The Agony of Oct. 27-28

As I keep saying, it’s great to live somewhere like the Bay Area, where the number of good live-music options can just overwhelm you. Even on days that overwhelm a little too much.

There’s a ton going on this weekend. I’ve cut-and-pasted the listings off of, added a couple more, and annotated them below. Lazy but effective. Click the dates for more details about individual shows.

And keep watching bayimproviser and/or its counterpart, the Transbay Calendar (they draw from the same database). Lots more exciting music is coming up in November.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sat 10/27 7:30 PMBerkeley Art Museum [2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley]
The Shotgun Wedding Quintet creates the sound of a larger group that is equal parts big band and boom-bap, paying homage to the art of improvisation. This performance concludes KALX’s fiftieth anniversary concert series.

Sat 10/27 8:00 PMSwedish American Hall [2174 Market Street, San Francisco]
Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo with William Parker & Mark Ferber

(From New York, a rare chance to see saxophonist Malaby — who’s been doing some edgy, fiery work — and bassist Parker.)

Sat 10/27 8:00 PM, Awaken Cafe [1429 Broadway, Oakland]
New Song Movement Special:
Jack O’ the Clock (Damon Waitkus/Emily Packard/Kate McLoughlin/Jason Hoopes/Jordan Glenn, w/Karl Evangelista)
w/Grex (Karl Evangelista/Rei Scampavia Evangelista, w/Jordan Glenn)

Two terrific bands with prog leanings. I’ve raved about them before; see here and here.

Sat 10/27 8:00 PMThe Emerald Tablet [80 Fresno Street, SF]
“Concrete Blonde” will include video projection and a graphic score by Phillip Greenlief, composed for this live performance by shudder, with special guests. The video collage will examine and deconstruct the iconic image of “the blonde” in world cinema. With:Kyle Bruckmann, Lance Grabmiller and Phillip Greenlief, with special guests Aurora Josephson, Tim Perkis, and John Shiurba.
Presented as part of the ongoing exhibition A.D.D., curated by MicroClimate Collective. For more info see:

Taking the challenges of attention deficit disorder seriously, Greenlief will have musicians improvise to both a score and a video that they haven’t seen before. It’ll involve multitasking and reflexes, and in the meantime, the video will turn inside-out the conventional understanding of “the blonde.” Two performances, 8 and 10 p.m.

Sat 10/27 8:00 PMCommunity Music Center [544 Capp Street SF]
The composer collective Irregular Resolutions presents their annual new music concert consisting mostly of world premieres. From a wind quintet, to a bolero inspired number, to sung poetry to a percussion piece inspired by pinball machines, this concert has much variety.

Sat 10/27 7:00 p.m., Piedmont Pianos [1728 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland]
Conlon Nancarrow 100th Birthday Party

Including pianola(s), birthday cake and wine. Put on by Other Minds.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sun 10/28 2:00 PM, deYoung Museum, [Golden Gate Park]
Les Gwan Jupons: Vintage Caribbean Music with Lisa Mezzacappa, John Finkbeiner, Cory Wright, Rob Ewing, John Hanes

Free-jazz folks playing Caribbean music. That sounds fun. And the 2pm time doesn’t conflict with anything else here.

Sun 10/28 7:00 PMYoshi’s Oakland [510 Embarcadero West Oakland]
Roscoe Mitchell Trio featuring Tyshawn Sorey & Hugh Ragin
Prolific jazz and contemporary composer/saxophonist, founding member of the world renowned Art Ensemble of Chicago & Mills College composition chair Roscoe Mitchell leads a groundbreaking new trio.

This could be amazing. Tyshawn Sorey is terrific to see live, and I’d love to also see Hugh Ragin — who’s on a 1981 Roscoe CD I picked up randomly a couple months ago. But it conflicts with, among other things, the other interesting show going on at the other Yoshi’s…

Sun 10/28 8:00 p.m., Yoshi’s [1330 Fillmore, SF]
Asian Improv Arts 25th Anniversary, featuring Jon Jang and Unbound Chinatown, plus Min Xiao Fen and special guest.

My main touchstone here is pianist Jang, who recorded some inspiring jazz suites in the ’90s, some based on Asian themes but really centered in jazz. We’ve got them in the KZSU library, and I’ve only skimmed the surface of that work. Click here for a video excerpt of his Unbound Chinatown project.

Sun 10/28 7:30 PMFreelove Music School [4390 Piedmont Ave. Oakland, California 94611]
(1) Joe Lasqo – piano and electronics ….. (2) Evangelista/Romus/Trammell Trio (guitars/sax/drums) ….. (3) Ross Hammond Trio (Shawn Hale-bass, Dax Compise-drums, Ross Hammond-guitar)

Lasqo’s solo meta-rāgas, Hammond’s jazzy guitar (with rock/world colors), and a guitar/sax/drums trio that could go in almost any direction. Great lineup of music.

Sun 10/28 8:00 PMBerkeley Arts Festival [2133 University Avenue – walking distance from downtown Berkeley BART]
sundays @berkeley arts presents: 8 pm Ava Mendoza‘s Unnatural Ways (Ava Mendoza, guitar; Dominique Leone, keyboards; Nick Tamburro, drums) … 9 pm Fred Frith, guitar; Jason Hoopes, bass; Jordan Glenn, drums

New trios from Mendoza and Frith. Hard to go wrong with this one.

R.I.P. David S. Ware

Well, damn:

Very sad news from Patricia Parker.

Tonight, a giant has fallen. David S. Ware, the great saxophonist, died tonight, October 18, 2012. What an incredible loss! What a great musician and spirit! His tremendous sound, his spirit, his music, is irreplaceable.

Music holds Us

when there is more information we will let you know.

That’s from the Jazz Corner bulletin board, posted by Bernard Lyons.

Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen has posted a more full obituary, with video clips. It’s worth a read. I haven’t found independent confirmation yet.

Ware’s life was dramatically saved three years ago by a kidney transplant from a stranger, and it’s good that he was able to keep making music in the years he had left. I ended up following that saga on this blog, so here are the postings, if you haven’t heard it all before:

It’s saddening to think of yet another legend — a very big one, this time — who got just a fraction of the recognition he deserved, but it’s comforting to know Ware did find an audience. Branford Marsalis even got Ware recorded on Columbia Records, a well deserved coup. David S. Ware made a sound that needed to be heard, and it was heard, and that’s something to celebrate.


UPDATE: Accolades are coming in from all over the Web. Mike at Avant Music News compiled a good collection of links.

Sandy Ewen: A Noise from Houston

Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter — Untitled (ugExplode, 2012)

It’s the joyous clatter you’d expect from Weasel Walter and the sound-based, extended-technique improvising you’d expect from Damon Smith. And while I’m not familiar with Sandy Ewen, it seems she fits right into the aesthetic.

Ewen is part of the experimental music/art scene in Houston, which has been bassist Damon Smith’s habitat for a couple of years now.

Her instrument is prepared guitar — that is, horizontally placed guitar played with a variety of objects: metal, chalk, kitchen utensils. Keith Rowe is a good point of comparison. What results is an abstract sculpture of non-musical sounds: a thick electronic crunch, like the sound of something big and heavy being pushed forward a little bit at a time, or the springy, metallic sound of impact-on-strings.

Variations of these themes build up a collage of activity that could become just a wall of noise. But the trio knows how to hold back and let the music develop thoughtfully. Track 8 (they’re all untitled) is certainly the loudest, with blasts of guitar and vicious drum fills, but it’s also filled with pauses, chances to absorb the events.

Track 2 is a slower-moving beast. It sounds like Smith is pressing the bow hard against the strings, creating a slow-motion roar that becomes the “rhythm.” It’s only at the end that the piece begins to fracture into a noisier, chaotic form.

Smith couples Ewen’s sound with electronically enhanced bass, sometimes coming across rather crunchy and fuzzy himself. (He contributes some laptop noise as well.) In tiny spots, it’s easy to mistake the bass for Ewen’s guitar — you have to listen for the difference between Smith’s bowing and Ewen’s dropping/scraping sounds.

Combined, they create a spiky forest. The opening of the 17-minute track 6, with Ewen making rubbery, sing-songy guitar noises and Weasel doing a woodpecker-on-speed act, really feels like a walk through some alien jungle.

Weasel Walter’s pinpoint drumming runs throughout the album. Sometimes it’s boisterous and ecstatic, but more often, it’s a rapid patter, sometimes quiet — an electric coil adding charge to the space.

It’s an album of well orchestrated improv and an interesting study in guitar noise.

For more about Ewen, you can read this piece from Free Press Houston.

And, from a Houston-based TV program called Binarium, here are Ewen and Smith playing some music and offering some explanation:

Rainy Day ECM

Photo by BennyLin0724 on Flickr.

An ECM record just seems so appropriate on a rainy afternoon. And all of a sudden here in the Bay Area, the last two days have turned rainy-looking: the cool wind, the big artistic clouds. Actual rain comes in tiny bursts, but it’s the sky that counts. It sets up that ECM mood.

So, I spun Jon Hassell late Thursday afternoon. I’d picked up his CD, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM, 2009) at the library the previous weekend, randomly stabbing through the shelves while waiting for the kids.

I don’t know Hassell from hamburger, but his photo makes him look like a veteran artist, with a style and purpose well weathered by years of honing, seeking, perfecting … You know, it’s just that black-and-white artsy photography. It turns me into the critic who wants to show off that he’s read Faulkner.

Anyway, I found the atmosphere I was looking for, in spades. Trumpet is a great instrument for setting up an indeterminate, spacey chasm of sound, and Hassell uses heavy reverb to that advantage. Behind him is a rustle of varying amounts of electric bass, guitar, synth washes, and samples, a backdrop that’s gray but in varying moods and rippling waves.

Quite a few trumpeters love to set this kind of floating, ethereal mood, with the crisp trumpet tones mixing into a brew of modern, tech-driven sounds. It’s mellow with an edgy undercurrent. From the label that also supports Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko, it’s hardly surprising. (Eric Truffaz’s early-2000s work comes to mind too, although that’s closer to a pop vein, IIRC.)

That doesn’t mean it lacks any unique touches. It’s just that sometimes, as much as I love to plumb new ground with music — sometimes even I just want to settle into a comfortable mood.

The tracks do feature different sounds, but the real uniquenesses lie in the little touches of the background — such as guitar by Rick Cox, of the Cold Blue label (a mellow drone/ambient cousin to ECM but from the more troubled, dangerous side of the family) or the warmth of Pete Freeman’s electric bass, especially in spots where it’s used sparingly. I love Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche’s violin, spinning Persian-sounding lines on the 12-minute “Abu Gil,” which is a terrific slow jam occupying a comforting space.

The album isn’t completely my cup of tea. The auto-harmonized trumpet sound starts to make me itch after a while. But as a dose of ECM, a remarkably consistent label, it certainly hit the spot.

Where Hafez Is Coming From

I hope DJ Fo doesn’t mind me cribbing from his recent KZSU show to mention a couple of notes about Hafez Modirzadeh, who’ll play his blend of Persian scales and jazz dynamics at Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz) on Weds., Oct. 10.

It’s a CD release show for Post-Chromodal Out!, now out on Pi Recordings.

One important point first: The accent is on the third syllable:  MO_deer_ZAH_day.

The other bit of news:  The show will be Modirzadeh and pianist Vijay Iyer playing as a duet — one set only, starting 7:00 p.m. — and it will feature a normally tuned piano. Modirzadeh does promise that they’ll end the show with a tuning surprise, to add a flavor of his system and encourage the audience to “retune” their own thinking, as he put it.

The piano is the part that fascinates me most about Post-Chromodal Out!, just because the sound is so alien. The chords come out warped; they’re the sound of an optical illusion. So, the fact that the whole show won’t use a retuned piano is a little disappointing. Then again, my ears have never fully adjusted to microtonal systems, and while they sound OK to me on horns (some notes sound unexpectedly “off,” but it’s easy to digest), the keyboards have a mildly seasick sound to me.

The Kuumbwa crowds are always warm and friendly, but I don’t know if they’re ready for an hour and a half of that.

Still, the idea of the specially tuned piano fascinates me. Modirzadeh told Fo they’ve been doing the retuning in Iran, to match Persian scales, for a long time, so the process is routine.

Modirzadeh doesn’t use a straight Persian scale, though. The music is based on what he calls “weavings,” a criss-crossing of equal temperament and other culture’s musics (Persian is just one ingredient among many) to produce scales that aren’t necessarily symmetric.

He told Fo he developed this system by “looking outside myself” — by studying the African-American experience (which is crucial to jazz history) and by listening to Flamenco music, of all things, probing its similarities to Persian music. I’ve just started listening to Modrizadeh’s older album Bemsha Alegria, and the Flamenco influence there seems clear.

But back to the piano. Iyer had to rediscover the instrument as he went along, because under the new tuning system, his instincts couldn’t blindly guide him. He learned by playing, reacting to the sounds of his own instrument. I liked Modirzadeh’s description of Iyer allowing himself to be vulnerable by stepping into this process.

The same would be true of other musicians, of course. I think I remember Robert Fripp once saying it takes three years for a musician to truly, properly learn a scale or mode. But with piano, you’ve got those chords. In my head, it seems like an extra layer of things that can go wrong, an n-squared problem. Anyway, I’m impressed.

The interview was great and was accented by Fo’s deep knowledge of world music. You really should check out his Jazz Observer blog.

Modirzadeh has also been interviewed by The World, which produced a 3.5-minute story that includes interview snippets with Iyer.

Hafez Modirzadeh on KZSU Friday

Hafez Modirzadeh will be interviewed live on KZSU-FM.  It’ll be on Friday, Oct. 5, at about 8:00 a.m. Pacific time.

Modirzadeh’s new album, Post-Chromodal Out!, has been receiving lots of attention. It’s jazz based on Persian scales, a format Modirzadeh and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar have been collaborating on. (Previous mention.) For this album, they’ve added Vijay Iyer playing a microtuned piano, which “gives Post-Chromodal Out! its strongest pull of disorientation,” as Nate Chinen of The New York Times so aptly puts it.

Anyway, the plan is for DJ Fo to interview Modirzadeh on the air this Friday. The occasion is an upcoming show: Weds., Oct. 10 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Iyer will be on hand — whether playing an electronic keyboard that’s microtuned, or a specially retuned piano, I don’t know.

Hey, maybe they’ll mention that in the interview! You can find out by tuning in: 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or anywhere else on the Internet.

In addition to radio duties, Fo keeps a jazz blog at  Very professional, and augmented with some of Fo’s own photography. Check it out for his detailed reports from the recent Monterey Jazz Festival.

Kollektief’s Last Stand

I will not make it to New York to see the Willem Breuker Kollektief play on Oct. 4. It was a legitimate possibility, but it won’t be happening.

I’m very grateful to have seen them once, though, on a pass through the Bay Area. The Kollektief has essentially been on tour for 35 years, with varying personnel, of course, and with the passing of Breuker himself, the group is making its final time around the map.

Understandably, the tour makes just a brief jog through North America, going no further west than Chicago. They’ll then return to a set of shows in Europe that culminates on New Year’s Eve with the third of three nights at BIMhuis, in the band’s native Amsterdam. It’s a fitting way to close this chapter. In fine optimistic form, the band is calling its show “Happy End,” but the final installment is titled “A Happy Start…!”

You can see the whole tour schedule on the Kollektief site.

The Kollektief were global ambassadors of the new Dutch swing, as Kevin Whitehead coined it, a music that blended the jazz tradition with classical music, avant-garde improvising, and a healthy dose of humor. At the show I saw, one improv stretch had four of the horns playing unaccompanied, doodling around, while the rest of the band feigned exasperation at how long this was going on.  The drummer got up and paced; Breuker pretended to be fuming at having lost control; two band members started playing tic-tac-toe on the sheet music. It was artsy and yet entertaining.

But the music was substantial, with solid composing, crack performances, and real emotional depth. It felt like the band members treated the music as a way of life and a way of living.

The band was a thing of greatness, and it’s fitting that they would celebrate their history one last time before saying goodbye. I’m sure Brooklyn’s Shapeshifter Lab will give them a good NYC sendoff (the final North America show is Oct. 6 in Pittsburgh, at Carnegie-Mellon.)