The third and final night of the SF Offside festival was like one big sigh of relief for organizers Alex Pinto and Laura Maguire (at right). After dreaming up the festival on the spur of the moment in late 2011 or early 2012, they had now pulled off a two successful sets of concerts and had quickly built a following that seems to cut across multiple layers of “jazz” fandom.
They thanked the audience; the audience thanked them. It was one big group hug, and why not? It’s a worthy cause to celebrate, this coming-together of a music scene that too often feels marginalized, lost in an indifferent Bay Area fog. It’s also a reminder to us all that this music is going on around us all the time — Sheldon Brown talked about his band playing at El Valencio restaurant, for instance. I had no idea.
Subtitled “Tides,” following the previous nights’ themes of “Streams” and “Currents,” the program kept up the concept of presenting disparate settings for improvisation and jazz.
Lisa Mezzacappa and Steve Adams (bass/sax) played a set of compositions they’d written for other bands and other contexts. I always like seeing a song get extra life in a new environment.
Adams’ “Black Notebook #11” got things started with a strong bopping feel, while the graphic score that came next created a more expansive sound. Mezzacappa contributed “What Is Known” and “The Deep Disciplines” from her Bait & Switch and Cylinder bands, respectively. The latter track’s free-jazz energy had Mezzacappa dancing around with her bass and both players smiling broadly.
A Carla Bley cover, with its strong melody, got good audience response. One piece with Adams on bass flute had the cryptic peacefulness of a zen koan. They finished with an upbeat piece where Mezzacappa ran through lots of percussive sounds and off-the-wall techniques while Adams burbled away on a sax solo. Great stuff.
The Sheldon Brown Group brought a fusion attitude, with electric guitar, five-string electric bass, and powerhouse drumming contrasted with the acoustic sounds of Brown’s woodwinds and Jonathan Alford’s piano. This was a more familiar jazz format, with songs having definite heads and soloing spaces, but Brown kept it interesting with a few changeups.
“Temptress,” a slower song, was built on skeletal chords, over which the drums and soprano sax aired out fiercely. Their opener, “Fatma’s Love Song,” featured a clackety African beat and tough, fusiony guitar-and-bass chords. Alan Hall turned in a crowd-pleasing performance on drums, filling the space with energy, but I liked his work on “Random Shards of Daring Know,” a more open-ended song with a contrary swing. His drums and Brown’s clarinet took the lead voices for a long stretch of untethered improvising, with Hall showing some creative and sensitive playing.
Dave Mihaly’s Shimmering Leaves Ensemble, the final band of the night and the festival, showed something truly different. Mihaly, a drummer, has put together a gentle folk/Americana band with an occasional jazz kick.
Shimmery electric guitar, played by Michael Cavaseno with a country twang, defined much of the sound, while the trio of David Boyce (sax), Ara Anderson (trumpet), and Charith Premawardhana (viola) stood to the side, concocting a backdrop of lingering, moody chords and sometimes stepping up for some soloing. Boyce played at the first SF Offside as part of free-jazz improvisers The Supplicants, but in Mihaly’s band, he sticks to lyrical, tuneful playing.
The band lives up to its “Shimmering” name. Mihaly’s songs have a languid feel, emphasizing a drifting, songlike quality over soloing chops or complex composing. (Although the roaring ’20s sound of “Oil Painting for Adolphe Sax & Coleman Hawkins” has a bouncing, nonobvious rhythm behind it; that’s one to do a cartoon dance to, Mihaly told us.)
For a few tunes, Mihaly sang gentle vocals and added more guitar, letting Boyce or Anderson take a turn at the drums. In both cases, their job was to add color and texture rather than lay down a beat; Anderson had the sharper turn of the two, I thought, peppering a folky song with quick jabs and accents.
Pinto is moving to India on a Fulbright grant, so SF Offside is in for some changes. They’ve shown this format can draw an audience, though, so hopefully they can keep the spirit burning for another year.