More from the Bloodcount Vaults

Tim Berne Insomnia (Clean Feed, 2011)

Tim Berne’s Bloodcount, which disbanded sometime around 2000, left a wealth of long-form pieces to pore over — 20- and 40-minute compositions (or longer!) with compelling composed segments and spellbinding improvisation. The quartet tears it up on the rough and ragged 3-CD set, Unwound, and they’re presented in more studious, pristine form on the essential Paris Concert trilogy (still available on Winter & Winter).

And the basement tapes from that 1994-1998’ish timeframe keep coming. Berne put out a 2-CD set, Seconds, featuring tracks a mere 10 or so minutes long (but accompanied by a DVD of the 51-minute “Eye Contact”).

Now there’s Insomnia, two half-hour pieces featuring the five-man Bloodcount team plus three guests. It adds up to what looks like a chamber ensemble, including trumpet (Baikida Carroll), clarinet (Chris Speed), cello (Erik Friedlander), violin (Dominique Pifarely), and acoustic guitar (Marc Ducret). Recorded in 1997 after a sleepless night on Berne’s part, as he recounted for Downtown Music Gallery (click here and scroll down), the album delivers two long-form suites from the vein that Bloodcount so skillfully mined.

There’s a familiarity to the moments when the group comes in for a landing, easing into a composed section after playing freely. It’s not like Bloodcount is the only group that’s ever done that, but something about those moments on here sounds like Bloodcount. It’s as if the core quintet is the hive mind directing the piece, even though the three guest members each bring strong personality to the music.

The sound palette is considerably wider than Bloodcount’s, though. “The Proposal” starts out velvety and chamber-like, drawing from the same source as Bloodcount’s track, “The Other.” Ducret’s acoustic guitar adds a soft, chiming texture that I’ve never heard with Bloodcount (he’d always been on electric). There’s a particularly nice moment early on where he doubles up with Michael Formanek’s bass, splashing the occasional chord against the plucked bass strings and a lightly dancing Carroll solo on trumpet.

About halfway through “The Proposal,” Ducret launches a peppy, strings-heavy theme that leads to a particularly symphonic passage where trumpet, guitar, cello, sax, and clarinet are each playing fragments of themes. It’s a carefully arranged and fast-moving segment that shines. It’s through moments like that that Berne’s suites, at their best, exude an aura of control that I’ve always enjoyed. You feel like you’re traversing a carefully laid-out plan, an invisible schematic.

“Open, Coma” opens unlike anything Bloodcount ever did — with acoustic guitar and trumpet dominating the scene, followed by a frenzied Pifaly violin solo. It’s only 6 minutes into the 29-minute piece that a Berne-like theme pops up, returning the song to familiar ground.

Like “The Proposal,” “Open Coma” goes through a gauntlet of mood swings. Its composed themes feel grander, almost like dark marches sometimes, and the improvising seems more of a free-for-all, touching on that orchestra-tuning-up sound more often than “The Proposal” did. Much of the second half is taken up by a good, long Berne solo, lively and kicking, showing none of the ill effects of sleeplessness.

One odd thing I noticed was how little I noticed Jim Black. He’s there, but it wasn’t until his solo at the end of “Open, Coma” that I realized I hadn’t been paying attention to him. I guess there was just that much else going on.

Endangered Blood: The Openers

Is it weird that I’ve been obsessing about the opening acts on Endangered Blood‘s Western U.S. tour?

To recap: This is the NYC quartet of Chris Speed (sax/clarinet), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Jim Black (drums), and Trevor Dunn (bass).  They’re all a big part of the current downtown NYC scene, but they rarely get out west due to the impracticalities of touring. But Dunn used to live in the Bay Area, and Speed and Black once hailed from Seattle, so they’ve got ties.

Anyway. The discovery of Richard Sears‘ music is what got me thinking along these lines. From there, some known quantities and one unknown but very interesting one turned up.

Taken from the Jim Black events page, here’s Endangered Blood’s schedule.

Dec. 5, Chicago, @ The Hungry Brain. This already happened, so we’ll skip it.

December 6th, Seattle, @ The ChapelWayne Horvitz Quartet. With Neil Welch (sax), Willem de Koch (trombone), and Luke Bergman (bass).  Presumably you know the many colors of Horvitz. Welch is quite active on the Seattle scene as well. His Narmada album shows a late-’60s reverence to the origins of free jazz, and, separately, an interest in Indian ragas… but he’s also done work with loops and pedals.  Here’s a review of Narmada, and you can hear samples at CD Baby.  Presented by the Wayward Music Series.

December 7th, Portland, OR @ Hop and VinePaxselin Quartet.  Fronted by sax and clarinet, Paxselin dabbles in bopping free jazz and some somber chamber-sounding material as well. Presented by Portland Eye & Ear Control. Hear samples of them on CD Baby, eMusic, or CD Baby again.

December 8th, Eureka, CA @ Red Fox TavernWSG Krawdad? Dunno.

December 9th, Boulder, CO @ Old Main, CU CampusKneebody.  An awesome band that I’m stunned to discover I haven’t mentioned on this blog yet. Youthful, creative, and exciting enough to have been the first non-Dave-Douglas artist to appear on Dave Douglas’ then-new record label. This one’s a double-headliner show (like a double A-side single, for you oldster types out there) and might be the most exciting bill on the docket. Read more at kneebody.com, and sample their new album on eMusic.

December 10th, Oakland, CA @ Studio 1510 Performance Space — Scott Looney (piano), Doug Stuart (bass), Kjell Nordeson (drums), a new Bay Area trio. Looney can be heard in contexts from jazzy free-jazz to abstract improvising to pure electronics; this trio looks like it’ll stick to the first category. Sounds very promising.

December 11th, Los Angeles, @ The Blue WhaleRichard Sears (piano) and band. Sears’ album, Rick, is streamable on his site, and it’s good stuff. Just check out the exciting title track, with its pulsing guitar and very, well, Chris Speed-like sax played by Sam Gandel.

December 12th, Phoenix, AZ @ Modified Arts — Unknown.

December 13th, Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture — Folky acoustic music from Sara P. Smith, formerly the trombonist with Chicago-area groups like Isotope 217. You can hear more at sarapsmith.com.

A terrific list, overall. Given enough resources and free time, I’d be tempted to follow Endangered Blood around just to listen to their opening acts. Hopefully some of them benefit from the exposure, or at least get a good audience (gigs are so hard to come by, for many of these folks).  If nothing else, some of them can say they’ve gained one new listener already.

You can hear Endangered Blood’s music on Myspace and YouTube (see below).

Ches Smith at the Helm

Ches Smith, the drummer who’s become a downtown NYC fixture (and who earlier made his Bay Area name as co-leader of Good for Cows and founder of the one-man Congs for Brums) is coming out with his first album leading a band-sized band. It’s called Finally Out of My Hands, and it’s due to arrive on Skirl on Nov. 16.

It’s a document of These Arches, Smith’s first band-sized band.  And you can tell what pull he has by the people he’s gotten to play for him: Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tony Malaby (sax), and Andrea Parkins (accordion, maybe keyboards).

Some reactions: Check out Parkins on accordion, really getting into it … That’s an interesting composition; good to see that side of Smith reflected in this band … and from the “Well, duh” department: Oh, so that’s what Tony Malaby looks like.

It appears you can pre-order Finally Out of My Hands at Squidco, and I’d wager they’ll take a pre-order at Downtown Music Gallery if you call ’em.

Ben Perowsky’s Opus

Ben Perowsky Quartet Esopus Opus (Skirl, 2009)

Here’s a spirited session made up of Skirl regulars.  Ted Reichman (accordion) and label owner Chris Speed (sax/clarinet) define the sound, but Perowsky (drums) has the controls, putting solid beats behind some upbeat compositions.

“Present Distance” stands out for the pulsing accordion that sets the rhythm, with Speed playing some bright, razzing sax. A solo section later on has Speed moving more freely alongside Drew Gress (bass), with Perosky pounding away. I do appreciate the airy, languid motif that’s been in Speed’s and Skirl’s work (The Clarinets comes to mind), but the fire of Perowsky’s drums throughout the album is a treat.

Beatle covers usually leave me cold, but”Within You Without You,” with the accordion replicating a sitar drone, works well. It’s also the kind of languid atmosphere that Speed revels in, weaving clarinet lines around and through the fabric of the tone. “Flying,” the lone ’60s track credited to all four Beatles, is a quirky choice for a cover; it’s inserted like a bit of an in-joke and is kept appropriately short.

Perowsky also adds a spirited cover of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” with a catchy pulsing accordion setting up a jovial, carnival-like air. I like it.

Perowsky likes his traditional jazz, too.  “Keylime” is a bluesy, brazen opening. “Murnau on the Bayou” is an outright swampy New Orleans drag, deliciously slow and rich with old-timey jazz flavor.

I really liked the title track, a short, poking, cutesy composition. The album closes with its most somber number, “Red Hook,” which confines Gress to a bass pulse that sets up a pleasant yet slightly unsettling sax/accordion melody.