Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’
The concluding night of the recent Outsound New Music Summit started with a full stage. No people, and not much apparent room for people — but lots of instruments, some draped in cloths evoking images of Persian finery.
It turns out the instruments around the edges were meant for the five members of Big City Orchestra. Squeezed near center stage were the keyboards, effects, and percussion instruments for the duo of IMA, who started the evening. Two very different groups with different approaches.
Combining percussion with electronics and live sound manipulation, IMA worked together like a well-oiled machine, with a shared sense of dynamics and the timing of a Swiss watch.
The pieces built mostly ominous and dark atmospheres sprinkled with occasional elements of bright melody. A few pre-staged samples came up but the overall structure was improvised, to impressive effect.
Amma Ateria (aka Jeanie Aprille Tang) laid down a base of dark, crunchy sounds and occasional chords, while percussionist Nava Dunkelman flickered seamlessly from one implement to another: snare drum, cymbals, xylophone, plexiglass table. Her sounds, full of snap and command, got manipulated or echoed through the mic — I’m guessing Ateria had some say in that — and were sometimes sampled back for additional effect. Both players added vocal tones and breaths, often heavily distorted, adding an extra blanket of storm clouds overhead.
During a pre-concert talk, they mentioned that the use of melody was a relatively new addition to their work after years of noisy collaborations. This included plenty of xylophone improvising from Dunkelman, as well as a pre-recorded melody against which she improvised or played a counter-melody.
Big City Orchestra is the long-running improv/experimental project of Das and Ninah Pixie, always varying in the number of players and the concepts being presented. They were the styrofoam-playing act that I engineered on KZSU’s Day of Noise a couple of years ago.
This edition of BCO was a quintet performing a set-long reworking of “In a Persian Market,” a popular music piece from 1921. Written by a Londoner, it’s sort of a white man’s image of an exotic Orient that he’s never seen, as people pointed out during the pre-concert talk. It’s also apparently a pretty famous piece of music.
The general concept was that the band played each movement of the piece interspersed with some improvisational ideas. The song’s primary melody came first, played by various lead instruments — flute or bass flute by Polly Moller; vibraphone by Suki O’Kane — over and over with a dull noise background between iterations. Each cycle of the melody got introduced by Andy Cowitt playing the intro on bass guitar, a two-note pulse that was so supremely simple, it started to get humorous (intentionally, I think) after the fourth or fifth time around.
BCO’s ever-shifting nature comes at the cost of working with a new band nearly every gig. This one hit some rough patches early, with a few hand cues that seemed to get missed or misinterpreted. The segments of the opening melody were nice, but the noisy spaces in between seemed to just be in the way.
A more successful movement featured Pixie and Moller on harmoniums (or similar accordion-like instruments) creating a bright drone, a space-filling wall of sound. Cowitt added some long clarion tones on electric guitar — a Frippertronic touch. This worked well with the quasi-Persian spirit of the whole piece and set up some composed elements quite nicely.
The piece began and ended with the sound of sand, a contribution of Das’. He first poured it onto a contact mic. Then he rolled a spherical stone over the pile of sand, creating a crunching sound, like listening to a passing caravan from deep beneath the surface of the desert. That same sound brought the piece to a calm ending.
Obviously, that’s what you would expect. Lake is a living legend — but I was also there to see Robinson, a Bay Area drummer whose skill I’ve lauded here repeatedly. A duet with a kindred spirit (both were part of the free-jazz scene in Paris in the ’70s) was the perfect setting for showcasing Robinson’s talents and creativity.
Lake announced his presence with a keening, whistling cry on a miniature curved saxophone. It got the music started with almost no preliminaries and also served as a signal that yes, the avant-garde stuff was going to be welcomed in this set.
Spending most of the hour-long set on alto sax, Lake frequently alternated between rapid-fire chatter and fragments of jazzy, funky melody. Robinson rotated through a few choices of sound palettes, from hard mallets to sticks to brushes. I love the light touch he has on the drums — airy, rapid-fire gestures that build up to a reeling ferocity.
This was a polished set, in a good way, by a couple of pros. The flow of ideas was seamless, aided by Lake’s occasional use of melody to shift the mood. These moments were brief, terminated by a quick spackling of wild sax notes, but Lake and Robinson did let a bit of a groove develop during their lively closing improvisation.
The evening opened with the trio of Brandon Evans (sax), Christina Stanley (violin), and Mark Pino (drums). They set the tone with a long-form piece of Evans’ devising, an improvisation based on what appeared to be a graphical score and/or a set of instructions guiding the overall flow.
The piece was a frenzied display of power. Stanley, in particular, made the most of it, madly sawing to keep the energy level red-lined while also using occasional electronics to deliver more pulverizing sounds from the violin.
Evans was terrific on soprano sax, but that instrument didn’t offer much contrast to the violin. That might have been the desired effect; both instruments melted into one another to form a continuous chatter. But I appreciated Evans’ contributions more on alto, where the contrast in sounds made it easier to separate his voice from Stanley’s.
It was a take-no-prisoners session, which puts pressure on the drummer to keep the energy level peaked without overpowering the sound. I did feel like Pino fell into occasional ruts early in the piece, but he quickly found his footing and was soon tossing off some impressive fills and rolls.
These two sets complemented each other well. Not because both included improvised sax and drums, but because each started from the premise of “jazz”-like improvising on acoustic instruments and followed a different direction from there. A nice pairing of acts by Outsound.
Starting tomorrow in San Francisco, the week-long Outsound New Music Summit will convene for the 15th time. It’s a week-long series of shows celebrating creative music of many stripes, from jazz and new-classical to noise and prop.
The event runs July 24-30, at the Community Music Center (544 Capp Street @ 20th, San Francisco). Check out the full schedule here.
For a deeper look, you can explore the “In the Field” series of video interviews, posted by Outsound organizer Rent Romus. They’re extensive (usually 20+ minutes) and often explore how these musicians got turned on to creative music and out-there sounds.
Here’s my smattering of highlights — based primarily on how familiar I am with the musicians and concepts. Meaning, I’ve left lots of deserving artists behind; explore the full schedule for more info, with additional video and audio information.
Concert times are 8:15 p.m., except as noted.
Touch the Gear (Sun. July 24, 7:00-10:00 p.m.) — An Outsound tradition. It’s a hands-on exhibit of electronics and noisemakers (and sometimes some more “normal” musical instruments”), giving you an opportunity to find out where some of these unusual noises come from. It’s very informal and, well, noisy: You wander the tables, ask some questions — and push some buttons and make some noise yourself.
Sonny Simmons documentary (Mon. July 25, 7:00 p.m.) — A screening of Brandon Evans’ 2003 film, “Sonny Simmons: The Multiple Rated X Truth.” Simmons is a fascinating story, a forgotton hero of ’60s free-jazz who became re-remembered starting in the early ’00s.
Dan Plonsey: “On His Shoulders Stands No One” (Tues. July 26) — Expect Braxton-like expanse, but with a friendlier, warmer touch than Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music or Echo Echo Mirror House. Find out more in Plonsey’s video interview (embedded here).
Brett Carson’s Mysterious Descent (Tues. July 26) — A theater/poetry/music piece based on the extant texts of the Idnat Ikh-ôhintsôsh (i.e., a language of Carson’s own devising). Might be the most “out-there” concept on the docket. I’m not sure what to expect; I just got drawn in by Carson’s “In the Field” inteview.
Vinny Golia, Lisa Mezzacappa & Vijay Anderson (Wed. July 27) — Three musicians whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired. This should be a rewarding set of sax-bass-drums improvised jazz. Note that they’re also three-fourths of the band on the album Hell-Bent in the Pacific, which included the late Marco Eneidi on sax.
Oliver Lake & Donald Robinson (Thur. July 28) — Outsound goes above and beyond to support local artists, but the festival also usually includes notable names from out of town. Oliver Lake is a luminary known for the World Saxophone Quartet, Trio 3, and his extensive solo career. (See SF Weekly‘s preview.) Donald Robinson is a hero of the local scene, a drummer whose fluid, airy style has always impressed me. He’s also a veteran of the early ’70s free jazz scene in Paris, where his musical cohorts included Oliver Lake. Who knows whether they kept in touch or even knew each other well; in any event, this should be a special dialogue between kindred spirits.
There’s also a trio improv that combines Brandon Evans with local luminaries Christina Stanley (violin) and Mark Pino (drums); an avant-pop night promising shades of prog and electronic music; and an appearance from the long-running, unpredictable Big City Orchestra.
And plenty more. Seriously, explore the schedule. There’s a wide range of music in store.
The most recent live music show I’ve seen (not counting the theater experience) goes back to the beginning of May, when I headed to San Francisco’s Mission District for the first-Monday jazz program at the Make-Out Room.
This one was really different. Walking through the door, I was greeting by the wavering clang of a Chinese gong and the high-pitched caterwauls of traditional Asian song, but infused with the aggressive showmanship of rock or even punk. This was mashed up against an energetic, Afropop-influenced guitar-and-bass combo, all anchored by drummer Dave Mihaly.
I hadn’t encountered them before, but lead singer Luo Danna grew up in China as a singer, actress, and dancer, and she brings that theatricality to the forefont for this band. Their final song was fast-paced, with Danna adding a percussive exclamation point to the rhythm by snapping a fan closed dramtically. You do have to have a taste for the shrill vocals of traditional Chinese music, but the mix of those motifs with the freedom of jazz is something worth hearing.
The second set was by local stalwarts Grex, this time in basic trio format: Karl Evangelsta on guitar, Rei Scampvia Evangelista on keyboards, and Robert Lopez on drums.
Jazz and modern classical music are among Grex’s influences, but it was a heavy set this time, with lots of crunchy, aggressive guitar and a psychedelic feel. Among the new songs with Rei on vocals was “Martha,” relating to the last of the carrier pigeons.
A quartet called Two Aerials closed the program, combining out-there jazz singing (singer/cellist Crystal Pascucci) with a chamber-music vibe, a breezy sound from the combination of cello, vibraphone, and electric piano. Still, they put up some hard-driving numbers, really rocking out at times. Drummer Britt Ciampa kept the volume high with a lexicon of shuffles and taps, playd with subtlety and precision but loud and exciting.
I did not make it to the June installment of the Monday Make-Out, but I’d like to be more of a regular there. The bar setting isn’t conducive to every type of music, but this is the kind of setting jazz used to enjoy, after all, and you get a good dose of locals who wander in and seem to have a pretty good time.
I always considered radio DJ’ing to be a kind of performance. Certainly lesser than actually performing on a musical instrument, but it did require attention to rhythm, balance, and audience.
He’ll be guest-hosting “Discreet Music,” a Sunday late-night show of experimental music and modern classical, on KPFA-FM (94.1 for those in the Bay Area) June 5 and 19, both shows starting at 10:00 p.m. Pacific time.
Discreen Music is an excellent show that’s been hosted by Dean Suzuki for years. You can find previous playlists at kpfa.org. Here’s the most recent one, hosted by Suzuki. Steve Reich, Elliott Sharp, Harry Partch — it’s a pretty good representation of the show’s personality.
Statistically, most of you won’t find this post until after June 5 … but if nothing else, it might get Discreet Music and World of Wonder onto your radar.
No, 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.
… “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.”