Archive for September, 2015

Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Piano Version

Mostly Other People Do the KillingMauch Chunk (Hot Cup, 2015)

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Mauch ChunkNow that Mostly Other People Do the Killing has a pianist, I’m glad to see that he’s not just there to play the role of the straight man. But I’m also glad he’s not there to plunge into 100% free jazz.

For 12 years, MOPDTK has mixed swing and bebop with smart-alecky, off-the-rails playing. Bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott has found a formula that injects humor and way-outside soloing into straight-laced compositions.

For Mauch Chunk, the band’s eighth album, trumpeter Peter Evans is gone, with pianist Ron Stabinsky filling the void. The addition of a chord instrument, and one with so much potential to be cheesy and loungy, means a noticeable change of sound, so I was very curious to hear this album. We technically heard Stabinksy on the band’s previous studio album, Blue — the Kind of Blue replica — but how much of that was him, really? (That’s part of the debate.)

Left with one horn soloist, MOPDTK could settle into a formula: Jon Irabagon gets all nutty on sax while the piano maintains the swing and the chords. And that’s how the opening track, “Mauch Chunk is Jim Thorpe,” starts out, with Stabinsky laying down a straight jazz-club sound behind the theme, played in attitude-laden curls by Irabagon. And Stabinsky continues with straight comping while Irabagon’s solo increasingly warbles further and further off the rails.

But eventually, Stabinsky joins in, too. It’s around the time Irabagon pulls out a “happy as a kitten up a tree” quote that you notice Stabinsky has gone into a frenzied pounding. The pianist is in on the joke, too.

Something similar happens on “Obelisk.” Listen as Stabinsky and Elliott hold the center while Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea surf the astral plane. It’s followed by a new phase where the piano goes into staccato jackhammering mode.


But often, the piano is a jazz anchor for the band’s wanderings, and that’s a good thing. MOPDTK isn’t just about free jazz and crazy solos; its foundation is a deep knowledge of the past and the application of old ideas in new settings. So when Stabinsky goes through a long stretch of straight chording, that’s all right. It fits, and the band is richer for it.

Irabagon is great, as ever, his bebop-gone-mad solos packed with hard-fought surprises. He doesn’t just play the tune; he plays the whole attitude of the band. Elliott on bass and Shea on drums stoke the fire, pushing the mostly hard tempos of Elliott’s smart, snappy compositions.

The band in a nutshell can be experienced on “Townville.” It goes zero-to-sixty right away, the band members pushing one another hard. But the bright-burning solos are followed by an avant-garde intrusion: Irabagon reduces down to whispers and subliminal moans on sax, behind some perky free playing from the rest of the band. Then they pull back into hard-swing mode. It’s a workout.

As usual, the songs are named after obscure Pennsylvania towns — with the caveat that Mauch Chunk is now named Jim Thorpe, as the song title says. There’s a poignant story behind that, which I leave you to discover in Elliott’s CD notes.

Here’s “Mauch Chunk Is Jim Thorpe.”

September 30, 2015 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

Whole Lotta Ornette Goin’ On — Saturday

How much Ornette Coleman can you take? Myles Boisen has organized an Ornette Coleman tribute for the afternoon and evening of Saturday, Sept. 26, at Berkeley Arts (2133 University Ave., Berkeley).

ornette-inallIt promises to be a great sampling of local artists and a full celebratory evening, from 4:00 p.m. to whenever. Don’t sleep on the Jon Raskin set that concludes the festival. Raskin is a member of ROVA Saxophone Quartet and certainly has lots to say with his horn.

Here’s the program, as copied from BayImproviser.com:


Ornettology big band, led by Myles Boisen
featuring Steve Adams – saxes
Phillip Greenlief – saxes
Chris Grady – trumpet

Sheldon Brown Trio:
Sheldon Brown – saxes
Richard Saunders – acoustic bass
Vijay Anderson – drums

Steve Adams/ Scott Walton Duo:
Steve Adams – saxes/ flute
Scott Walton – acoustic bass

MiniWatt String Trio:
Myles Boisen – guitar
Jon Preuss – guitar
Joh Ettinger – violin

Steven Lugerner Quartet:
Steven Lugerner – Saxophone
Danny Lubin-Laden – Trombone
Matthew Wohl – Bass
Britt Ciampa – Drums

Rob Ewing/ Jason Levis Duo:
Rob Ewing – trombone
Jason Levis – drums

Jon Raskin – solo sax.

September 26, 2015 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Aram Shelton’s Resounder

Aram Shelton, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank RosalyResounder (Singlespeed, 2015)

Shelton, Lonberg-Holm, Rosaly -- Resounder (Singlespeed, 2015)Resounder is a bustling trio improv session with electronic enhancements added by saxophonist Aram Shelton after-the-fact. But the effect can be subtle. In fact, the players are so adept at wringing sounds from their instruments that you have to wonder if some of the exotic sounds are coming from the original session.

I say that because I first listened to Resounder blind, not knowing about Shelton’s post-processing. Once I knew it was there, my ears started playing tricks on me, particularly on “Bring Focus.” That buzzing tinge in the sax — is it acoustic or electronic? Did the sax just echo a few notes artificially, or was that my imagination? Now there, that was definitely a sax looped back into the mix … you get the idea.

“Fading Memory,” with Fred Lonberg-Holm‘s cello altered to spit ribbons of metal — that’s a more obvious example. Drummer Frank Rosaly gets his turns too, I think. One segment (which I now can’t find) has his toms and bass drum melted together into a low-flying tonal hum. Or was that just my imagination again?

Some of the electronics are more overt, which is good fun. Longberg-Holm gets plenty of electronics treatment to create dull roars and guitar-hero antics. There’s a passage later on “Bring Focus” that’s a long ramp to a crescendo, a nice slow burn of rumbling with a buzzy edge to the cello. And when it’s done, the band drops out, leaving behind a tinny sine wave — it’s a good dramatic moment.

Shelton had planned this to be a regular trio recording, just three good friends getting together in Chicago, and they turned in a crackling set. It’s only afterward that Shelton started considering enhancing the sounds, and it adds depth to what was already a densely packed session. Sometimes there’s some playback that literally adds another voice to the group. More often, though, it just sounds like more than three people, as Shelton’s processing creates new surfaces for the ear to cling to.

Listen to an excerpt of “Hope of Symbioses” on YouTube:


… Or to “Fading Memory” on Soundcloud:

September 23, 2015 at 11:28 pm Leave a comment

ROVA & Saxophone Special

ROVA Saxophone Quartet will pay homage to Steve Lacy with a performance of his album Saxophone Special on Wednesday Sept. 16 at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco).

Lacy is the band’s collective hero and was also a friend. And for them, Saxophone Special stands out in Lacy’s catalogue because it’s a saxophone quartet album, recorded from a one-time concert with three other sax players, guitar, and synthesizer. The “three others” aren’t just others — they’re giants of the improvised music genre: Evan Parker, Steve Potts, and Trevor Watts.

Released by the Emanem label in 1976, Saxophone Special was one of the albums that “led to the formation of Rova in 1977-78,” according to the band’s press blurb.

The Sept. 16 concert, with Kyle Bruckmann on electronics and Henry Kaiser on electric guitar, serves as both an encore and a warm-up, because ROVA performed Saxophone Special once already, in July, and is scheduled to record its own version of the album next week.

Saxophone Special is out of print — both the orignal LP and Emanem’s expanded CD version. Close to its orbit, however, is the newly reissued ROVA album Favorite Street, a 1984 collection of Lacy tunes. Here’s a link to that album on eMusic.

Sax Special Card_08.2015

September 13, 2015 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

The Robert Pollard / Free Jazz Intersection

Source: Ibeam.

Source: Ibeam.

I can’t claim to be an elite-level Robert Pollard obsessive, but I enjoy his music quite a lot. I was drawn into the circle when a friend introduced me to Guided by Voices sometime around 2000. There are some close communities of GbV fans out there, and I was lucky enough to be welcomed into one. Several years of really fun concerts and surprising, warm friendships ensued.

GbV is best known as an indie-rock band, but Pollard has a taste for weird, noisy music. Producer Todd Tobias has added plenty of noisy shimmer to GbV and Pollard solo albums. The weirdest stuff seemed to be saved for Circus Devils, a collaboration between Pollard, Tobias, and Tobias’ brother Tim (who played bass for GbV for a short spell). There’s some seriously crazy stuff on those records.

Fast forward to 2015, and a drummer named Kate Gentile happens to toss out Robert Pollard among a list of influences. It’s in an interview she did with Jazz Right Now.

Her reasoning isn’t necessarily tied to noise music; instead, she cites Pollard’s volume of work, with I think averages about an album per month. I’m just happy to see Pollard mentioned in a jazz interview. These worlds intersect, they really do.

Gentile’s list also includes Tim Berne‘s Paris Concert trilogy (the albums that got me into creative music in the first place) and two albums close to the Berne orbit: the debut from Jim Black‘s Alas No Axis (which, for me, has its own backstory), and Marc Ducret‘s recent Tower Two.

I’d never encountered Gentile before. Turns out, her music has a Berne-like tilt to it — or at least it does in this track that she’s posted to Soundcloud:

That’s Jeremy Viner on sax, channeling a bit of Berne during the theme before going off into his own mode for the solo. On piano is Matt Mitchell, who of course is in Berne’s Snakeoil band. Adam Hopkins on bass and Gentile on drums round out the sound.

h/t: Avant Music News.

September 12, 2015 at 7:21 pm Leave a comment


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