Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland

Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland with Vinny GoliaEdge of Dark (Edgetone, 2011)

The Lords of Outland, with Golia, play Sat. Dec. 17 at Community Music Center: 544 Capp St. in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Over the past 17 years or so, Lords of Outland has gone from being a free-jazz band to playing  a noisier, darker brew filled with wild electronics. Edge of Dark nudges the pendulum back toward the jazzy side by adding L.A. reeds master Vinny Golia, pitting his sax next to Rent Romus‘.

Maybe that’s one way of interpreting the title being Edge of Dark — but it’s still dark. Romus has read a lot of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, and maybe combined with the current political climate, it adds up to some ominous, looming compositions.

There’s plenty of free-jazz energy to be found, though. The two saxophonists get into some nice sparring matches, as on “Over the Rift” (both of them on tenor sax).  Golia shows of a fluid, rapid-fire style, generally more acrobatic than Romus’. Nothing against Romus — who puts forth a gruff attack and, as usual, adds lots of inventive expressiveness to his playing — it’s just that Vinny Golia is, you know, Vinny Golia.

In fact, Golia’s ebullient playing can sometimes dilute the dark mood, as on “Into Dune,” a creeping, freeform bass-and-drums exploration. Golia’s solo is bright and energetic, cutting away the near-psychedelic wandering nature of the track for a few minutes.

But it’s not as if he doesn’t fit the personality of the album. Golia does well at enhancing the slowly intense burn of “Spreading Tar of Cosmic Microinfinity,” adding a wailing soprano sax to the song’s bellowing midpoint. And he puts in a furious solo on “Over the Rift,” another track with a slow and heavy feel.

Some of the album’s highlights come when Golia takes the spotlight completely — just him against just the drums and bass, and maybe a twiddle or two from C.J. Borosque’s electronics. “Body of Memory” is a good example, with Golia going all Evan Parker on us in a twirling, fluttering solo backed only by quiet drums and ominous electric bass (played by longtime Lords members Philip Everett and Ray Schaeffer).

Just to show the dark album doesn’t want for lighter moments: “Ovular Amphivoid” is actually kind of swingy, one of the most directly jazz-derived tracks. It cuts immediately into cutting, choppy free-jazz soloing, with Romus grumpy and puffing and Golia in overblowing mode. “Night Nova” has a springy ’60s free-jazz feel, partly because of Golia’s darting flute. The track quiets down for an electronics solo, after which the band adds some abstract vocalizing to the improvising.

Past and Present Energies

Rejuvenation TrioRejuvenation Voyage (Edgetone, 2010)

Now 62, Hasan Abdur-Razzaq takes some of his sax cues from Albert Ayler — directly from Albert Ayler. Abdur-Razzaq was a teenager in Cleveland as Ayler, then an Ohioan, was getting his start. Maybe that’s part of the rejuvenation referenced here — a way of bringing back the sounds of his youth, of telling the universe that while the bodies have moved on, the community they built continues.

Or, maybe the music just helps keep him young.

Rejuvenation Voyage is a spirited energy-jazz session in a sax/bass/drums format. I didn’t know Abdur-Razzaq’s background when I sat through my first listen, and his sound really did conjure up visions of those mid-60s days, when free jazz had been around but was developing a rawness, a bite, that was a product both of the political times and of the musicians trying to reach beyond their bebop and modal histories.

“The Search for Truth” is the most directly Ayler-like track in the way it swings, with Abdur-Razzaq bleating an energetic, clear melody. On other tracks, like “Exclamation Pointe,” his sax is an outpouring, a blur of motion that tells a story in raspy, buzzy tones.

The other element that got me thinking “60s” were the diversions into Eastern mysticism. “The Quest,” for all its brashness, has a soothing, healing sound, starting with lone bass and slowly adding a strong-toned sax sermon. “Return Voyage” is a sea of percussion, full of the rich clatter of wooden beads.

The band is more than just Abdur-Razzaq. On that Ayleresque track, “The Search for Truth,” it’s really drummer and fellow Ohioan Ryan Jewell who’s getting the “solo,” with clattery drumming and snare rolls that create a sense of counter-motion against the sax melody. Behind both of them, bassist Tom Abbs — the ringer from New York — slowly plays out a gummy, sinewy bassline. Jenna Barvitski adds some high-register swooping on violin. (She appears on a few tracks but is counted as a guest, hence the band’s “Trio” moniker.)

All four of them pour it on in “Warp Speed,” where Abdur-Razzaq’s part is actually the slow one. It’s a great little trip. I also enjoyed the 14-minute “Strings and Things Suite,” an exercise in off-kilter chamber music that includes some cello from Abdur-Razzaq. It’s just as active and chatty as the album’s other tracks, but with less of a blazing sting, with crazed sax replaced by raspy cello sawing and skittish bouncing-bow violin. And then, in the second half, a big blazing alto sax shows up and kicks everything around, with the help of some merciless drumming by Jewell.

A New Jazz Song

The Holly Martinsno. no. yes. no. (Edgetone, 2010)

Appearing at The Jazzschool, Berkeley, on Sunday, May 9, at 4:30 p.m.  They’re listed in the promo materials as UVG.

Here’s a different kind of improv.  It sounds like jazz standards sung into a comforting but stark white room.

“Stairway to the Mezzanine” opens the album with acoustic guitar work from Eric Vogler that sounds like the windup to a gypsy jazz piece. Then Lorin Benedict‘s velvety voice comes in — OK, it’s a more modern jazziness.  Then, by the time Kasey Knudsen‘s sax is on board, it’s apparent they’re not going to do the jazz standard thing at all. The sax and guitar follow a minimal set of lines while Benedict solos, gently piping his improvised syllables.

The trio keeps to a calm demeanor, drawing frequently from jazz harmonies but herding the overall song to stay outside the usual boundaries.  The recording has a warm sound, both in the sound and in the inviting warmth of the sax and guitar. Without drums or bass, there’s a nice stillness that quilts the music in an intimate mood.

“Schu-Schu” is one of the spikier pieces, with Benedict showing a bit more assertiveness and silliness in his singing, and Knudsen and Vogler poking through in stacatto form. It wraps up with some good, coordinated action-packed composing. “Post-Meridian” treads into alien territory with a duet of vocal and very dry sax, then gets into some nice wandering trio improv.

But the band keeps standards close to its heart. “Embraceable You” opens with four minutes of straight, fireside sax and guitar, comforting stuff. Then Benedict arrives for a segment of tense, pulsing improvising with Vogler, before shifting into some impressively fast club-jazz scatting.  “The Best Thing for You Is Me” stays closer to the original but includes some nifty Vogler soloing.

Knudsen is the only one of the musicians I’m familiar with, and she doesn’t strike me as an avant-gardist. Even so, there’s a lot of twisty creativity to this album, next to some very good jazz work from all three players. It’s an inside-out sound that’s heavy on the inside half but sets itself apart from staid, retro jazz.

The only complaint I’d have is that the band sometimes shifts moods too suddenly, as if announcing a change of phases in the song. It doesn’t happen suddenly enough to create an ear-grabbing contrast; rather, it’s like one part of the song grinds down and a whole new song is slowly pushed into motion.  (“Embraceable You” and “Post-Meridian” being the tracks I have in mind.)  I do appreciate that they’re preventing the songs from being monochrome statements of mood, though, and maybe I’ll come to accept these songs’ patterns as I get more familiar with them.

The track I don’t have in mind is the closer, “RN, But Not the Nurse,” which winds down to its conclusion and then adds a few extra seconds as a surprise bonus. It’ll put a smile on your face.