The Roughtet: Biggi Vinkeloe’s Improv Crew

Biggi Vinkeloe RoughtetAu Quotidien (Edgetone, 2017)

vinkeloe-roughtetYou should hear this album for the friendly vibe of its quartet, their balanced approach to improvised jazz, and the solid interplay on the two live tracks included at the end.

But I’d also be happy if you read the liner notes, either with the physical CD or on Bandcamp. I happen to find them deeply insightful. And yeah, I also wrote them.

Which creates an interesting opportunity: I can review this album by plagiarizing myself. Man, is this going to be easy.

Vinkeloe, from Sweden, has been a frequent visitor to the Bay Area and a longtime participant in the music scene here. She’s also been involved in some interesting projects lately, including the Swedish jazz group Amazonas and her own Jade project blending the moods of jazz with choral sacred music

Au Quotiden is more like a meeting among friends, a mood that makes for a light and lively session.

Au Quotidian mixes the confidence of the familiar with the excitement of the unknown, the musicians keying off one another’s invisible cues to create a fluid, elegant machine,” I wrote.  (“Invisible” was a poor choice of word, as visual cues, even the kind that simply signal the end of a piece, probably played a large role during the recording session.)

“The band gets a ‘jazz’ infusion from [Joe] Lasqo’s piano chords, adding spots of color to a stormy track like ‘i would think so’ or the slapped groove of ‘je ne sais pas.'” (The song titles are entirely lower-case.)

Let’s see if I was right. Here’s an excerpt of ‘i would think so.’

 
And here’s part of “je ne sais pas,” which I later also cited for cellist Teddy Rankin-Parker’s “grooving bassline.”

 
I should mention that Donald Robinson on drums is a crucial part of this chemistry; he’s played with these musicians for years, including Vinkeloe. Check out Blue Reve  (Eld 2009), a trio album with Robinson, Vinkeloe, and bassist Lisle Ellis.

Au Quotidien is appended with two live tracks that feature some particularly lively interplay. Again, from the liners: “‘how wonderful'” features Vinkeloe’s joyous yet balanced overblowing and a full palette of sounds from Robinson.”

Here I’ve combined a couple of segments to give you a feel for all that:

 
To conclude: “throughout the album, Vinkeloe herself leads the crew through varying moods — the spiky excitement of “vous ne comprenez rien,” the dark, unhurried mystery of “cela commence mal.” She spins powerful tales herself on the horn, but this band carries those talents to another plane — four storytellers, weaving a narrative together.”

Larry Ochs, Donald Robinson & a Lot of History

ochsrob2Larry Ochs (sax) and Donald Robinson (drums) will play a rare show as a duo on Thursday, Sept. 8, at the Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market St., San Francisco).

They put out a CD fairly recently, called The Throne, which I wrote up here. (Was that really more than a year ago?) I also find myself thinking about Robinson’s recent duo concert with Oliver Lake — a highlight of this year’s Outsound New Music Summit.

Ochs and Robinson have played together for more than 20 years in more ensembles than I can count. In the Throne writeup, I’d neglected to mention What We Live, the improvising trio (or more) spearheaded by bassist Lisle Ellis, with Ochs and Robinson. Then there’s also Ochs’ Sax and Drumming Core, with Ochs and Robinson joined by second drummer Scott Amendola. And going back to the ’90s, they were both in the Glenn Spearman Double Trio.

That’s a lot of history, not to mention a nice scenic path through the last two decades of Bay Area creative music. Their show on Thursday will be just another in a long series — but in a way, it’s also worth celebrating.

Here are Ochs and Robinson live from a show three years ago hosted by GRIM (Groupe de Recherche et d’Improvisation Musicales — which actually translates nicely into Group for Research and Musical Improvisation). It’s a brief excerpt with a regal, Coltrane-shaded feel.

And Ochs himself has posted a track from The Throne on Soundcloud. Called “Breakout,” it’s an Ochs composition enhanced by a nice hard snap by Robinson.

Outsound Summit: Oliver Lake in Duo, Brandon Evans in Trio

IMG_2366 oliver lake donald robinson cropOliver Lake and Donald Robinson put on a terrific set Thursday night at the Outsound New Music Summit.

Obviously, that’s what you would expect. Lake is a living legend — but I was also there to see Robinson, a Bay Area drummer whose skill I’ve lauded here repeatedly. A duet with a kindred spirit (both were part of the free-jazz scene in Paris in the ’70s) was the perfect setting for showcasing Robinson’s talents and creativity.

Lake announced his presence with a keening, whistling cry on a miniature curved saxophone. It got the music started with almost no preliminaries and also served as a signal that yes, the avant-garde stuff was going to be welcomed in this set.

Spending most of the hour-long set on alto sax, Lake frequently alternated between rapid-fire chatter and fragments of jazzy, funky melody. Robinson rotated through a few choices of sound palettes, from hard mallets to sticks to brushes. I love the light touch he has on the drums — airy, rapid-fire gestures that build up to a reeling ferocity.

This was a polished set, in a good way, by a couple of pros. The flow of ideas was seamless, aided by Lake’s occasional use of melody to shift the mood. These moments were brief, terminated by a quick spackling of wild sax notes, but Lake and Robinson did let a bit of a groove develop during their lively closing improvisation.

IMG_2364 brandon evans-cropThe evening opened with the trio of Brandon Evans (sax), Christina Stanley (violin), and Mark Pino (drums). They set the tone with a long-form piece of Evans’ devising, an improvisation based on what appeared to be a graphical score and/or a set of instructions guiding the overall flow.

The piece was a frenzied display of power. Stanley, in particular, made the most of it, madly sawing to keep the energy level red-lined while also using occasional electronics to deliver more pulverizing sounds from the violin.

Evans was terrific on soprano sax, but that instrument didn’t offer much contrast to the violin. That might have been the desired effect; both instruments melted into one another to form a continuous chatter. But I appreciated Evans’ contributions more on alto, where the contrast in sounds made it easier to separate his voice from Stanley’s.

It was a take-no-prisoners session, which puts pressure on the drummer to keep the energy level peaked without overpowering the sound. I did feel like Pino fell into occasional ruts early in the piece, but he quickly found his footing and was soon tossing off some impressive fills and rolls.

These two sets complemented each other well. Not because both included improvised sax and drums, but because each started from the premise of “jazz”-like improvising on acoustic instruments and followed a different direction from there. A nice pairing of acts by Outsound.

Outsound New Music Summit 2016

2016_SummitCollage-cutStarting tomorrow in San Francisco, the week-long Outsound New Music Summit will convene for the 15th time. It’s a week-long series of shows celebrating creative music of many stripes, from jazz and new-classical to noise and prop.

I’ve written about the event quite a bit over the years, and you can also learn more by digging through the Outsound archive.

The event runs July 24-30, at the Community Music Center (544 Capp Street @ 20th, San Francisco). Check out the full schedule here.

outsound-logoFor a deeper look, you can explore the “In the Field” series of video interviews, posted by Outsound organizer Rent Romus. They’re extensive (usually 20+ minutes) and often explore how these musicians got turned on to creative music and out-there sounds.

Here’s my smattering of highlights — based primarily on how familiar I am with the musicians and concepts. Meaning, I’ve left lots of deserving artists behind; explore the full schedule for more info, with additional video and audio information.

Concert times are 8:15 p.m., except as noted.

Touch the Gear (Sun. July 24, 7:00-10:00 p.m.) — An Outsound tradition. It’s a hands-on exhibit of electronics and noisemakers (and sometimes some more “normal” musical instruments”), giving you an opportunity to find out where some of these unusual noises come from. It’s very informal and, well, noisy: You wander the tables, ask some questions — and push some buttons and make some noise yourself.

Sonny Simmons documentary (Mon. July 25, 7:00 p.m.) — A screening of Brandon Evans’ 2003 film, “Sonny Simmons: The Multiple Rated X Truth.” Simmons is a fascinating story, a forgotton hero of ’60s free-jazz who became re-remembered starting in the early ’00s.

Dan Plonsey: “On His Shoulders Stands No One” (Tues. July 26) — Expect Braxton-like expanse, but with a friendlier, warmer touch than Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music or Echo Echo Mirror House. Find out more in Plonsey’s video interview (embedded here).

Brett Carson’s Mysterious Descent (Tues. July 26) — A theater/poetry/music piece based on the extant texts of the Idnat Ikh-ôhintsôsh (i.e., a language of Carson’s own devising). Might be the most “out-there” concept on the docket. I’m not sure what to expect; I just got drawn in by Carson’s “In the Field” inteview.

Vinny Golia, Lisa Mezzacappa & Vijay Anderson (Wed. July 27) — Three musicians whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired. This should be a rewarding set of sax-bass-drums improvised jazz. Note that they’re also three-fourths of the band on the album Hell-Bent in the Pacific, which included the late Marco Eneidi on sax.

lake-robinsonOliver Lake & Donald Robinson (Thur. July 28) — Outsound goes above and beyond to support local artists, but the festival also usually includes notable names from out of town. Oliver Lake is a luminary known for the World Saxophone Quartet, Trio 3, and his extensive solo career. (See SF Weekly‘s preview.) Donald Robinson is a hero of the local scene, a drummer whose fluid, airy style has always impressed me. He’s also a veteran of the early ’70s free jazz scene in Paris, where his musical cohorts included Oliver Lake. Who knows whether they kept in touch or even knew each other well; in any event, this should be a special dialogue between kindred spirits.

There’s also a trio improv that combines Brandon Evans with local luminaries Christina Stanley (violin) and Mark Pino (drums); an avant-pop night promising shades of prog and electronic music; and an appearance from the long-running, unpredictable Big City Orchestra.

And plenty more. Seriously, explore the schedule. There’s a wide range of music in store.

Ochs-Robinson Duo

Drummer Donald Robinson will be playing on Thursday, April 2, in a duo with saxophonist Marco Eneidi at the Luggage Store Gallery (998 Market St., San Francisco).

Ochs-Robinson DuoThe Throne (Not Two, 2014)

Ochs-Robinson Duo: The Throne (Not Two, 2014)In purely physical terms, this sax/drums duo is a stripped-down version of Larry OchsSax and Drumming Core, a trio that included Scott Amendola as a second drummer. But there’s a special element to a duo. It becomes a straight dialogue, a two-way interview, and when the players have known each other as long as Ochs and Donald Robinson have, you end up sitting in on an enlightened conversation.

Ochs is well known for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, not to mention his solo work. Robinson, a fixture of the Bay Area scene, is a free-jazz drummer well steeped in the sound of the ’60s, and he deserves a lot more recognition for his work. His sound is characterized by a deliciously light touch — tight, delicate rolls on the snare and small but effective touches on the toms. It’s a subtle approach that can build to a blistering attack when the moment warrants.

A great example is “Red Tail,” which opens with a Robinson blast and a fast groove, Ochs providing a floating, warbly statement on the sax.

 
“Breakout,” starts with a funky, catchy snap and builds into a frenzied attack. “The Throne” is another high-energy track, opening with Ochs ping-ponging some riffs, digging deep while Robinson frames the choppy melody.

Much of the album is characterized by Ochs’ tart and aggressive sound on tenor sax and some sopranino. On the quieter side, “Failure” has a very calm, processional feel — an elegant exercise in restraint — while “Song 2” has a touch of Mississippi blues in its casually sparse step.

 
“Open to the Light” is worth a special mention, as it’s dedicated to Glenn Spearman, the late tenor saxophonist who helped drive the Bay Area scene in the ’90s. Ochs and Robinson both played in Spearman’s Double Trio, and Spearman and Robinson were a duo themselves back in the day. “Open to the Light” is brisk and hopeful, an uplifting nod to a kindred spirit, with a touch of the kind of soaring, heavy tumult that Spearman was so good at building.

 
Robinson will be playing in a duo format with Marco Eneidi, a close friend of Spearman’s, on April 2 in San Francisco, as noted above. Robinson and Eneidi have played together quite often, including in a session called Straight Lines Skewed — which is, to my knowledge, the only album that has Robinson listed as the leader. It’s a trio session with Lisle Ellis on bass, an improvised jazz session that reveres silence as much as energy. Worth seeking out; Downtown Music Gallery seems to still have copies, as does Klompfoot (the former Cadence Jazz store).

Sax & Drumming Core

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core — Stone Shift (Rogue Art, 2009)

* Appearing Sunday, Oct. 4, at 21 Grand, w/Ochs’ Kihnoua (see below)
* Also in NYC on Oct. 13, performing at Roulette.
* And lots of other east/midwest cities (see below)

source: roulette.org; by Georg PillweinDrumming Core puts Larry Ochs‘ sax in the middle, flanked by drummers: Donald Robinson on one side and Scott Amendola on the other. It’s not a unique setup (see Ken Vandermark and Sound in Action), but it’s compelling, and Ochs has gotten good mileage out of it.

While Stone Shift is the third Drumming Core album in seven years — a decent track record for avant-garde groups — tours and shows for the group have been sporadic, probably a byproduct of busy schedules and the usual economic handicaps.

Based on Ochs compositions, Drumming Core pieces have a songlike feel. The drums get plenty of freedom, but for long stretches, they’re also responsible for keeping an overt rhythm to the pieces, creating an interweaving of rhythms and soloing that doesn’t get overwhelming.

In live shows, it’s a treat watching the contrast between Robinson and Amendola. Both play all kinds of styles, of course, but each has trademark moves that are particularly satisfying — Amendola’s traces of funk in the beat, Robinson’s deliciously intricate mallet work on the toms. Their styles overlap quite a bit, too, but the differences make a live Drumming Core show really percolate.

For the past couple of years, Drumming Core has added the team of Satoko Fujii (piano) and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), who appear on Stone Shift. The result opens up more possibilities for interplay and new sounds, of course.

I really enjoyed the dry, stripped-down feel of the original trio, but I also can’t blame Ochs for wanting to explore new territory with the band and the compositions. Stone Shift is a good listen, built of four extended pieces that make good use of all the band’s talents.

“Across from Over” opens in a swingy, thumpy vein, Ochs buzzing on tenor sax with the drummers playing rhythms that could have fit a blues jam. After a few minutes, the trumpet makes its entrance — but then, everything condenses into a quiet improv, pocked with tiny blips of organ-sounding synth.

The final minutes get into an exciting rhythmic pulse, with heavy-handed piano and ecstatic trumpet blares over a deep drumbeat. It shows how the extra two instrument can kick up the level of drama.

source: roguart.com, note the missing 'e'Some of that drama also shows up in “Finn Veers for Venus,” which goes for an open and spacey sound accented by occasional synth flurries. (Every Drumming Core album has had a Finn/planet track: “Finn Crosses Mars,” then “Finn Passes Pluto.”)

“Abstraction Rising” shows off the compositional nature of Drumming Core, in the form of unison sax/trumpet lines, a sound that draws from the late ’60s well. The track puts Fujii’s piano up front right away, a combination of abstract splashing and ocean-deep middle-register phrases. As the sound settles down, the trumpet and sax play out a unison jazz line that draws from the ’60s well. After some brisk group improv, another composed line surfaces from a pulverizing sea of low-register piano (a Fujii trademark).

The quiet opening to “Stone Shift” shows off the subtle possibilities of the drums, including an especially tight, soft roll that could be either drummer but conjures up Robinson in my mind.

I have to admit, Fujii’s use of synthesizer on here is weird and sometimes distracting, like a gimmick. You could call that a bias on my part — here’s a new sound that my ears don’t associate with this type of music, or at least with this band, so it’s getting rejected like an organ transplant. Could be. Or maybe, just as the bagpipes or piccolo wouldn’t sound right in certain settings, the synth isn’t what’s needed here. At any rate, she uses it sparingly, and sometimes to good effect — a bubbling low-register synth backing serves well against an energetic Ochs solo on “Stone Shift,” like a menacing lava pool just under the surface. And near the end of the piece, there’s a sparse phase of muted trumpet and tiny sax sounds — it reminds me of parts of Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures — with light synth that acts as a background curtain.

All told, this is a solid album. Catch this group while you can. Like Finn passing all those planets, they don’t come around as often as you’d like.

By the way, a word about Kihnoua, which will be performing at the Oct. 4. show. It’s an improvisatory group that includes Amendola, vocalist Dohee Lee, and various guests: Okkyung Lee or Joan Jeanreneaud (cello) in the permutations I’ve seen; Fred Frith (guitar) or Liz Allbee (trumpet) on the Oct. 4 show. I wrote up a brief review of a performance last year, and Ochs is aiming for a CD release in the spring.

Here’s the rest of the Drumming Core tour itinerary, for those who aren’t in the Bay Area or NYC:

Oct 8: The Whole Music Club, University of MN, Minneapolis
Oct 9: Sheldon Concert Hall, St Louis, MO
Oct 10: Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida
Oct 11: Timicula White House, Orlando, FL
Oct 12: Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY
Oct 13: Roulette, New York City
Oct 15: Real Artways, Hartford, CT
Oct 16: Portland Conservatory of Music at Woodford¹s Church, Portland, ME