Fred Frith’s Manifesto

They’re calling it the New Song Movement, or at least Fred Frith is, and it’s getting pronounced to the masses on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Great American Music Hall. That’s right, artsy pop is playing at GAMH:

More info about the show is here.

Frith has no small part in this. Remember how I’d drawn parallels between Jack o’ the Clock (a local band with prog leanings and a strong sense of sophisticated pop) and Frith’s Cosa Brava (art songs in a rock context)?  I’m not the only one. Frith himself is helping nurture an entire uprising of these kinds of bands, using his teaching position at Mills College as a pulpit.

This is great news. I do love plain old pop music (Oranger, where are you?), but it’s the prog stuff that got me down the path that eventually led to free jazz. It’s been an immensely rewarding ride, and I always find it’s exciting to discover a pop band that puts classical and adventurous jazz talents to use.

Karl Evangelista, who’s half of Grex, filled me in on the specifics via email. The Mills music faculty in general — not just Frith — encourages students to transcend boundaries. Beyond that, the local scene (stacked with Mills graduates) keeps mixing jazz, chamber music, pop, and electronics. It’s a fertile environment for new ideas.

The thing to stress here is that the scene is extremely open to genre cross-pollination. Frith has compared it to downtown NY in the 80’s (or, IIRC, England in the 60’s), which is apt. Members of Jack O’ the Clock recently played a couple of evenings of Stravinsky under the leadership of local avant pop wunderkind Dominique Leone. The Clocks’ rhythm section played with me and Andrew Conklin in the Tim Berne-informed free jazz quartet Host Family — and Conklin, for one, has interacted with tons of local pop/jazz/avant hybridizers out of the axis of Oberlin grads (his straight pop music is sublime). Grex plays inside of a mbaqanga/afrobeat/soul jazz combo called Dino Piranha (with local sax veteran Phillip Greenlief). It’s all really active, incestuous stuff.

The Aug. 14 show is a chance to show off some of these elements on a bigger stage, literally.

“We of course want to find an audience for our music and music of our ilk, but I think it’s equally relevant to convey that the local music here does belong in concert halls, on the big stages, garnering press, etc. (as opposed to hustling away in some bar in Albany),” Evangelista wrote (emphasis mine).

The “find an audience” part is no small feat. Local press coverage of experimental music has thinned out, partly due to changes at the weekly papers. And, of course, there’s the ongoing issue of whether the Bay Area supports its jazz well enough, as Rachel Swan noted in the East Bay Express recently.

Fred used the banner “new song movement” a while back, and I haven’t really seen it anywhere since. Whatever the case, I like the concept. The music at the GAMH will be representative of the younger music scene out here in the same way that the No New York sampler was representative of No Wave — which is to say, not really comprehensive at all, but enough to give folks a taste for some of the really daring experimentalism that’s happening right under everyone’s noses.

Fred mentioned before that he’d never really heard a scene so involved as ours in integrating the experimental language that his generation innovated with the pure pop/songwriting discourse of the past few decades. There’s something legitimately new going on right now, and as a child of classic free jazz, I’m pretty happy to do some flag waving for the sort of fertile, crazily inventive environment I’d always admired and wanted to be a part of.

Here, then, is your chance to be in on the New Song Movement. I agree with Karl that there’s something going on here that’s different and exciting, propelled by a group of local musicians tugging the music in new, different ways. And for those who have their doubts about “experimental” music, the songs are even catchy.

This should be a heck of a show. And if you need more convincing: Most of Cosa Brava no longer lives in the Bay Area. Don’t wait for Grex and Jack o’ the Clock’s members to move eastward, too. Now’s your chance to claim some really special music as your own hometown discovery.

The DTM Gallery Haul

My definition of “splurge” won’t change the economics for Downtown Music Gallery, but I certainly spent enough to feel a little guilty.  Start thinking community college, kids.

Seriously, I coordinated my recent NYC trip to have a good couple of hours to browse the stacks at DTM Gallery’s new, sub-basement digs in Chinatown, near the Manhattan Bridge.  I wanted to buy some things that would be difficult to find at home, things I could save some shipping charges on — and one item that’s  probably at Amoeba but that I wanted right away (and had learned about through the store’s excellent but way-too-tempting mailings).

But most of all, Bruce Lee Gallanter & co. have given adventurous music a cozy home with their store, and I wanted to drop them a few dimes as a thank you.  Here’s what I came out with. Many of these will probably end up as reviews on the site, as I get around to giving them good listens.

Ben Perowsky Quartet — Esopus Opus (Skirl) … You know, it’s simple: I wanted to buy something from Skirl. It’s Chris Speed‘s label, and the discs come in handsome DVD cases (hard to store, nice to look at). Perowsky’s gotten some good reviews lately, and I have a fond memory of an early NYC trip, enjoying the free band at the basement bar at the then-meaningful Knitting Factory.  It was a Perowsky-led quartet, with Chris Speed, and I loved it. I’ll never know if this is the same music.  Doesn’t really matter.

Ambitious Lovers — Lust (Elektra, 1991) … These guys blew my mind, in good ways and bad, on Jools Holland and David Sanborn’s Night Music, during its short NBC run.  I glanced at the used bins, saw this, and decided it was time to hear it.

Yoni Kretzmer‘s New Dilemma — s/t (Earsay, 2009) … I do occasional news searches for Tim Berne, just to see what’s up and see who’s claiming to be influenced by him. Kretzmer’s name came up a few months ago, and I found out DTM Gallery had a copy of his latest CD. (Bruce Lee Gallanter graciously searched the back stacks for it.) Score!

Tom Rainey Trio — Pool School (Clean Feed, 2010) … Brand spanking new and a pick off of a DTM newsletter.  It’s got Rainey’s name up front, but Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock are equal partners here. There’s a unique sound here; I’ll be writing it up soon.

Denis Charles Triangle — Queen Mary (Silkheart) … From a box of old Silkheart CDs.  I’d discovered Denis Charles shortly before his death, so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him, considering his limited output.

Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band — Celestial Green Monster (MutableMusic, 2010) … This one was lying out on the new-music rack, out of order. I like Fred. I want to hear more of his music. I grabbed it.

Henry GrimesSolo (Ilk, 2009) … More than 2 hours of solo bass and violin. I’ve been debating for months as to whether I’ve got the time, patience, and guts for this one, since I’d want to listen to it in as close to a solid chunk as possible.  Figured I’d give it a go.

Jessica PavoneSongs of Synastry and Solitude (Tzadik, 2009) … I very much wanted to come away with a few Tzadik releases (prices are better than anywhere else), but surprised myself by coming away with only this one. I chose it because I was not able to attend the ESP-Disk concert held at the Bowery Poetry Club, where Pavone and Jason Kao Hwong were presenting bands.

Cosa Brava — Ragged Atlas (Intakt, 2010) … Fred Frith‘s return to pop songs, with Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Zeena Parkins (accordion, keys), Matthias Bossi (drums), and “The Norman Conquest” (sound manipulation).  Been anticipating this one for some time.

Andrew d’Angelo Trio — Morthana with Pride!! (Doubt, 2005) … If you haven’t been to d’Angelo’s Web site to read about his triumph over cancer, you’re missing out.  D’Angelo was also part of Human Feel, a band I got into after discovering Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. DTM Gallery didn’t have any of his Skirl album handy, but this one, which I’d never heard of, seemed a plum find in its place.

I’m not sure there’s anything in this list for anybody to learn except me. But there it is.