Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’

Rocking A Love Supreme

Karl Evangelista/GrexA Love Supreme (Brux, 2017)

coversmallYou can tell from the start that this isn’t a conventional reading of A Love Supreme, and not just because it’s guitar-based. Karl Evangelista and the band Grex start the piece with the same kind of wide-open introduction as the original, but in a voice that suggests what’s to come: a hard-digging psychedelic guitar opera.

With guitar and keys, bass and drums, and a couple of sparkling trumpet solos, it’s a satisfying treatment — a 25-minute EP being released as precursor to Grex’s next album. The structure of the four-movement piece remains intact, and there’s even a drum solo to open “Pursuance,” as on the original. What’s different is the transformation of the themes into rock form. Check out “Resolution,” where Evangelista plays the snakey composed line while Grex backs him with sinister chords.

 
The seminal moment of the original piece is Coltrane singing the “a love supreme” chant at the end of “Acknowledgement.” I can’t believe I never noticed this, but Coltrane sings his phrase in each of the 12 different keys. On Grex’s version, it’s the band who plays that theme, hopping from key to key while Evangelista’s guitar dances over the fast-shifting landscape.

The rock treatment is interesting when you consider that the original is based on wide-open modal playing — no ostinato, no riffs to clutch onto. Rock, of course, relies on repeated themes and rhythms that back the solos. It’s a fun translation, as “Pursuance” turns into a head-bobbing rocker with a solo of fuzz and feedback. “Psalm” becomes a cooldown study in slow-burning guitar and electric piano.

Listen to (and buy) the whole album at Bandcamp.

November 23, 2017 at 12:39 pm Leave a comment

Things Lost

IMG_8767There’s plenty of heartbreak in the aftermath of the fires that ripped through Sonoma recently. So, in no way is this the saddest of the fire stories — but it’s still poignant.

KQED science editor Craig Miller did a story once on the field recordings of Bernie and Kat Krause. Their Wild Sanctuary project captured more than 4,500 hours of audio, documenting the “soundscape” of the planet.

The audio is backed up, but the studio that helped make it all happen is gone, along with troves of original tapes.

Miller and the Krauses visited the remains of the studio. Text, photos, and audio here: Amid the North Bay Fire Ruins: A Lost “Sanctuary” for Nature’s Music.

November 18, 2017 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

Sonata for Laptop and Piano

Tim Perkis & Scott WaltonApplied Cryptography (pfMentum, 2016)

PFMCD106These tracks, many of them miniatures, pair Tim Perkis’ mastery of laptop electronics music with Scott Walton’s piano. It’s chamber music, as serious and deep as anything you’d find in classical section.

At times, Perkis’ command of the laptop rivals that of an acoustic instrument — such as a brief moment of sustain on “Oblique Compact,” so similar to a violin or saxophone holding a high note for dramatic effect. Composer Lisa Mezzacappa once noted that she not only includes Perkis in her bands but also hands him sheet music, and touches like this demonstrate why.


Much of the “classical” feel can be attributed to Walton. Even though he uses prepared piano at times, much of his playing has the feel of modern chamber music. “Naked Egg” is delicate and patient, as fragile as its title. At the other end of the scale, “Partial Ordering” uses lower-register hammering for a sense of drama, and Perkis responds with curt and relatively stiff sounds.

“Normal Form” takes that darker mood a step further, descending into heavy string-scraping on the piano and a buzzy undertone from the electronics. Here’s a segment that gets into some heavy keyboard work.


“Blind Signature” (all of these titles look like they do come from cryptography) offers a bit of crashing abandon and shrieking sounds, but it still leaves enough blank space to feel like a serious venture. It even has a mini-cadenza for some bleating, buzzy electronics. The album ends with “Zero-Knowledge Proof,” a miniature that’s peppered with the small, tightly clean sounds that Perkis does so well.

September 23, 2017 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

Save Roscoe Mitchell

UPDATE!


rmitchell-1000

Source: Wikimedia commons, by Oliver Abels

I couldn’t tell you if Roscoe Mitchell is a good professor. But I do know that the movement to preserve his job is not just the case of people standing up for a guy whose music they like.

Mitchell teaches at Mills College, occupying the Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition — the same post previously held by Pauline Oliveros. His job, and the Milhaud position in general, are now threatened by budget cuts.

Word got out quickly. Mills professor Chris Brown has written a call to action that includes administrator addresses to write to. Someone has started an online petition, and musician Marc Hannaford (weirdly, the same guy who’s music I just discovered) has penned an open letter that anyone is invited to sign. He’ll be sending that tomorrow — Monday, June 12.

Mitchell’s presence at Mills is important because he represents the source. He was a key part of a musical movement that informs jazz, “classical” composition, and improvisation today. Contemporary creativity can trace its heritage to the music fostered by the AACM, and here’s a man who was there. He is one of the creators.

If you were running a music program, wouldn’t it be grand to have this man available as a resource for your students? What would that mean to the prestige of your college?

It’s a shame that liberal arts programs nationwide are under such fire, victims of the market-worshipping dogma that has caused the United States so much harm. Mills has a shortfall and has to make it up somewhere. That’s going to require some self-inflicted wounds, necessarily, but some cuts go deeper than others.

June 11, 2017 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Moe Staiano & the Switchboard Music Festival

Moe Staiano has something interesting in the works: a 40-minute composition for nine electric guitars, bass, and drums. It’s called “Away Towards the Light,” and he’s presenting it on May 28 as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, at Gallery 308 in Fort Mason.

Moe is a percussionist, and lately he’s been active with his rock band Surplus 1980 (see here), but he’s also led some intriguing projects with the large group Moe!kestra. Some of those pieces have a performance-art element — the most obvious one being “Death of a Piano,” in which Moe would demolish an old piano while the orchestra “accompanied” him.

While his music tends to favor big, loud sounds, he’s dabbled in chamber music, too. Here’s a nifty piece written for Sqwonk, the bass clarinet duo of Jon Russell and Jeff Anderle:

That performance was part of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual, day-long series of concerts. I’ve never managed to attend, but the lineup is always intriguing, sitting loosely in the realm of new chamber music with shades of pop. Part of the idea is to present music that’s not easy to categorize.

Switchboard is gearing up for a 10th anniversary festival on June 10 at Z Space (450 Florida St., San Francisco). Kronos Quartet is going to headline, and the organizers are hoping to crowdsource some of the costs — you can find the campaign at generosity.com.

In past years, Switchboard has used Soundcloud to post short interviews with the musicians. I liked that idea, and I’m hoping they do it again this year:

 
To close out, here’s a set of random Switchboard links I collected a couple of years ago, a mix of previews and reviews:

New Music Box:
http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/sfs-annual-switchboard-music-festival-celebrates-the-eclectic/

I Care If You Listen:
http://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2013/04/distinctive-sounds-at-sixth-annual-switchboard-music-festival/

SF Civic Center:
http://sfciviccenter.blogspot.com/2013/04/switchboard-music-festival-notes.html

SF Classical Voice:
http://www.sfcv.org/preview/switchboard-music-festival/switchboard-music-festival-turns-it-on

April 28, 2017 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

Grand Gestures for Piano & Drums

Dialectical Imagination — The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture (Atma Nadi, 2017)

coverThe piano-drums duo of Dialectical Imagination is all about chasing a big sound, but not in a noisy way.

Eli Wallace (also of the Bay Area trio Sound Etiquette — who play tonight at Octopus Literary Salon, incidentally) provides jittery and hammering piano laced with jazz and classical elements. It’s like heavy, elegant drapery crashing down on your head. That’s paired with the thunderous but sure-handed drumming of Rob Pumpelly, formerly of prog band miRthkon.

“Angel and the brute” is a good way to describe both sides of the music — it gushes lushly in one moment, then screams with adrenaline-rush urgency.

The 12-minute “Sky in Eye Free of I” is a good example. It opens with some sophisticated, jazzy dabbling — Pumpelly on brushes, even — that soon begins to speed up and unravel. By minute 8, Wallace is stabbing mercilessly at the bass notes while Pumpelly, now using drumsticks, batters away deftly.

 
“Immutable Light” is a power play, with Wallace sternly hammering away for a dramatic opening and Pumpelly taking a strong solo full of toms rolls and cymbal crashes, in a style closer to serious classical percussion than metal-like thrash. “Rungs” is another good example of high-energy bobbing and weaving, possibly the most exhilarating track on here.

One dial down the notch in intensity is the jittery “Turnabout,” where both players show tasteful restraint during Wallace’s hyperactive splashing.

“Deepest View’s Horizon You” starts out describing vast, mysterious caverns, then dissolves into a lyrical and downright pretty ending for the album.

If you buy the album in physical form, there’s a fun twist: It comes on “faux cassette” — a USB drive in a cassette-shaped housing. You can also download and stream the album on Bandcamp.

April 15, 2017 at 12:39 pm Leave a comment

Road to Aacheron

aacheron

Photo: Sandra Yolles, from romus.net

Rent Romus’ theatrical project, “Road to Aacheron,” got a couple of performances last weekend in Berkeley. It’s a story built around a series of arias — improvised vocal monologues, mostly in made-up tongues — telling a story influenced by the sci-fi and horror writers of the 1930s (think H.P. Lovecraft).

Sifting through an ancient book discovered by a colleague, a professor finds a portal into (of course) a mysterious and dangerous world, a planet populated by a civilization whose technology and hubris are on the verge of rending their universe apart.

The production fit nicely on the relatively small stage of Berkeley’s Finnish Kaleva Hall, with simple but effective lighting creating a pocket of eerie darkness around each performer. The story is mostly driven by the narrator (Roderick Repke, Romus’ uncle) who was standing to the side of the audience at a mic’ed lectern. The 10-piece musical ensemble started at the foot of the stage and extened outward, to the side of the audience — Kaleva Hall is cavernous and had plenty of space for all this.

The story starts with the professor, played by Dean Santomieri singing in the grave, steady tones you’d associate with opera. His part is in English and is pre-written, tracing his exploration of the book and his colleague’s notes, and his growing sense that something troubling is happening.

The other characters are various denizens of Aacheron — the high priest, the scientist, and so on — singing in gibberish and sound conveying a sense of an ancient language but also reflecting the characters’ motivations and emotional states.

Musically, what drives the production are the mini-ensembles backing each vocalist — subsets of the musicians, chosen to convey particular moods. Santomieri’s narration was accompanied by an oboe adding curt, angular responses — a nice foil that added a sense of foreboding and mystery, but also a voice of pert curiosity.

Another aria that people liked was Polly Moller’s role as the high priestess of Aacheron, accompanied by a group featuring flute, recorder, and (if I’m remembering things right) vibraphone.

That segment was a cool oasis after the spiky intensity of Bob Marsh’s character, Sareith, the High Priest of Aacheron, dressed in the awesomely abstract costume you see in the photo up top. He dug into his role with relish and fervor.

Mantra Plonsey was deliciously mad as the architect of Aacheron, reciting bits of English accompanied by saxophone. (“I cannot pay the rent!” “You must pay the rent!” It’s from W.C. Fields, Tom Djll told me later.) And quite a few of the musicians in the audience said Kattt Achley’s airy soprano aria was their favorite, portraying the scientist who might have a way to avoid catastrophe.

Romus performed an aria-less version of “Road to Aacheron” — using a quartet of instrumentalists, with Romus narrating — during KZSU’s recent Day of Noise. You can find that performance on the Day of Noise archive — it’s number 19 on the list. Romus has extracted part of it on Soundcloud as well.

 

April 2, 2017 at 11:35 am Leave a comment

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