Tim Berne Yet Again

My wife gives me a hard time about this: In 1999, we traveled to Europe, and I got to see Tim Berne twice on the trip.

What’s important is that I didn’t create our itinerary. By pure coincidence, our three-week trip crossed Berne’s path two times. It helped that this was my wife’s first time in Europe, so we were sticking to the big cities — but that’s never been enough explanation for her. She still calls shenanigans on it.

She’s not a fan of avant-jazz but she knew Berne’s name well by then. She knew I couldn’t pass this up. She came with me to see the Bloodcount quartet in Munich, and a week or so later, I ventured out alone to see Berne play duo with guitarist Marc Ducret outside Paris, at Les Instants Chavirés.

This was part of an unusual streak. My first six Tim Berne shows were in six different cities, only one of them in the Bay Area. Even more random than the European trip was the time I had to travel to Denver — the only time I’ve ever been to the city, as opposed to the airport — and Tim Berne was doing a one-off gig in Colorado Springs, on a night when I could make the drive in my company-subsidized rental car. That’s the kind of luck I’ve had. Drives my wife nuts.

Snakeoil: Promo pic used for postcard fliers for the Yoshi’s show. Source: Yoshi’s site; click to go there.

“Luck” is the right word, because while my first Berne concert did happen to be in San Francisco, we don’t often get chances to see downtown NYC musicians. For obvious reasons. It’s one thing for them to hit Philly, New York, and Boston even for sparsely attended gigs. Flying to San Diego in hopes of playing to 20 people, then driving yourself eight hours to Oakland for the next night’s show — that’s a whole other proposition.

Still, it’s not impossible. Berne had already arranged some dates before signing his record deal with ECM for Snakeoil (reviewed here). So, he’d done the legwork, but having ECM’s backing certainly helped in terms of audience size, he says.

So it was that I got to see Berne and Snakeoil play Yoshi’s in Oakland last month. I keyed on in Oscar Noriega‘s clarinet more that I did on my first CD listens.This might have been at the sacrifice of Matt Mitchell‘s piano, which I tended to notice less. Ches Smith, who played in so many Bay Area ensembles before leaving for New York, got huge whoops and applause when he was introduced on stage, and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t think he brought the tympani that he uses on the CD, but he did have a wide array of tricks and traps, including a vibraphone.

I had a great time, of course. It feels like I just saw Berne at Yoshi’s, performing with Michael Formanek. That’s two shows in a span of less than a year, with a longshot possibility of catching the trio of Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline in May. Apparently, I’m on another hot streak. Don’t tell my wife.

Yoshi’s doesn’t allow videotaping, so I’m not aware of video of this show. Below are videos of a couple of other recent Snakeoil appearances. The first is of better sound and video quality, despite some moments of shaky camera work. [It’s now been taken down, possibly the result of one too many unauthorized tapings.] The second (“Scanners”) is shorter and more “home-video,” but you get to hear Berne make a crack about cracks about Oregon.

Jack o’ the Clock, Live

Back in February, I made the trip to to Viracocha in San Francisco, finally seeing the band Jack o’ the Clock. It was a busy night — Laura, who’s curating music shows there, was telling me how the antique store’s theater space was furnished for poetry gatherings, and maybe some of those folks seemed to be there, curious about the music. Some friends of the bands, too, of course. It made for a large and warm crowd.

I’d raved about this band before but missed every single show of theirs in the intervening year. (Thanks; it’s a talent.)

They were well worth the trip. Lead vocalist Damon Waitkus plays guitar and banjo as well, and I hadn’t paid much attention to those instruments’ contributions on CD. (My ears spent more time listening to the other trappings — violin, vibraphone, bassoon, electric bass). From the CD, How Are We Doing and Who Will Tell Us, they played two solid tracks: “Last of the Blue Bloods” and “First of the Year.” Great stuff for Gabriel-era Genesis fans, with an acoustic, folky touch added. (CD review here.)

The set ended with a new one called “Ten Fingers,” full of busy percussion including Waitkus playing tuned tin cans. It was a busy piece consisting mostly of a rapidly thumping tribal rhythm. Jason Hoopes on electric bass would fill the gaps with thick, throttled soloing — what a great sound. It’s a terrific song that I’m hoping they capture to disk someday. Another new track was “Salt Moon,” a spiky instrumental.

Waitkus using metal rods to hammer at tin cans during "Ten Fingers"

The evening’s middle act was a nice change of pace, a folk-rock band from Sacramento called Be Brave Bold Robot. Dean Haakenson writes some pretty good guitar-based songs and fills them up with sophisticated, literate lyrics. Some songs had fresh and complicated takes on the usual relationship themes; others… well, put it this way: One song starts with a guy’s revelation that if he uses the toilet sitting down all the time, he doesn’t have to clean the bathroom as often. I think it was a love song in the end, but this first part got discussed in a whole lot of detail. It was pretty funny.

The whole show had opened with Death of the Cool, a piano trio with Hoopes on bass and Glenn on drums, with pianist Michael Dale. They did three improvisations, with Dale featuring a crystalline, floating style on piano at first, almost feeling tentative. By the third piece, they’d gotten into it, and Glenn laid losse with all sorts of jazzy color.

I wish I’d gotten this post out in time for Jack o’ the Clock’s two shows in Los Angeles — they’re playing tonight, March 25, if you hurry — but I don’t know what the venue is. Bay Area fans can see the group again on April 13 at The Orange Room (2885 Ettie Street, Oakland).

The Read: March 24, 2012

1. eMusic interviews Jenny Scheinman and Nels Cline about Scheinman’s pop/country/jazz/whatever album, Mischief & Mayhem.

2. The East Bay Express reviews Trevor Dunn‘s recent solo appearance, consisting of one 30-minute, through-composed, solo bass piece.

3. On Joan Jeanrenaud‘s reunion with the Kronos Quartet. From The NY Times.

4. A conversation with Laurie Anderson, mostly about arts beyond music. From the SF Guardian.

Vijay Anderson Taking His Band to Europe

Drummer Vijay Anderson is trying to raise funds to take his Touch and Go Sextet overseas, to the Novara Jazz Festival in Italy. Donations at the IndieGoGo site can be made through March 26.

This video has some text that explains the situation (it starts at about 1:10).

Your donation will go to the band regardless of whether they make their goal (unlike Kickstarter, which is a bit more like a challenge grant). The reason to do it through IndieGoGo is for the usual assortment of goodies — in this case, an unreleased live recording and your pick of free CDs. There’s also a drum lesson up for offer, although it looks like no one’s taken Anderson up on it yet.

I’ve written before about his Hard-Boiled Wonderland album, which struck me as more improvisation-based or at least very loose in defining musicians’ parts. Touch and Go’s music is more about Anderson’s jazz compositions. There’s more info and a brief interview with Anderson on the Porto Franco blog.

The band consists of musicians who are great bandleaders in their own right: Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Aaron Bennett (sax), and Sheldon Brown (clarinet). It’s like an all-star team being sent to Novara, enjoying an international stage for showing off Bay Area jazz. Best of luck to them.

Kihnoua 2012

Larry Ochs and Kihnoua perform Sat., March 17 in Berkeley and March 23-30 on the east coast and in the midwest. Details below.

KihnouaThe Sybil’s Whisper (Metalanguage, 2012)

Larry Ochs is taking his Kihnoua trio back on the road. As usual, it’s the core lineup: Ochs (sax), Dohee Lee (vocals), and Scott Amendola (drums), plus one guest player. In this case, it’s bassist Trevor Dunn, taking the spot of Wilbert DeJoode, the Dutch bassist who’s the fourth member on the newly released album, The Sybil’s Whisper.

Ochs describes the music as having roots in both jazz/blues and in ancient musics from Korea and elsewhere. Both sides can be heard in Ochs’ sax playing, which sticks to free-jazz connotations with some “world”-music touches.

Dohee Lee’s vocals tend to be a defining element, though. Often, a piece’s mood seems to be outlined mostly by her and by Amendola’s drumming.

The Sybil’s Whisper opens calmly with the even-keeled “Flutter,” where Lee lets long tones drift in the air, with Ochs’ sax responding in a way that’s almost mimicking the human voice.

“Grip Bone,” by contrast, uses gruff and choppy sax above a torrent from Amendola and DeJoode, a spirited free-jazz attack. It ends furiously, with Lee growling out a nonsense monologue that flips between American and Eastern European “accents,” and Amendola creating a blur behind Ochs and DeJoode’s playing.

“Erase the Sky” is built around a steady tribal pulse by Amendola, with Lee barking out stern syllables and Ochs, now on tenor sax, soloing colorfully. DeJoode is featured for most of the track, playing spirited arco bass against the ensemble’s fast but restrained mood, or moving into clacking, percussive territory for a louder and harsher passage.

“in progress…” draws a lot from Asian influence. It’s the piece with the greatest amount of stillness, even during a loud but restrained drum solo that paves the way for some of Lee’s most traditional-sounding vocalizing. (By which I mean, she’s doing something close to the traditional chants of Japanese ritual. I have no idea if she’s consciously invoking any particular tradition, and in fact I doubt it.) Ochs re-enters on sopranino with bright, springlike phrases — sun through the clouds — and it all ends with Amendola splashing madly on cymbals while Lee’s vocals intensify but stay restrained.

The Kihnoua tour schedule is up on Larry Ochs’ web site (ochs.cc). Here it is in replica. All shows include Trevor Dunn except the first one.

From the archives: Impressions of Kihnoua in 2010.

Moe!kestra and Surplus 1980

Moe! Staiano has back-to-back shows of note happening in just a couple of days.

Source: Moe on FacebookTuesday March 13: Moe!kestra comes to The Uptown in Oakland, performing “Piece No. 9: When Terrie Had Six.” The title refers to Terrie Ex of the Dutch band The Ex, whose songs served as inspiration for the piece. Expect a mass of 30 or so musicians following instructions written out by Moe. He’s a very physical conductor, so the piece will probably be visually as well as musically dynamic.

On Facebook, Moe is hinting that this will be the last Moe!kestra ever. That turned out to be untrue when he said it in 2009, but given the logistics of putting together a project like this and the difficulty of finding a venue that’s both capable and willing, you might want to assume (or at least pretend) he’s right this time.

Opening will be the free-jazz quartet of Mark Clifford (vibraphone), Anton Hatwich (bass), Aram Shelton (clarinets), and Jacob Wick (trumpet).

Wednesday March 14: I love it when the Hemlock Tavern (San Francisco) opens its backroom stage to jazz/improv acts. This is going to be a great show:

  • Surplus 1980, at the Starry Plough in BerkeleySurplus 1980 — Moe’s avant-rock band, pictured at right. Read about them here; listen to them here.
  • ReCardiacs Fly — The Cardiacs cover band that I keep writing about (with Moe on drums). More here.
  • PG13 — The (apparently rather loud) trio of Thomas Scandura (drums), John Shiurba (guitar), and Phillip Greenlief (sax). They’ve played together quite a bit, and while I’ve never heard them, I’ll point out that Scandura and Shiurba were in the last version of The Molecules. So, they’ve got loudness-and-craziness cred.

Hi, I’m Back

So, I’ve been out. Sorry for the lack of updates. The day job hit one of those periods.

I’m in Los Angeles right now, sharing Southwest Gate 1 with, apparently, the Stanford women’s basketball team and lots of Stanford students (the band, possibly). Somehow, I don’t think my KZSU avant-jazz credentials will impress any of them.

Anyway, the point is: I’m still around, and I did manage to attend three shows recently (including one here in L.A.), and I’ll try to post pictures and/or words soon.

On the down side, I’m going on an unexpected trip to New York next week. It won’t be as draining as this past trip was, but it does mean I’ll miss important Bay Area shows happening on March 14 (another ReCardiacs Fly show) and March 15 (Jim Ryan’s new bands).