… “Now,” meaning Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, Pacific time.
Every year, KZSU puts on 24 hours of mostly improvised, mostly noisy music — electronics, ambient, jazzy, sound-wall-ey, you name it. It’s a glorious tradition led by DJ Abra (aka Dr. Information).
From 3:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., you’ll hear The Voice of Doom — a barrage of exotic instruments from the collection of Doom the KZSU DJ who started the Day of Noise tradition years ago.
From 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., bran(…)pos will be on. I know him for harsh, vocal-driven noise, but who knows — he could perform anything.
Improv-rock group Lost Planet performs from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
From 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., you’ll hear a couple of groups from the Bay Area improv scene, combining classical and jazz ideas with good old noise. Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, and John McCowen perform first, followed by Tania Chen, Matt Ingalls, and Ken Ueno.
Day of Noise favorite Henry Plotnick, a teen prodigy who weaves hypnotic layers of keyboard minimalism, performs from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Computer-music pioneer Tim Perkis seizes the airwaves from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Rent Romus and Collette McCaslin of longstanding jazz outfit Lords of Outland play as part of a trio from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. They’re both very noisy people when they want to be; don’t expect “jazz.”
… And there’s a lot more that I’m probably missing as I skim the schedule. The whole thing is listed here, and you can listen online at kzsulive.stanford.edu.
Using tools such as a drum machine distorted beyond recognition, Matt Davignon paints abstract landscapes at once eerie and comforting. Pink Earth is the latest in that sequence, this time aiming for a warm and relaxing vibe.
It’s lazy to describe the album’s blend of liquid chimes and mildly ominous waves as an alien world, but in this case, that’s the artist’s intent. Pink Earth is built around the concept of a team of explorers landing on an alien planet. The sounds represent the flora and fauna they discover.
Pink Earth sounds like a peaceful place. Its geography and slow-moving inhabitants are just outside the margins of human comprehension, but they’re not dangerous. The track “We came to a small clearing with insects and lizards” even opens with bird calls — a rare familiar reference — before adding some distant springy sounds, something between a bell and a radar blip.
Davignon’s source materials are well hidden under layers of mutation and distortion. As on his 2010 album, Living Things, you’d never guess that a drum machine created many of the sounds. It’s been a favorite tool if his, its pulsing twisted into the stuff of ghostly soundscapes.
For Pink Earth, Davignon added his voice to the mix, again in forms barely recognizable if at all. It’s in a tinny oscillation on “Arrival/Pink Earth,” like a static haze lingering in the air — or maybe in the ominous dull, foreboding roar underlying “Under a moss cathedral.”
Some of my favorite sounds are generated by the drum machine. “Lepidoptera” is built around a kalimba-like tickle, non-repeating, over which a quavering tone becomes a soloing instrument or monologuing voice. “Arrival/Pink Earth” features deep chimes, like water dripping in a cave, that play against synth-like non-melodies.
Davignon describes Pink Earth as music suitable to fall asleep to. That’s true, but it also presents plenty of fuel for a wakeful imagination.
Vallejo is a Bay Area bedroom community, one of many outposts well east and north of San Francisco that have grown as housing costs spiral beyond the reach of most working people. It’s also one of the spotlight victims of the 2008 housing crash.
As Vallejo recovers, an organization called Jazz Remedy is trying to shore up the city’s artistic chops. They’ve arranged to have Chicago percussionist Kahil El’Zabar bring his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble into town for a concert on Wednesday, Feb. 3. The band will include Hamiett Bluiett on baritone sax and Craig Harris on trombone, so this is a pretty hefty dose of jazz being laid down on Vallejo — hopefully the community will respond.
There’s a campaign running on Indiegogo to help with expenses.
Jazz Remedy is led by Joette Tizzone, who organized many creative music concerts during the ’90s and ’00s under the moniker Jazz in Flight. I never met her, but I enjoyed many a show that she organized.
As for El’Zabar — he plays a rich brand of jazz steeped in the tradition, music of world peace and harmonious thinking. You can find a lot of his output on Delmark Records, and here’s just one example of his musical direction, an earthly jam that includes some rhythm playing by violin.
And here’s a trailer for Be Known, a 2015 documentary about El’Zabar filmed by a childhood friend and billed as a “warts and all” profile.
Marco Eneidi Streamin’ 4 — Panta Rei (ForTune, 2014)
Marco Eneidi’s alto sax is commonly associated with Jimmy Lyons’ fleet, liquid playing, so it’s unexpected to hear “Can’t Stop, Won’t Start” open Panta Rei with austere emotional wails. Eneidi and tenor saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski take turns overblowing in slow, ragged screams that sound like pure emotion unbounded — whether despair, anger, or even unfathomable joy is partly up to you.
That kind of raw-nerve emotion abounds on this quartet album, which pairs Eneidi with a trio of Polish musicians in a muscular improvised-jazz session. Things do heat up later. On tracks like “White Bats Yodelling” [sic] and “Arco M.,” we get a long, unadulterated doses of Eneidi spattering quick, fluid phrases in an exciting diatribe. “Made in Pole Land” gives us Eneidi’s slickest solo, followed by Pospieszalski demonstrating his own aggressive style.
Back on “Can’t Stop, Won’t Start,” Eneidi and Pospieszalski’s sparse choice of opening salvo provides us with a clearer introduction to Ksawery Wójciński on bass and Michał Trela on drums. Trela, in particular, plays a rapid-fire patter that arguably becomes the center of attention, a lead line behind the “rhythm” of the slow saxophone peals.
Though it’s an improvised record, Panta Rei walks along the border of spontaneous composition, with near-unison phrases materializing between the two saxophones, or from Pospieszalki and Wójciński on tenor sax and bass. It’s possible these are actually composed (although every track is credited to all four musicians) or communicated on-the-fly through hand signals — or maybe it’s a follow-the-leader exercise that the musicians consciously utilized.
In any event, these moments provide some guideposts in a couple of the album’s four long tracks, each clocking in at 9 to 18 minutes.
One sticking point for me — and it’s a small one — involves one of Eneidi’s go-to riffs: a fluttering between a root note and a scale progression, like a pianist keeping the thumb on one note while the other four fingers wander. It’s a trademark of his, but here, it seems to appear a little more often than it should. That I can even recognize this might simply be a sign that I’ve listened to that much of Eneidi’s music. Given the sparseness of his recorded output, that’s not a bad thing.
Having spent a decade in Vienna, Eneidi has now taken up residence in Mexico, where he’s been working with a trio called Cosmic Brujo Mutafuka — here’s some video of what they’re up to.
I remember liking — but completely not understanding — Mike Garson‘s crazed piano solo on “Aladdin Sane.” I was about 15, listening with a friend to David Bowie’s ChangesTwo greatest-hits album. My friend hated the solo, but to me, it was fun (and, now that I’ve re-listened, even crazier than I remembered).
Garson did it again, to a less avant-garde extent, on Earthling, Bowie’s drum-and-bass album of 1997. It’s in “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” played in a chopped-up fashion that reflects the cut-and-paste nature of that genre of music:
Bowie’s death at age 69 seemed abrupt. I’m not sure anyone knew he was battling cancer, and at this writing, no news outlet seems to have details. (Bowie died Jan. 10; I’m writing this in the wee hours of Jan. 11.)
Like so many other people, I relished in Bowie’s pop facets, picking up early on “Ashes to Ashes,” partly because it was ubiquitous in the early days of music videos, and then learning some of the hits via the Changes albums. He was a culture follower, but he did it well.
Sadly, the Bowie album that I’m most familiar with is Let’s Dance — it was huge during my high school years. But during and after college, I became more intrigued by Bowie’s darker sides. I tried hard to like Black Tie, White Noise, but the snappy hip-hop influence didn’t click with me. (I did like the single, “Jump They Say,” with its strangely woven harmonies.) Years later, I bought Earthling on a whim and loved it.
As for his latest work — The Next Day didn’t entice me, but Blackstar does. It seems to be strange, ambitious non-pop that includes musicians like saxophonist Donnie McCaslin, whose own experiments in electronica are getting interesting.
So, then: Here are eight David Bowie tracks that happen to be on my mind tonight. I burned out on the hits long ago, as I did with most classic rock. This is more a list of relative obscurities that I happen to be remembering fondly:
“Dead Man Walking” — Best track on Earthling, one of my top Bowie songs of all time.
“Queen Bitch” — David Bowie trying to be Lou Reed. The one Bowie song I’ve learned on guitar.
“Miracle Goodnight” — Not the best bit from Black Tie, White Noise, but it has a simple synth riff that sticks in my head like a commercial jingle.
“Criminal World” — Most people who bought Let’s Dance probably considered this B-side filler, but I really liked it. (I will admit to liking “Modern Love” more.)
“Gunman” — An Adrian Belew song, written with Bowie. Been on my mind lately for other reasons.
“Station to Station” — One thing I like about “Blackstar,” the song, is that it’s a return to this kind of epic songwriting.
“Stay” — Also from Station to Station, a kind of minor-key rocker that somehow makes me nostaligic for a ’70s New York glam world I never knew.
“Fashion” — Because my kids will find the “beep beep” part hilarious. I know I did. And yet, I found I wanted to hear this ridiculous little song again and again. Listening to this song was the first time I realized that I kind of liked this weird David Bowie character.
Dave Douglas & Monash Art Ensemble — Fabliaux (Greenleaf, 2015)
You might get scared by the first strains of “Forbidden Flags,” which opens Fabliaux with regal horns indicating the start of a knightly joust or a Shakespeare play.
But there’s jazz to be had here, nestled into a setting of new chamber music. The Dave Douglas you know and love is in there as well. He’s teamed up with the Monash Art Ensemble, an Australian collective that commissions new works including a 2014 album recorded with George Lewis, to create a jazz/new-music mix, the work of a creative big band with flair.
The regal opening and the medieval album cover are nods to Fabliaux‘s inspiration, the 14th-century French composers of the Ars Nova. (Wrong century for Shakespeare.) The concept here is not about the sound of 14th-century music; it seems to be more about building off the rhythmic ideas like hocketing or specific types of counterpoint. The music produced by the ensemble — comprised of four quartet ensembles (strings, brass, winds, percussion) plus electronics — flashes through a variety of tempraments and sounds, in the end producing something that really could sit in the jazz section.
“Forbidden Flags” soon gives way to more big-band-sounding harmonies backing a trumpet solo (Douglas himself, I assume). “Legions” has the horns charting bold big-band chords behind the opening electric piano solo and the cool 7/8 rhythm.
“Tower of the Winds” uses quirky woodwind melodies to re-create a ’50s-style soundtrack for walking down a sunny Manhattan street. Later, it mashes the winds and brass into some complex intertwining that sets up dynamic drum and electronics solos.
Most pieces move like clockwork with the slick, precise, sound of well-executed charts, but Fabliaux is also full of creative soloing. “Legions,” for instance, packs some bright, engaging solos from sax, trumpet, and violin.
The composing is packed with twists; not every piece is a big-band chart. “Whirlwind” is a post-minimalist experiment, built of little repeating riffs mixed together in queasy harmonies and not-quite-overlapping cycles. The start of the piece lives up to the title. “Gears” has a tumbling feeling of out-of-phase rhythms, a giant machine that seems chaotic and lumbering but is really working under its own logic.
Even though Fabliaux is a Dave Douglas composition, I’m left feeling like it’s more a Monash album than a Dave Douglas album. It’s a good introduction to the ensemble, anyway, and leaves me interested in hearing what else they can do.