness) than the others, but still — it’s a gentle addition, arriving at specified times, blending into the group aesthetic. There’s a lot of potential in that approach.

The most aggressive melody on the CD (and in the concert) is/was “Regard de L’etoile,” taken from a suite of Olivier Messiaen piano pieces. It comes across stern and jazzy. Mezzacappa also put a Zappa song, “The Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ,” into the band’s repertoire. It’s got lots of vibes, of course, and some slash-and burn moments for Finkbeiner. I seem to remember both having a spikier, more aggressive sound live than on the CD, which I’d attribute to the usual difference between recording a clean-take CD (it’s “classical,” after all) and performing live, in the moment.

Most of the album consists of Mezzacappa compositions, and they’re terrific. “Delphine,” is introduced on the CD by a quiet, bubbling improvisation before moving into the placid, glassy composed lines. It flows at a careful, liquid pace. “Cosmic Rift” likewise starts in improv territory, this time chaotic, aided by generous electronics, and shifts to a crepuscular tick-tock melodies that the band improvises around. It moves like a quirky classical music, with dark improvising flitting about the margins.

Separate, self-absorbed note: As mentioned earlier, this CD hadn’t even made it onto Leo Records’ web site when I played it on the air, and how cool is that? It’s up there now.

Playlist: August 31, 2011

Full playlist is viewable here. A few notes:

Donnie McCaslin — “Mick Gee” — Seen from Above (Arabesque, 2000) ….. Blast from the past. I remember this album didn’t make me a McCaslin convert; some of the melodic tracks and soaring, dramatic swells were too much for me. But he’d assembled a crack band: Ben Monder (guitar), Jim Black (drums), and Scott Colley (bass).  They don’t push boundaries on many of the tracks, but this one’s a cooker, and it opens with some of Black’s trademark drum propulsion. Overall, I do prefer McCaslin’s more recent stuff (such as Perpetual Motion on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf label). McCaslin’s playing at Yoshi’s Oakland on Sept. 12, so I might be spinning him next week in conjunction with a ticket giveaway.

Danielle Roger — “India Which Is Not India”/”Deception… and Melancholy” — Pinta, Nina & Maria (Ambiances Magnetiques, 2008) ….. Interesting brew of classical music, electronics, and improvisation. This pairing, which ends the album, starts with a crinkly electronics sound but then bursts into a full-on chamber composition, with jumpy brass criss-crossing against madrigal woodwinds. Ren Faire plus modern classical plus abstract electronics.

James “Blood” Ulmer — “High Yellow” — Forbidden Blues (DIW, 1998) ….. I blew it here.  A caller raved about the loud, chaotic Joe Morris track I’d played last week and mentioned that he was into Ulmer as well.  So, into the library I went.  But I decided to go with this track for its catchy opening rather than with the searing, cosmic-ocean-wave sound of “What Is.”  The result worked well as far as radio transitions go (especially going from this track to the steady Klez-funk of Ben Goldberg’s Go Home), but I got bored of the track quickly. Good stuff, just not what I was looking for at the moment.

Evan Parker & John Wiese — “No Shoes” — C-Section (Second Layer, 2011) ….. Evan Parker is Evan Parker: saxophone sounds that flutter and continually change, like a flame. He’s teamed with electronics, tapes, and computer patches by Wiese. I’m having a hard time getting into this one; the electronics seem abrupt and disruptive. The session is meant to have a loud aesthetic, which is great. I’m just not sure the blend works for me.