David James’ Billionaire Blues

David James’ GPS performs at the Make-Out Room (3225 22nd Street @ Mission, San Francisco) on Thursday, Feb. 25.

David James’ GPSBillionaire Blues (self-released, 2016)

james-billionaireDavid James, the guitarist in Beth Custer’s jazz group, has put together an album of his own, following the same contemporary muse that mixes jazz with sophisticated rock grooves and an open mind for creativity.

The album has a cohesive, polished sound — the mood reminds me of Custer’s album, Roam, which also features James — but under the surface, James’ band skims through a variety of musical styles.

You can hear a stomping tango in “Powell Doctrine” or springy, bluesy guitar work against a stiff beat and airy jazz leads on “2 Zs, 2 Ps.” Shades of happy, old-time jazz pop up in “Grip” and “Wag the Puppy,” but their paths take some swerves. “Grip,” in particular, tilts into a light guitar groove worthy of a jam band, featuring one of my favorite guitar solos on the record.

“Black Ops” uses a slightly jagged 7/8 rhythm to set up a sunny South African vibe with breezy solos. It’s a good showcase for the band, including Dina Maccabee’s airy viola, and it gives drummer Jan Jackson a subtle showcase as the energy level gradually builds.

The title track is a relaxed, back-porch blues led by James’ drawling guitar chords, with perky clarinet and trombone solos. And “Obama Hop/Prayer” starts out with an upbeat melody out of a black-and-white movie; it’s so happy, it almost has to have a touch of sarcasm in it.

This is one of those albums that’s fun to listen to because you can tell how much fun they had making it. Saying someone “played with Beth Custer” can mean a whole variety of things (a testament to her versatility) — and Billionaire Blues offers a good swath of those possibilities itself.

You can hear the album over on Bandcamp.

From Evan Parker’s Swing to Ancient Bronze Bells

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Evan Parker swing this hard. I always assumed he could, but he proves it in this recent trio date, on tenor sax:

That session took place in London on Feb. 7, at a venue called IKLEKTIC, and got posted to YouTube less than 48 hours later. Hat tip to @DalstonSound on Twitter.

This post is really about the drummer, though. I hadn’t encountered Toshi Tsuchitori before, and I liked his playing on that short chip — including the way he egged on Parker and bassist John Edwards as that “swinging free jazz” mode began to emerge. Tsuchitori looks old enough to have had quite an eventful career, I thought to myself.

So, I started researching him. And yes, Tsuchitori has had quite a career.

In 1975, he recorded Origination, a duo album with saxophonist Mototeru Takagi. You can hear them blaze through 12 minutes of music on this clip, a track titled “Little Boy.”

Ototatchinuru18, the YouTube user who posted that IKLEKTIC clip, created two YouTube channels of Tscuchitori videos, including many sessions in quiet contexts closer to traditional Japanese music. But there’s also this ferocious duet with Milford Graves.

In fact, Tsuchitori has played with many of the jazz/improv greats. Here’s a particularly delicious spot, from 1978: a subdued duet with Derek Bailey, where Tsuchitori works with tight clacking and snaps, matching Bailey’s guitar language. Bailey at one point responds with a couple of long background tones — it’s a terrific moment.

It turns out Tsuchitori, whose career now includes music for plays and movies, has a fascination not just for traditional music but for ancient music. That is, music for instruments found at archaeological sites — specifically, broken bronze bells.

Tsuchitori built replicas of the bells, or pots, and recorded an album of music for them, a project of “speculatory sound,” as writer Cameron Allan McKean puts it.

Researching Toshi Tsuchitori was a fascinating little exercise. I’m glad to have noticed him, and I’m grateful to everyone mentioned in this post for pointing the way to him — including Evan Parker, for his work at the service of two solid musical partners that Sunday evening.

Alex Jenkins Trio

Alex Jenkins Trio will perform on Feb. 15 at Studio Grand (3234 Grand Ave, Oakland), opening for the Ross Hammond Group.

Alex Jenkins TrioJumping Ship (self-released, 2015)

jenkins-lessonsJumping Ship is an easygoing inside-jazz session with rigorous drumming by the leader, Sacramento-based Alex Jenkins. The interplay of the sax-bass-drums trio is strong and always performed in service of the straightforward, friendly construction of the tunes.

The simplicity is attractive. “For Laura” might be the strongest composition on the record — not a fiery one, but a compelling melody with a plaintive intensity, where the theme feeds directly into some spiraling and dancing sax twirls by┬áJacam Manricks. Bassist Gerry Pineda also gets showcased on the track, first with an unaccompanied intro and then with the best of his solos on the album, a passage that’s brief but densely involved. Jenkins caps it off with a nifty solo of his own.

The album opens with “Lessons Learned,” a straightahead composition where the hook is a lone heartbeat-skip bar of 5/4 — catchy, once you latch onto it. “Slither” is an upbeat groove driven by simple sax riffs in a buzzy, forceful tone. It’s anchored by Jenkins laying down a gritty groove with a bit of funk. The title track features Manricks’ flute spinning a lightly mysterious melody that starts with a slow, grand Persian feel.

Jenkins gets to show off on two short solo tracks. “Djemke” is a springy display on hand drums, while “Dedication” has him preaching from the drum kit.

As often happens in jazz, the record leaves you wondering if the band can dial it up a notch in a live setting — such as Jenkins’ regular gig at Sacamento’s Shady Lady saloon. They’ll get a chance to show Oakland their stuff on Feb. 15, playing at Studio Grand as part of the ongoing Oakland Freedom Jazz Society series.

You can find Jumping Ship on CDBaby. Here’s a bit of “For Laura,” including some of the main theme and the introductory part of Manricks’ solo:

Day of Noise Archives Are Posted

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 11.10.11 PMNo, KZSU doesn’t really hate your ears. The idea is to give them a workout, that’s all.

I took that screenshot from the Day of Noise webcast solely because it amused me. The duo is/are Vilarsia, performing near the end of the Day during the 11:00 p.m. shift.

And you can still hear them — not because your ears are ringing, but because KZSU has posted most of the Day of Noise performances at kzsu.stanford.edu/dayofnoise. Go get an earful!

This was the first time in a few years that I couldn’t lend a hand with Day of Noise (KZSU’s 14th time hosting this marathon), but of course Abra and crew pulled it off magnificently. Congrats, all.