Fred Frith Supplementary Playlist

Fred Frith performs at Slim’s tonight, Aug. 25, performing the album Gravity with Dominique Leone’s band and Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky. Opening acts include the ROVA Saxophone Quartet. More info here, or check out the podcast interview.

It’s been so long since I posted a radio playlist, I forgot to do one this time.

I followed up my Aug. 20 Fred Frith special with an hour of related music. The full playlist, including a “regular” hour of non-Frith-related music, is on KZSU’s Zookeeper site. The post mortem is below.

Dominique Leone — “Sometimes You’ve Got To Be Happy” — Abstract Expression (Important, 2011) ….. I started out with Leone and Novik’s bands, since they’ll be performing Gravity with Frith. Of the songs on this list, this is the only one that was sampled for the special, only because I improvised this playlist and couldn’t get this one out of my head. Actually, I’d wanted to play “Tension,” but it’s got some clearly questionable FCC content right up front.

Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky — “Igor Stravinsky’s Memorial BBQ” — (unreleased, 2012) ….. A band that combines upbeat jazzy sounds, a touch of Klezmer (or maybe everything with clarinet sounds like Klezmer), and bits of rock and, for want of a better word, experimentalism. Aaron sent me three tracks to use with the special. During an intermission, I’d played one that sounded more typical of the band. This one opens up noisy and rocking. Based on the title, I would guess Frank Zappa had some influence on this song.

Samla Mammas Manna — “Andra Satsen” — Supernatural Fairy Tales (Rhino, 1996) ….. The only Samla (pronounced “Zamla”) track we’ve got in the KZSU library. It comes off a six-CD Rhino compilation of prog rock. The track selection is watery (Golden Earring? Moody Blues??) but it’s got some gems and, as you can see from the Samla inclusion, some nice discoveries, not to mention Roger Dean cover art.

The Muffins — “Come With Molten Cloud” — Chronometers (Cuneiform, 1994) ….. The Muffins are a new discovery for me, and the biggest surprise is that they did so many prog songs that are only 3 or 4 minutes long! The title track to “Chronometers” does span 23 minutes and includes lots of Rock in Opposition goodness, but they also did lots of snippets, like this one, that suggest prog didn’t have to be about 8-minute-long “singles.” My mind is blown.

Fred Frith — “A Spit in the Ocean”/”Navajo” — Speechless (Ralph, 1981) ….. Hey, look, an actual Frith track! Speechless was the followup to Gravity and used the same scheme of a different band on each side: Etron Fou Leloublan on Side 1, and Frith’s New York band Massacre (Bill Laswell on bass, Fred Maher on drums) on Side 2.

Cosa Brava — “The Wedding” — The Letter (Intakt, 2012) ….. Second album from Frith’s “pop” band, seen here in a more instrumental and less “pop” light. It’s a moodier album; I remarked to Fred that it felt like a stronger Carla Kihlstedt influence, but he countered that it’s Zeena Parkins whose musical voice and ideas came to the fore this time. Hoping to write a little more on this album later.

Henry Cow — “Half Asleep, Half Awake” — Unrest (East Side Digital, 1995; orig. released 1974) ….. During the Frith interviews, much was made about how un-dance-like and un-peppy Henry Cow and Art Bears were. Which is true, but then again, I find some of Henry Cow’s work to be quite uplifiting, such as this track. After some moody piano, there’s a quice dancy-y bassoon solo from Lindsay Cooper. Frith noted that Cooper was his model for the kind of musician who can straddle the classical and jazz worlds — specifically, that line between rigorous reading or interpretation and the freedom to explore and improvise.

Toychestra & Fred Frith — “Grover Rides a Happy Honker/3 Elephants and a Cow” — What Leave Behind (SK, 2005) ….. Movements three and four of a five-movement concerto for toy instruments and electric guitar, written by Dan Plonsey. Founded by Paula Alexander in 1996, Toychestra was an all-women, all-toy-instrument band. By 2004, the five-woman band had had enough turnover that most of the actual musicians were out, leaving artists who were learning music on the fly. Inspired by that naive sound, Plonsey wrote the concerto, “What Leave Behind,” which I saw them perform at the Starry Plough sometime around 2004. The two movements I played here capture a little of everything: a serenade by the toys alone, followed by lots of scribbly Frith electricity. (For more on Toychestra, look here.)

NOT included on the show: Fred Frith and Evelyn Glennie, The Sugar Factory (Tzadik, 2007). I’d forgotten about this one. The duo played at Stanford in 2008, and I previewed the show by building a playlist around the album. You can read about that on my pre-blog site.

Podcast: The KZSU Fred Frith Special

Here’s the Fred Frith special that I aired on KZSU on Aug. 20, discussing the album Gravity and the Aug. 25 special show at Slim’s to celebrate it.

‘Couple things to note:

The special aired in two parts over the course of an hour. I kept them separate in the two files above.

It totaled about 48 minutes, and I added an intermission of some music from Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky, which Aaron had kindly provided. (Right after the show, I gave Dominique Leone some airtime as well.)

The version you’re getting here is squeezed down into MP3 format, with the Gravity songs faded down early. (If you’d prefer to just download them, here they are: Gravity-part1 and Gravity-part2.)

If you have no idea what any of this is about, I explain it in “Fred Frith: Gravity Rises.”

What to Expect When Fred Frith Performs Gravity

A few things I learned about Fred Frith’s Aug. 25 Gravity show at Slim’s (also see here):

….. The original plan was to have Aaron Novik‘s Thorny Brocky play Side One of the album, and Dominique Leone‘s band play Side Two. That didn’t work out due to the density and instrumentation of certain songs. Instead, the bands will combine, and each song will be performed by some combination of the players.

….. Songs aren’t going to be the same as on the album. Frith started Gravity with written-out music, but during the recording process, and especially during the production process in the studio, new ideas overran the old. The live show, though, will draw from those original notebooks — yes, the ones from 1979 and earlier — so some songs will take “new” (actually “old”) forms, and some will have material that didn’t make the album. Think of it as a handful of new bonus tracks, beyond the ones on the album’s CD release.

….. Gravity is about 45 minutes long, so to make this show the length of a show, the band might also play other pieces from Frith’s catalog — maybe some Art Bears stuff or some of his solo stuff. In any event, the band will be kept busy.

Source: Phone interviews with Fred Frith, Dominique Leone, and Aaron Novik — who’ll be among the 10 or so musicians re-creating Gravity on stage at that Slim’s show.  I’ll be using the interviews in a radio special about Gravity, to be aired on KZSU-FM on Monday, Aug. 20, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific. Listen on the Web at

Pail Bug

Pail BugPail Bug (Generate, 2011)

For the record, I did give this a listen before going to New York and meeting Jeff Arnal in person. But I hadn’t taken the time to write it up yet.

Pail Bug, an improvising quartet, is another collaboration between drummer Arnal and pianist Dietrich Eichmann. The first was in 2004, a Leo Records CD called The Temperature Dropped Again. That was followed by a vinyl 12″ record called Live in Hamburg, recorded in 2004 and released in 2007 as a 12″ LP on the Broken Research label.

The cover of Live in Hamburg shows what appears to be some kind of big structure being built, and that influenced my listening. It’s always unfair to ascribe a visual image to a type of music, because so much depends on what’s on your mind in the first place. It’s arbitrary, like having a dream about something you did just the other day. Still — I listened to the spacious, sometimes raucous piano and drums, and I came up with images of grand architecture, of towering structures in progress.

The group Pail Bug adds two bassists — John Hughes and Astrid Weins, contributing lots of aggressive arco and extended technique to the sounds of the piano and drums. It’s a busier, buzzier construction site, with the basses babbling and tapping, sometimes filling the percussive role while Arnal scrapes sticks against cymbals to form long tones. Eichmann dabbles in prepared piano as well.

“Second Pail” grabs you from the start, pushing directly into a gallop. It’s an engaging and busy opening, and after about four minutes, it decelerates, with buzzing, metallic bass bowing giving the image of a large beast careening to a halt. The quiet segment that follows still has a sense of motion; you’re still moving at a trot. A fast trio emerges later, with Arnal and one bass flying off the handle while another bass chugs along, its bowing providing the rhythm section.

I really like the sound of pizzicato bass, and that’s what opens “Third Pail,” accompanied by some kind of industrial-steam sound — I assume it’s coming from Arnal, but I can’t tell, and that ambiguity is a constant theme of Pail Bug’s. The second bass adds some metallic scraping of the strings to complete the bustling, compact trio. Eichmann enters in a flurry, with an angular sort of boogie-woogie prancing, dire and bright, prompting Arnal into a more conventional drum-kit attack. All told, it’s a dynamic 12 minutes.

There are five tracks, and you’ve probably figured out the naming scheme by now.  “First Pail” opens the album with a quiet aesthetic, with small sounds creeping into the frame, starting as isolated chords or squeaks and building slowly into stirrings. The piece eventually builds into a howl built of bass strings and screeching, scraped cymbals.

“Fifth Pail” gives us a good dose of unabashed clatter, including plenty of Arnal’s drum kit. “Fourth Pail” is along the same lines, with (if this makes any sense) a more tempered sound yet a more anarchic feel — except for one moment where the band suddenly hits a dead stop.  It  might have been cued visually, but on disc, it’s an interesting little surprise.

Prog/RIO Shows, All in a Row

It turns out Fred Frith’s Gravity show on Aug. 25 (which I just recently mentioned) is part of a small run of Bay Area prog-rock (or Rock in Opposition) shows:

Fri. Aug. 24 — Jack o’ the Clock and Reconnaissance Fly (who have a recently minted Web site!) and Vegan Butcher at the Starry Plough, Berkeley.

Sat. Aug. 25 —Gravity Reimagined,” performed by Fred Frith, Dominique Leone‘s band, and Aaron Novik‘s Thorny Brocky, at Slim’s, San Francisco.

Tue. Aug. 28 — miRthkon — who did complete that DVD and have spent a couple of weeks on tour to support it — at the Elbo Room, San Francisco. Kayo Dot is headlining.

I don’t closely follow the RIO scene, but it seems like an unusually rich few days for that kind of music. Rejoice!

And finally, even though I just mentioned it… I’m doing a special about Fred Frith’s Gravity and that Slim’s show.  It’ll air Monday, Aug. 20, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific on KZSU-FM, and yes you can listen via the Web.

The Read: Aug. 13, 2012

1. The Financial Times, of all papers, did a profile on Robert Fripp. He’s paused his music career, ostensibly because a long-fought rights squabble with Universal has become too distracting. (Hat tip @InciteOut and @urbannerds on Twitter.)

2. On his Cardboard Music blog, Joe Higham reviews the latest from saxophonist Aram Shelton. Higham is one of the contributors to Stef’s Free Jazz blog.

3. A posthumous trio release from Pi Recordings that features Sam Rivers is on jazz critic Peter Hum’s “10 eagerly awaited releases” list, which technically has 11 listed. The rest of the list looks pretty interesting too.

4. More from Pi: Hafez Modirzadeh‘s album, Post-Chromordial Out!, has been getting lots of critical acclaim. The music is based on a mix of Persian and Western scales, building a sound that The New York Times describes as “a slightly warped vinyl LP playing at a wavering r.p.m.” Vijay Iyer even played a specially tuned piano for the session. The album is the culmination of Modirzadeh’s life’s work, as PRI explains — and while official PR materials aren’t always useful, the extensive press release and bio for Post-Chromordial Out! tells a rich story of Modirzadeh developing his sound, then getting the feeling that “his life’s work was slowly dying on the vine.”

(Note that I did not start that item with a “‘nother slice of Pi” pun. Don’t say I never did anything to make the world a better place.)

5. Matt Mitchell got on my radar due to his work with Tim Berne. He did a recent gig with his own trio, reviewed in The New York Times.

Fred Frith: Gravity Rises

On Sat., Aug. 25, Fred Frith will team up with two local bands at Slim’s to replay his 1980 album, Gravity.

Gravity was Frith’s first solo album post-Henry Cow and is considered a landmark of his career — which is impressive, given his long and varied career. It’s also a bit of a departure after the art-rockisms of Art Bears and Henry Cow. Gravity is a fun and accessible album. The odd time signatures are fitted into a Euro-folk setting as opposed to the geometry of prog rock. The experimental touches and elements of “world music” that might have been new to listeners at the time emerge with an infectious joy.

A different prog/Rock In Opposition band backs Frith on each side of Gravity: Samla Mammas Manna on Side A and The Muffins on Side B. It sounds like Frith will replicate that concept by having two backing bands at Slim’s: Aaron Novik‘s Thorny Brocky, and Dominique Leone‘s band. [UPDATE: That was the original plan, but they’ve decided instead to have each song played by some combination of the bands.]

I’m planning a radio special in advance of the event. Part history, part interviews. It’ll include bits of music from Samla Mammas Manna and The Muffins — the two prog/Rock In Opposition bands that backed Gravity — as well as songs from the album itself.

The plan is to air this on Monday, Aug. 20 at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time on KZSU-FM. That’s 90.1 FM here in the Bay Area, or here on the Web.

Further reading:

Green Alembic and Emergency String (X)tet

Recently, I happened to catch Jim Ryan’s newest band, Green Alembic, in a show that had little more meaning than usual.

Ryan had just lost a very close friend, artist Arlene Columbe-Hiquily. At this show, at the Berkeley Arts Festival space in late July, the wounds still seemed fresh, and maybe that contributed to the sound — a little bit heavy, but also with a sense of healing.

Green Alembic uses a slideshow presentation to guide a long-form improvisation. In this case, the images were paintings of Columbe-Hiquily’s and Ryan’s, displayed on two screens, one for the audience and one for the performers.

Green Alembic started by playing against Columbe-Hiquily’s floral paintings, with Ryan leading the improvisation with sad, lovely melody on the flute, in a relaxing, jazz-inflected mode. Slide after slide showed canvases filled with flowers, one frame of full colors after another.

That was followed by some more abstract paintings, minimalist and geometric, with human shapes, doorways, windows.

The final segments used Ryan’s own art, including some pieces created to accompany his poems. I particularly remember the first of the three poems, more like a grim short story about a man in a doorless prison cell of brick, who finally chips through the wall only to emerge into a larger cell.

The set was winding down nicely when the bridge popped off of Bob Marsh’s bass, making an impressive little clatter. While it kind of broke the mood, it also nicely signified the end of the piece.

One hallmark of the Green Alembic is its unusual instrumentation — in this case, french horn was in the mix, and Jeff Hobbs, who’d played violin in the opening set by the Emergency String (X)tet, was on trumpet and clarinet, and possibly other instruments I didn’t happen to see. Michael Cooke was there to play bass clarinet and the Chinese sheng (a multiple-bell instrument previously mentioned here). Joe Lasqo contributed some thoughtful piano, adding a meditative element.

The concept requires a computer and two screens — one for the band, one for the audience. It’s not something that would work in every room, and the setup did take a while, but the idea is intriguing.

I’d arrived at the show towards the end of the Emergency String (X)tet’s opening set. The group is an improvising string ensemble convened occasionally by Bob Marsh; I wrote a little about the concept last year.

The Berkeley Arts space has lots of windows, so I could see that I was arriving during one of those quiet phases, every player at the ready but letting the weight of the surrounding silence press into the music. I felt bad about rattling my way through the door at that moment, but I didn’t have to: A baby in the audience was making happy chirping sounds at regular intervals. I suppose some people would consider it rude to bring a baby to a show, but I found it adorable, and I didn’t happen to notice anybody grumbling about it later.

Marsh had stepped away from his (then-intact) bass to conduct the group at the time, pensively letting the quiet phase run its course. The usual violins, violas, and cellos were augmented by one electric guitar, played with tact — it took me a few minutes to realize the guitar was even there. I liked the way it broadened the sound.

The remainder of that (X)tet piece was to be full of small, slivery sounds, often built from different creative bowing techniques from the players. Something about the sounds of all those strings invokes, for me, an image of watching a giant loom weaving thousands of threads, all visibly separate but about to come together to from a whole. Wish I’d caught more of that set.

Carla Kihlstedt on ABC

This is a few weeks old, but what the heck.

Out of the blue, Carla Kihlstedt — violinist, composer, member of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, member of Cosa Brava (whose new album is on my to-do list), builder of necessary monsters — got a connection to ABC television.

She announced it to Twitter back on July 12:  “My song ‘Hold My Own,’ is appearing tonight on an episode of @FinalWitnessABC…”

I’d never heard of the show. (It sounds full of sad endings, like what would happen if you used only the flashback scenes in a Cold Case episode.) But, wow. A musician of substance whom I admire gets played on ABC. That’s worth a grin and a toast.

Final Witness’ producers are serious about their music. They’ve got a music blog that explains the special songs they’ve picked for each episode — here’s the Carla Kihlstedt entry. They even talked to her about the song and the fact that she plays it on a violin with four “E” strings.

I haven’t heard of the other artists they’ve selected. My guess is that they’re all interesting enough to the point where Final Witness is doomed to be cancelled, because nothing that interesting stays on network TV for very long.

“Hold My Own,” by the way, is on the album Borrowed Arms by Kihlstedt’s band 2 Foot Yard. It’s a lovely yet powerful song, with a floating melody backed by vivid, fluttering violin and emotional cello notes. Very atmospheric. I’m really happy that they found and used this song.