The Read: Dec. 19, 2011

1. Mama Buzz Cafe in Oakland might be closing soon. The cafe has apparently been struggling, but the real blow is that the landlord simply wants to reconfigure the space.

2. Moe! Staiano‘s Surplus 1980 CD, Relapse in Response, gets a brief review in East Bay Express. Hadn’t thought of the Fred Schneider comparison. (Other links: My CD review; live-show pictures.)

3. Darren Johnston‘s latest CD, with his Nice Guy Trio. It’s on Porto Franco.

4. Drummer Weasel Walter talks to the Village Voice about working with Mary Halvorson. They’ve now got two duo albums — I mentioned the first one here — and the fine Electric Fruit with Peter Evans.

5. ROVA conducted a remix contest, handing fans some source material to play with. Here are the results.

6. Thirty years later, Peter Apfelbaum still convenes the Hieroglyphics Ensemble (now “NY Hieroglyphics”) once in a while. While it’s not much of a read, per se, here’s his NY Times jazz listing for last Friday’s show.

7. Here’s something new: jealousy of the Bay Area jazz scene. Whereas we might complain about how much talent gravitates to the east coast and stays there, the L.A. Times recently made mention of “touring artists who sometimes mysteriously pass by Los Angeles” to instead visit “the Bay Area’s rising jazz scene.” I think they were talking more about mainstream jazz and the pull it gets from Yoshi’s and SFJazz. Then again, the point of the blurb was to lament that an organizer of the Angel City Jazz Festival — a bill that, this year, included Rudresh Mahanthappa and the duo of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura — is directing his energies at an Oakland restaurant-to-be. It might be this place, in which case it doesn’t sound exactly like an avant-jazz haven.

The Full Blown Citta di Vitti

Phillip Greenlief, enchanted by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, wrote about 40 melodic fragments inspired by the films. This was in 2006, as he explains here, and the end result was an imaginary soundtrack to the movies. (Click that link for some samples.)

He’s been performing the pieces with a trio. But their recent show at The Uptown expanded the band into a septet, putting some big-band punch into the music. With Antonioni’s L’eclisse running silently in the background, they played songs that matched with individual scenes.

I forgot my camera and had to settle for what my cellphone could do. That’s Greenlief in the foreground left. The four added members of the band are on the right-hand side of the stage, out of frame.

L’eclisse was a good choice, because the stock market figures heavily in the plot. Greenlief wrote bustling, busy jazz for that setting, appropriately New York-ish, with some strong swinging from the three additional horns and John Schott on guitar.

The trio pieces are good, too — Greenlief’s sax fills the space nicely, as he’s proven in so many other contexts. But it was fun to hear the music fully fleshed out.

The tunes aren’t scripted to match the film exactly. Each song began at a scene marker on the DVD and ended when it ended, so we skipped ahead through the film from beginning to end. Greenlief announced some of the plot details as we moved forward — we missed most of the effect of the movie but at least had an idea what was going on.

The ending was interesting. (And yes — SPOILER alert — I’m about to give away the ending. Kind of.) One of the things that had impressed me about the film to this point was the placement and framing of the actors. It was especially deliberate during the first scenes, with two characters in an apartment and lots of long silences. The end, though, shows us a images of stark emptiness. Most of the settings are unpeopled, and if someone is in the shot, they’re shown in unsettling close-ups or fragments. The music was likewise stark and lingering, full of ringing dissonances. Afterwards, Greenlief told me the ending was stepping through settings from earlier in the movie, showing you what they’re like with the characters removed. You’re forced to accept the place as an entity of its own, a single imposing character dominating the frame. What’s it all mean? Well, it’s very Film 101 of me, but I made the mental leap to nuclear war (which had been hinted at, in a newspaper headline late in the film), maybe showing how impotent the human world is without humans there to power it. I’m going to have to watch the whole film now and find out.

Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland

Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland with Vinny GoliaEdge of Dark (Edgetone, 2011)

The Lords of Outland, with Golia, play Sat. Dec. 17 at Community Music Center: 544 Capp St. in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Over the past 17 years or so, Lords of Outland has gone from being a free-jazz band to playing  a noisier, darker brew filled with wild electronics. Edge of Dark nudges the pendulum back toward the jazzy side by adding L.A. reeds master Vinny Golia, pitting his sax next to Rent Romus‘.

Maybe that’s one way of interpreting the title being Edge of Dark — but it’s still dark. Romus has read a lot of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, and maybe combined with the current political climate, it adds up to some ominous, looming compositions.

There’s plenty of free-jazz energy to be found, though. The two saxophonists get into some nice sparring matches, as on “Over the Rift” (both of them on tenor sax).  Golia shows of a fluid, rapid-fire style, generally more acrobatic than Romus’. Nothing against Romus — who puts forth a gruff attack and, as usual, adds lots of inventive expressiveness to his playing — it’s just that Vinny Golia is, you know, Vinny Golia.

In fact, Golia’s ebullient playing can sometimes dilute the dark mood, as on “Into Dune,” a creeping, freeform bass-and-drums exploration. Golia’s solo is bright and energetic, cutting away the near-psychedelic wandering nature of the track for a few minutes.

But it’s not as if he doesn’t fit the personality of the album. Golia does well at enhancing the slowly intense burn of “Spreading Tar of Cosmic Microinfinity,” adding a wailing soprano sax to the song’s bellowing midpoint. And he puts in a furious solo on “Over the Rift,” another track with a slow and heavy feel.

Some of the album’s highlights come when Golia takes the spotlight completely — just him against just the drums and bass, and maybe a twiddle or two from C.J. Borosque’s electronics. “Body of Memory” is a good example, with Golia going all Evan Parker on us in a twirling, fluttering solo backed only by quiet drums and ominous electric bass (played by longtime Lords members Philip Everett and Ray Schaeffer).

Just to show the dark album doesn’t want for lighter moments: “Ovular Amphivoid” is actually kind of swingy, one of the most directly jazz-derived tracks. It cuts immediately into cutting, choppy free-jazz soloing, with Romus grumpy and puffing and Golia in overblowing mode. “Night Nova” has a springy ’60s free-jazz feel, partly because of Golia’s darting flute. The track quiets down for an electronics solo, after which the band adds some abstract vocalizing to the improvising.

Shows: Dec. 16 to Dec. 22

Blood Wedding/Chuck Johnson @ Berkeley Arts Festival (Berkeley), Fri. Dec. 16, 8:00 p.m.
….. It says: Come if you dig: just intonation, noise, heterodyning, doom, hyperobjects, duende, difference tone synthesis. OK, then. Two solo acts: Blood Wedding involves vocals with digital processing; Johnson plays steel guitar and modular synth. I’m guessing loudness is involved here, but that’s a blind guess.

Aram Shelton, Corey Wright, Mark Clifford, Jordan Glenn & Anton Hatwich @ Berkeley Arts Festival (Berkeley), Sat. Dec. 17, 8:00 p.m.
….. Free jazz convened by Shelton (sax, clarinet) and featuring Chicago compatriot Hatwich (bass). Wright adds a second reeds voice, and Clifford and Glenn provide the percussion.

Maya Kronfeld Group/The Holly Martins @ Actual Cafe (Oakland), Sun. Dec. 18, 5:00 p.m.
….. The Actual Jazz Series is curated by saxophonist Kasey Knudsen this month. Kronfeld is a keyboardist who works frequently with vocalists; The Holly Martins are a trio with a strong jazz sound and an improvisational bent, featuring sax, guitar, and Lorin Benedict’s wordless vocals.
        * About the Actual Cafe/Series
        * About The Holly Martins’ CD

Tri-Cornered Tent Show & Libertas @ Musicians Union Hall (San Francisco), Sun. Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.
….. A “skronk solstice special.”
        * Tri-Cornered, previous mention
        * Libertas, blogged in August

Jack o’ the Clock @ Subterranean Art House (Berkeley), Sun. Dec. 18, 9:00 p.m.
….. Really cool proggy/folky band with jazzy/chamber-music elements and an overall pop feel. They’ve played a few shows this year, which is nice to see. Oakland-based composer Andrew Weathers is on the bill, and Aymeric Hainaux, who sounds like a human beatbox performer with eclectic and glitchy variety, is headlining.
        * My writeup about the band
        * Jack o the Clock’s Web site
        * Aymeric Hainaux in action (video)

Music in Motion @ Luggage Store Gallery (San Francisco), Thur. Dec. 22, 8:00 p.m.
….. Three acts with solo musical voices: Laurie Amat (voice); Rent Romus and Vitali Kononov (sax and movement); and The X Factor, consisting solely of Bob Marsh (accordion, voice, tap shoes). As the program’s title says, the idea is to combine music and motion.
        * Video interview with Marsh about music, motion, and other stuff.

As always, you can find listings of upcoming shows at or

Shows: Dec. 12 to Dec. 15

The reason I’m suddenly doing all these listings, by the way, is not only the preponderance of shows, but the fact that live music options usually dry up pretty severely in the weeks before Christmas. (Classical music is particularly depressing, because every show has to be a holiday show.) It gives me an itching to stock up on music shows before the drought. Luckily, there’s no treacly candy-cane lacing to be found in these entries:

Charlie Hunter/Scott Amendola @ Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz), Mon. Dec. 12, 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
….. See here.  Show up early, because Kuumbwa does serve food and because parking can be difficult.

Squid Inc. @ Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley), Mon. Dec. 12, 8:00 p.m.
….. It’s “classical night” at The Freight, although you could say Squid Inc. is only nominally classical, since they essentially play pop songs. Part of the idea is to become a gateway drug to classical, which I can appreciate. Also note that cellist Beth Vandervennet does some of the craziest solos for Amy X. Neuburg and the Cello ChiXtet. About a dozen things on the Web call themselves Squid Inc., some of them music-related, even; to learn more about this Squid Inc. link, try:

Citta di Vitti, Aram Shelton Quartet @ Uptown (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), Tues. Dec. 13, 9:00 p.m.
….. A couple of strong jazz entries for this month’s edition of Shelton’s Active Music Series at The Uptown. Citta di Vitti plays the music Phillip Greenlief composed while watching the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, creating his own soundtracks to the movies. The group has tended to be a trio, but they’ll be adding special guests for this show, where they’ll play the music while the film L’Avventura plays behind them. Preview the music here. Saxophonist Aram Shelton will bring a quartet with Mark Clifford (vibes), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Vijay Anderson (drums) for a free-jazz set with some chamber-music tendencies.

Tom Bickley and Adria Otte @ Meridian Gallery (535 Powell St., San Francisco), Wed. Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
….. With recorder, violin, and both players adding electronics, this show will debut an hour-long piece “combining Gray Code and Fibonacci sequencing structures with improvisation.” The show is listed as 90 minutes, so they’ll probably add some smaller-scale improvising as well.

The Tiptons Sax Quartet/Real Vocal String Quartet @ Subterranean Art House (Berkeley), Thur. Dec. 15, 8:00 p.m.
….. Formerly the Billy Tipton Memorial Sax Quartet, the all-female Tiptons play spirited, melody-driven jazz — not free jazz, but still inventive stuff with elements of blues, gospel, rock … I think I even hear techno in “I Klaxon Della Norte.” Real Vocal is a string quartet with a folky bent, stuff that fits with the modern-folk movement (you know, stuff like Christine Lavin).

Shows: Dec. 10 and 11 (The Weekend!)

It’s a busy weekend, in terms of Bay Area music. Hard to go wrong with any of these:

Old Friends Festival at Berkeley Arts Festival (2133 University Ave., Berkeley), Sat. Dec. 10, 8:00 p.m.
….. See here. Tonight’s show includes Pamela Z, Dan Plonsey’s New Monsters (an evolution of The Manufacturing of Humidifiers, a nifty early-’90s oddball-jazz band), and ROVA, playing tribute to the late Glenn Spearman.

Ensemble Épouser performs “Les Noches” at Viracocha (998 Valencia St., San Francisco), Sat. Dec. 10, 8:00 p.m.
….. The ambitious, Dominique Leone-led project to re-create the Igor Stravinsky piece, originally written for four pianos, percussion, four vocal soloists, and a chorus. They’ll be using fewer people than that: Leone’s Ensemble Épouser uses five voices and two pianos. Pitch-shifters and rewritten piano parts help flesh out the sound. On her Fenderhardt blog in July, Laura wrote up a terrific article about the project’s origins. This is also a nice opportunity to check out the music series she’s been running at Viracocha. Also on the bill are the Real Vocal String Quartet (nice to see them in action again), and Seldamuse, a duo of cellist/vocalist Theresa Wong, who’s got a new album out on Tzadik, and Dohee Lee, a vocalist some of us know through Larry Ochs’ group, Kihnoua.

Droneshift at The Lab (2948 16th St., San Francisco), Sat. Dec. 10, 8:00 p.m.
….. About once a year, some local musicians get together for Droneshift. The idea is to keep one long drone going, in this case for three hours. Musicians swap in and out with their different instruments, leading to changes in the overall sound — but the drone lives on. The session was organized by Matt Davignon and will feature more than 40 musicians. Here’s a list.

Charming Hostess at Subterranean Art House (2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), Sat. Dec. 10, 9:00 p.m.
….. It’s Eastern European night at the Art House, as a band called Zoyres will also be performing. Jewlia Eisenberg creates Charming Hostess’ music by fusing Klezmer, Eastern European folk, blues, and whatever else is lying around. It’s vocal-driven, with the group often appearing as a vocal trio, but the albums are backed by a variety of musicians and a very modern sound overall. Coincidentally, the six-person version of Charming Hostess (a full band including a couple of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum folks) would have fit in with the OFF festival mentioned above.

Noertker’s Moxie at Cafe Royale, Sun. Dec. 11, 6:00 p.m.
….. Bassist Bill Noertker has several years of performing and several albums to show for his modern jazz band. Featuring original compositions, Noertker’s Moxie doesn’t adhere to post-bop or modal jazz forms but has enough “jazz” in it to please fans of those subgenres. Noertker’s Moxie is a regular at the SIMM series on Sunday nights, but this time, the quintet gets an evening gig at a restaurant that favors “normal” jazz. Nice change of pace for them.

Efft Up/Joe Lasqo at Musicians Union Hall (111 9th St., San Francisco), Sun. Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m.
….. Latest show in the SIMM series mentioned above. Efft Up is the duo of Bob Marsh on piano and Rent Romus on sax; the name probably aptly describes what they’ll do to the music.  Joe Lasqo performs solo piano that’s influenced by the long-form drones of Indian ragas. His set celebrates the release of his CD, Turquoise Sessions.

Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola at The Independent (San Francisco), Sun. Dec. 11, 8:00 p.m.
….. This one’s more mainstream, with Hunter spinning his funky breed of jazz guitar with built-in bassline, backed by the snap of Amendola’s drums. Bhi Bhiman opens (think classic rock singer/songwriter stuff, done pretty well.) You can also see Hunter and Amendola on the 12th at Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

Phillip Greenlief & Jon Raskin’s 3+3 at Berkeley Arts Festival, Sun. Dec. 11, 8:00 p.m.
….. Raskin and Greenlief’s “2+2” presented varying improvising duos featuring the two of them with different guests. This time, they’ll work in trios with violin, koto, and electronics. Some of the pieces will be improvisations based on experimental notation systems.

Old Friends Festival

On Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, some of the Bay Area’s longest-term creative music performers will get together for a night of new music and old memories.

Oh, and there’ll be video games.

They’re calling it the Old Friends Festival (OFF), and it’s meant to celebrate the late ’90s, a time when the Bay Area creative music scene was vibrant and seemed poised for national attention. Charlie Hunter and Peter Apfelbaum had just emerged from the local jazz scene; Beanbender’s was presenting a steady stream of local and out-of-town stars, including European musicians; and the relatively recent rise of indie/DIY CD pressing was opening up possibilities for musicians of all stripes.

Me, I came in at the tail end of that period. Olive Oil’s was defunct and the Dark Circle Lounge (a Tuesday night series at The Hotel Utah) was about to be, but I caught a lot of great shows at Beanbender’s, Venue 9, and New Langton Arts.

The scene is still active, but so much around it has changed. That’s fodder for a more depressing post. This is supposed to be a happy one.

So: Ralph Carney, Dan Plonsey, Pamela Z — they’re all going to be performing at OFF. The reunited band Pluto (now called Lost Planet) will be there. Gino Robair plans to lead a massive conducted-improvisation set. ROVA will do a tribute to tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman. And The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment — a video-game museum starting up in Oakland — is a sponsor, and yes, they’re bringing some games from the ’90s.

It’s being hosted by the Berkeley Arts Festival (which seems to be running indefinitely until they’re kicked out of 2133 University Ave. or until organizer Bonnie Hughes and friends run out of energy).

Find out all the details at the Berkeley Arts Festival’s OFF page, and don’t miss Derk Richardson’s radio interview with some of the musicians, including head organizer Steve Horowitz.