Archive for December, 2014

Two from Aerophonic

Ballister [Rempis, Lonberg-Holm, Nilsson-Love] — Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic, 2014)

Wooley, Rempis, Niggenkemper, CorsanoFrom Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic, 2014)

Two new releases from Dave RempisAerophonic label place the Chicago-based saxophonist in different jazz-improv settings, both magnetic and full of energy. Both albums have their fast and slow parts, their quiet and loud parts, but the differences in personnel give each project a distinct atmosphere.

Ballister -- Worse for the WearBallister is the more forceful of the two, teaming Rempis with the noisy hands of percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love and the crunchy electric cello of Fred Lonberg-Holm.

The 21-minute “Fornax” is an unabashed frenzy, all flames and smoke from the first seconds. Lonberg-Holm’s amplified cello essentially fills the role of an electric guitar, helping to push the edgy sound, but the session stays red-lined even after he slips into acoustic mode to provide backing plucks to a Rempis/Nilssen-Love attack. Someone even adds a metal-like grumbly vocal. That’s all in the first five minutes.

The track does slow down, as you’d expect from a piece of that length, ending with a quiet crawl. The closing track, “Vulpecula,” is on the slower side as well — a darker, more gradual energy, inhabiting murky caverns rather than bustling cities. It’s energy jazz with a sinister air.

In between the two is “Scutum,” another high-energy piece, but a slimmer model. It’s got some exciting Nilssen-Love work on hi-hat (his jazz chops on the drum kit shine throughout the album) and a twangy bowed cello keeping the intensity up. Rempis enters shortly with ecstatic flares. It’s a terrific exercise in free jazz, and in the passages where the sound gets quieter, Rempis’ sax only gets more frenzied and eccentric.

wooley-wolvesThe quartet on From Wolves to Whales works into high-energy frenzies, too. But with Nate Wooley (trumpet) on board, there are also nods to lower-case improv, for moments of spacious contemplation. It’s a more expansive sound than Worse for the Wear.

“Slake” opens the album with whispered trumpet crinkles and takes its time building to a healthy boil, with Wooley shifting to quick-lipped and crisp playing. “Count Me Out” likewise starts out with Wooley’s quiet, airy sounds; this time, the band picks up with a restrained energy, building a conversation that culminates in dark, scowling form.

There’s an enjoyable sense of space to Rempis’ squawks and honks on “Serpent’s Tooth,” backed by Chris Corsano‘s insistent drumming and patient bass from Pascal Niggenkemper. It builds nicely from some unaccompanied warbling by Rempis, a first-principles statement that sets up a respectful, drawn-out jam as the other players follow suit. After a few minutes, Rempis blossoms into brighter free-jazz mode, opening up the piece.

Worse for the Wear and From Wolves to Whales have official release dates of Jan. 6, but you can get then now from Aerophonic.

December 30, 2014 at 6:25 pm Leave a comment

Where Chicago Underground Almost Meets Prog

Chicago Underground DuoLocus (Northern Spy, 2014)

Chicago Underground Duo - LocusIn my head, the veteran rock band Djam Karet defines a space that mixes prog-rock thinking with jam-band improvising and electronica’s love of looping. It’s not full-blast prog rock with 17/8 time signatures, but it goes well with a prog/jazz bouquet, kind of a sub-sub-genre all its own.

And for an instant during a listen to Locus recently I realized Rob Mazurek‘s Chicago Underground Duo fits in there, too.

It was during the track “Kabuki,” with its easy melodic loop (electronics resembling a thumb piano) against thumping cross-rhythms and a lead played on tweaked-out synthesizers (or possibly synthed-out flute). The looping, the melody, the driven energy in the drum kit — it struck me that these elements fit snugly within the Djam Karet equations. They could have been the ones playing this, I thought.

Granted, about 24 hours earlier I’d sat down to a good of Djam Karet (who are still putting out albums after 30 years, something I’ll have to discuss in a future post), so the sound was in my head. Maybe it was like a dream that repeats events from your day. But the similarities kept gnawing at me through the rest of the album. The title track, “Locus,” is a synth-driven bit of groove electronica that matches some of Djam Karet’s more synth-driven work, especially the gloopy, sparse beat that opens the track.

Hey, the prog element might really be in there. As Rob Mazurek’s influences widen, so does the scope of the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Whatever. (The number of people varies from album to album.) Urban electronics are the bedrock this time around, including a ubiquitous synth bass backing the two band members: Mazurek on trumpet and flute, Chad Taylor on drums. “Blink Out” stacks the electronics thickly, a grooving backdrop behind two overdubbed Mazurek trumpets that blast out in high-register jazz ecstasy.

“Yaa Yaa Kole” provides an outlet for Mazurek’s Sao Paolo fascination, providing layers of percussion underneath puffy afrobeat horn phrases. “Dante” uses synth bass alongside bright trumpet to produce a soul-jazz sound that’s at once nostalgic and modern. And “Boss” is simply a snappy melody with a solid beat — a catchy rock instrumental, in a sense, but still a highlight and a showcase for Taylor.

A lot of ingredients have always gone into the Chicago Underground. Whether Mazurek has heard of Djam Karet or not, I’ll stick to thinking they’ve found common ground on Locus.

December 25, 2014 at 10:20 pm Leave a comment

Josh Allen’s Deconstruction Orchestra

The Outsound group has posted several videos from this year’s New Music Summit, the annual creative-music festival held every summer in San Francisco. (You’ll find the full playlist of videos here.)

Video is a powerful tool for documenting live music, especially creative music. The music is underrepresented in the media as it is. Video evidence of past performances could be a useful promotional tool, especially when traveling out of town. And for this kind of music, it’s not as if the fans will stay home hoping there’ll be video to replay later — that’s hardly a guarantee.

Here’s Josh Allen conducting an improvising orchestra. It’s a grand, hour-long piece full of big sounds and blazing solos. Rent Romus and Vinny Golia, on saxes, really sink their teeth into it early on. Afterwards, there’s a fiery encore where we get to hear Allen’s tenor sax assault. Great stuff.

December 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

Singing Pynchon’s Song

Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack… Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire (Singlespeed, 2014)

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack: "...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire"Boisterous and raunchy, with generous doses of off-the-rails confusion, A.S.T.E. is Kyle Bruckmann‘s tribute to Thomas Pynchon’s first three novels. I haven’t read the novels — except for the first third of V, and the music seems to capture the spirit of the book well: It’s fun and appropriately chaotic, mostly bouncing off the walls but revealing some deep thought, too.

And hey — the album has gotten noticed by Magnet Magazine, where Bill Meyer, who’s written about jazz for a variety of publications for years, picked it as the No. 1 jazz/improv album of the year. Kudos!

I got to see the hour-long suite, which includes movements devoted to The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, performed live last year at the Outsound New Music Summit, so I knew what I was in for.

The instrumental pieces, performed by a septet version of Wrack, Bruckmann’s longstanding Chicago-based group, are partly built around the imaginary songs that permeate Pynchon’s books. Bruckmann takes the lyrics and applies Great American Songbook-style melodies; it’s up to you to figure out which tunes go with which words.

This results in exuberant, singalong themes with touches of nuttiness, a damn-the-torpedos sound. Most episodes branch off into exciting solos or dissolve into stretches of improvising; there’s plenty of out-jazz goodness to be had in here.

I can’t speak to how well the pieces represent the novels, aside from V, represented by an appropriately alcohol-soaked swagger in Part One of Bruckmann’s suite — especially in the final theme, where Bruckmann’s oboe goes impossibly high and intentionally off-key.

“Part Two,” representing The Crying of Lot 49, presents a more sleek and sober approach. An early theme is just as catchy and jazzy as anything in “Part One,” but played with clean violin-and-oboe lines. It does give way to some jazz abandon later, with a buzzy sax solo over a driven, exciting rhythm.

All I know about Gravity’s Rainbow is that it sounds intimidating, but “Part Three” has its share of upbeat, showtune-style melodies as well.

Note that if it’s Wrack that’s doing the “awaiting” in the album title, then W.A.S.T.E. becomes a full acronym, just like in Pynchon’s book. And the album cover art is drawn in such a way that Wrack itself looks like an acronym too, so that you would have an acronym within an acronym. I don’t know if these things mean anything or even if they’re really there. As Bruckmann writes:

But that’s exactly Pynchon’s game: daring you to succumb to paranoid systems. There’s a dimension of reading his work that’s like firing a blunderbuss into a barrel of red herrings. No matter what your field is – rocket science, colonial history, organic chemistry, hermetica and the occult – he somehow knows just enough of your specialist knowledge to ensnare you in webs of ‘Kute Korrespondences.’

Physical and virtual copies of Awaits Tristero’s Silent Empire can be had at Bandcamp.

December 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

The Time Elliott Sharp Was Arrested

Elliott Sharp, pantar, and violinoid. From The Morning News.As if you needed more proof that the valuable lessons of the ’60s were forgotton, Elliott Sharp has a story about being falsely arrested in 1971:

http://www.themorningnews.org/article/elliott-sharps-instrumental-vision

It’s all too reminiscent of the stories coming out of today’s protests.

But that’s just one facet of a great interview The Morning News did with Sharp back in 2005. Patrick Ambrose did his research well, covering Sharp’s studies with a disdainful Morton Feldman, the emergence of the downtown scene, and Sharp’s early work with Carbon, computer processing, and homemade instruments. It’s well worth the time.

December 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm Leave a comment

Prog Out on Sunday, Dec. 14

Interesting progressive-rock-related bill coming up Sunday night, Dec. 14, at a venue I’m not familiar with: Leo’s Music Club (5447 Telegraph Ave, Oakland):

MiRthkon is a prog band mixing heavy guitars with saxophones and bass clarinets, a mix of rock intensity and cerebral whimsy. My last mention of them was a show with Kayo Dot. Here they are live in a more recent show: Rock in Opposition 2013.

Surplus 1980 is Moe! Staiano’s post-punk band, a spastic loudness that’s gleaming with intelligence. They’ve been on hiatus; the band’s most recent output was a 10″ vinyl record that’s available at Squidco, among other places.

Jack o’ the Clock — which mixes the bucolic and the highbrow in a stew of prog, folk, classical, and jazz, is the band I’ve seen the most often out of these three. They’ve been taking a break as well, woodshedding new material, according to the emailer they sent out. Here’s some audience video of a performance from September a year ago.

December 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

Henry Plotnick Goes Blue

Henry PlotnickBlue Fourteen (Blue Tapes, 2014)

Henry Plotnick: Blue Fourteen (Blue Tapes)Often compared to Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley, Henry Plotnick is a modern composer using synthesizer loops to build dense pieces, packed with layer upon layer of fascination. He came to KZSU’s attention with his album Fields and is now back with a cassette and download release, blue fourteen. (That’s how the Blue Tapes label names its albums.)

Plotnick’s music verges on new age, I have to admit. For all its mystery, it’s got that calming-yet-upbeat mood, full of clockwork bell sounds, mostly in major keys. Still, I’ve really enjoyed his two albums and his willingness to explore long-form works. At this time of year, all the chiming sounds even make Plotnick a pleasant alternative to Christmas music.

Blue fourteen doesn’t rely on sheets of orchestral strings as much as Fields did — which I guess is another way of saying Plotnick has been expanding his vocabulary of sounds. Some catch my ear better than others. The foundation of “Izles” includes a couple of 8-bit loops that can get on the nerves after a while.

But his new strategies work, and they show off Plotnick’s strength in building and retracting layers to create a 10- or 15-minute story arc. “Wapati” is a particularly exciting piece, where Plotnick glitches up some of his samples, kind of like noise soloing, and even improvises on piano for a spell. I’m also partial to the organized chaos of “Mechanolatry,” where the loops don’t build a fully melodic form and the rhythms criss-cross unevenly. It’s perpetual-motion factory, happily clicking and whirring away.

Then there’s the scattershot feel of “Sun,” which keeps up the happy, floaty mood but in a series of disconnected rhythms, like multiple tracks colliding. It coalesces into a warm, soothing wash to finish the album.

Blue fourteen is a limited-edition cassette and a download; you can sample it on Soundcloud. You can read more about Plotnick on Wondering Sound, upvote him on the Dazed 100 poll (where readers have pushed him up to No. 25 from No. 94), and hear him live on KZSU’s 2015 Day of Noise on Sat., Feb. 7.

December 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm Leave a comment

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