Jordan Glenn’s BEAK

Jordan GlennBEAK (Geomancy, 2018)

jordanglenn-beakJordan Glenn is a ubiquitous Bay Area drummer, playing in so many jazz/improv contexts including the prog band Jack o’ the Clock and his own pranskerish trio Wiener Kids. With BEAK, Glenn showcases himself as a composer, leaving the playing up to others. It’s a set of coordinated rock jams thick with guitar and percussion — four percussionists! Sometimes they combine for a glorious stomp; sometimes it’s an intricate exercise in counterpoint.

Compositions build off of riffs and rhy, with guitars (Will Northlich-Redmond and Grex‘s Karl Evangelista) drenched in fuzz and surrounded by hand drums. Mark Clifford’s vibraphone adds splashes of extra melody. The percussion barrage, so vital to the album’s overall mood, comes from Geneva Harrison on the drum kit and Robert Woods-LaDue and Robert Lopez on hand percussion. Max Judelson on bass rounds out the band.

Glenn’s trademark sense of humor is found more in the song titles than in the music itself. Sublime moments come in the trilogy of “Coda” pieces, with the easygoing odd-time beat of “Coda 2 – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and the lingering haze of “Coda 3 – The Games Chickens Play.”

Some of the album’s most satisfying moments are the quieter ones. “Coda 2” is worth another mention in that regard; it’s a slow burn, a moderate tempo that builds momentum as the odd rhythm latches into your brain. That said, the full-blast bombastic tracks are fun. “Flower Fashion Fantasies” announces the band: “We’ve got guitars! We’ve got four percussionists!” and builds into a frenzy. Later, the track returns in a higher-energy reprise.

Surrealist Poet Jazz

Sheldon Brown GroupBlood of the Air (Edgetone, 2018)

brown-bloodoftheairNate Chinen’s excellent book, Playing Changes, devotes a chapter to the many innovations of Jason Moran, including his visual art and his business model post-Blue Note. Among them is Moran’s practice of transcribing spoken word into melodies based on that fluctuating pitches and emphasis of the voice.

I can understand the fascination with exploring the necessarily melodic qualities of speech. I always appreciate the results even if I don’t fully enjoy them — as with many types of art, the process sometimes interests me as much as the final output.

Anyway, I doubt Moran was the first to try setting music to speech, and plenty of others have done it since.

But here’s Sheldon Brown doing something I don’t think I’ve heard before: He adds swing. On “Oraibi,” the two-part opener to Brown’s Blood of the Air, he sets a clarinet melody in step with Lamantia’s recital and gives it a bounce that creates the illusion of Lamantia himself swinging.

(Love the soaring Tyner-esque piano chords after the intro, too, and the feathery sung vocal — that’s Lorin Benedict‘s vocalese.

Blood of the Air is a tribute to Lamantia, and I admit, I dreaded the thought of an overbaked poetry-music casserole. But creative touches (such as a moody theremin introducing “First Star”), along with the bursting enthusiasm and spinning inventiveness of Brown’s band, keeps the mix fresh and intriguing.

Here’s the theme from “To Have the Courage,” built from another of Lamantia’s readings and sped up into a punchy ensemble line. The vocal here is Benedict again, inserting vocalese into the melody of Lamantia’s speech patterns. There’s something very meta about that.

A San Franciscan by birth who would later hang out with the Beat movement, Lamantia is described as “surrealist,” but he wrote in normal English phrases and sentences, not the random word clusters I was expecting. His recital voice is homey, less stern than I expected, with an affected accent, equal parts Oxford and Brooklyn.

Here’s a full Blood of the Air set from the group, performed at the 2017 Outsound New Music Summit, with Lamantia contributing via recordings. You can sample much of the album on Bandcamp.

Trio HLK

Trio HLKStandard Time (Ubuntu, 2018)

triohlk-standardYou can see why Steve Lehman and Evelyn Glennie want to hang out with these guys. Trio HLK is full of glitches in the matrix, playing smoothly rapid clockwork music that’s full of hiccups. With all the start-stop unpredictability, it’s fitting that one song is titled “Stabvest.”

The effect comes from rapid-fire shifts in time signatures — take a look at the blips of 13/16 and 15/16 in the sheet music for “Extra Sensory Perception Part II,” below (full score available here). Pianist Richard Harrold, guitarist Ant Law, and percussionist Richard Kass run this obstacle course with slick aggression, with Law’s eight-string guitar doubling as bass. The effect is like a sped-up minimalism, with lots of jump cuts between phrases that are repeating but not really repeating.

trio hlk sheet music

The result is music that feels ultra-modern but still sounds pleasant, between the chiming jazz-club chords and the occasional acrid-but-friendly touch of guitar. “TWILT,” a brainy twist on a jazz standard (you can figure out which one), is a good demonstration of what the trio can do. But their guest musicians add some sparkling fun. Lehman add his angular sense of cool to three tracks, and Glennie dances airily on songs like “Extra-Sensory Perception,” a thrill ride that culminates in a hard-driving succession of rising chords shared by piano and guitar.

Here’s a video of the gentle Part I of “Extra-Sensory Perception,” followed by the more intense Part II.

 

Secret Codes of Guitar and Drums

The Lie DetectorsPart III: Secret Unit (Chant, 2018)

maoz-3The Lie Detectors could be classified as a jazz duo, but in fine downtown fashion, it’s jazz with hefty shots of bombast: the heavy crunch of “Rice;” the light touch of “Go” that descends into a sinister, shamanistic guitar sounds; the echoey and folky strains of “Closer” mixed with sparse improv. Punk and metal get their say in the next track, “Here and There.” Those four track are the way Secret Unit starts.

Eyal Maoz (guitar) and Asaf Sirkis (drums) have known each since age 10. Now living in New York and London, respectively, they’re charting impressive musical careers. Maoz is a member of the Lemon Juice Quartet and Shanir Blumenkranz’s Abraxis (which got to record one of John Zorn’s Masada Book II albums), and he leads bands including Edom, Wild Type and the eclectic power trio Hypercolor. Sirkis has been playing with jazzsters including Larry Coryell, Dave Holland and John Abercrombie.

They’ve released two other duo albums: Elementary Dialogues (Ayler, 2006) and Freedom Has Its Own Taste (Fasson, 1998). They don’t seem to have used the Lie Detectors name with those releases, and maybe with good reason — the name is the top secret organization that they formed at age 10. Apparently they’ve decided it’s time to reveal the secret.

Maybe that means more Lie Detectors records to come. Secret Unit‘s varied styles are held together by a cosmic constant of jagged energy and wide-grinned attitude. “Flying Horse” gets into a catchy little groove, but not after a nifty intro of spackled non-rhythm. “Circles” plays like an improv-minded mutation of surf music, with Maoz echoing away against Sirkis’ continuous wave of rolls and snare.  Then there’s the relatively quiet noodling of “Sting” and the choppy rock anthem of “Green Shirt.” But it feels cohesive, like two people speaking the language of a decades-old secret society.

Casual Bombast on Piano and Drums

Paul F. Murphy and Larry WillisExposé (Murphy Records, 2008)

murphy-exposeI know Paul Murphy’s drumming through his work with saxophonists Jimmy Lyons and Glenn Spearman. I remember the aptly named Trio Hurricane, with Spearman, Murphy, and bassist William Parker bringing heavy thunder.

Exposé is now more than a decade old, but when it showed up on eMusic’s “recent additions” list, Murphy’s name caught my eye. I didn’t know what to expect from him in a duo setting, especially paired with a piano, although he’s apparently recorded with Larry Willis multiple times. Exposé presents powerhouse drumming from a subtler angle — lots of tapping cymbals and feathery tom rolls on the solo track “Labyrinth,” for example. Willis brings the crystalline sounds of jazzy piano, but in an edgier vein than cocktail music, with the right improvisational spirit to keep the session outward-facing.

The title track starts slowly with what might be a nod to Cecil Taylor — not in terms of torrential playing but in the kinds of harmonies Taylor composed with. From there, Willis goes more lush and bright, weaving through jazz idioms while Murphy keeps up a continuous rustle, busy but not overwhelming.

The phrase “Liquid Dance” makes for an excellent track title. Murphy keeps up a busy, almost relentless patter but at a low volume, while Willis applies the right restrained, contemplative splashing to fit the name.

Some contemporary mainstream jazz leans in this direction. I’m thinking of labels like Origin Records — pleasing to the ear, but striving to create something new out of familiar cloth. This session wouldn’t be out of place there. Murphy fills space in a way that might be off-putting to some listeners, but I came here for the drums, so I’m happy to focus on the robust energy more than the relaxing moments.

Guitar-Trio Gazing

Ethan ShermanBuilding Block (pfMentum, 2018)

sherman-blocksYou could categorize Building Block as jazz shoegazing or maybe a calm shade of post rock. Clocking in at 40 minutes, the album presents small bites of tasty trio work led by Ethan Sherman on guitar, with appropriately restrained bass and drums — a casual and grooving little session.

The 7-minute “Keltner” is a good way to introduce where the album is coming from, although it takes patience. The longest track on the album, it gradually builds on its on the stillness of a Western-tinged theme to reach a slow-burning payoff.

“Motivation” is languid and comforting, an almost too-pretty melody. I’m also partial to the cool little tune “Dangling,” with its gentle swing.

Chris Rolontz on bass doesn’t get many chances to stand out, but he turns in a nice solo on “Dangling” and does an excellent job framing and sustaining the mood on “Norway.” That track is sparse to the point where drummer Christian Euman is left to sustain the momentum, which he does fluidly.

Usufruct, a Harvest of Sound

UsufructWindfall (VF Industrial, 2018)

Usufruct performs at the Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market St., San Francisco) on Thursday, January 10.

From the joyous prog rock of Reconnaissance Fly, Polly Moller and Tim Walters have staked new turf in the realm of pensive electronics and austere set pieces.

Windfall paints a spare landscape where silence is a primary color. Moller’s voice and flute are foundational sound sources, both organically and in digitally twisted forms, and Walter adds electronics like small, bright creatures darting across a shadowy geometric plane.

“Usufruct” is a real word, referring to “the right of the people to harvest the fruits of common property.” In that spirit, the band harvests found texts, read by Moller. “Only a Test” borrows from what might be a military handbook, with Moller and Walters barking out disconnected proclamations and lists of words. “Donzerly” cuts up the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, backed by swirling, buzzing electronics that sound aggressive but feel solitary.

When the flute is unadulterated, Moller draws forth a sense of color and stillness, augmented by trilling or tilted embouchure. On “Upside Down Wedding,” Walters plays back the melodic lines  to create an intertwining vine climbing through the ether.

Here’s Usufruct performing at the 2018 Outsound New Music Festival: