Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’

Trance Mission Rides Again

DSCN7540-trance-mission-cut

A side note to that Fred Frith Trio show back in January …

While I missed Jack o’ the Clock, I did catch the show’s other opening act, a longtime Bay Area favorite called Trance Mission. It’s a world-music kind of trio whose grooves combine a droney sound with danceable beats — insistent music with a relaxed vibe.

Sometimes a quartet, Trance Mission has always featured Stephen Kent on didjeridu and percussion and Beth Custer on clarinets, vocals, and sundry (a bit of trumpet for this particular show, surprisingly enough). The latest version also included Peter Valsamis on the drum kit.

Of course, Kent and Custer have been involved in myriad other projects over the years. Trance Mission was a ’90s thing for both of them, but they still convene the group every now and again. I’d never seen them before that show at Slim’s, where I got a taste of what I’d missed all these years.

The didjeridoo allows for vocals and tongue slaps, so Kent often became the rhythm as well as the backing bass drone, freeing Valsamis to sprinkle the brighter colors of the drum kit. Kent also used a baby cello as an ersatz guitar on a couple of songs, for a different sound and a fun effect.

It was a really good time. I’m glad I finally caught up with them.

Trance Mission Duo (Kent and Custer) will be performing on March 21 at Red Poppy Art House (2698 Folsom St, San Francisco).

Kent will be performing with the Del Sol String Quartet at the Other Minds Festival on March 6, at the SF Jazz Center (201 Franklin Street, San Francisco).

February 22, 2015 at 10:22 pm Leave a comment

Day of Noise 2015 Is Upon Us

dayofnoise2015Don’t say you weren’t warned.  KZSU’s Day of Noise begins a few hours from now, at 12:01 a.m. Pacific time on Feb. 7.

An all-star army of musicians will be handing off the mic, figuratively to produce 24 hours of sounds, tones, clatter, harmony, improvisation, and whatever else may happen. Performances alternate between two studios at KZSU, so that as one act performs, the next one can set up, keeping the music seamless save for introductions by DJ Miss Information — who in past years has MC’ed the entire 24 hours.

Here are my Day of Noise photos from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Here’s the lineup. Here’s where to go listen. (Or, in the Bay Area, tune in to 90.1 FM.)

In other words, you are out of excuses. Tune in!

February 6, 2015 at 9:00 pm Leave a comment

Fred Frith Warms Up a New Trio

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Glenn, Frith, and Hoopes. Source: jasonhoopes.com.

Fred Frith‘s new trio will be touring around Europe late in February. As a prelude, they’ve played a couple of shows here in the Bay Area, including one at Slim’s that I got to see recently.

It’s a long-form improvising trio — you could certainly call it a power trio — with Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums. Electronics and loops help the bass and guitar build a screen of lingering sound, often dark and heavy. Listening to Hoopes in the band Eat the Sun was good preparation, actually.

In front of that curtain of sound, each player adds virtuosity to color the piece. The first of three long pieces they played started with a blast zone created by Frith and especially Hoopes, who was sawing away at one high note on the bass. That put Glenn in the spotlight quickly, with fluid drum rolls and high-precision hammering.

Hoopes stayed in a supporting role for a long while before finally taking a lead voice with a thick, bubbling stew of bass soloing. Hoopes is terrific on electric bass, and it’s always a treat to hear him really cut loose. This trio offers him a lot of space to do that, although you get the sense that he directs more energy toward shaping the overall sound.

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Hoopes, Glenn, Frith

Of course, Frith contributed too, with many of his usual tools, such as bows and other implements against the guitar strings. Recently, I was reading a critic raving about Frith’s detuning of the guitar during solos — about how he was able to make that “wrong” sound fit just right. I hadn’t thought about that too much, but as Frith untuned his low E string during one span, it struck me that it really was just right and in “tune” with the logic of what he was doing. Frith added a lot of conventional playing as well — crisp and chirpy sounds harkening back to his prog days.

It was a terrific set, although I have to admit I lost the thread at times. The drone or roar of the guitar and bass sometimes overwhelmed the sound for me; there was always something going on underneath it, but sometimes my mind had trouble penetrating that roar. That’s not always a bad thing (“drone” is a legitimate musical form, and this was certainly not a sleepy drone) but I could have used some more dividers in the music. It’s possible I was just too worn out on a Thursday night.

Frith’s choice of bandmates is significant. Like Art Blakey, he’s teaming up with younger musicians to infuse fresh ideas into his music. Glenn and Hoopes are part of a wave of accomplished artists he’s inspired while teaching at Mills College, where he was a mentor not only for improvisers but for songwriters pursuing thoughtful, complex pop/prog ideas — Jack o’ the Clock, the local band I’ve been raving about, being a prime example. (They opened the Slim’s show, but I didn’t make it to the city in time for their set, alas.)

The Frith Trio is going to spend a lot of time in Central/Eastern Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary) with stops in Belgium and the Netherlands. It’s a good chance to see Frith, of course, but also to check out some of the strong talent the Bay Area has been nurturing. Here’s the tour schedule, as found on Hoopes‘ and Frith‘s web sites:

Feb. 19Zagreb, Croatia
Feb. 20Göppingen, Germany
Feb. 21Vienna, Austria
Feb. 22Budapest, Hungary
Feb. 23Bolzano, Italy
Feb. 24Middelburg, Netherlands
Feb. 25Brussels, Belgium
Feb. 26Konstanz, Germany
Feb. 27Berlin, Germany
Feb. 28Dortmund, Germany
March 1Wels, Austria

February 1, 2015 at 11:53 am 1 comment

Reconnaissance Fly on KZSU, January 7

Reconnaissance Fly Coming to KZSU

Reconnaissance Fly drummer Larry The O, filmed during an on-air performance at KFJC-FM.

Local prog band Reconnaissance Fly is going to play on KZSU this Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 9:00 p.m.

KZSU hosts a band (usually a local one) every Wednesday at 9:00. It’s a show called Wednesday Night Live that’s been running for a very long time. The show hosted bands like Primus and Green Day long before the wide world discovered them. In fact, what’s left of an interview with Primus has been digitized and is in KZSU’s A-file right now.

Anyway. Reconnaissance Fly is a mix of prog and jazz, with lyrics derived from spam emails; I reviewed their first album, Flower Futures, about a year ago. For a taste of the band, you can check out some videos from their on-air performance at KFJC in August. The tune below is a nifty new instrumental written by bassist Tim Walters.

Tune in Wednesday at 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or kzsulive.stanford.edu anywhere.

January 4, 2015 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

Eat the Sun

Eat the SunThe Djerassi Sessions (Edgetone, 2014)

Eat the Sun -- The Djerassi Sessions (Edgetone, 2014)

Source: Edgetone. Click to go there.

Straddling between melody and abstraction, the improvisations on The Djerassi Sessions build a cloaked mystery but feature more color than the gray-on-gray cover art suggests. The all-strings trio (koto, acoustic bass, and electric guitar) have produced an album of dark shadings that open the way for some fast, captivating playing.

Eat the Sun seems to have Hoopes’ bass miked as a lead voice in general, with his pizzicato work cutting through the groundwork of crunchy guitar noise and rustling koto. Even one note amid the din becomes a clarion call, as happens on “Postfeasttwo” and “Prefeastone.” I’m also partial to this busy passage from “Prefeast Three,” with Hoopes’ bass taking the lead.


Most of the pieces track atonal or cross-tonal melodies. Gretchen Jude’s koto often conjures up the most pleasant patterns of the three instruments (a Japanese motif, obviously) giving Hoopes room to rattle off some impressive jazzlike soloing. She also flits from meditation to rock-like rhythm to frenzied attack. The final seconds of “Postfeasttwo,” with koto and bass slashing viciously, make for a particularly fine moment.


Noah Phillips’s guitar often treads in noisy territory or, as on “Prefeastfour,” winds a path through newly defined scales of its own. It’s a ground fog that defines the mood: never quite pretty, even amid the playing of “normal” notes, and often thick with distortion. “Postfeastone,” for instance, flickers in and out of melodic logic, with the koto riffing against the sour tomes of a detuned guitar.

Eat the Sun is a trio that has definitely found an aesthetic and a sound. It’s territory ripe for more exploration.

January 2, 2015 at 5:00 pm 1 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

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