Dave King, Dialing a Different Number

Dave King with Bill Carrothers and Billy PetersonI’ve Been Ringing You (Sunnyside, 2012)

1336DigipakI don’t know if I’m supposed to think of Bill Evans when I listen to Dave King’s I’ll Be Ringing You. I don’t think it’s strictly an Evans-trio tribute. But when I’m deep in the throes of a song like “This Nearly Was Mine,” hearing that gentle piano melody, and the subtle, airy cymbal taps that recall Paul Motian’s wisps of sound, my mind goes straight to Evans.

It’s not as though King is just imitating Motian here. (In fact, if he was, it would be a later-era Motian; Paul swung comparatively hard in that Evans band, even on ballads.) It’s just that pieces of that same wide-open strategy certainly pop up, and when you combine it with that laid-back piano, well …

But no, the trio here isn’t meant to be a clone. King and his trio keep the mood gentle, and King does enter that Motian mode of framing the beat more than actually stating it — but does so in a rougher, more forceful voice than Motian. You hear it in the swingy, brisk brushed-drum opening to “So in Love.” Elsewhere, King packs real attitude behind “People Will Say We’re in Love,” which starts with a free interlude, followed by King accompanying the gently swinging chords with a tumult of snare and cymbal play that doesn’t disrupt the comforting late-night vibe.

So, here’s what’s I think is going on. I’ll Be Ringing You is a love letter to the love-song standards of classic piano trios. It’s a patient album filled with the afterglow of remembering old, good times. The back cover shows a blurred image of a party, and that’s about the right feeling. This isn’t the raucous sound of a party; it’s the overdubbed music on a home-video montage of good times filmed long ago.

I bought the CD sight-unseen, so to speak. King is best known for being the drummer in The Bad Plus, which initially built a name on pop covers and piano bombast, but like his Bad Plus bandmates, he’s got an extensive knowledge and appreciation of jazz. This CD looked different. If it was the same Dave King, it was a chance to hear him in a different setting — which, in fact, it is.

The album was recorded in a church in Minnesota — the state where King once helped start the bubbling and creative indie-jazz group called Happy Apple — and features two north-midwestern compatriots: Bill Carrothers (piano), who apparently hails from the non-mitten-looking part of Michigan, and Billy Peterson (bass), whose long resume in the business includes a chair with the Steve Miller Band, of all things.

At 38 minutes, the CD is a cozy and relatively short trip, a chance to just enjoy the scenery going by.

Sunnyside has a Bandcamp-like interface to let you sample and purchase the album.

Coltrane’s Epic: Ascension Day on KFJC

ascension vinylWhat does John Coltrane’s “Ascension” mean to you? A pinnacle of his attempt to communicate spirituality in music? A joyous escape from the tyranny of chord changes? An ambitious, marathon version of a modally structured song? An excuse to make a lot of noise?

I’m leaning towards the first answer, but I’m sure all those elements will be explored on May 9 during KFJC-FM‘s six-hour special about the piece.

Titled “Ascension Day,” the show is part of KFJC’s Month of Mayhem, a tradition where they pepper the May schedule with ambitious, well researched specials. These are programs not to be missed — and considering this one runs from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time, there aren’t a lot of excuses for missing the whole thing.

The special will pay particular attention to the reworkings of “Ascension” by the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, who are producing a DVD video of their most recent “Electric Ascension” concert. The latest updates about that are available on their Kickstarter page.

Check the KFJC site for the full Mayhem schedule.

More about “Ascension:”

(Photo source: The Vinyl Records Shelf, which doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2004, but here’s a link anyway.)

Ian Carey: Roads & Codes

Ian Carey Quintet + 1 will perform Sunday afternoon, June 2, 2013 at Chez Hanny (San Francisco) ….. Carey’s Takoyaki 3, a subset of the band, plays free at Yoshi’s Lounge (San Francisco) May 30 and July 11 ….. Carey performs as a duo with Ben Stolorow at the Garden Gate Creative Center (Berkeley) May 9.

Ian Carey Quintet + 1Roads & Codes (Kabocha, 2013)

careysmall“It’s relaxing but upbeat,” my daughter told me.

I think she meant “lovely but intense,” but at any rate, she liked the music.

Ian Carey is like that. Roads and Codes presents more of his jazz composing with that comforting post-bop feel that also includes attractive quirks in the composing and a leeway for sneaky, free/outside moments. He’s not trying to create a purely free-blowing session, and neither is he doing cocktail jazz. I like it.

roads-panelAt the same time, I’d written before about the marketability of such music. “Too edgy for California, not edgy enough for NYC” is the comment he relays on the album’s graphic-novel cover, like an anti-testimonial. My daughter was saying the same thing, I think, but meaning it as a double-compliment. Carey has produced some pretty tunes based on challenging compositional footwork, and he’s got a band that leaps from that platform into some intense exploration.

The music is not a Steve Coleman dimensional vortex or a Naked City frontal assault, but you can get a cerebral fix out of the 5/4 rhythms supporting “Rain Tune” and Neil Young’s “Dead Man.” Carey perks up the listener’s intellect while putting his puzzles in a comfortable jazz setting.

That’s where the most interesting modern jazz goes. It can present such a calm demeanor yet have a bubbling intensity underneath. It doesn’t take a trained ear to find it, either, just a willingness to follow the sound.

“Dead Man” is particularly ingenious, expanding on the simple stillness of Young’s theme for the Jim Jarmusch film. Carey adds a chord sequence that’s like a blooming sunrise, a cinematic touch from a whole different movie.

Not to dwell too much on a composition that isn’t Carey’s, but later on “Dead Man,” I do love the way he overdubs a ghost trumpet to accompany what I think is his own flugelhorn solo:

The album does get into charged, bop-oriented music on “Count Up” and “Nemuri Kyoshiro,” but it’s actually “Rain Tune” that caught my daughter’s ear. It’s airy and brisk, making good use of Evan Francis’s flute to set the mood.

One more sample: From “Nemuri Kyoshiro,” part of the sax battle between Kasey Knudsen (tenor) and Evan Francis (alto) that winds up the piece.

And of course, there’s the graphic-novel art that’s all over the CD package, including the fold-out liner notes. That’s a story in itself.

Download from eMusic, or get the full CD package from someplace like CD Baby.

Another POV About Cornelia Street

I’m always supportive and sympathetic when it comes to restaurants that host experimental music, even stuff that’s only glancingly avant-garde. They’ve got a clientele that isn’t there for the music and that won’t be willing to pay a cover. It’s hard to make it all work. Hence, my enthusiasm for what Duende is doing in Oakland.

Along those lines, I gave New York’s Cornelia Street Cafe some kudos and the benefit of the doubt after a reasonably good experience there.

Weeks later, up came a blog posting reminding me that the business side of restaurant music can get ugly. It’s by by Adam Tendler, an Upper West Side pianist who’d come to see Andy Costello, a colleague from Montreal:

But after seeing Andy Costello, who came from Montreal to perform his 6pm recital Sunday evening, humiliated onstage by [Cornelia Street’s music curator at the time] because of a poor turnout and an apparently confounding program, and then, after being forced to cut his set short — he had two pieces left, 15 minutes, and this man insisted he “make it ten” because “they needed the room” (the next performance was in an hour-and-a-half) — guilt-tripped even further for having not drawn a crowd and lectured about how much money was lost… well, I was stunned.

George Colligan’s Jazz Truth blog followed up with some similar experiences.

I know it’s hard to make it work presenting creative music. But when the venues make us jump through hoops to even GET a gig, make us do all of the promotion, don’t guarantee any money, and EVEN THEN treat us like scum, it’s no wonder jazz venues are hurting. I think we are all in this together: if you treat us with respect, it will make us not only want to play there, but it will make us feel like we are in this together. It will make us feel like we want to HELP your venue.

Booking adventurous music is difficult for a moneymaking establishement. We all get that. I would like to think some places do it to help nurture a community or to try something different to fill a slow night. Eventually, when someone in charge gets tired of it, or resentful about it, they go back to what they’d done before. The Ivy Room bar is a relatively recent example.

No one here is disputing the realities of commerce. It’s just sad to hear about the abuse heaped on the musicians. It’s not as though they play for single-digit crowds as a prank.

It sounds like the Cornelia Street nightmares stemmed from the music booker and not the venue itself. Maybe things could get better — but we might never know, because who knows if the creative music and new music communities will just turn its back on the venue. The frustrating part is that Cornelia Street might not notice the difference.

ICP Orchestra in Oakland


As I heard someone say at the show, the ICP Orchestra basically consists of bandleaders, nine of them in this case (with a tenth absent). Convening them is a like a magic trick. Getting them a gig in California is an economic magic trick.

Duende, the new restaurant in Oakland, hosted the ICP Orchestra recently for a standing-room-only concert in the upstairs loft. The restaurant was even more packed than the last time I’d visited, with a Thursday night crowd demonstrating what a hotspot the place has become. But it didn’t spoil the fun.

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Setting up. Glerum on bass, Oliver on violin.

Dutch jazz is where classical virtuosity and modern eclecticism collide with a love of old big-band charts and an irrepressible sense of humor. Drummer Han Bennink was highlighted in the promo material, for name recognition and for being a co-founder of ICP — but the band was full of other talented, theatrical headliners — Walter Wierbos on trombone, or the formidable sax line of Michael Moore, Ab Baars, and Tobias Delius, for example.

What makes it all click is a vibrant and contagious team spirit. There’s no perceived leader and no sense of ego, just a lot of love for the music and a furious dedication towards wringing the best out of each song.

Violinist Mary Oliver took mic duties during the show, introducing the songs and the band. They played compositions by various band members and by Misha Mengelberg, the ICP’s other co-founder, who sat out this tour. A song by Herbie Nichols appeared early in the first set as well.

Honsinger checks his charts during intermission.

The composed charts were effusive and celebratory, with a big horn sound that easily drowned out the dining-room crowd. Many pieces included stretches of free improvisation by two or three of the players, exciting little vignettes. Early in the first set, ICP took a chance with some very silent improv stretches against the noisy restaurant. I know they’re accustomed to those kinds of conditions, but it was nice that the audiences stayed attuned, too.

Despite the distractions, the Duende loft does have an intimate feel; it works well with music you’re really trying to connect to. I remember bassist Ernst Glerum taking a few particularly fun solos, trumpeter Thomas Heberer doing some flashy work in the spotlight, and Oliver going nuts on violin in a few spaces.

The second set actually amped things up, with Cellist Tristan Honsinger conducting one of his compositions. I couldn’t see well from my chair, but he got quite a few laughs, and it’s one of the pieces people were excitedly talking about after the show.

“Caravan” made for an obvious but spirited finale.

Just as I was grateful to have seen the Willem Breuker Kollektief years ago, I’m glad to have taken the opportunity to see ICP. It’s not just Han Bennink; it’s the whole ensemble, the altruistic allegiance toward the cause of great music, that makes ICP a special experience.

Back in Holland, they’ve put together a 52-CD boxed catalogue of the band’s entire output, with 2 DVDs and a photo book, for roughly US$700. Each box is hand-painted by Bennink. It’s a bit much for me, but I can understand why more than 300 enthusiasts committed to buying copies.

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Outro: Oliver introduces the band.

…. By the way, if you want to see much better photos of this band, from later on in this same tour, check out Peter Gannushkin’s work.

Snapshots: Day of Noise

Here’s a glimpse of what’s been going on at KZSU this Sunday. I made do with the iPhone and the UStream feed, as I forgot  to bring my real camera. Captions and possibly more photos to follow.

The “what” that’s going on is the KZSU Day of Noise! Official explanation is on the Day of Noise page, and I blogged my own preview yesterday. If you’re seeing this on Sunday, April 14, 2013, go ahead and check out the aforementioned UStream video feed.

UPDATE: You can also check out some more professional photos at the KZSU Facebook photo stream (Facebook subjugation — er, subscription — not required). Note that I’m linking to the stream, so if you’re reading this significantly after April 2013, it might show a whole other set of photos.

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Setting up The Machinery of Doom
Doom, the KZSU DJ who organized the earliest Days of Noise, in the 1990s. It was still a 24- hour affair, but Doom would fill the morning’s wee hours with The Machinery of Doom, an attic’s worth of wooden and metal noisemaking devices from friendly chimes to large, doom-clanging springs.
Clarke Robinson (far) & Jim Whittemore (near), doing their analog noisemaking. Whittemore is a punk rocker, circa 1976, who said he hasn’t performed a music show in 30 years. Before and after the set, he regaled us with stories of his old band, The Scientific Americans, and stunts such as getting snuck onto the bill of a high-society Mother’s Day concert headlined by The Association. Whittemore’s band had a great time, which wasn’t good news for the mothers.
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This year’s Day of Noise T-shirt, in the process of being signed by all the artists.
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Sun Hammer, from Portland, Ore., played an hour of gorgeous, shimmery sounds in the presence of the zebra pinata.

Day of Noise 2013

dayofnoise2013KZSU is doing its 24-plus-hour Day of Noise again, starting just a couple of hours before Sunday, April 14.

You can see the whole schedule, and descriptions of the artists, at that link above.

It’s an impressive undertaking managed by some very motivated students who are into drone, electronics, laptop improv, and … well, noise! I love that they’ve filled the entire day with music, including some afternoon hours that will apparently be broadcast at Stanford’s White Plaza.

Do tune in, starting midnight tonight — 90.1FM if you’re within range in the Bay Area, or kzsulive.stanford.edu/ if you’re not. As my kids said last year: “It’s just noise!

What Gets Left Behind

I only recently started digitizing my CD collection in a methodical way. I’ve been doing it haphazardly, basically saving whatever I wanted to use in electronic form at the time, but one weekend I decided to take the plunge.

Note that I’m talking about all the older CDs. Anything new gets ripped immediately.

I’m still barely into the “B”s, and that’s where I’m hitting the conundrum I’ve been wondering about since the beginning, and the reason why I didn’t start an A-to-Z digitizing project to begin with. Namely: I’ve reached a CD that I don’t think I want to save.

“So skip it,” you say. No big deal.

Well, sure. That’s the rational approach. Considering the number of CDs that get lost or broken over the years, what’s the difference?

But I’ve always thought of my CD and record collections, relatively small though they are, as collections. They’re single objects, whole bodies that happen to be made up of small, vital parts. So if I decide to digitize The Collection — the fact that anything might get left out bothers me.

The problem, of course, is that my taste in music has changed radically. The smooth jazz that I dabbled with in the ’90s is unbearable now. In fact, some of those CDs weren’t that enjoyable even back then — what possible use would I have for them in, say, 2019? (No offense, but I’m looking at you, Chick Corea Elektric Band.)

But do I just leave those albums behind? Do I really create a digital library with holes in it?

In the end, I’ve decided to just digitize it all. Even the warts, the mistakes, the wayward paths. It will be easier to delete them, if I ever choose, than to re-discover and add them later, if I somehow chose to do that.

Make sense? No? Tough.

The CD in question, by the way, was Song of the Sun by Jim Beard. I didn’t even try listening to it.

Now, when it comes to digitizing the vinyl collection someday — that’s different. All the stuff I just said, all my cherished principles of completeness? Out the window. Because you have no idea what atrocities await in there. Brrr.