ROVA & Saxophone Special

Steve Lacy,

ROVA Saxophone Quartet will pay homage to Steve Lacy with a performance of his album Saxophone Special on Wednesday Sept. 16 at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco).

Lacy is the band’s collective hero and was also a friend. And for them, Saxophone Special stands out in Lacy’s catalogue because it’s a saxophone quartet album, recorded from a one-time concert with three other sax players, guitar, and synthesizer. The “three others” aren’t just others — they’re giants of the improvised music genre: Evan Parker, Steve Potts, and Trevor Watts.

Released by the Emanem label in 1976, Saxophone Special was one of the albums that “led to the formation of Rova in 1977-78,” according to the band’s press blurb.

The Sept. 16 concert, with Kyle Bruckmann on electronics and Henry Kaiser on electric guitar, serves as both an encore and a warm-up, because ROVA performed Saxophone Special once already, in July, and is scheduled to record its own version of the album next week.

Saxophone Special is out of print — both the orignal LP and Emanem’s expanded CD version. Close to its orbit, however, is the newly reissued ROVA album Favorite Street, a 1984 collection of Lacy tunes. Here’s a link to that album on eMusic.

Sax Special Card_08.2015

Ivy Room Wednesday

I don’t get to the Ivy Room often for their Monday and Wednesday creative music shows. The crowd tends to be sparse, but since there’s no cover, you get a mix of regular bargoers and local musicians, and it gives the Ivy Room some activity on what would otherwise be a slow couple of nights.

That was particularly true last Wednesday, in the middle of the storms that have peppered us off and on this week. I cozied up with a beer and some good music; chatted with Rent Romus about this summer’s Outsound Music Summit and with Jim Ryan about upcoming shows for his Forward Energy ensemble; and watched a little basketball, hockey, and ESPN baseball news headlines on the silent TVs above the bar. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday night.

Some Wednesdays are curated by Aram Shelton, the Chicago jazzman who’s lending us his services while he studies at Mills College. This time it was a set of mostly energy jazz — improvised on-the-spot, often going for speed and gusto.

The duo of Mike Forbes (tenor sax) and Mark Miller (drums) started the evening, with Henry Kaiser sitting in on guitar for about half of the short set. Their improvising showed some healthy energy, but they might have overdone it. Forbes and Miller looked winded by the end. Miller on drums never reached supersonic speeds, sticking instead to a loud and slowish style that I thought showed some metal influence. Forbes mostly pecked around at sax but did show off a few nice runs.

Aram Shelton was next with a group he calls Marches — two saxes, two drummers, bass and keyboards. At least some of their set was covers — they started with an Archie Shepp tune, for certain — and it wouldn’t be surprising if Shelton’s own compositions were in there as well. Really good stuff with space for wide-open soloing. All the saxophone work was good, but I really liked one spot where just the bass and keyboard played, really tearing it up.

Third and last was the trio of Josh Allen (sax), Henry Kaiser (guitar), and Mike Guarino (drums). I’d seen Allen before — big ecstatic-jazz tenor sax with a booming voice. Kaiser’s guitar was actually hard to hear over Allen and the drums — my god, the drums. I’d never seen Guarino play before, and he’s a monster. Big, loud, fast, precise.

I don’t know when the next Wednesday session will be, but in the meantime, The Lost Trio (brief note on them here) have been playing at the Ivy Room on most Monday nights.

The Other World of Henry Kaiser

Henry KaiserWhere Endless Meets Disappearing (Balance Point Acoustics, 2009)

In addition to playing guitar, Henry Kaiser is an oceanographer — as in, serious, university-research oceanographer — and a few years ago, he got a chance to ply both trades in Antarctica.This album, a set of mostly solo guitar improvisations, is a reflection on that alien underwater world.

It’s placid and crystalline, fitting enough. Very pretty stuff — not what you’ll want if you’re looking for the Derek Bailey-influenced side of Kaiser, but even if the weird stuff is your cup of tea, this isn’t an album to miss.

The 12-minute title track opens the album and sets the mood.  Kaiser uses stereo-ized echo effects here to give the illusion of two guitars (14 of the 18 tracks are solo, undubbed).  A single bass note, plucked every now and then, serves as the center of gravity around which Kaiser contently drifts,spinning a slow web of notes. Tiny harmonics glisten like light off the water’s surface. It’s relaxing and deep, great music for Sunday morning coffee.

Kaiser calls this a concept album, and I get the feeling it’s a love letter to the beauty of diving. It definitely has that weightless feeling, as if it’s mimicking the peaceful, muted sounds beneath the ocean’s surface.

Many of the acoustic tracks take on the sound of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, not so much in the note choices but in the overall mood and prettiness.  Kaiser does turn up the electric a few times, though, for some proggy noodling.  “A Precise Kind of Infinity, a Sliver of Clarity Nestled” is mostly pretty and chiming, but the space-exploration electric guitar wail comes in for the second half, for the feel of peering into the infinite. “A Bloom of Tiny Suns” ends the album with criss-crossing electric guitars spiraling outward like a slow-motion sunburst.

A couple of tracks get into “off”-tuning and abrasive dissononace, but they’re in the minority.  The acoustic “I Would Ask” comes up fairly early in the album and is actually a welcome break from the sea of niceness. “The Gate Is That Way, Not This” is the one that will have roommates and spouses running away screaming; it’s an electric-guitar improv with lots of atonality (in the loose, improper sense that jazz critics use) and screechy sounds.

The bulk of this album, though, is really nice, a very rewarding listen.

Random side note: All of the electric-guitar work on the album was performed with a true-temperament neck, which uses squiggly frets to produce more accurately toned scales. Check it out.

Way Down Under

A few months late, I’m catching up on Cheryl E. Leonard’s Antarctic adventure. Leonard is a Bay Area musician who got a chance to study in Antarctica for a few weeks, and the results are chronicled in her “Music from the Ice” blog.

Unlike Henry Kaiser, who became the first musician to record in Antarctica, Leonard isn’t an oceanographer. Her specialty is in making music using natural objects as instruments — sand, rocks, water, pine cones.

Antarctica has always fascinated me — not just the land itself, but the act of actually being there, the day-to-day life that the researchers lead. Leonard’s blog satisfies both curiosities, with pictures indoors as well as out, and some detailed explanations of just what it takes to get to Antarctica and to live down there.

But the sounds are why Leonard was down there, and the blog includes lots of tantalizing snippets — penguin chatter, ice cracking, the melodious clanks of icicles falling down a crevasse. Leonard has indexed many of them on the blog’s front page, but it’s more fun to discover then inside the actual entries.

The descriptions of Antarctica itself are the highlights, but one of my favorite posts describes the ship journey back to Chile and the civilized world. Some nice pictures there, too.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. And keep an eye out for Leonard to produce some recordings from the sounds she’s collected, and/or performances with some of the new “instruments” she found.

And if you’ve got a taste for music and sound in Antarctica, check out what Kaiser’s journal, or Douglas Quin’s project from 2000.