Archive for November, 2014

The Hole Left by Yoshi’s

Yoshi's San FranciscoYoshi’s in Oakland, at Jack London Square, is still in place. But the San Francisco location, part of a fantasy revival of jazz in the Fillmore district, changed owners July 1, and its replacement switched to a new name, The Addition, sometime this month.

Yoshi’s SF was never able to repay a $7.2 million loan from San Francisco’s redevelopment agency; a bankruptcy agreement has the city forgiving $5 million of that loan.

The articles linked above list reasons why Yoshi’s was an awkward fit for its neighborhood. The SF club was a carbon copy of the Oakland club, for instance; I thought that was a nice touch, but the high-end Japanese cuisine and quilted, highbrow interior didn’t catch on with the Fillmore neighborhood. I have to believe the opening of the SF Jazz Center didn’t help, either, as that’s now the premiere stop for any name acts coming through.

Turns out the locals weren’t so interested in jazz anyway, which is why both Yoshi’s locations, but especially the San Francisco spot, began booking outright pop acts.

Pop now dominates Yoshi’s Oakland, although the club is still trying. The Bad Plus is doing a three-night run, and Marcus Shelby still gets booked. Ernie Watts and Joey DeFrancesco are on the upcoming calendar as well — not really my stuff, but it’s still a chance to raise the jazz flag.

Look, I understand business is business. Jazz — or really any entertainment that’s more for the cerebellum than for the lizard brain that loves loud noises and flashy lights — isn’t a moneymaker any more. I can’t say I could run Yoshi’s any better. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be unhappy when a sympathetic venue closes down, or even when its attention to the good stuff starts diminishing. The Addition has booked a lot of jazz for November, but it’s mainstream stuff — and besides, The Addition is not going to identify itself as a jazz club.

Duende has shrunk its music calendar as well, although it hasn’t watered down the mix to the extent Yoshi’s has. Ownership says the revenues couldn’t justify running the attic space for music every night, which is believable. I also have to assume that patrons had limited taste for hearing the occasional electronics buzz or Nels Cline-style freakout over their meals.

But one of Duende’s founders had an honest interest in the music, going back to the heyday of The Knitting Factory (another club that eventually gave up the jazz thing). I’ll take what they can offer as long as they can offer it.

The thing to do, of course, is to look beyond the clubs. There are so many other venues that offer a welcome that feels less temporary. The Luggage Store Gallery, the SIMM series, Berkeley Arts, and others I’m forgetting — they’ve been offering creative music on a regular basis for years. The Center for New Music is a younger operation built strictly for new-music interests. The Oakland Freedom Jazz Society no longer has a regular slot at Duende’s but has been finding other places to host shows — here’s a pair of solo clarinet sets they’re presenting at Studio Grand (another venue to mention) on Dec. 3.

I’m leaving out many others, I’m sure. Just understand that there are a lot of options for creative music in the Bay Area. Check out BayImproviser.com if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Yoshi’s has faded from the creative jazz radar, but Bay Area music fans still have a lot to be thankful for. The hole was filled some time ago.

November 29, 2014 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

Bartok at the Deli

greenlief wright bartokI can’t say I’m “into” Bela Bartok, but I tapped into some of the string quartets. I was egged on, unintentionally, by a friend who mistook the stern violin-pulsing intro to King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part 1” for a Bartok piece. This wasn’t a friend who’d be into King Crimson. I figured I had to check out Bartok.

The string quartets didn’t scream Crimson-ness to me. What Bartok is better known for, apparently, is his use of Hungarian folk idioms. That side is the basis for a duo project that Phillip Greenlief and Cory Wright have been working on — two clarinets playing selctions from Bartok’s 44 duets (originally written for violins), adding stretches of solid improvisation.

They’re playing Monday, Nov. 17, at Saul’s Delicatessen in Berkeley. It’s a restaurant that hosts live klezmer music regularly — and Greenlief and Wright have played their Bartok music there before.

I saw them perform some of these pieces in April, at Studio Grand in Oakland. It was a fun session, and relaxed. Greenlief and Wright had the whole book of 44 duets ready to pick from. Between pieces, they’d briefly huddle and pick which of the short duets they’d string together to form the next song.

What few notes I scribbed down are lost to time, but what I remember is that the set was fun. You really could hear the elements of folk music in the themes, and Greenlief and Wright used those springboards to spin long improvisation, wringing the jazz out of Bartok’s notes.

Given the amount of variation that’s possible with this project, it’s good to see them performing it multiple times. Monday’s show will be their last performance in 2014, though.

November 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

Glenn Spearman & Splatter Trio: Gone, Not Forgotten

Glenn Ito was one of my main PR contacts at KZSU in the early to mid-2000s. He lived in Sacramento and played an active role in the music scene there — and was also a frequent visitor to the Bay Area for concerts, a two-hour drive each way.

I’m late in discovering this, but Ito put up a YouTube channel with audio recordings from various northern California shows, most probably dating from the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker project, from 1993, comprises about half of the 15 videos there. But I was especially happy to find some gems from crucial artists who called the Bay Area their home.

Here, you can catch the beloved Splatter TrioGino Robair (drums), Myles Boisen (guitar), Dave Barrett (sax) — in a performance with Myra Melford (now a Bay Area resident) on piano.

And here’s the late Glenn Spearman, overblowing his heart out on Albert Ayler’s “Mothers,” with Donald Robinson on drums and Lisle Ellis on bass.

That trio, by the way, gets a glorious mention in a Spearman obituary penned by musician 99 Hooker. Skip straight to the bottom of this page.

Spearman is gone, and the Splatter Trio is inactive, but it’s wonderful to have some more of their music documented and available. Thanks, Glenn.

November 14, 2014 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Waves Upon Waves: Ernesto Diaz-Infante

Ernesto Diaz-InfanteWistful Entrance, Wistful Exit (Kendra Stein Editions, 2014)

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Wistful Entrance, Wistful ExitErnesto Diaz-Infante has played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and a swath of other stringed instruments (including piano) in a variety of settings from prickly to the sublime. This album features one guitar with lots of reverb, playing calm, repetitive figures. But unlike a computerized piece, or the high-precision mirrors-on-mirrors of classical minimalism, the variations come not only from calculated changes but from the human variations of hands on strings.

The effect is a hypnotic shimmer — simple, graceful image left to drift and slowly change. The ocean metaphor suggested by the album cover is apt.

The titles of the three 15-minute tracks on Wistful Entrance, Wistful Exit form the phrase “this long moment,” which is an apt way to describe ambient music: a place where the instant is stretched, where you can step aside and be a bystander to the passing flow of time. “This” and “Long” are similiar in character, with the sound of a plectrum gently dragged across the strings, describing a meditative, ringing chord followed by two more sympathetic notes. One section of “Long” reduces to just a chord, which further strips down to just two notes for a while, basking us in the simplest essence of harmony.

“Moment” uses straight strumming to form a pulse along with a one-note bass drone (probably just the low “E” string on the guitar). It’s a tougher, cavernous sound that keeps up a faster pace while sticking to that droning aesthetic. The track starts slow, continuing that meditative theme, but shifts into a slow gallop by the end.

Stretched across 15 minutes, the effect is subtle. If you’ve got this on as background noise, you might be surprised at how differently you’re engaging with the music by the end of “Moment.”

November 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm Leave a comment

Celebrating Sun Ra at 100

(UPDATE 11/15: Amanda at the Catsynth blog has posted a review of the show. Sounds like it was a great time.)

Sun Ra turned 100 this past spring, and Bay Area musicians don’t want to let the moment pass without doing something big around it.

So, there’s going to be a celebratory concert at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco) on Wed., Nov. 12, at 7:00 p.m.

Source: Ransom Note (theransomnote.co.uk), although they probably got it from somewhere elseDetails are below, as listed on the BayImproviser calendar.

Of particular note is the big band that will play — and the fact that they namecheck Beanbenders, a venue and music series that contributed enormously to the local music scene in the late ’90s — and, on a personal note, a catalyst for me to start getting in touch with that scene. And Beanbenders did host the Sun Ra orchestra, back in 1996.

For a gathering of old friends to celebrate one of their great common influences, the Beanbenders name serves as a nice proxy.

As for Sun Ra’s Arkestra, it’s still going strong. You can read Marshall Allen’s thoughts in a recent Washington City Paper interview — and of course, the Arkestra played in San Francisco last year.


Friendly Galaxies – An Evening of Celebrating Sun Ra at 100

— Set 1: Reconnaissance Fly (Amanda Chaudhary: keyboard/electronics; Rich Lesnik: reeds; Polly Moller: voice, flutes, guitar; Larry the O: drums, and Tim Walters: bass/electronics) perform a mixture of Sun Ra tunes & originals

— Set 2: Techno-griots Electropoetic Coffee (poet NSAA + guitarist Ross Hammond) continue and extend Sun Ra’s tradition of Afro-Futurist poetry+music madness

— Set 3: UBU RA BIG BAND, assembled by laptopist/pianist Joe Lasqo from the luminous gas remnants of the Beanbenders supernova & other far corners of the universe, travels through the sonic space of Sun Ra’s repertoire, with video by Warren Stringer.

Sun Ra looking regal. Source: BayimproviserSteve Adams – electronics
Aaron Bennett – saxes/reeds
Myles Boisen – guitar
Phillip Greenlief – saxes/reeds
John Hanes – percussion
Joe Lasqo – keyboards/electronics
Lisa Mezzacappa – bass
Dan Plonsey – saxes/reeds
Jon Raskin – saxes/reeds
David Slusser – saxes

Space songtresses: Barbara Golden & Kattt Atchley
Astro-Terspichorean dancers: Evangel King & Nan Busse
VIdeo artist: Warren Stringer

Cost: $10 non-members, $7 members

Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco).

November 10, 2014 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

Russ Johnson’s Jazz Meetup

Russ JohnsonMeeting Point (Relay Recordings, 2014)

Russ Johnson: Meeting PointMeeting Point is a modern compositional showcase for trumpeter Russ Johnson, fleshed out by Chicago free-jazz stalwarts, but it’s also got some flavor of a good old bebop quartet. “Clothesline” could serve as a statement-of-purpose, a swingy and unhurried number that sets up some cracking solos from Johnson and bass clarinetist Jason Stein. “Chaos Theory” is a similarly tumbling bop, with a theme that takes a while to play out, making for a fun ride.

What struck me first, though, was the simple, chugging beat of the bass clarinet on “Lithosphere.” It lends a trace of old-timey jazz stomp to an otherwise contemporary sounding composition. Just a trace. You might not hear it, but it helped cement that feeling of past-meets-present in my mind.

This isn’t a retro album, though. Stein, Anton Hatwich (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) are fixtures of the Chicago free-jazz scene, and Johnson astutely uses their talents in crafting longer-form pieces and in outright burning it up when it comes time for solos. “Chaos Theory” appropriately shifts into a group exploration before Stein gets to cut loose on bass clarinet (which he plays throughout the album), augmented by Johnson’s bleats and burbles, and egged on by Hatwich and Daisy in free-bop mode.

Each player also gets an improvised duo track with Johnson — abstract short pieces tending toward the subtle side. That’s especially true on the duo with Stein, which plays with long tones and Feldmanesque quiet.

Early on in the album, however, Johnson deviated from the more “obvious” jazz fun to present “Confluence,” a 15-minute suite that’s effectively the second track. I enjoy it, but it’s a character from a different novel: studious and involved. It opens with an introspective solo by Johnson, setting up a quiet energy. That gives way to the theme: a simple, jazzy figure that touches off a lengthy bass clarinet solo where Stein ultimately heads into buzzy multiphonic territory.

It’s nice stuff, and when the simple theme re-emerges at the end, emerging from a stormy group tumult, you feel like you’ve completed quite a nice little journey. For the listeners preferring the swingy side of the music, “Confluence” might be an impediment. I like to think of it more as Johnson astutely making the most out of his resources — in terms of his composing skills and his choices of bandmates.

Read more about Russ Johnson in The Reader, published by the Chicago Sun-Times.

November 9, 2014 at 9:12 am Leave a comment


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