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Myra Melford: Videos from The Stone

Berkeley-based pianist Myra Melford is uploading a series of professionally produced videos from her March 2015 residency at The Stone in New York. They’ll feature one song from each of the 12 concerts, spanning 10 different bands that represent most of her career.

“I’ve just gone from the next thing to the next thing, and I’ve never really looked back,” Melford says in the introductory video. That’s what makes The Stone’s residencies so special. An artist has the option to re-present a spectrum of work that might otherwise never resurface.

I think about the rows and rows of CDs we have at KZSU, and how many will never be played again. Some artists don’t want to rehash old ground, which is fine, but others have back catalogues that deserve another chance on stage. It always felt good to give some air time to an album that I knew hadn’t been played in years. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to this series of videos.

Melford’s career has been tremendous: bouncy and edgy jazz from her Chicago days; Indian influence and harmonium with the Be Bread band; sensitive duets with Marty Ehrlich and more recently Ben Goldberg; and the spiritual and soaring beauty of her recent solo album, Life Carries Me This Way. The dozen-or-so videos from The Stone won’t cover it all, but there’s already a rich variety painted in the first few installments.

Here’s a snappy duet with drummer Allison Miller:

And here, a trio performance for departed violinist Leroy Jenkins, played not in mourning tones, but with verve and crackle. Nicole Mitchell is on flute and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.

This one is Dialogue, Melford’s duo with clarinetist Ben Goldberg. They perform Melford’s thoughtful “Chorale” followed by Goldberg’s swinging “9 + 5.”

The videos present one song per concert and seem to be arriving in the order performed. So the next installment should be Melford’s trio with Miya Masaoka (koto) and Mary Halvorson (guitar), and the twelfth and final one will feature that sparkling Chicago trio with Lindsay Horner (bass) and Reggie Nicholson (drums). Can’t wait for that one.

July 9, 2015 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Oh By the Way

A side-effect of this blog’s longevity is the way it reflects changes in my personal life. As the kids have gotten older, and their activities (school and otherwise) have become more serious, it’s left me with less time for music. My radio gig was the first thing to go, and lately, I’ve cut down on listening to music and, especially, going out to shows.

I don’t like blogs that are about themselves, which is why I’m burying this entry amid a small flurry of activity — the point being, the day job has eased up a bit, allowing me to get to a backlog of reviewing and listening. Seemed like a good juncture to speak up and say, “I’m still here.”

This is a normal aspect of online life, one that people are discovering slowly as we all get older. I’m thinking in particular of Real Life Comics, which began posting daily at the end of 1999 but had to slow down as the artist’s real real life got more complicated (and that was before he and his wife had a kid.) He still manages to soldier on, and so will I.

March 24, 2015 at 4:43 pm 1 comment

Fieldwork in the 2010s

Vijay Iyer is in residency at The Stone in New York City this week, and one of the many bands he’s featuring is Fieldwork, the trio with Iyer on piano, Steve Lehman on sax, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.

All three have worked with Pi Recordings, separately and as the full trio. That label has found a niche in a very modern jazz of exciting complexity; I’ve read at least one review that wondered if the sound is too cold or abstract, but I love that sound. Fieldwork, with albums on Pi dating back to 2002, certainly fit the bill, with heavy-handed piano chords and drum-machine-inspired percussion (originally by Elliot Humberto Kavee, a late ’90s Bay Area transplant to New York). For an acoustic trio, they had a stunningly futuristic sound, one that I referred to as “steel and glass.”

Of course, times change, and the music Iyer, Lehman, and Sorey play today is necessarily the descendant of last decade’s creations. Here’s the trio in another appearance at The Stone, filmed earlier this year. It’s one long improvisation, with flashes of steel-and-glass at the 5- and 9-minute marks, and a terrific slow groove that starts just after 17:20, but the core sound has shifted, and the fierceness feels more dissipated. (Which, mathematically, isn’t a surprise in a 53-minute piece.)

While it would have been cool to see Fieldwork reprise those earlier compositions, it’s easy to understand why they didn’t. It’s part of the evolution of the music — and on a simpler note, re-learning and re-rehearsing the tunes just might not be worth the time. You don’t have to know the old Fieldwork to feel the excitement in their current incarnation, though. I like to think these particular “reunions” are more about friends enjoying some music together (while giving one another a paying gig, of course). That’s also what I was envisioning with Jim Black’s “Not Bloodcount” gig of a year ago.

Fans are a double-edged sword. The good ones want to believe in the progress of the music, and yet, even they want to pull musicians back into playing the old stuff. We’re a difficult lot.

January 19, 2015 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Alvin Lucier in Santa Clara

Alvin Lucier, "I Am Sitting in a Room"

See Alvin sit.
A still from the Biennale Musica 2012 performance on Youtube.

Related to that prior posting about the SF Tape Music Festival: Alvin Lucier is coming to perform at Santa Clara University, down here in the South Bay.

In fact, there are three new-music concerts coming Santa Clara’s way this month. First, as previously noted, SCU professor Bruno Ruviaro will present “Cinema for the Ears” on Friday, Jan. 23. Billed as “a film without images,” it’s an electronics presentation similar to the Tape Music Festival, but with a specific mission: creating the aural equivalent of a movie:

In this immersive surround-sound concert, SCU faculty Bruno Ruviaro becomes an acousmatic DJ guiding you through a full evening dedicated to your ears. Is this music, cinema, radio? With this unusual, genre-defying combination of dialogue, sound, music, and ambience, let your imagination to boldly go where it has never gone before.

Then, on Jan. 29 and 30 (Thursday/Friday), SCU is hosting a New Music Festival. I haven’t found an itinerary, but a mailing from Ruviaro says the Jan. 30 concert will focus on Lucier’s work, with the composer on hand to perform “I Am Sitting in a Room.”

A classic piece of experimental sound, “Room” consists of Lucier reading text, recording it, then playing it back into the same room — and recording the playback. The text is an blank-faced explanation of what’s going on: Lucier is recording his voice, then plays back the recording and records the playback. He iterates this process to create copies of copies, each one more degraded than the last (“Room” predates digital recording). Eventually, the series converges on what are supposedly the resonant frequencies of the room, with Lucier’s voice and words an imperceptible blur. What’s left, in a sense, is the room’s natural sound. It emerges as ghostly, ringing tones, like bowed harmonics on a violin.

The point, of course, is the descent — the disintegration of the words, and the gradual slipping-away of rational sound. Yes, you can hear the piece on LP or CD (or in the Vimeo clip below), but just as seeing a movie in the theater is different from watching on Netflix, it might be something special to experience “Room” live, as a shared experience. And of course, it’s a performance that comes out differently every time.

January 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Tape Music Festival, With a Live-Music Twist

SF Tape Music Festival 2015It’s time again for the San Francisco Tape Music Festival, this year being held at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco.

It’s the annual presentation of pre-recorded electronics works played on dozens of speakers surrounding the audience — a very cool event that has to be experienced in person, not on YouTube. I wrote my impressions of the experience back in 2012.

This year’s edition has a few unusual twists:

  • Sunday night, Jan. 11, will feature compositions that combine tape music with live performers. It’s not that unusual a concept but is new ground for the Tape Music Festival. I’m hoping the “tape” portion continues to take advantage of the multispeaker setup.
  • There’s a late-night show, 11:00 p.m. tonight (Saturday, Jan. 10) in addition to a normal-timed 8:00 p.m. show.
  • That late-night show will include the world premiere of a Brian Eno piece, “Golden.” The web site explains: “In 2007, Eno composed Golden, a new 16-channel work specifically for our festival. He created multiple versions of various lengths, and the “full” 17-minute version will have its public debut on this program.” Also on the program: a 1966 piece by Pauline Oliveros.
  • The Saturday 8:00 p.m. show features “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music,” a 1968 piece by Frank Zappa. Also on the program: a new piece by Cheryl Leonard, a musician who works with natural objects as “instruments” and once took that practice to Antarctica.

If that isn’t enough, you can also catch Bruno Ruviaro’s “Cinema for the Ears,” a recital of electronics being performed on Jan. 23 at Santa Clara University. Ruviaro is the SCU professor who guides the Santa Clara Laptop Orchestra (SCLOrk), which I’d profiled in 2012.

January 10, 2015 at 1:17 am Leave a comment

Where Chicago Underground Almost Meets Prog

Chicago Underground DuoLocus (Northern Spy, 2014)

Chicago Underground Duo - LocusIn my head, the veteran rock band Djam Karet defines a space that mixes prog-rock thinking with jam-band improvising and electronica’s love of looping. It’s not full-blast prog rock with 17/8 time signatures, but it goes well with a prog/jazz bouquet, kind of a sub-sub-genre all its own.

And for an instant during a listen to Locus recently I realized Rob Mazurek‘s Chicago Underground Duo fits in there, too.

It was during the track “Kabuki,” with its easy melodic loop (electronics resembling a thumb piano) against thumping cross-rhythms and a lead played on tweaked-out synthesizers (or possibly synthed-out flute). The looping, the melody, the driven energy in the drum kit — it struck me that these elements fit snugly within the Djam Karet equations. They could have been the ones playing this, I thought.

Granted, about 24 hours earlier I’d sat down to a good of Djam Karet (who are still putting out albums after 30 years, something I’ll have to discuss in a future post), so the sound was in my head. Maybe it was like a dream that repeats events from your day. But the similarities kept gnawing at me through the rest of the album. The title track, “Locus,” is a synth-driven bit of groove electronica that matches some of Djam Karet’s more synth-driven work, especially the gloopy, sparse beat that opens the track.

Hey, the prog element might really be in there. As Rob Mazurek’s influences widen, so does the scope of the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Whatever. (The number of people varies from album to album.) Urban electronics are the bedrock this time around, including a ubiquitous synth bass backing the two band members: Mazurek on trumpet and flute, Chad Taylor on drums. “Blink Out” stacks the electronics thickly, a grooving backdrop behind two overdubbed Mazurek trumpets that blast out in high-register jazz ecstasy.

“Yaa Yaa Kole” provides an outlet for Mazurek’s Sao Paolo fascination, providing layers of percussion underneath puffy afrobeat horn phrases. “Dante” uses synth bass alongside bright trumpet to produce a soul-jazz sound that’s at once nostalgic and modern. And “Boss” is simply a snappy melody with a solid beat — a catchy rock instrumental, in a sense, but still a highlight and a showcase for Taylor.

A lot of ingredients have always gone into the Chicago Underground. Whether Mazurek has heard of Djam Karet or not, I’ll stick to thinking they’ve found common ground on Locus.

December 25, 2014 at 10:20 pm Leave a comment

KZSU’s Next Day of Noise: February 7, 2015

The Day of Noise, a 24-hour celebration of noisy, spiky, brain-scrambling music is coming back to KZSU. Many thanks to DJ Miss Information for coordinating it once again.

Featuring a series of artists rotating every 30 or 60 minutes, the show will be broadcast from midnight to midnight on Saturday, Feb. 7. You’ll be able to listen online, and I assume there’ll be a video stream as well — and of course, Bay Area residents can tune in at 90.1FM. The whole schedule’s on Facebook, or click the diagram below and stare.

Schedule for KZSU's Day of Noise 2015

December 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

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