Larry Ochs’ Fictive Five

Larry OchsThe Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015)

Larry Ochs -- The Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015)The track “Similitude” opens with a blast from the two horns in Larry Ochs‘ latest group, the Fictive Five, and the steady blare continues for a good nine minutes. Nate Wooley blares out a trumpet solo made of crisp color and passionate growls, propelled by the rhythm section of drummer Harris Eisenstadt and two basses: Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper.

That track is the opener to another well-crafted improv album by Ochs, playing with a cast of veterans. But there’s another facet to The Fictive Five: The three major pieces that make up the album are dedicated to filmmakers — Wim Wenders, Kelly Reichardt, and installation artist William Kentridge.

As Ochs explains in his own liner notes (posted on his website and not available with the CD), the dedications reflect his feeling that there’s a visual aspect to the music, a movie of the mind. “I’m inspired to create musical landscapes that the listener when closing her eyes can then imagine her own visual images into, inspired by my music,” he writes. Like a choreographer working without music, Ochs is playing the role of soundtrack composer without a film.

While it’s common for an improvised piece to develop a particular character, what follows in The Fictive Five are well sculpted pieces that do indeed feel like narratives. Ochs is good at this; he’s frequently convened improv groups that work from compositions or skeletal structures that guide the impulses of the moment toward a common goal.

“Similitude” is forceful and bold, evoking a bright energy even as the piece moves to a slower phase in its second half — a bigger-picture view, like a camera panning back, but with plenty of action still playing out.

“By Any Other Name” opens with the groans of arco basses and dark, solemn horn statements. The mood brightens as the group works short passages of small subsets — and eventually, a kind of round-robin forms, with players hopping in and out to form duets and trios of intriguing small sounds. Trumpet and drums take a turn, then there’s a basses-and-drums moment with one bass bowed, the other plucked. It’s a musical game whose pieces fit into a macroscopic novel of music. A fiery group passage lands the piece back in the dark underworld where it began, a satisfying bit of symmetry.

“Translucent,” the Reichardt dedication, has a personality that stands out the most. It starts out choppy and high-strung, with tension surrounded by white space. Ochs abbreviates his sax phrases, a start-stop patter that plays well against Eisenstadt’s forceful snippets of drums. The sound softens as the basses and trumpet come in, building a brisk flow that’s not overwhelming. The final third of the 15-minute piece is a lingering denoument that patiently comes in for a landing.

Be sure to check out Ochs’ website for those detailed notes (again, not available elsewhere) about why he chose the song dedications.

Here’s part of the opening to “Similitude,” dedicated to Wim Wenders, incorporating some two-horn phrasing that seems to be composed:

Fred Frith Warms Up a New Trio

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Glenn, Frith, and Hoopes. Source: jasonhoopes.com.

Fred Frith‘s new trio will be touring around Europe late in February. As a prelude, they’ve played a couple of shows here in the Bay Area, including one at Slim’s that I got to see recently.

It’s a long-form improvising trio — you could certainly call it a power trio — with Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums. Electronics and loops help the bass and guitar build a screen of lingering sound, often dark and heavy. Listening to Hoopes in the band Eat the Sun was good preparation, actually.

In front of that curtain of sound, each player adds virtuosity to color the piece. The first of three long pieces they played started with a blast zone created by Frith and especially Hoopes, who was sawing away at one high note on the bass. That put Glenn in the spotlight quickly, with fluid drum rolls and high-precision hammering.

Hoopes stayed in a supporting role for a long while before finally taking a lead voice with a thick, bubbling stew of bass soloing. Hoopes is terrific on electric bass, and it’s always a treat to hear him really cut loose. This trio offers him a lot of space to do that, although you get the sense that he directs more energy toward shaping the overall sound.

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Hoopes, Glenn, Frith

Of course, Frith contributed too, with many of his usual tools, such as bows and other implements against the guitar strings. Recently, I was reading a critic raving about Frith’s detuning of the guitar during solos — about how he was able to make that “wrong” sound fit just right. I hadn’t thought about that too much, but as Frith untuned his low E string during one span, it struck me that it really was just right and in “tune” with the logic of what he was doing. Frith added a lot of conventional playing as well — crisp and chirpy sounds harkening back to his prog days.

It was a terrific set, although I have to admit I lost the thread at times. The drone or roar of the guitar and bass sometimes overwhelmed the sound for me; there was always something going on underneath it, but sometimes my mind had trouble penetrating that roar. That’s not always a bad thing (“drone” is a legitimate musical form, and this was certainly not a sleepy drone) but I could have used some more dividers in the music. It’s possible I was just too worn out on a Thursday night.

Frith’s choice of bandmates is significant. Like Art Blakey, he’s teaming up with younger musicians to infuse fresh ideas into his music. Glenn and Hoopes are part of a wave of accomplished artists he’s inspired while teaching at Mills College, where he was a mentor not only for improvisers but for songwriters pursuing thoughtful, complex pop/prog ideas — Jack o’ the Clock, the local band I’ve been raving about, being a prime example. (They opened the Slim’s show, but I didn’t make it to the city in time for their set, alas.)

The Frith Trio is going to spend a lot of time in Central/Eastern Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary) with stops in Belgium and the Netherlands. It’s a good chance to see Frith, of course, but also to check out some of the strong talent the Bay Area has been nurturing. Here’s the tour schedule, as found on Hoopes‘ and Frith‘s web sites:

Feb. 19Zagreb, Croatia
Feb. 20Göppingen, Germany
Feb. 21Vienna, Austria
Feb. 22Budapest, Hungary
Feb. 23Bolzano, Italy
Feb. 24Middelburg, Netherlands
Feb. 25Brussels, Belgium
Feb. 26Konstanz, Germany
Feb. 27Berlin, Germany
Feb. 28Dortmund, Germany
March 1Wels, Austria

Day of Noise Returns at KZSU

UPDATE 1/11: The Day of Noise is running for 24 hours starting midnight (so, all of Feb. 12). I listed a different time here for a while, taken off some promo material, but I’m pretty sure that was incorrect. I’m told that we’ve filled the schedule, so — thanks to the musicians coming by to play!

The Day of Noise is back!

This is a KZSU tradition, a 24-hour block of experimental music: improv, drone, ambient, electronics. The more abstract the better.

For years, it was put on by KZSU DJ Doom (more formally, The Voice of Doom). He would line up a cast of local musicians — David Slusser was a multiple-time participant — to come into the studio and perform live. He’d also spin CDs between acts. And during those long late-night gaps, he’d perform himself on The Machinery of Doom, a room full of percussion and noisemakers.

The designated Day of Noise is Sunday, Feb. 12, midnight to midnight. The event is supposed to focus on live performance, so if you’re a musician in the Bay Area, feel free to contact us for more information (you can find my email address on the “About” page of this blog).

As you might imagine, we’re especially short on musicians to play the nighttime and early morning slots — anything from about 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. — so, double pretty-please contact us if you think you can accommodate a time like that.

I’ll post more as I find out more (I’m helping with the organization but haven’t been around for all the planning). For now, you can find out more at:

Skatchbox Redux

T.D. SkatchitSkatch Migration (Edgetone, 2010)

As on T.D. Skatchit & Co., an earlier album, Skatch Migration combines two skatchbox with a variety of guests, trying out different sound combinations.

It’s still sometimes incongruous, as on the first album. But skatchboxes — homemade instruments played by scraping combs, sticks, or files against various textured surfaces — make for fun headphone listening, and some of the instrumental pairings are quite innovative. If you enjoy the curled, quirky sounds of abstract electronics/noise, you’ll find a lot to like. Sounds range from determined and fast-paced scratching to slower, calmer sounds — one resembling a marble being rolled around a wooden box, for instance.

But this territory got covered pretty well with the first album. The skatchbox has such a distinctive sound, and the lack of any sustain give its varied noises an overall dryness that doesn’t ever let up. While it’s got the infinite possibilities of any instrument, I have to admit I found myself wondering whether another whole album of skatching was really called for.

I did like the album. In its defense, it reflects a good number of strategies for mixing other instruments with the skatchbox.

Some of the acoustic “musical” instruments, for example, take the foreground, at least for my ears. The skatchbox chatter became a crisp alien backdrop, supporting the lead improviser. That’s especially the case with Scott Looney’s sad piano piece, or Bruce Ackley’s not-so-traditional saxophone melody.

Other players worked at fitting in. On “Flammable Skatch,” Kyle Bruckmann, who’s good at making the oboe sound non-oboe-like, plays airy screeches that almost could have come from skatchboxes. One of Doug Carroll’s cello tracks goes for a slashing, reverb-laden sound that reflects the kinetic skatchbox mentality.

As on the first album, we get to hear that abstract electronics can be a natural skatchbox partner, through contributions by Gino Robair and especially Tim Perkis. And while the first album had Karen Stackpole’s gongs, this one has Jacob Felix Heule scraping a cymbal for a similarly deep, doomy ringing — a really interesting setting for the skatchboxes.

Vocalists appear on five of the 15 tracks. Bob Marsh’s deep voice makes a nice cartoony babble on “What Did It?”, a fun track. But Aurora Josephson — the only guest duplicated between the two albums — steals the show, first with “Tip of My Tongue,” which is full of wordplay written by Michalak, and with “Indecision Revision,” a collection of “Mm-hm” and “Huh-uh” sounds.

Tom Nunn and Dave Michalak do seem to have added to the skatchbox vocabulary. I’m out of town as I write this, without T.D. Skatchit & Co. handy for direct comparison, but Nunn and Michalak seem to be working with amplified skatchboxes more frequently on this album and they may have added some new elements that produce nearly vocal sounds, similar to the puppy-dog sounds I’d heard from a bowed instrument called the daxophone. (Each skatchbox is uniquely hand-made, so each instrument can be vastly different.)

Previous skatchbox posts:

Upcoming Shows: Sept. 20-29+, 2010

UPDATE 9/24: OMG, the People & Thingamajigs festival, mentioned at the bottom, made it onto cable TV news. Check out The Rachel Maddow Show, and look into Kent Jones’ stuff.

It’s one of those times where a lot of interesting shows have clustered. You can keep up with Bay Area creative music shows at BayImproviser or Transbay Calendar — they use the same calendar database.

Here’s a summary of some upcoming events, including an unusual number of multiple-show appearances. All shows are eveningish (8 or 9 p.m., usually) unless noted. 

The Lost Trio — The longstanding Bay Area trio that turns pop songs into jazzy takes that aren’t cheesy. They also cover Monk, Ellington, and country tunes, creating solid platforms for peppy jazz exploration. (Previous mention here.)

    • Mon. 9/20, not really The Lost Trio but the same sax & drums paired with a guitar, at The Ivy Room (see below)
    • Mon. 9/27, The Ivy Room (San Pablo Ave. @ Solano Ave., Albany, really close to Berkeley)
    • Wed. 9/29, NOON concert for SFJazz (Levi Strauss Plaza, San Francisco, free!)

Marco Eneidi — Alto saxophonist Eneidi is back from Vienna again, with a couple of exciting programs on his itinerary. (Previous blog entries here and here.) The second pairs an Eneidi ensemble with Kihnoua, the malleable Larry Ochs group that just might be performing in bare-bones trio form this time. (Previous entry on Kihnoua.)

    • Thu. 9/23, quartet with Ava Mendoza (guitar), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums), plus electronics/noise acts, at First Church of the Buzzard (2601 Adeline @ 26th, Oakland)
    • Fri. 9/24, quartet with Vinny Golia (woodwinds), Mezzacappa, Anderson; plus Kihnoua, at Community Music Center (544 Capp St., San Francisco)

Wrack — Kyle Bruckmann first convened this group in Chicago, and he’s now bringing the idea with him to the West Coast. With viola, bass clarinet, and oboe, Wrack puts a distinctively different sound on its chamber jazz improvising. It’s more tart, slightly sour. You can easily hear that the instrumentation isn’t the usual, and on CDs, it’s been a terrific experience. Wrack plays twice by themselves and once with ROVA.

    • Fri. 9/24, College of Marin (Lefort Recital Hall, at Sir Frances Drake and Laurel streets, Kentfield)
    • Sat. 9/25, Trinity Chamber Concerts (2320 Dana Street, Berkeley)
    • Fri. 10/1, Community Music Center (544 Capp St., btw. 20th/21st, San Francisco)

Other Minds — I don’t know who Dane Rudhyar was, but if Other Minds is this interested, so am I.  They’ve put together a Rudhyar program that’s getting a couple of dates:

    • Mon. 9/27 at Swedenborgian Church (2107 Lyon St., SF)
    • Wed. 9/29 at Valley Presbyterian Church (945 Portola Rd., Portola Valley)

Coltrane Tribute — It’s Coltrane Birthday season, and I would assume there’s a concert or two every year around the Bay Area that I’m not aware of. This time, though, one of them lands in the Luggage Store Gallery, a regular improv spot. Dan Plonsey, Steve Horowitz, and Vinny Golia will represent on the saxophone, and there’ll be readings as well.

San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra — The classical new-music group convenes again. Serious music in a neighborly atmosphere. The theme this time is “Animal Vegetable Mineral,” and the slate includes pieces by the late Jorge Liederman, the non-late Terry Riley, and SFCCO members.

Music for People and Thingamajigs — The 13th installment of this annual festival celebrating not only experimental music but creative, new instruments. The Thingamajigs folks are a bona fide nonprofit group that takes to the schools, teaching children the joy and education that can be found in building instruments and messing around with sound.

Our Faceless Empire: Cali-Portugese Improv

Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Manuel Mota, Gino Robair, Ernesto RodriguesOur Faceless Empire (Pax, 2010)

This one’s all about strings — not sweet symphonic strings, but the percussive potential behind strings: the dry clacking and snapping of acoustic guitar and viola, the tiny grunts and pops of electric guitar.

Diaz-Infante and Robair are both part of a Bay Area improv scene that favors a sound-sculpture aesthetic, with performances rich in extended technique. Robair stopped calling himself a drummer at some point, preferring the term “energized surfaces” to describe his combination of oddball objects (bowed styrofoam, for instance), and unconventionally played drums, all of it adding up to a forest of sounds barely traceable to acoustic instruments.

So, this album is full of rattly, percussive sounds — a mesh of sound, full of strings clicking, squeaking, and scraping. Ironically, it’s the drummer who produces the longest and most singing tones, if you can call them that. Robair frequently bows his cymbals or other free-hanging pieces of metal, producing a tarnished ringing tone with a scraped quality, a siren’s cough.

Small blips of guitar tones appear on “E Metico Labilty,” and an accordion seems to pop up on “Um Lilburn Em Flovilla,” towards the end of the album. Mostly, though, it’s a thicket of what’s sometimes called insect music, lots of little sounds adding up to a collective and a direction.

The first three tracks keep things on a fast gait, clattery but not overwhelmingly busy, and often quiet. The third track, “Mi Conde, El Odiosas,” gets downright rowdy and is followed by the quiet respite of “O Bursty Bruegel,” a calming sheen.

The album come to be when Rodrigues (viola) and Mota (electric guitar) were doing a tour from Vancouver on down the Pacific coast. It’s all part of the improv mystique: players of similar minds getting together, spinning music into the air, and possibly never reconvening in that exact combination again. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a document of those moments.

Katherine Young: Bassoon Time

Katherine Young — Further Secret Origins (Porter, 2009)

I got curious when the Love, Gloom, Cash, Love blog got so excited about a solo bassoon record. And it even had a tie to that viola trend I’d written about earlier:  One of Katherine Young’s ongoing bands is Architeuthis Walks on Land, a duet with Amy Cimini on — what else? — viola. I had to check this out.

Because it was on the verge of being released, I figured I’d give Young’s solo bassoon album a listen first. It’s definitely experimental, often bordering on drones, but it rewards close listening with wisps of melody that do add up to a whole, a story. And the bassoon is accompanied by electronics that tap out subtle rhythms backed with the texture of small crinkles or static crumples.

“Terra Incognita” opens with a freightliner’s blast of bassoon, but from there it explores quieter bleats over a soft electronics backing.  “For Autonauts” likewise explores quieter territory, with raspy gentle tones, clipped short like tentative harmonica notes, played over a subtle, irregular pulse.  The tones get longer later on but keep to the same careful, near-melodic template. It’s not a drone, more like a whispered song that’s not in a hurry. This is the track I’m thinking of with that “close listening” remark — it’s 14 minutes, but if you’re in tune with its frequency, the time flies by, and the wandering near-melody makes perfect sense.

Same thing on “Elevation,” in a smaller dose.  The bassoon produces more of those harmonica sounds, even some multiphonic bits ….. You can hear the effort. It’s like watching art being etched from stone, a careful pace.

“Some People Say That She Doesn’t Exist” is the most accessible track, with a bass pulse underriding a pleasant melody. But it’s followed by “Orbis Tertius,” which closes the album by getting us back into abstract improv turf — long tones evoking an eternal sea.

The Architeuthis duo covers similarly abstract ground, but Young plays in all sorts of contexts from pop to Anthony Braxton. I’ll have to keep an ear to the ground for her.

Playlist: November 24, 2009

KZSU playlist for Tuesday, Nov. 24, 6:00 to 9:00 a.m.  Click here for the full playlist.

Notes:

Harris Eisentstadt — “Keep Casting Rods” — Canada Day (Clean Feed, 2009) ….. As opposed to the trumpet-heavy, African-influenced music on many of his albums, Canada Day is closer to a straight free-jazz group, with a sound defined by vibraphone.  He’s also got a sax and a trumpet in there, of course.

Hailey Niswanger — “Four in One” — Confeddie (self-released, 2009) ….. Straight-up contemporary jazz that includes a fast, fluid, and quick-jumping saxophone in the lead.  Turns out it’s played by a 19-year old woman, Niswanger, who put together this quartet from her Berklee associates.  It’s good, inventive stuff; she shows great sax chops on “Four in One” and a complex compositional sense on “Confeddie.”

Shibolet, Josephson, Baker, Looney, Smith — “Number 12” — Untitled (1959) (Kadima Collective, 2007) ….. Acoustic free improv with local folks and Israeli guest Ariel Shibolet. The titles all come from Mark Rothko paintings, but they’re not all still and silent; this one quickly builds into active, jagged sound work.  I followed up this track with Jacam Manricks’ “Rothko” (mentioned back on Oct. 27), and it was tempting to continue with an all-Rothko set. But the next Rothko-inspired track I found was a string orchestra piece that, while only a couple of minutes long, was soooo still and static.  Wasn’t in the mood for it, so I went with Jen Baker’s trombone album instead (Blue Dreams, mentioned here), which is also rather static but has a colorful tone to it.

Herb Robertson — “Hallucinations” — Shades of Bud Powell (JMT, 1988) ….. Another vinyl gem tucked away in the KZSU library, this is an album of Powell songs performed by a nearly all-horns band (Joey Baron on drums).  Naturally, Robertson leaves plenty of space for improvising, often with the whole group at once (two trumpets, french horn, trombone, and tuba).  The track I picked, “Hallucinations,” has long segments of that group work, the result being a little like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. When you listen carefully to PHJB, you realize that yes, they’re doing old-timey jazz, but the “solo” consists of every band member except the drummer going off in a random direction. Robertson is like that but more distinctly modern/avant-jazz in his sound, of course.

Phil Kline — “Grand Etude for the Elevation” — Around the World in a Daze (Starkland, 2009) ….. This is actually a 65-minute electroacoustic work intended for surroundsound DVD; they’ve provided a CD version for radio.  It’s ambitious.  There are enormous “boombox choirs,” a string quartet (Ethel!), lots of bells, and, for the final track, 15,000 African gray parrots. The whole project goes for bigness; when I say lots of bells, I mean LOTS.  I went for one of the less bombastic tracks, featuring a thumpy “world” drum rhythm and Todd Reynolds on sweet-but-loud violin.

Ivy Room Mondays

Lisa Mezzacappa, John Finkbeiner - Ivy Room, May 2009I wasn’t at Kingman’s Ivy Room tonight, but I was a few weeks ago, and what better excuse to write a blog.

The Ivy Room is a mid-sized bar, plush and casual and friendly, located in Albany just blocks north of Berkeley, or so it felt to me as I drove up. The place is being kind enough to let the improv crowd take over on Monday nights, either for a few short sets or an all out Improv Hootenanny Night that has its own MySpace page.

It’s a fun atmosphere. There’s no cover, and the Ivy Room is airy and clean — the kind of place where you’re welcome to sit on the carpeted floor in front of the music area, and you don’t worry if anything’s been spilled there. (Caveat: Monday night crowds aren’t usually the spilling type.)

Some photos from my May 25 excursion. Yes, the date on my camera was wrong.

Up top, you’ve got Lisa Mezzacappa‘s Bait and Switch, the successor to Before and After. It’s free jazz, with compositions derived from the best segments of group improvisations. The result is like Ornette Coleman taken a step further into abstract territory and noise rock at the same time, with a mood that jumps like ’60s free jazz. That’s Mezzacappa on bass and John Finkbeiner on guitar.

Aaron Bennett, John Finkbeiner, Ivy Room, May 2009At left is a second picture of the band, with Aaron Bennett (sax) at left. In this one, Vijay Anderson (drums) and Mezzacappa are obscured, making it look like the two white guys are all that matters. Hey, it was dark. All I do is point the camera and hope.

Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, Damon Smith / Ivy Room, May 2009The trio of Jacob Felix Heule (drums), Aurora Josephson (vocal), and Damon Smith (bass) did one long improvisation, a dark and keening piece with Josephson’s voice spiking in anguish. Nice stuff.

Ivy Room, May 2009I don’t recall the details of the quartet at left. I’m pretty sure that’s Tony Dryer on bass at the far left, and two of the four members were from Norway (the guitarist and other bassist?). They, too, played a single long piece, concentrating on smaller, quieter spaces; the guitarist, in particular, buckled and thrashed to the music but was producing small crackles and crinkles, a kind of studied intensity.

It’s always nice to see a bar or restaurant take a chance on experimental music. A good cluster of these series has sprung up, maybe because venues are more willing to take chances in the face of recessionary crowds. The Make-Out Room (San Francisco, Mission District) has been hosting creative jazz on the first Monday of each month, and The Uptown (Oakland, downtown) is letting Weasel Walter curate an avant-garde program on third Tuesdays. The next of those will be tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be there, sleep cycle permitting.

That Pounding in Your Head

Peter Evans/Weasel Walter Group — Oculus Ex Abyssus (ugExplode, 2008)

Weasel Walter and Mary Halvorson — Opulence (ugExplode, 2008)

source: ugExplodeWeasel Walter and Peter Evans, along with the still ascending guitar hero Mary Halvorson, recorded a live session for WFMU that will be played Wednesday, May 13, at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time. The “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love” blog mentions it here.

The past year or so has been prolific for all three musicians, and it’s been fruitful in terms of Walter’s collaboration with the other two. In other words, these folks have been already doing some darned good work together. Walter’s Web site promises a CD-R and DVD with the three of them.

The first side-long improvisation on Oculus, titled “The Eyes of Hell,” starts with a snap, diving straight into a spiky, ear-poking mood. Each player contributes dots of sound, or short lines, to create a busy canvas. Within a minute or two, they’re really going at it, a fierce tumult. Evans’ crisp, aggressive trumpet style — showcased with the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing — is a great counterpart to Walter’s punk-infused free-jazz drumming, and they provide plenty of rapid-fire clatter together.

Damon Smith can more than keep up with them on bass, and he’s strong enough in the mix to not get drowned out. Paul Hartsaw on sax rounds out the quartet, putting up fluid squiggles to add to the fray. Maybe it’s a matter of sheer volume, but I find myself keeping Evans at a mental front-and-center position.

Of course, these guys are too professional to just blow aimlessly. The fast quartet flows are fun to get swept away in, but then the group will stop for a new statement — a brightly jagged Smith/Evans duet, or the quiet closing moments with fast bass bowing by Smith and circular-breathing spirals from Hartsaw.

“Ex Malum Adveho Sonitus,” the other side-long piece, opens with the same ferocity, but its mad cacophony has a more lingering tone to it, particularly when Evans hands out long, grumbling tones on the trumpet as opposed to the slash-and-burn strategy on side A. At a couple of points he seems to carry out some circular breathing on the trumpet — or maybe it’s Hartsaw’s sax that I’m mistaking for trumpet — or maybe Evans just has incredible lung capacity.

There’s also a good quiet break that lets the swarm clear but doesn’t lose the tempo or flow. From there, the band builds back into a frenzy for a nice conclusion.

Did I mention that Oculus is on vinyl? It’s on vinyl, shiny green vinyl with an orange center label. Oooh, shiny. And it was recorded at the very cool New, Improved Recording in Oakland.

Havlorson/Walter: Opulence
Havlorson/Walter: Opulence

Opulence (on CD) was recorded in 2007, presaging Halvorson’s arrival as someone the New York Times would write up. (She and Jessica Pavone are also on the cover of the current Signal to Noise magazine.)

Halvorson’s edgier guitar playing, with distortion cranked up on her jazz guitar, is no surprise, given some of the indie-rock leanings on her Dragon’s Head CD. It’s a good match for Walter. “A Diamond Encrusted Frisbee” and “Rare Vodka from the Fourteenth Century” also get appropriately ragged, and Halvorson goes for the all-out rock sound on “Lapis Lazuli Nights,” a blazing rock instrumental with Walter adding appropriate drama on cymbals and bass drum.

But she and Walter try the opposite trick, too, showing that Walter’s hyperkinetic noisemaking can work in a free-jazz setting. “(Rich)” Corinthian Leather starts with Walter playing in rapid-fire mode, but softly. Halvorson joins in with her more standard jazz guitar sound, with fast, deft sketches and, later, sparkly high twangs like sideways falling stars.

Yes, I mentioned Opulence before — here.