Cardiacs Revisited

Remember the Cardiacs tribute/benefit show I was distraught about missing, back in May? Here’s my chance for redemption (and possibly yours too) — it’s Dec. 2 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley.

That’s when the band Reconnaissance Fly will again bring out their alter-egos as ReCardiacs Fly, performing covers of the UK band Cardiacs.  The bill includes Dominique Leone and Wiener Kids, who had also performed at the tribute.

What’s the big deal? Cardiacs is a rock band with a quirky punk/prog energy and a talent for unusual, complex songwriting filled with “wrong” chords — and bandleader Tim Smith has landed out of action after a stroke and heart attack. This interview with Leone fills in some of the blanks.

This show has a little more. There’ll be Cardiacs stickers for sale — newly minted by Moe Staiano, I think — and Cardiacs T-shirts for silent auction, all to benefit Tim Smith.

Here’s a video of the band in action in May. And don’t miss this review of that concert, on the Fenderhardt blog, in case you didn’t pay attention the first time I linked to it.


Moe Rocks It

Surplus 1980, the new Moe! Staiano art/punk band, rocked the house at the Starry Plough Friday night. The band was energetic and tight. They were a quartet — bass, guitar, drums, and Moe on vocals, keyboards and extra guitar. I arrived mid-set, and through the door, it sounded like a lot more than four people.

Rhythmically, a lot of the songs moved in bursts, with barked staccato vocals and jagged guitar and bass parts. The drumming was terrific — loud but with a surprisingly light touch. (I don’t have the band members’ names down, sorry.)

I haven’t yet listened to the Relapse in Response album, copies of which were available at the show. It’s going to be a different experience, packed with horns and with Moe himself on drums. I’m glad I caught the band in straight rock format, though. They put on a solid show.

Surplus 1980

Moe takes to the guitar.

I’m pretty sure that’s Alee Karim on bass.

Moe owns an Invader Zim bag. I’m so jealous.

I expected White Pee to be noisy and bristling. The noise elements were there — guitar feedback, some keyboard/electronics — but the overall vibe was a more easygoing jam, drifting along with the rhythm. The band’s lineup varies every time, and this edition included a violin and cello, which I gathered was unusual. The strings might have helped define the mood of the show, and their contributions were great, often twirling well outside the determined rhythm and drone-chord to add all kinds of exciting color. They weren’t a jam band and weren’t a noise band — I thought of them as something closer to The Necks but with less looping.

White Pee, the sextet version. Dig the cute little amps.

I didn’t catch Aram Shelton’s Marches, which opened the evening. My kids had discovered the board game Clue and wanted to play a couple rounds before bed. Much as I enjoy seeing music, sometimes a better offer comes along.

Hamming It Up with Wiener Kids

Wiener Kids will perform, with a 10-person expansion, at Subterranean Arthouse, Berkeley, on on Friday, Sept. 23, 9:00 p.m.

Wiener KidsWhy Don’t You Make Me? (self-released, 2009)

Good music continues to find a home at Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse (told ya). Friday, they’ll be hosting a CD release show for Wiener Kids, a trio being expanded to a 13-tet for the occasion. I went and bought their first trio album on Bandcamp as preparation.

The band was just drummer Jordan Glenn and guitarist Steini Gunnarsson in its first phase, an apparently short period captured on the album, The Steini Year. (Great title.) Now Glenn has teamed with saxophonists Cory Wright and Aram Shelton for a decidedly jazzy sound documented on Why Don’t You Make Me?

There’s a lot of goofing around, as if the album title and cover didn’t tip you off, but the band is a serious vehicle for Glenn’s irreverent compositional ideas. They just happen to be ideas open to some silliness.

Not every track is funny, per se; the music is more like a sly, winking glance, like Groucho Marx breaking the fourth wall. But yeah, you have to like the bombastic tracks. “Nut Job” is based on a crazy, machine-like melody accented with raspy overblowing that just feeds the craziness. “Fruit Blasters” is downright jumpy and cartoony … and speaking of cartoony, “You’re a Baby Kozmo” has a playfully childlike riff that ends, again and again, with a ridiculously long baritone sax note. OK, that’s funny!

It’s all hammed up, but you know, I can dig that in music. (See also Reptet and What Cheer? Brigade.)  And plenty of free-jazz prowess shines through, to keep that part of your brain engaged.

Utter seriousness does invade on one track, “Ballad of the Wee Dogs,” which even has Glenn playing some gentle, sad accordion. It’s got a European feel with a touch of the sad clown in it, and I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It was jarring at first, but on repeated listens, it’s not so out of place.

All three members are all over the Bay Area creative-music scene, making Wiener Kids another of those ensembles that’s likely to surface only occasionally. And you’ll rarely see them with a 10-person add-on. Friday’s show promises to be unique and fun.

Music Series in Berkeley

Karl Evangelista is starting the Open Music Series tonight (Aug. 3) at the Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley.

It will hopefully be a monthly series of shows, providing another outlet in the wake of 21 Grand moving out and the Ivy Room closing its doors to the free-jazz/improv crowd (although I’m still glad they hosted the music for a while).

I’ve got high hopes for the series. The Arthouse has already been hosting some creative music, and it’s conveniently nestled in downtown Berkeley.

Here’s the jazz-minded lineup for the first night:

Like 21 Grand, the Arthouse is a nonprofit with its heart and soul in the arts, and that’s important. Here’s how Karl puts it:

“The reality of many of the regular bookings in the Berkeley/Oakland area is that musicians have to compete with the background noise of any given venue — bar noise, miscellaneous patrons that aren’t really around around for the music, and (in the worst cases) the maliciousness of the hired help. Since the Arthouse is essentially a gallery space run by a nonprofit, it let’s the music do its thing; there’s maximum creative freedom and the general quietude of the environment allows us to book more subtle, dynamic music.”

That last point is important. From my viewpoint as a spectator, it can be fun seeing experimental music in a bar or restaurant setting (a little bistro called Radio Valencia was tops on my list), but it’s not the right setting for quiet music — that is, music that makes active use of silences. Even the Outsound New Music Summit, comfortably housed in the Community Music Center theater, had to contend with the punk rock house concert next door. Luckily, they overlapped by only a few minutes, but it was still distracting.

There’s a lot of work involved in putting on a series, and I’ve got the deepest appreciation for the musicians who take that job. The Arthouse is a comfortable little place. Here’s hoping they can stick around for a while and provide a haven for creative music.

Sax, Drum, and Wednesday Night

Brains and others perform tonight (Weds. July 6) at the Subterranean Art House (2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), 9:00 p.m., $10-$15 sliding scale.

 Brains is the Bay Area duo of Drew Ceccato on sax and Chris Golinski on drums, and they conjure up some pretty good free-jazz improvisations.

I’ve just now listened to their first, self-titled, album, which is available on Bandcamp. Consisting of four long tracks, it’s got some good improvising in that “throwback ’70s free jazz” motif, as the band’s bio puts it. But they also add a lot of tricks from the free-improv camp, in terms of loud shrieks and quiet buzzes from Ceccato’s sax.

I don’t have time for a proper writeup now — just know that they sound pretty darned cool.

Also on the bill tonight are the Karl Evangelista Trio and the electronics duo of Scott Looney and Tim Perkis (with Frank Gratkowski as a guest). Evangelista organized this show and hopes to get a series going at the Subterranean Art House, to replace the one he’d run at The Ivy Room. I hope it works.

New Jazz Series in Oakland

Saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman pinged me a couple weeks ago about a series of monthly, Sunday evening shows at Actual Cafe in Oakland near Berkeley. The next installment is tonight, June 19, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

The Actual Jazz Series is indeed billed as jazz, and it’s drawing from the pool of players around Berkeley’s Jazzschool. But a quick glance at their Web site, which includes sound files of some sets in their entirety, shows that some abstract, not-so-Sunday-evening stuff is part of the mix, too.

They’ve set up a blog (linked above) that previews each month’s programs with some links to artist pages and sound samples. The June 19 show is listed here.  A guitar duo of Noah Phillips and Chuck Johnston will start, followed by Bristle, a drummerless quartet led by saxophonist Randy McKean. Both acts seem rather out-there; this should be really interesting stuff.

I have not been to Actual Cafe yet (and Google Maps apparently shows you the boarded-up building that Actual hadn’t occupied yet). But I already like them, because — and this is something to note for Sunday’s concert — they don’t allow laptops on the weekends. (And they’ve got some pretty good reasons. I support their decision.)

Due to Father’s Day, I can’t make tonight’s show, but I’m hoping to get the July installment, curated by trumpeter Erik Jekabson, on my calendar. That’s going to be more straight-jazzy and should be quite nice. Support local jazz and the venues that are kind enough to host it!

Graham Connah Rides Again

Adm. Ted Brinkley’s Hornblower Cruise plays the Jazzschool (Berkeley) Sunday, Jan. 2, at 8:30 p.m. No cover; $5-$15 donation suggested.

To most of you, Trevor Dunn (now part of The Nels Cline Singers) will always be the guy who played bass for Mr. Bungle.

To me, he’ll always be the guy who did this:

That’s the intro to “More of the Same but Not So Different,” a track on the 1994 album Snaps Erupt at Pure Spans by the Graham Connah Group. It’s not just that the solo is cool, inventive, and arresting (which it is). It’s the snappy, jazzy riff that starts and ends it, becoming the backing rhythm for the piano theme. That bass part made this tune one of my favorites from any Connah album.

Connah, a keyboardist and composer, has been a fixture in Bay Area jazz ever since those early ’90s days. He’s less visible these days — “assiduously avoiding publicity” is how Andrew Gilbert puts it in this SFGate calendar item — but he’s still around, performing rather regularly at Revolution Cafe in the Mission District under the name Admiral Ted Brinkley (semi-ret.).

He’s playing at Berkeley’s Jazzschool on Sunday night, Jan. 2 — a free show, technically, though they’re welcoming donations at the door. Gilbert’s writeup indicates this is a bimonthly happening, which would be great news. Assuming he also keeps up the Revolution Cafe appearances, Connah’s band(s) might be on stage at least once a month.

His music’s evolved considerably. Around 1994, he was fronting small combos playing twisty, smart-alecky jazz — it was like being handed a road map drawn on a mobius strip, and yet, it was still jazzy enough to envision being played by guys in suits at Yoshi’s. (They didn’t actually wear suits, but they did play at Yoshi’s.) In subsequent years, the formula mutated: larger bands; complicated female vocal parts; occasional electric piano or organ creating a bubbly psych/fusion stew. By 2000, Connah’s music was spilling heavily into the space between jazz and rock.

Around that time, Connah’s groups were playing weekly at Bruno’s, a Mission District restaurant that saw potential in out-jazz. Those sessions led to a terrific 3-CD recording, Because of Wayne/The Only Song We Know (Evander Music). My recollection is that Connah gave it away to basically anybody who asked.

Based on the Jazzschool writeup and the Evander blurb for Adm. Ted Brinkley’s CD (you’ll find it here), the Brinkley bands expands the vocal parts to a chorus, promising an even grander punch. I’ve been remiss about keeping up with Connah’s music, and that’s a shame; he’s been a treasure of local jazz. The Revolution Cafe is nice enough, but a chance to see this band in the comfort of the Jazzschool theater sounds awfully enticing.

Myra Melford’s Be Bread @ Freight & Salvage

It’s fitting that, on a day when Steve Jobs announced a hotly anticipated new product, Be Bread was insanely great.

(Gawd, that’s awful. But how could I resist not making some allusion to the worst-named tech product in recent memory?)

Myra Melford is taking her band out for a spin, and it’s the exact sextet that appears on the CD The Whole Tree Gone, which came out last week. (As noted here.)  It’s the same band as on the CD, meaning three or four members had to be flown in from New York.

They’ll also play the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, on the 28th, and Arcata’s Redwood Jazz Alliance (Humboldt State area) on the 29th and 30th. (See press release.)

It’s a colorful band. The instruments got lots of attention and generated lots of discussion, especially Melford’s harmonium and the “other” clarinet that Ben Goldberg used on a couple of songs. (A contrabass clarinet, maybe? Looks like a small tuba on a stick.)  Brandon Ross spent the entire show playing a miniature guitar — a mandolin with a guitarlike body, basically.

Of course, some songs take on a different tenor in a live setting. That’s how it should be!  “Night,” one of my faves from the album, struck me as being slower and more studious, lacking the same gradual buildup of intensity; instead, it shot forwards after a long buildup.  On the other hand, “Knocking from the Inside” came across as more spiky and jumpy, an amped-up version, with blast-off solos including Melford pulling out all the stops for a dizzying, scorched-earth piano assault.

The dramatic, unsual theme of “Moon Bird” was especially effective live, and Stomu Takeishi’s bass solo included some nifty fiddling around: a metal bowl as a slide, some clackety “unplugged” electric bass sounds, and nice use of feedback.

The two sets ended with “The Whole Tree Gone,” which offered the opportunity for one last set of solos and a stop-on-a-dime ending. They stuck the landing, as they say.

The crowd, easily more than 100 people, loved the show. People applauded for solos, which I like, but that practice gets tricky when the music gets abstract.  Take Stomu Takeishi’s bass solo on “Moon Bird,” played with only Brandon Ross, also soloing on the mini-guitar, as accompaniment. It was clear when it ended — Takeishi went back to the central bass riff — but most people didn’t catch it, and it felt awkward to break the mood with applause moments later. The first half of “Equal Grace” featured lots of group improvising and a segment that you could consider a trumpet solo, but when that solo ended, the improvising continued — do you really want to applaud and break the spell?  It feels awkward.

The fiery, overt solos got the crowd going, though. Cuong Vu exploding near the end of “Moon Bird,” or that Melford attack on “The Whole Tree Gone,” got enthusastic responses.

This was my first trip to the new Freight & Salvage, by the way, which has been in its new location for five months. It’s sleek, clean, and roomy, and sports classrooms and offices inside the building. The coffee-serving area has been transplanted from the old space and looks exactly the same — so, still no espresso machine, but they’ve got fancy bottled root beer and ginger beer, and a variety of cookies and similar treats, some vegan.