Posts filed under ‘shows (past)’
The past year has been really busy for me, in non-musical terms, and I’ve never caught up on a few of the things I’ve done since the fall. Most of them found their way onto these pages, but a few slipped past. Here’s the speed diary.
On the first Monday of every month, jazz takes over the Make-Out Room bar in San Francisco’s Mission district. It had been more than a year since I’d gone, and I finally atoned for that this month.
I arrived in about the middle of the first set — the Nathan Clevenger Group, whose new album I’d just written about. The band’s sound relies on feathery harmonies of clarinet and sax that have to work just so; one of the strengths of the Observatory album is the silkiness in the recording. I’d imagine a venue with a bright sound, like the Luggage Store Gallery, might not be so conducive to that sound.
It worked in the Make-Out Room, though, which was a pleasant surprise. The band was locked in with the harmonies and their solos, playing for a decent-sized audience, many of whom had come to truly listen to the music. Late in the set, when guest Jason Levis stepped in as a second drummer, he and Jon Arkin got into a brief, unaccompanied drum battle– and I swear, the whole bar went silent for it. They even got a few laughs when they traded off quieter and quieter sounds (the machismo of silence). It was nice to see a jazz band capture that much attention in a bar setting.
Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa were up next as duo B, a reunion of their bass-and-drums combo. Duo B used to play around town quite a bit, and I’d imagine venue owners helped come up with one of their song titles: “So It’s Just the Two of You.”
Duo B was an acoustic act, but they added an electric guitar for this set, producing a heavy sound. While the guitar did have its mellow moments, the first of two improvisations started with an electrified, industrial feel. A later segment had Levis going nuts on the snare and high-hat with Mezzacappa delving athletically on the bass. The second piece was more of a long, glorious sunburst with elements of drone; it started with some prickly guitar in an adversarial approach but ended up as an example of nicely sustained mood and coloring.
The third act was apparently Denny Denny Breakfast, performing one long, unexplained suite. On the web, DDB seems to be a pop act, the musical vehicle for Bob LaDue. What we saw was different: a fairly large band playing a long, polished, complex suite full of tricky passages at breakneck speed. It was as if a marching band had grown up in a town where Zappa chemicals leaked into the water supply. Drums and/or vibes triggered goofy synth patches as well, adding a madcap Nintendo silliness to the music.
This wasn’t throwaway stuff. The band’s charts were long and, according to one guy I was talking to, really complicated. (The charts were also photocopied just a couple hours before the show, apparently.) It was impressive.
Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.
The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.
Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.
Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.
Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.
The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.
Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.
You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.
There was no warm-up phase. Brötzmann opened the concert with a screeching blast of sax, and Nilssen-Love jumped in with full thunder — and off they went.
As usual, long stretches of the sound consisted of motifs, little screamed phrases that Brötzmann would repeat a few times over Nilssen-Love’s tumult before shifting to the next phrase. Some of the best parts, though, came when things quieted down and Brötzmann’s playing got more emotional.
One quieter phase had his sax turning almost romantic, but with the volume still turned up to at least 7 and with a ragged, buzzing sound, like a lament sung by a burly king who doesn’t realize his robes are in tatters. Later, there was a more properly soft phase, with Brötzmann playing solo, featured some hardier melody and a sensitive air, until he started ramping the volume back up, encouraging Nilssen-Love to pound his way back in.
I really enjoyed Nilssen-Love’s playing, and I hope it wasn’t lost on the crowd. His solos tended toward the loud side — one solo oversaturating the snare and cymbals to intentionally create that white-noise effect, another featuring incredibly fast, rumbling toms. (The snare and cymbals are his, and the rest of the drum kit was borrowed.)
For an encore, Brötzmann turned to a melodic motif, one with an Ayler-like marching-band flair. It’s a well-played tool from his bag of tricks and seemed appropriate for a quick finale number.
I’m not trying to say Kneebody and The Dismemberment Plan are at all alike, but they’re linked in my head. Both are bands of whom I’ve thought, “Man, if they ever come to town, I gotta see ‘em.” And lo and behold, I found out recently that both were indeed coming to the Bay Area.
Sadly, I can’t make it to The Dismemberment Plan’s Dec. 10 date at The Fillmore. (Subtle plug there, eh?) But I did make it to Duende for Kneebody’s sold-out, raucous show on Nov. 6.
Kneebody isn’t an indie rock band like The Dismemberment Plan is, but they’re probably the same age (maybe a little younger) and definitely have the vibe of a band that’s been together 12 years. (In a good way. Not in a Kinks or Oasis-brothers way.) And their music does groove and rock out; it’s just that it also gets twisty and partly minimalist — and includes swinging, blasting solos. The electric bass, electric piano, and drums create a rocking groove while the sax and trumpet push airy melodies drawn from a bright mix of post-bop and Ornette.
And I love the drums, that big sound Nate Wood can call up, sometimes pounding hard, sometimes sneaky and quick-handed with a trace of techno influence. That’s another link between the bands — in both cases, the drummer caught my attention early on.
So when Wood finally got a drum solo, to start the number “Trite” near the end of the second set at Duende, I was pretty stoked. It was a long dissertation on surges of sound, with stretches of quieter lightspeed pitter-patter. Nobody dozes off during the second set, dammit!
But the part I think most people liked, aside from the music, was the stage banter. These are intelligent and likeable guys who clearly love playing together. They take turns at the mic introducing songs, alternately praising and razzing each other in the process. They’re just hanging out, and you’re in the room too, and there happens to be a jazz show going on.
As for that “minimalist” comment, I’ll explain it by pointing to “Nerd Mountain,” which bassist Kaveh Rastegar introduced as a “typical Shane song” — which came out like an insult, and we (and the band) were entertained while he tried to back his way out of that one. What I think he meant was that Shane Endlsey‘s composing often seems to be built on simple non-patterns — an irregular chugging. It’s like Steve Reich on speed or Giacinto Scelsi in a fusion band. I have to admit “Nerd Mountain” didn’t hold my attention as much as it does on record, but then it shifted into “The Line,” which ended with a soaring hard groove.
Other moments I remember: After the band opened with the airy chords of “Lowell” (the single off the new album, The Line), Ben Wendel started a long, fluid, unaccompanied sax solo that led into a really nice song (possibly “Still Play,” also from that album). “Antihero,” a Breaking Bad-inspired song with its dramatic rising melody, was one of the more powerful, slower moments. “Unintended Influences,” written by electric pianist Adam Benjamin, included a gloomy breakdown that I really enjoyed. They ended with “The Slip,” an incredible tangle of a composition from Endsley.
For more about the band, check out this great interview with Rastegar, in Denver’s Westword.
Elliott Sharp — Cut With Occam’s Razor (zOaR, 2013)
As part of Elliott Sharp‘s residency at The Stone in early October, JACK Quartet performed two of his compositions — two companion pieces similiar in strategy, both dynamic and exciting. One of them, “The Boreal,” also happens to lead off Sharp’s latest CD of classical works.
I caught the concert (and a couple others to be mentioned later) during my latest visit to New York.
“The Boreal” was written in 2009, and “Tranzience,” its followup, is a new composition that got its premiere at this show. Both involve alternatives to the string bow — springs, metal bars, ball-bearing chains — mixed with traditional bowing in slashing, cathartic passages.
As with most modern pieces, there were passages of near silence as well. The JACK Quartet impressively stayed precise and focused against The Stone’s Indian-summer heat and the Avenue C street noise.
Both pieces featured stretches of one-note rhythms, played hard and fast, and lots of tapping, plucking, and scraping the strings — which was no surprise, considering how percussive Sharp’s music can be. His guitar work often involves lots of hammer-ons, and some of his homemade instruments are along the lines of the slab, a horizontal bass played with mallets. I like that stuff. My introduction to Sharp’s music was the super-percussive piece, “Larynx,” whose sections are punctuated by solos from four different drummers.
“The Boreal” opens with short metal springs scraping rhythms against the strings, small sounds forcefully pressed into being. It produced some great sounds (more about that below), but the springs weren’t particularly nimble. The players were limited to simple rhythms, sometimes accidentally hitting little nursery-rhymey patterns. Later, the piece sent JACK through some traditional bowing but in not-so-traditional motifs: twisty passages at breakneck speed, providing some of the most exciting moments.
“Tranzience” was very much a companion to “The Boreal,” rather than a sequel. The sheet music was on long, vertical pieces of paper, for a striking and artsy visual difference, but that atmosphere and attitude continued from “The Boreal’s” foundation. So did the extended-technique implements — customized metal dowels this time. In addition to tapping the springs, these were used in a guitar-slide manner, curving a tone into a glissando by moving up or down the neck. I found myself wondering how notated those parts are; does Sharp dictate where the pitch should start and end?
“Tranzience” started with viola and cello hammering out background notes percussively (this really reminded me of Sharp’s slab) with crazed, scattered notes from the violins. This peaked ferociously as the quartet stopped on a dime — one of many pauses during the two pieces that made for particularly exciting moments.
“Tranzience” had the more exciting coda of the two, with the four players slashed frenetically through near-unison melodies near the end.
I enjoyed hearing the two pieces side-by-side, but they’re very similar; it was an awful lot of the same colors spread across 45 minutes. But that didn’t occur to me until near the ending, maybe because I spent most of the concert not knowing what to expect. I don’t think I’d want to hear them together again — but the same can’t be said for other audiences who haven’t experienced them.
(Elliott Sharp’s zOaRmusic Tumblr, which I discovered after writing this entry, has more details about this show.)
“The Boreal” opens Cut With Occam’s Razor slowly — as I suppose it must have in concert — but quickly picks up the pace, first with springs-grinding rhythms and then with one-note unison stabbing patterns. One of the best moments comes midway through the 15-minute piece, when the players form a counterpoint with the metal springs that builds up to a big, buzzy sound with shifting tones.
The next piece, “Oligosono,” gives us a solo piano executing Sharp’s percussive attack. This track was my first exposure to that combination, with Jennifer Lin often two-handedly pounding away at a dissonant chord or even dryly hammering on one note. It produces a nice effect in those low, low registers, where the resonating metal of the strings creates its own coppery overtone.
Add to that some splashes of higher notes and quasi-prepared piano in the form of Lin holding a string down (adding a dull thud to that hammering vocabulary), and you’ve got yourself a piece. “Oligosono” is often repetitious, but it’s full of engaging patter, as in this segment.
The piece culminates in a more colorful type of piano percussion, stacking tones one after the other for an almost flowery effect.
(Sharp writes more about “Oligosono” here.)
“Occam’s Razor” is a string octet commissioned for Sharp’s 60th-birthday marathon at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. It was recorded in 2011 by the JACK and Sirius string quartets.
It’s a series of shimmering sound blasts that slowly rise and fall in intensity, while keeping all eight instruments involved for a density of sound. Long tones criss-cross in a Grand Central Station bustle, where there’s so much motion going on (passengers flitting across the huge causeway) yet so little change (the crowd as a whole, like a river, remaining in one place while continually moving).
As the pace slows, the long tones of individual players become evident again, and we’re in familiar E# territory, with percussive strikes replaced by long bowing motions. Same idea, different perspective.
After about 15 minutes, “Occam’s Razor” boils down to a quick but satisfying ending — not a fadeout, but more a collective expression of, “Yeah, that’s all we had to say.” I think I favor “The Boreal” or “Tranzience,” but “Occam’s Razor,” while more difficult to take in, is still a really good piece.
Maybe you’ve seen the Arkestra before, so maybe everything I’ll say is old hat to you. But I’ll bet there are tens of thousands of people in situations like mine: Never seen the Arkestra, would check them out for the music, and would be blown away.
The whole setup is classic Arkestra: Group-sung melodies with that 1940s swing vibe; the big-band decorum of standing up for solos; a featured female vocalist and a couple of dancers; and, of course, Disney tunes. “When You Wish Upon a Star” did make an appearance, early on. It was like an obligation fulfilled, leaving the last half of the set to soak in the more cooking, jamming numbers.
Marshall Allen conducted the proceedings and also contributed crazed, off-the-rails solos on saxophone and on his spacey sci-fi electric recorder. His sax would intentionally spasm and shred over the band’s steady rhythms and reverent melodies, like a Jackson Pollack frame around a gorgeous old black-and-white movie.
Many members of the ensemble are older, so there was a lot of shuffling of feet as they came on stage, but the music was tightly delivered. Some younger members are making their mark with the band as well — especially pianist Farid Abdul-Bari Barron, who was fast, fluid, and astounding. A few different songs showcased him.
Toward the end, one of the older saxophonists broke to the front of the stage and started doing cartwheels and flips. My first reaction was, “Aw, man, he’s drunk and he’s gonna hurt himself” — but as he kept going, it became apparent this guy can do cartwheels and flips. Real acrobatics, performed with strength and vigor. Again, maybe everybody else knew this about the Arkestra, but I didn’t. It was a huge surprise, and a random little bonus.
They deserved a theater better than the old Victoria, too. I can see why people would love the old place, as it hearkens back to an early 20th-century time when the cinema meant so much more. But it’s cramped (less legroom than most airlines), and the snack bar isn’t equipped for much more than popcorn and soda — nor is it positioned to handle a long line.
The band is showing its age, of course. The older members are, well, older, including the dancer and vocalist. Their presentation might seem haphazard for television, if that were even an option. But as a jazz big-band, they’re still tight, energetic, and entertaining. All jazz fans talk about the need to see the “old cats” while they’re still around. Don’t leave the Arkestra off that list.
More about July’s Outsound New Music Summit, this time from the jazz-and-compositions concert that was titled, “The Axiom” …
I wrote about the concluding act, Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, here (now with pictures). The rest of the evening was solid as well — and Bruckmann’s wasn’t the only impressive long-form, world-premiere piece. Lewis Jordan got a great reception for his jazz suite, “Only Children.”
The suite felt large, musically tracing the path from childhood to old age, and featuring a poem of Jordan’s about the adults that children become. It began with a springtime feel, content and innocent. Later motifs included a fun Mediterranean-sunset air that became the backdrop for one of India Cooke’s best violin solos.
Overall, the piece carried on in rich jazz tradition, with engaging solos and, in some places, group work over forceful, swinging bass riffs. I liked the way John-Carlos Perea held the music together during those passages.
Toward the end, the group settled on a gentle, almost weary riff that sounded like a concluding statement. It seemed to repeat one time too many … just lingering … and then, it burst into a jaunty blues, not too fast but saucy and lively. It definitely put a smile on your face. They jammed with that for a few minutes before letting Karl Evangelista erupt into an all-out guitar freakout.
I like to think this part of the suite was meant to show a bursting of happiness and activity late in one’s life, as opposed to the resignation of being used up. In that light, “Only Children” left a feeling of joy and hope in the air.
Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland played a strong set mixing free jazz with heavy, sky-high psych. It included a few new pieces from a sci-fi-influenced suite about “Dr. K.” and also at least one from the Lords’ considerable catalog. The quartet lineup was enhanced by two players from Columbus, Ohio: Hasan Abdur-Razzaq (sax) and L.A. Jenkins (guitar).
Abdur-Razzaq — part of the Rejuvenation Trio album that I reviewed a couple of years ago, added a deep sense of the jazz tradition, while Jenkins’ guitar colored the mix with psych reverb. Both were good complements to the Lords of Outland sound — Jenkins fitting the music’s dark sci-fi overtures and Abdur-Razzaq helping tether it to jazz. C.J. Borosque delivered some crisp trumpet solos, and of course, we got a few minutes of Romus playing two saxes at once.
Overall, a great show. Bruckmann’s “…Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” has now been studio-recorded for eventual release, and one can only home Jordan’s “Only Children” can similarly live on.
It’s hard writing a concert review weeks after the fact, and admittedly harder when you’re talking about electronic music — a genre that poses inherent problems of language. The music lends itself to some obvious descriptors (“swampy,” “crinkling,” “droney”) but it’s hard to resist calling everything “metallic” and “abstract.”
That said, I did enjoy “Vibration Hackers,” the computer-music night at last month’s Outsound New Music Summit. Three real-time ensemble performances were interspersed with two fixed-media performances — “tape music” pieces — all with some organic sounds mixing with the inorganic.
As with the SF Tape Music Festival, speakers were installed all around the Community Music Center. The Center’s cozy size made it a little difficult to get the full surroundsound effect, as the speakers closest to me dominated the sound. I could have fixed that by moving to a more central spot, but the house was pretty full, and I was content not to move. It was still a good listening experience.
One advantage to this type of music is that the performers don’t need to be on stage. So, in a nod to the “guys checking email” aspect of laptop concerts, the fixed-media performers — Fernando Lopez-Lezcano and Ilya Rostovtsev — worked from a console in the middle of the audience. And the opening act, #MAX, played from the balcony area that’s behind the audience.
The highlight for me was the more-than-duet of Ritwik Banerjee, Joe Lasqo, and their music software agents, Maxine and Maxxareddu — all accompanied by trippy, kaleidoscope-infused visuals by Warren Stringer. They didn’t have Maxine and Maxxareddu play unaccompanied, something I was kind of hoping would happen, but that was fine — the quartets with Banerjee’s sax, Lasquo’s piano, and the two machines created a sublimely bustling collision of sounds.
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest.
I attended two nights of the Outsound New Music Summit and enjoyed both concerts immensely. But before going into detail, I wanted to post something about Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, because they’re coming to Los Angeles tonight (July 28) and Sacramento on Monday (July 29).
Having now seen the hour-long piece they’ll be playing, “… Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire,” I can say that if you’re in either of those locales, you don’t want to miss it.
It’s loads of fun, filled with silly, old-timey-jazz melodies made up to the songs in Thomas Pynchon’s novels. (The piece itself is all instrumental, so Pynchon scholars can have some fun trying to guess which song is which.) Sometimes the melodies are played straight. Sometimes they’ve got some twisty improvised backing, and sometimes they overlap, with half of the septet playing one melody and the other half playing something else (I think I even heard three overlapping songs at one point.)
Bruckmann’s madcap, turn-on-a-dime composing stays mostly upbeat, sometimes relentlessly so, packed with pulse-pounding free-jazz motifs and some vicious soloing. It’s divided into three movements, for V, The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, which might be another point for Pynchon scholars to geek out on: How do the moods of the movements differ, and what’s the relationship to the books?
The piece is certainly packed with improvising and creative moments. The famous screaming across the sky that starts the third movement is represented by a jittery group improv, but the mood doesn’t take long to shift back into skewed cartoon smiles.
And it all launches very quickly, showing off free-jazz chops in the first instants of the first movement. Tim Daisy’s drums have a lot to do with that. He’s an absolute monster, delivering two pummeling, exhilarating solos with distinct personalities.
28 Jul 2013 | WEHO Library, 625 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood | 8:00
The rest of Saturday evening’s Outsound concert was a big success, too, with a packed crowd enjoying debut pieces from Rent Romus and Lewis Jordan. Thursday night’s computer-music show was great as well. More on those later.