NYC Part 1: Clarinets

Had it really been five years since I last visited New York City? Feels about right.

I’ve had family members living in Brooklyn for at least the past decade, but sadly, the thing that really gets me out to the city is work. So this trip, like its predecessors, was a whirlwind. The subway is convenient and cheap but not particularly fast, so it takes effort to make it to events on time. It’s worth the sweat and the energy drain.

IMG_3009 novik dtmgallery 300xI arrived in Manhattan late on a Sunday afternoon, with barely enough time to catch the end of a free show at Downtown Music Gallery, the store that’s been a mandatory stop on every visit. DMG hosts a free set every Sunday, but I’d never seen one, since I tend to start my east-coast trips on Mondays.

DMG is also well off the subway routes, down in Chinatown between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. After checking into my hotel, I grabbed a cab, willing to pay the extra cash for the sake of taking the FDR expressway directly downtown.

I arrived for the tail end of a clarinet trio of Guillermo Gregorio, Aaron Novik, and Stan Zenkoff. The lights were down, with the audience of about 10 people seated in tiny chairs filling the browsing aisles.

One of the clarinet sounds I enjoy the most is the low burble, a quiet, mid-register fluttering of fast notes. Novik got a number of moments like that, backed by stark landscapes drawn by Gregorio and Zenkoff. But really, each of the three players cycled through moments of screeching abandon and moments of more conventional musicality, alternating roles among themselves to create that ever-shifting landscape that free improv can create.

An added bonus: Novik, formerly from the Bay Area and now living in Queens, actually recognized me. We never knew each other that well, but it was nice that he remembered me — and I certainly remember him.

We had a good chat. Then I purchased a couple of items (because I can’t visit DMG and not buy anything) then caught the F-train back to the Lower East Side for what was probably my last visit to The Stone.

It Was Half of 20 Years Ago Today

Recently I found this: a promo bookmark from the Hotel Utah, a cool little bar and music venue in San Francisco’s SoMa district:

dscn3549-hotelutah

I believe it’s from 2007. Click here for a full view. Then take a closer look at this entry:

hotel-utah-death-jazz

Search my blog, and you’ll find references to three of those four bands. This would have been one amazing show: punk energy (Mute Socialite, led by Moe Staiano and featuring Ava Mendoza), tangly free jazz (Go-Go Fightmaster, who are the same people as Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch), fast-and-fluid prog (miRthkon). I’ll give Mezzkill the benefit of the doubt and assume they were awesome, too.

Don’t take my word for it. Check them out on Bandcamp! Mute Socialite, Go-Go Fightmaster, miRthkon.

Hell of a show. Wish I’d gone.


mutesocialite2007 predates this blog, so this seems like a good time to mention I had an older, primitive site — basic HTML text — where I used to recap my KZSU radio playlists. You’ll find, for example, a short writeup about Mute Socialite, complete with a ghastly formatting error.

In fact you can look up these bands on my old KZSU playlists by using the Find It! utility on Zookeeper, our music database. Type a word or phrase, and it will call up lists of artists, albums, and songs from the KZSU library, as well as relevant playlists. Give it a whirl.

Lastly — Special shoutout to Aaron Novik’s Kipple, who can be seen at the top of the bookmark. They’re on Bandcamp, too.

Fred Frith Supplementary Playlist

Fred Frith performs at Slim’s tonight, Aug. 25, performing the album Gravity with Dominique Leone’s band and Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky. Opening acts include the ROVA Saxophone Quartet. More info here, or check out the podcast interview.

It’s been so long since I posted a radio playlist, I forgot to do one this time.

I followed up my Aug. 20 Fred Frith special with an hour of related music. The full playlist, including a “regular” hour of non-Frith-related music, is on KZSU’s Zookeeper site. The post mortem is below.

Dominique Leone — “Sometimes You’ve Got To Be Happy” — Abstract Expression (Important, 2011) ….. I started out with Leone and Novik’s bands, since they’ll be performing Gravity with Frith. Of the songs on this list, this is the only one that was sampled for the special, only because I improvised this playlist and couldn’t get this one out of my head. Actually, I’d wanted to play “Tension,” but it’s got some clearly questionable FCC content right up front.

Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky — “Igor Stravinsky’s Memorial BBQ” — (unreleased, 2012) ….. A band that combines upbeat jazzy sounds, a touch of Klezmer (or maybe everything with clarinet sounds like Klezmer), and bits of rock and, for want of a better word, experimentalism. Aaron sent me three tracks to use with the special. During an intermission, I’d played one that sounded more typical of the band. This one opens up noisy and rocking. Based on the title, I would guess Frank Zappa had some influence on this song.

Samla Mammas Manna — “Andra Satsen” — Supernatural Fairy Tales (Rhino, 1996) ….. The only Samla (pronounced “Zamla”) track we’ve got in the KZSU library. It comes off a six-CD Rhino compilation of prog rock. The track selection is watery (Golden Earring? Moody Blues??) but it’s got some gems and, as you can see from the Samla inclusion, some nice discoveries, not to mention Roger Dean cover art.

The Muffins — “Come With Molten Cloud” — Chronometers (Cuneiform, 1994) ….. The Muffins are a new discovery for me, and the biggest surprise is that they did so many prog songs that are only 3 or 4 minutes long! The title track to “Chronometers” does span 23 minutes and includes lots of Rock in Opposition goodness, but they also did lots of snippets, like this one, that suggest prog didn’t have to be about 8-minute-long “singles.” My mind is blown.

Fred Frith — “A Spit in the Ocean”/”Navajo” — Speechless (Ralph, 1981) ….. Hey, look, an actual Frith track! Speechless was the followup to Gravity and used the same scheme of a different band on each side: Etron Fou Leloublan on Side 1, and Frith’s New York band Massacre (Bill Laswell on bass, Fred Maher on drums) on Side 2.

Cosa Brava — “The Wedding” — The Letter (Intakt, 2012) ….. Second album from Frith’s “pop” band, seen here in a more instrumental and less “pop” light. It’s a moodier album; I remarked to Fred that it felt like a stronger Carla Kihlstedt influence, but he countered that it’s Zeena Parkins whose musical voice and ideas came to the fore this time. Hoping to write a little more on this album later.

Henry Cow — “Half Asleep, Half Awake” — Unrest (East Side Digital, 1995; orig. released 1974) ….. During the Frith interviews, much was made about how un-dance-like and un-peppy Henry Cow and Art Bears were. Which is true, but then again, I find some of Henry Cow’s work to be quite uplifiting, such as this track. After some moody piano, there’s a quice dancy-y bassoon solo from Lindsay Cooper. Frith noted that Cooper was his model for the kind of musician who can straddle the classical and jazz worlds — specifically, that line between rigorous reading or interpretation and the freedom to explore and improvise.

Toychestra & Fred Frith — “Grover Rides a Happy Honker/3 Elephants and a Cow” — What Leave Behind (SK, 2005) ….. Movements three and four of a five-movement concerto for toy instruments and electric guitar, written by Dan Plonsey. Founded by Paula Alexander in 1996, Toychestra was an all-women, all-toy-instrument band. By 2004, the five-woman band had had enough turnover that most of the actual musicians were out, leaving artists who were learning music on the fly. Inspired by that naive sound, Plonsey wrote the concerto, “What Leave Behind,” which I saw them perform at the Starry Plough sometime around 2004. The two movements I played here capture a little of everything: a serenade by the toys alone, followed by lots of scribbly Frith electricity. (For more on Toychestra, look here.)

NOT included on the show: Fred Frith and Evelyn Glennie, The Sugar Factory (Tzadik, 2007). I’d forgotten about this one. The duo played at Stanford in 2008, and I previewed the show by building a playlist around the album. You can read about that on my pre-blog site.

Fred Frith: Gravity Rises

On Sat., Aug. 25, Fred Frith will team up with two local bands at Slim’s to replay his 1980 album, Gravity.

Gravity was Frith’s first solo album post-Henry Cow and is considered a landmark of his career — which is impressive, given his long and varied career. It’s also a bit of a departure after the art-rockisms of Art Bears and Henry Cow. Gravity is a fun and accessible album. The odd time signatures are fitted into a Euro-folk setting as opposed to the geometry of prog rock. The experimental touches and elements of “world music” that might have been new to listeners at the time emerge with an infectious joy.

A different prog/Rock In Opposition band backs Frith on each side of Gravity: Samla Mammas Manna on Side A and The Muffins on Side B. It sounds like Frith will replicate that concept by having two backing bands at Slim’s: Aaron Novik‘s Thorny Brocky, and Dominique Leone‘s band. [UPDATE: That was the original plan, but they’ve decided instead to have each song played by some combination of the bands.]

I’m planning a radio special in advance of the event. Part history, part interviews. It’ll include bits of music from Samla Mammas Manna and The Muffins — the two prog/Rock In Opposition bands that backed Gravity — as well as songs from the album itself.

The plan is to air this on Monday, Aug. 20 at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time on KZSU-FM. That’s 90.1 FM here in the Bay Area, or kzsu.stanford.edu here on the Web.

Further reading:

Clarinetty Things, Edmund Welles, and sfSound

I did see Edmund Welles last weekend and still need to write it up.

But for the moment, take a look at this story from The Bay Citizen: “The Hot New Sound on the Scene? Oh Yes, It Is the Clarinet.”

It’s about clarinet becoming a hip leading instrument in jazz circles. And it comes to us from : Cornelius Boots, Edmund Welles’ founder; Aaron Novik, another Edmund Welleser who’s led many a band himself; Beth Custer and her Clarinet Thing; Ben Goldberg; and Matt Ingalls, a founder of sfSound.

The story also appears on The New York Timessite. Nice press, folks. Congrats!

Switchboard Festival, Aaron Novik

Gubbish and Kipple are two sides of the Aaron Novik coin.  (A coin that has about six sides, if you want to take the analogy literally.)

On the grand org chart of jazz, Gubbish draws a dotted line to Patrick Cress’ Telepathy (see here and here), mixing energetic small-group jazz with dashes of Klezmer, a love of odd time signatures, and a touch of snarkiness at the bottom of it all.

Kipple was an improvisational project of Novik’s, leaning towards grooves with funky bass and electric piano.  A comparison to Electric Miles would be too easy and too far off the mark;  I like the description of “retro future,” drawing a futuristic sound out of the space jams of the psychedelic past. Kipple doesn’t go too heavily for the synthesizers or the loops, but it does have repeated riffs that make for some good beats.

Why bring this up, considering both albums are so old? Partly because I played them on the air today (so, consider this a preview offshoot of the March 26 playlist posting).

And I did that because Novik’s Thorny Brocky — another band with a sound I’d guess is apart from these two — is the opener at Sunday’s Switchboard Music Festival in San Francisco.

Switchboard sounds like an eclectic good time: eight hours’ worth of bands from multiple stripes of the spectrum.

Of the other bands I know: The Real Vocal String Quartet brings a classical air to new-folky instrumental music; their new album isn’t at all “avant-jazz” but once I give it a listen, I might still write it up here, so there.  And the festival ends sometime after 10:00 p.m. with miRthkon, a local prog band that I geeked out about here and here.

Mission Creek: Creative Music, Represent!

source: facebookLineups for the Mission Creek Music Festival are out, and in addition to the usual rock/pop bands, they include some good representatives of improvised or jazzy music. Pinning down exact dates for exact shows is a challenge, though.

Mission Creek’s Facebook Page has a lot of the details, and you can see a few of the fliers up close. But the information there is listed in droplets; this page at Sonic Living provides a partial bird’s-eye view of the schedule, although they’ve subtracted some listings in the last 48 hours.

At any rate, there’s good music to be had:

* I know Inca Ore by reputation only, but it’s a good reputation. She’ll be headlining at the Argus Lounge on Tuesday, July 21.

* The show at the Argus Lounge lists William Winant, Weasel Walter, and Moe! Staiano, three terrific improvising percussionists. It appears they’ll be playing as a trio, which should be awesome. I’ve seen listings for this show on July 22, 23, or 24, so it’s anybody’s guess when this actually happens. (The flier above says July 22.)

* Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky is on a bill with some folky acts (Ramon & Jessica, for one). It was listed somewhere as a Friday, July 24 show.

source: facebook event listing, click to see(UPDATE 7/11/09:  Per Ursula’s note below, this show is at the Socha Cafe, where Mission and Valencia intersect (!) in San Francisco.  Details on this Facebook page, which is where I stole the nifty flier at left. Thanks Ursula!)

Aaron Novik is a clarinetist who plays in a wide scope of bands, many of them his own. He’s done Klezmer-tinged jazz (Gubbish), free jazz (Telepathy), modern fusion/improv (Kipple), metal (Simulacra, Edmund Welles) … and Thorny Brocky, which takes compositions from multiple Novik bands and puts them in a context that includes accordion (Dina Maccabee, who’s half of Ramon & Jessica) and violin (Marié Abe). Reverent Sisters and Poor Sweet Creatures were also on the bill that I saw.

SFCCO/Patrick Cress’ Telepathy

source: media.ilc.edu.tw /music/MS/ms_music-pic/ms_music-pic20.htmYou could argue it wasn’t worth the effort, but with a free evening and two interesting shows to pick from, I decided to try doing both. It meant catching only the tail end of Telepathy, but I’m still glad to have done it.

I’d been meaning to check out the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra for some time. The program last night was titled “Restless Dreams” and featured a wide variety of new music, with lots of bells and whistles: Tom Nunn performing a concerto for the sonoglyph, one of his homemade electroacoustic instruments; Michael Cooke debuting a piece for the Chinese sheng (a fragment of that music is pictured above), a newly acquired instrument; and a finale piece featuring electronics, lasers, a strobelight, and a fog machine.

It wasn’t all abstract music, either; some pieces were downright tuneful.
I do prefer the more opaque stuff, but some variety was nice.

The concert had a casual air, with the audience sitting attentively during the pieces but mobbing the stage during intermission and after the show, to congratulate friends in the ensemble, ask questions, or check out the sonoglyph — a board sporting a variety of metal percussion elements — up close. Nunn let people play with the instrument and posed for several pictures with it. Should’ve brought a camera.

A summary of all the pieces is beneath the fold. (Warning: it’s long.)

source: telepathicmusic.netPatrick Cress’ Telepathy (see also here) is a creative jazz quartet that’s been around for some time. Their stuff is a mix of Ornette Coleman-like lines, touches of Klezmer, open group “soloing,” and the occasional careful/quiet piece.

The band is primarily Cress on saxophones and Aaron Novik on clarinet or bass clarinet. Drummer Tim Bulkley has moved to Brooklyn, although he was in town for this performance. I think the bassist this time around was David Arend, who’s appeared on past albums (but isn’t in the photo above). I liked his playing a lot, a good mix of strong tones and small clicks and harmonics.

Among the highlights: a sinewy, involved composition by Novik, and “Expressions,” dating back to 2002, which started with a driven Bulkley solo that led into a spirited composition. The band got pressed for an encore and did a quick run-though of “Lonely Woman,” with Bulkley’s jackhammering patter underneath the slow melody, played up brashly.

This is the kind of band that deserves the time and space to be nurtured, to work together night after night in live settings, perfecting the sound. I know, those days are long gone — it’s a familiar jazz lament but one that’s worth repeating, if only to remind the world of the possibilities it’s missing.

The new album, Alive and Teething, is available for download. (Oh, fine — it’s at iTunes too.)

I had a good evening overall, aided by the Parking Gods. If I lived in New York or Chicago, this would probably be the way I spent every weekend, and I’d be broke.

Continue reading “SFCCO/Patrick Cress’ Telepathy”

Before and After, and After

Running pitifully late last night, I made it to Berkeley for a little bit of Lisa Mezzacappa’s Before and After. They took the first set at the Jazzschool, and I managed to catch the last few numbers. The band does terrific new compositions in the Dolphy/Ornette vein.

Got to see Aaron Bennett turn in a neck-throttling sax solo, and Vijay Anderson on drums was really impressive, both in his solo and in the regular drumming during the songs.

That’s the band I really wanted to see, but the Kasey Knudsen Septet afterwards was worth sticking around for. This was music in a more conventional vein, based off sources like Prokofiev and Shostakovich (including a horns-and-piano reading of the Piano Quintet in G Minor).

(About the headline on this entry … I don’t mean to relegate Knudsen’s group to the “After” category. Just couldn’t resist the play on words.)

The highlight of the evening was when all 11 players got together to form a jazz army. Mezzacappa led them through an arrangement of an old Very Very Circus tune by Henry Threadgill. While studying at Berkeley, she’d played in ensembles he conducted, and she said he’d jump and dance around the whole time, making it your job to play notes that would impact some part of his body. The Threadgill piece was huge fun, and Vijay Anderson and Knudsen drummer Jon Arkin ended it with a double-drum solo that stacked up the polyrhythms.

The other 11-piece piece was Knudsen’s “BPMG,” standing for Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Martha Graham, written specifically for this group.

Mezzacappa and Knudsen will be playing together in Thorny Brocky, the latest Aaron Novik band that includes Alisa Rose on violin and Marié Abe on accordion. That’ll be a free show at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13, at Adobe Books, 3166 16th Street in San Francisco. Novik was at the Jazzschool show handing out fliers in the form of mini comic books.