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.

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.