Ross Hammond’s L.A. All-Stars Ride Again

Ross Hammond plays at Duende on Saturday, July 6, in trio with Phillip Greenlief and Oliver Lake.

Ross Hammond QuartetCathedrals (Prescott Recordings, 2013)

Source: Bandcamp. Click to go there.

It’s satisfying, the way Ross Hammond’s burning, blues-infused guitar co-mingles Vinny Golia’s saxophone. Maybe it’s just a natural combination of timbres, but when the two combine for unison lines on “Tricycle,” a track late on Cathedrals, it’s like two colors that become stronger next to each other, where the complements and contrasts hit the eye together. It gets even better when they swirl together in overlapping solos.

Cathedrals is Hammond’s second album with the L.A. all-star backing band of Golia (soprano and tenor sax, and flute), Steuart Liebig (bass) and Alex Cline (drums), and of course, that sax/guitar combination sound is the album’s foundation. It’s a blend worth savoring, and all four players go all-out to create their often furious free-jazz brew.

I’d mentioned a rock/psych lilt to the first album, Adored, and that’s certainly present here, maybe in something like a soul-jazz vein when it comes to the chugging guitar and free-flying flute on “Hopped Up on Adrenaline.” Hammond’s slow-sunburst guitar comes out firing as his solo takes over, and I love the way Golia’s flute fills in a few final spaces before letting the guitar fully take hold:

Sometimes, Cathedrals feels like an instrumental rock album that just happens to have free-jazz guys on it.  “This Goes With Your Leather” chugs and burns like something from the jukebox at a biker bar. Sure, it starts with unaccompanied sax improv, but Golia makes some damned convincing harmonica noises with the soprano, and that bluesy, blazing sound carries over when the band digs into a hard, fast beat. (Liebig’s band, The Mentones, used an actual harmonica to tread this territory; their albums are worth seeking out.)

“She Gets Her Wine from a Box” has a jazzy theme to it, appropriately whimsical (and excerpted below). It’s followed by jumpy solos first from Hammond, then from a caffeinated Golia.

The title track shows that you can have a free-jazz freak-out within the confines of a mellow tune. Carrying the vague feeling of a gospel song, it opens gradually, riding on warm contentment before twisting into a vicious soloing space for Cline. The others get fired up as well, but it seems as if at any given point, either Golia or Hammond is carrying on with the original, even-handed mood. They’re not exactly calm, just rooted.

It’s easy to see why Hammond wanted to revisit this band, this time with compositions written especially for them. The results are energetic and insightful, and yes, they rock. I’m hoping there’s enough headroom for another couple of albums out of this band.

When Oliver Lake Comes to Town

It’s been encouraging to see Oakland’s Duende restaurant keep up its support of creative music, and they’re kicking it up a notch with a four-night residency for saxophonist Oliver Lake, July 5 through 8.

Source: Sampsonia Way; click to go there.

It’s at least the second time Duende has done this in just a few months, after Nels Cline’s multiple-night, grand-opening performances. I don’t know how the economics work out, but it seems to be a good way to make a Bay Area stop worthwhile for an out-of-town artist. (Granted, Cline is from L.A., so a trip up here is relatively common for him.)

Duende has doggedly kept up support for avant-garde and creative music.  Marco Eneidi’s trio played on June 27. Jon Raskin and Larry Ochs of ROVA have shows coming up in July. Positive Knowledge, the long-standing sax/poetry group with a rich mystical/spiritual vibe, has a Saturday night gig on July 20.

Mixed in there are plenty of more conventional jazz acts, which do seem like a better fit for Duende’s crowd and atmosphere. I don’t know how long Duende can keep up its musical chops, but I hope to savor the experience whenever I can.

Oh, right, Oliver Lake
But back to the original point.  Lake is coming to California for two solo performance at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts on June 29, at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.  He’s accompanying a visual art exhibit called “Flying Home: Inspired by Jazz,” which apparently includes some of his own artwork.

olake-sig-bigSamples of Oliver Lake’s paintings and mixed-media work are on his web site, and you know what — they’re quite good and have a strong personality: colorful, slightly whimsical.

Healdsburg is well north of the Bay Area, up Highway 101. After that show, he’ll stay at the same latitude to play in Sacramento. He’ll be doing the July 1 installment of Nebraska Mondays, the series at Luna’s Cafe, performing with Ross Hammond (guitar), Dax Compise, and Mike Palmer.

After that, it’s off to Oakland and Duende:
* Fri., July 5 — Duo w/ Myra Melford
* Sat., July 6 — Trio w/ Phillip Greenlief & Ross Hammond
* Sun., July 7 — Duo w/ Roscoe Mitchell (They’re charging $25 for this one, rather than $15.)
* Mon., July 8 — Trio w/ Scott Amendola & Todd Sickafoose

Marco Eneidi at Duende

I write about saxophonist Marco Eneidi frequently, maybe because I feel he’s underappreciated — and that, in turn, might be because of his relatively small recorded output.

But it’s also because he returns to the Bay Area from Vienna a little more than once a year, and it always feels like an event worth noting. His current visit includes only one show that I know of:  Thursday, June 27 at Duende (Oakland), as part of the trio Shattered:  Eneidi, Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), and Vijay Anderson (drums). It’s the same group that played last September.

Often compared to Jimmy Lyons for his speed and fluidity, Eneidi tends to improvise in long arcs, like a master monologuist. But where Evan Parker might do that with a fluttering, studious air, Eneidi gets more gutteral, spewing calculated musical ideas at high speed.

eneidi-cherryHere’s a segment from an album I’ve always favored: Cherry Box (Eremite, 2001).  It’s a trio with William Parker (bass) and Donald Robinson (drums), so Eneidi’s playing really stands out. In this segment, you’ll hear him use repeated phrases to build on an idea. After about a minute, he settles into focus on one idea, trailing a long convoluted thought like a Faulkner sentence — then he uses a suddenly mellow long tone to announce the shift into a new statement.

That’s Marco.

Grosse Abfahrt, 2013 Version

grosabf-shirtThe Facebook page for improv group Grosse Abfahrt is a hoot. It’s full of fun and frivolous stuff, lots of dirigible/zeppelin-related news (because…. yeah, I have no idea), and updates related to Tuesday’s upcoming concert: June 25, with guests Alfred 23 Harth and Torsten Muller (sax and bass, respectively) at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

Taking advantage of YouTube, they’ve inserted some videos showing what those two guys can do.  Rather than re-embed those here, I’ll just add some audio at the bottom of the post.

grosI haven’t written about Grosse Abfahrt in a couple of years. The name translates to “great departure,” and one reader told me it can be interpreted as “great difficulty” (as in a double-black-diamond ski slope). It’s a core group of five musicians that adds guests, often two from outside North America in most cases, to produce one big improvising collective. (Harth lives in South Korea and Muller in Vancouver, and they’re both German-born.)

The aesthetic is one of “lower-case” sound spaces: lots of curled, crinkly sounds and a careful respect for silences. Usually. Being an improv group, they can go in any direction they want.

Here’s the lineup for Tuesday:

Side note: If you’re in L.A., Harth and Muller will be down there July 1, performing at the Blue Whale in a trio with drummer Ted Byrnes.

Now, regarding things-these-guys-can-do…

Source: LA Art Stream; click to go there… Here’s Muller in duet with Ronit Kirchman (violin) in Los Angeles. They also have a duo album out: An Idea to Farewell (Wild River, 2013). Click this link or the image to the right.

… Here’s Harth in an improv-jazz setting, a trio with Wilbur Morris (bass) and Kevin Norton (drums/vibes), taken from the album Waxwingweb@ebroadway (Clean Feed, 2001).  First, from the piece “Interstice,” a quieter burble that’s more in the Grosse Abfahrt style:

… And, just for fun, Harth in that same piece, going for big sound and an Ayler-like crescendo:

… Finally, here’s a sample of a then-unreleased 2009 Grosse Abfahrt session provided to KZSU by Tom Djll. I posted another snippet from that session previously, but this one’s better; it streteches for a few minutes to demonstrate the ebb and flow of the music. Guests include Frank Gratkowski on clarinet. Oh, and don’t turn the volume up too much; it does get louder.

Letters to Home

darrenjohnston-ybcaLast month, I made brief mention of Darren Johnston‘s upcoming “Letters to Home” concert. Well, it’s time.

On Saturday, June 22 at 1:00 p.m., Johnston’s band and a choir will take the outdoor stage to perform songs based on stories from immigrants. The official blurb goes like this:

“Letters to Home,” by composer Darren Johnston, with choreography by Erika Shuch, will be the inaugural piece for The Trans-Global People’s Chorus, a multi-generational choir that utilizes stomping, clapping and snapping along with vocal arrangements, and a stellar horn section. The songs feature a libretto composed by Johnston, using selected phrases from a collection of letters written by a broad cross-section of immigrants living in the Bay Area. The TGPC is composed of some of the top vocalists and performers around, such as up-and-coming Tiffany Austin, the Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s Alexa Morales, and jazz luminaires such as Howard Wiley and Jazz Mafia “don” Adam Theis, along with the incredible talents of the students of Oakland School for the Arts, High and Middle School, and Rooftop Middle, and Elementary School.

Judging from the songs Johnston performed at the Starry Plough recently, these songs will be a combination of jazz, world musics, and gypsy stylings, sometimes soulful and upbeat, sometimes outright heartbreaking. It seems to be a project close to Johnston’s heart, and it should make for quite a concert.


This is the kind of thing you can do with arts funding: Gather friends from a couple of continents, swing through a set of summer festivals on both U.S. coasts, and take the time to get the band into the studio.

That’s how Didier Petit is spending the last half of June. His East-West Collective, mixing European jazz/improv music with Asian traditional instruments (partial roster: Larry Ochs on sax, Miya Masaoka on koto), is coming to America for the Vision Festival in New York and the Vancouver Jazz Festival.

In between, the band was supposed to play at Yoshi’s yesterday (Tuesday, June 18).  That show was canceled; in its place, the quintet will play at San Francisco’s Center for New Music tonight (Weds., June 19) at 8:00 p.m.

It’s possibly the only chance to ever see the multinational band playing together, unless you’re in Vancouver. The band’s current tour is funded by the French American Jazz Exchange, a bit of fortune that doesn’t come along every day. And the members are busy enough that getting them together is like an alignment of the planets. They’ll document their existence by recording a CD while during their Bay Area stay.

You can sample East-West’s work via the video below.  DJ Larry Blood on radio KUSP included them in his recent playlists as well; here’s the June 11 show, which is still available for hearing on the KUSP site as of this writing.

The Read: June 8, 2013

All About Jazz recently ran interviews with two musicians with ties to the Bay Area. They’re the first two items in this set of arbitrary links.

Picture 11. Marco Eneidi, free-jazz saxophonist, talks about his life in Vienna, the hard economics of music, and the “devouring of grid” compositional method he learned from Cecil Taylor.

2. Sacramento guitarist Ross Hammond discusses his latest album, Cathedrals, the second he’s done with his all-star L.A. band.

laptops3. Following up on my story this week about Santa Clara’s laptop orchestra … This is a video, not a “read,” but a month ago, the AP did a story about Princeton’s laptop orchestra — which, as I understand it, is sort of the grandaddy of them all.

cecil-a-head4. A 2009 blog entry by James Hale got me interested in Cecil Taylor’s 1950s output. I’d heard some of this stuff without really listening. Hale, with the help of some research references, dissects the album Looking  Ahead! in a way that made me want to give it a good listen myself. It’s Cecil, all right, but with touches of swing that aren’t in the ’70s/’80s material I’ve always listened to. A nice eye-opener.

zorn605. Someone’s started a Zorn at 60 site that lists this year’s celebratory concerts, including a boatload in September and October in NYC.  (h/t: Avant Music News.)