Archive for May, 2015

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil in Berkeley

Oscar Noriega, Ches Smith, Tim Berne -- Tim Berne's Snakeoil at Berkeley Arts Festival, May 3, 2015

If you were to ask me what makes Tim Berne’s music so appealing, I’d probably point you to one of his fast themes. That stacatto zig-zag melody, set in a long and ambling thread, has become a signature sound of his, and it catches my ear in an almost rock-music way.

But I also appreciate Berne’s ability to build drama, in carefully developed, looming plotlines. I’ve been familiar with that aspect of his work for a long time — the song “2011” from …theoretically, his 1986 collaboration with Bill Frisell, comes to mind.

It struck me during Berne’s show last Sunday, at Berkeley Arts Festival, that his current Snakeoil band nicely highlights that sense of drama. It’s the chords. With Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith sometimes on vibes (when he’s not rustling or bashing at the drum kit), the compositions get a rich harmonic backdrop, something I’m noticing more now than with previous keyboard bands.

The drama came across as Snakeoil played a set of the longer pieces from the new album, You’ve Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015). One passage that particularly struck me had the piano churning out a slow cycle of quarter-note against Oscar Noriega‘s high-pitched blaring on clarinet, the insistent rhythm building tension until the band launched into a majestic composed theme. It’s that theatrical pacing that makes Berne’s longer compositions work.

Oscar Noriega and Ches SmithThe band we saw was the original Snakeoil quartet, without Ryan Ferreira, the guitarist who’s included on the new album. They looked a little tired, and rightfully so. The west-coast swing of their tour had just passed through Los Angeles, where they’d had a gig canceled — without being told until they got to Los Angeles. We tried to make up for it with a warm welcome — maybe 70 or more filling up the storefront gallery of Berkeley Arts.

Matt Mitchell

Matt Mitchell.

Oscar Noriega’s bass clarinet was often hard to hear over the drums, taking away some of the counterpoint that I enjoy in Berne’s writing. But we got to hear plenty of Noriega on plain clarinet, the higher notes sprinting or floating through the music. Some passages highlighting clarinet and vibes were particularly nice.

I think it was on “Embraceable Me” that Matt Mitchell showed off his talent at playing “split” piano, with his two hands doing almost unrelated things. That kind of musical puzzle was the foundation of his album, Fiction (Pi Recordings, 2013).

Another moment that stood out was the show’s opening — the song “Lost in Redding,” which immediately dived into the kind of fast, pecking melody that I was talking about at the beginning. From that point, we knew it was going to be a fun ride.

May 10, 2015 at 8:07 pm Leave a comment

microspoke and the Day of Noise Archive

Here’s a new Bay Area duo in the “lower-case” vein of quiet improvisation. Quoting directly from the Bay Improviser calendar:

Thu 5/21 9:30 PM Studio Grand [3234 Grand Ave, Oakland]

microspoke is a new duo project from Phillip Greenlief and Tim Perkis that uses quiet, microscopic noise as a landscape to explore highly detailed electro-acoustic improvisation. the duo made their west coast premiere at this year’s KZSU’s Day of Noise.

… Here’s the awesome part: KZSU recorded the 2015 Day of Noise and posted all 24 hours to archive.org. So you can get a preview of microspoke. They’re No. 28 on the program, listed under Greenlief and Perkis’ names.

It’s a half-hour set, sometimes prickly and abrasive, especially from the saxophone side, and sometimes calm and ambient. Actually, “ambient” might be the wrong word, considering the music changes character and direction readily — this is a dynamic set of improvisation, using the light touch of restraint to keep the mood spectrum on the contemplative side.

Skip to around 13:20 for a nice passage that surges to a high point, then retreats back into small sounds. When Greenlief moves into small scribbles, Perkis responds with some rubber-band sine-wave noises — a nice choice that displays his ability to wring musicality out of his laptop sounds.

Go have a listen to microspoke and more: https://archive.org/details/kzsudayofnoise2015.

And yes, the duo will be playing on May 21 in Oakland, as noted above. Also on the bill is the trio of Amy Reed (electric guitar), Phillip Greenlief (woodwinds), and Shanna Sordahl (cello and electronics).

May 6, 2015 at 9:52 am Leave a comment

John Lundbom: Big Five’s Big Fifth

Jon Lundbom & Big Five ChordJeremiah (Hot Cup, 2014)

jeremiahBouncing, off-kilter bop meets avant- garde smarm in the world of guitarist Jon Lundbom’s Big Five Chord. Led by guitarist Lundbom and featuring Jon Rabagon (soprano sax) and Moppa Elliott (bass) of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the band mixes up styles nicely on Jeremiah, their fifth studio album.

It comes to an extreme on “Lick Skillet,” where the opening solo by guest trombonist Sam Kulik consists of a helicopter impersonation — a growl that starts low and quiet, then buzzes over your head. It’ll send jazzheads off the rails, but it’s followed by a pleasant faux-somber theme and a flute solo (Justin Wood, another addition to the core five) against an odd bass rhythm and some hip guitar comping. It turns into real jazz, if you want to put it that way.

Overall, the album displays a coherent, modern take on traditional jazz ideas, from the faux-bebop swagger of “The Bottle” to the gentle swing and soulful sax solo of “First Harvest.” The dichotomy between toe-tapping jazz and out-there improvisation sometimes has an oil-and-water quality, but the surprises aren’t so out-of-bounds as to be absurd, and the blending of styles sometimes works magic. “Scratch Ankle” is a pleasant and pretty song with a fairly fast swing to it, but when it comes time for the solo, multiple horns start pecking and end up in a free-improv free-for-all — and it all fits together.

The album ends with one live track, “Screamer,” where Dan Monaghan’s drumming turns Lundbom’s guitar solo into a high-speed chase.

Here’s a split-personality passage from the initially calm “Frog Eye.” Irabagon goes nuts on sax, accompanied by some patient chording from Lundbom (whose own solo heats up later on, after this excerpt ends).


 

May 3, 2015 at 9:39 am Leave a comment


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