Jim Ryan’s New Things

Jim Ryan has Bay Area shows on Feb. 19, March 15, and April 1.  See below.

Jim RyanThe Awakening (Edgetone, 2012)

Saxophonist Jim Ryan has a couple of new things going on. He’s reactivated the free-jazz band Forward Energy for a new CD and a couple of shows, and he’s got an entirely new group, Green Alembic, that might be described as a mini chamber orchestra.

Forward Energy is playing tonight (Sun. Feb. 19) to mark the release of that new CD, The Awakening. Forward Energy can get as edgy as any improvised group, but it tends to stick to a jazz vein, often aided by the choices Scott Looney makes on piano.

The Awakening is a brightly jazzy album, with Rent Romus on additional sax and C.J. Borosque on trumpet, creating a substantial front line. The general structures are jazz-oriented. “The Opening” feels very much like a composition; you almost wonder when it’s going to coalesce into a single line. (It doesn’t.) And “Freestyle,” while as wide-open as its name implies, has a moment when one sax hands off to the other (probably Ryan to Romus), as they would do in a “normal” jazz context. But underneath, Eric Marshall on bass and Timothy Orr an drums are cooking away at whatever space they’ve decided to create, rather than dictating the rhythm.

Most of the album operates that way, as the group creates agile jazz pieces built of a group-crafted direction. All-out noise explosions are rare — “Float and Jolt” has a couple, but that’s part of what appears to be a planned structure (or an inside joke that developed as the piece was forming).

Mostly, there’s an attention to creating cohesive pieces. “Talk Talk” includes a chirpy dialogue between the saxes, over nothing but a brisk walking bassline — a nice span, and it sounds great when the rest of the band jumps in at once. “Lost Leprechaun” is like a ballad, starting out with melodic muted trumpet and working its way into a careful group construction.

Green Alembic is Ryan’s newest idea, a group similar to a mini chamber orchestra — I can’t recall if that’s Ryan’s own description or just my impression after he explained it to me. It includes oboe, trumpet, and violin, and projected images — which might include instructions to the band followed by images to play off of (landscapes and the like). Ryan himself will be playing kalimba and flute, and it sounds like he’ll be adding spoken word, in the form of poetry (improvised or otherwise; he’s done this with many other ensembles in the past).

The images, aside from contributing a visual mood, can also include instructions to the band, followed by images to play off of (landscapes and the like). It’s a way for Ryan to free himself from the duties of conducting his chamber group. As far as the instrumentation, I think he mentioned that he wants to try different things — an April 1 show, in particular, might feature two versions of the ensemble, the second one using bassoon and trombone, among other instruments. It would be a good chance to see how the concept manifests itself in different sets of hands.

Here’s at least part of the Ryan itinerary:

  • Sun. Feb. 19Forward Energy‘s CD release show at Musicians Union Hall (111 9th St., San Francisco), 7:30 p.m. Emily Hay and Motoko Honda are also on the bill — more about them here.
  • Thursday March 15Forward Energy and Green Alembic both play at El Valenciano (1153 Valencia St., San Francisco), 8:30 p.m. Also on the bill: Tri-Cornered Tent Show; more about them here.
  • Sunday, April 1 — Green Alembic plays at Musicians Union Hall (111 9th St., San Francisco), 7:30 p.m.

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