Posts tagged ‘jordan glenn’

ROVA’s Celebration of Butch Morris

ROVA: OrchestrovaNo Favorites! (for Butch Morris) (New World, 2016)

rova-noThe beauty of conduction, Lawrence “Butch” Morris’ method for conducted improvisation, is in the silences.

Anybody could conduct a large improvising group into a formless junkyard sound. (Maybe not anybody. I’ve tried it.) But a conduction moves in distinct syllables, bursts of activity from parts of the group that start and stop on command. The small silences between segments are your proof that something here as been created with precision and forethought.

No Favorites! isn’t an album of pure conduction, but it’s in the same spirit, using conduction, graphical scores, and text instructions to coax unified pieces out of 11 improvisers. It’s an exercise in community.

In fact, the album documents a June 2015 concert in honor of Morris, where the ROVA Saxophone Quartet teamed up with a foursome of strings (violin, viola, cello, bass), and — adding a nice electric jolt — three “rock” instruments (electric guitar, electric bass, drums). The three pieces, written by ROVA members, are meant to be played as a full program, preferably using the same combinations of instruments.

ROVA has posted the scores and instructions to all three pieces here. Reading them beforehand enriches the listening experience immensely.

The strengths of conduction are well displayed on “Nothing Stopped / But a Future,” the lone piece featuring Gino Robair as conductor. Under his direction, the band darts and weaves, cleanly flipping channels to each new phase. Robair builds it all to a satisfyingly drawn-out conclusion with big, dramatic tones and just enough discord to retain the improvised feeling, even during the composed phrases.

“Contours of the Glass Head,” spanning 27 minutes, moves more deliberately, with the band lingering over a each of eight segments. The score consists of short paragraphs of text, describing environments for the group to dwell in

Some of those instructions appear to play off of pre-notated segments. Here’s part of a segment titled “Cycler Duos,” described thusly: “Designated pairs play short, repeated rhythmic ideas, eventually leading to a duo of Larry Ochs on tenor with Jordan Glenn on drums.”

 
“Contours” is a conduction piece, but this time, everybody shares the conductor’s duties. Like “Nothing Stopped,” it builds up to a definite conclusion, an agreed-upon crescendo that builds gradually, then wraps up abruptly.

41merge

Source: ROVA

The instrumental groupings (strings/rock/ROVA) are crucial to “The Double Negative,” which starts with each group giving an opening statement, directed by graphical scores. You get whispery strings, a delicate sax quartet, and as an exclamation point, a guitar-bass-drums segment anchored by Jason Hoopes‘ rattling bass. The piece ends with the three groups merging in a glorious slow crash.

Overall, there’s so much to savor. I’ve mentioned Hoopes’ guitar sound. The strings add moods from pensive to angry to madcap, led by Christina Stanley‘s violin and Tara Flandreau‘s viola. I haven’t heard John Shiurba on electric guitar much lately, and his sonically destructive crunch is just the right sound to get some of these segments really going.

And of course, there’s ROVA, punching and dancing as individuals or as a cooperative. They’ve planted Morris’ fingerprints all over this music, and it’s a fitting tribute.

November 22, 2016 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

Splinter Reeds

Splinter Reeds performs at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco) on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

Splinter ReedsGot Stung (self-released, 2015)

splinter-stungThe five members of Splinter Reeds are classical musicians who can play the heck out of their instruments. But “3 Songs, 3 Interludes,” a small suite on their debut album Got Stung, shows their irreverent side.

The first of the songs, “Bee,” opens a capella, all five members chanting a somber melody that begins with the line, “Got stung by a bee in the heart.” One by one, each voice drops out, replaced by a woodwind playing the backing chords. Eventually, you’re left with nothing but reeds, which then shoot off into countermelodies like vines entangling a wall.

It’s a fun effect, although the song isn’t necessarily cheery, and the band is certainly no novelty act. Claiming the title of the Bay Area’s first professional reed quintet, Splinter Reeds has been performing for three years around Northern California and spent a week-long residency at Stanford.

Their focus is on newly commissioned compositions, so everything on Got Stung is freshly written; it’s no stodgy “repertoire” album. You can get a taste when the quintet opens their 2016-17 season on Aug. 16 with a concert at San Francisco’s Center for New Music.

Oboist Kyle Bruckmann plays frequently in jazzy and experimental contexts, and his major project Wrack recently recorded his homage to Thomas Pynchon, titled … Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire. The other band member I’m most familiar with is Jeff Anderle, who’s been part of the Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet.

So, you could say the usual things about the blending of genres and all that, but Got Stung is a modern-classical album at heart, presenting the compositions with focus and verve. Elements of scenic melody and mood pervade the album, along with lots of fun, choppy bottom lines from bass clarinets and bassoon.

The instrumental “interludes” of “3 Songs, 3 Interludes” (composed by Erik DeLuca) show off different uses of the quintet — an ambient metallic sheen; a softly poking and curious quasi-melody; a study of long, sparse tones. It’s a fan-out of musical strategies. In fact, the last of the songs, “Want,” follows the opposite path of “Bee,” starting off instrumental with vocal parts joining gradually.

The eight-movement suite “Splinter” (Mark Mellits) is a highlight of the album, often florid and downright beautiful, played with intense focus and verve throughout. It feels like storytelling, in moods ranging from the brisk hocketing and bright, jazzy chording of “Scarlet Oak” to the beautiful, florid calm of “Weeping Willow.” The bass clarinet sounds especially nice on the fast-paced movements such as “Cherry” and “Red Pine.”

“Splinter” is the most classical-sounding of the pieces on Got Stung. Elsewhere, the band lets its avant-garde side show. Bruckmann’s piece, “Mitigating Factors,” is a slow-moving exploration of that territory, with touches of electronics shadowing the organic grumbles and air-rushes of the horns.

You might call “Wood Burn” (Ned McGowan) an active form of minimalism. Against a hard-digging bass clarinet line, the other reeds spin Morse-code pops and twirling riffs of melody. Jordan Glenn’s composition “My Bike” is peaceful at heart — it even has bird songs in the background — but halfway through, the piece starts adding some stern and shrill harmonies for a dose of attitude and even belligerence.

As a statement of purpose, Got Stung shows off a strong variety of Splinter Reeds’ interests. It’s exciting to see a group intent on bringing new works to life. Let’s hope they can continue building on this great start.

August 13, 2016 at 2:49 pm Leave a comment

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

February 1, 2015 at 11:53 am 1 comment

Happy 80th, Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan's 80thIt was good to see Jim Ryan in high spirits for his 80th birthday concert last Sunday. The time slot competed with a few other good events, but the SIMM series at San Francisco’s Musicians Union Hall draws a good turnout. The room was nicely crowded and full of conversation between sets, fueled by cake and melting ice cream (the Union Hall’s performance space gets warm quickly).

Ryan handed out glow bracelets and laser rings that everyone had to wear, and he put on a good show in two sets of flute, sax, and poetry.

Beyond being a performer, Ryan has been an organizer and instigator on the scene. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, he ran a local zine, back when there were such things and most people didn’t have web sites. He also curated a few different weekly series, including one at the Starry Plough in Berkeley — a venue where the ownership and bookers are friendly to creative music, but the crowds sometimes aren’t.

I remember one show there with a group called Mosthumbz — out-there, jazzy stuff with a heavy improv component. The bar was full of regulars that night for some reason, and they were grumbling about the music. But one of their compatriots — a guy with an Irish accent, even — stood up for the music. “This is what I love about the ‘Plough. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, and he meant it. And he enthusiastically applauded every number.

Organizing creative-music shows certainly has its frustrations. Hopefully, little moments like that enhance the rewards.

View from the door: Jordan Glenn's Mindless Thing

View from the door: Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing

Ryan’s birthday concert opened with Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing. The band played drummer Glenn’s thoughtful, chamber-like compositions, which seemed to be built around Ryan’s poems, with music and words serving one another as accents and punctuation. Ryan’s poems were a gradual tumble of thoughts, introspective scenes cut with surreal changes of direction and a sense of humor.

The band was heavy in tuned, percussive instruments — vibraphone (Rob Lopez), hammered dulcimer (Damon Waitkus), piano (Michael Coleman), and guitar (Karl Evangelista) for sounds that could be placid like deep water or rustling and restless like a mountain stream. Evangelista kept the guitar volume turned down, but still shredded madly in places, creating an oddly pleasant background fuzz — it was a nice effect. Their closing piece had everyone playing homemade can-and-string instruments, gently banging and plucking away.

For the second set, Ryan led a quartet with Scott Looney (piano), Jason Hoopes (bass), and Jordan Glenn (drums) in a long, jazzy improvisation that kicked off as a fast and heavy post-bop bounce. They kept that jazz vibe going for a second piece featuring Rent Romus (sax) and C.J. Borosque (trumpet), who along with Looney had been members of Forward Energy, a Ryan-led improv band. That piece took off like a screaming rocket and kept the energy going for the most part, a good upbeat way to close out the birthday celebration.

From left: Scott R. Looney (in the shadows), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn

From left: Scott R. Looney (in shadow), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn

July 5, 2014 at 12:45 am Leave a comment

Cory Wright: Apples + Oranges

Cory Wright plays Sat., Feb. 1, 2014 at Duende (Oakland), a double CD-release-party with Aram Shelton’s Ton Trio II.

Cory Wright OutfitApples + Oranges (Singlespeed, 2013)

Cory Wright - Apples + Oranges. Click to go to Singlespeed Music.Playful twists on conventional jazz pepper Apples + Oranges, the new album from Bay Area sax/clarinet player Cory Wright and his quintet of locals.

It’s a free-jazz album at heart, with lots of room for improvisation and plenty of unconventional structure in the songs. But it all stems from a sunny disposition that colors the modern bebop composing, producing a great session overall.

“Freddie Awaits the Sleepers” bursts forth to start the album with tangly horns and bright, jumping bass from Lisa Mezzacappa. Jordan Glenn propels the song from the drum kit, continually percolating behind the solos, which use different tactics to weave their way into the songs. After a solid trombone solo by Rob Ewing, Wright’s tenor sax puts up easy runs of notes contrasted against the driving rhythm. Evan Francis’ alto then plays off the fury of Glenn’s drums by working in high, whining registers, a different type of ear-pleasing contrast. (I think I’ve got the order of the solos right.)

“Whaticism” is a perky and upright bit of swinging whimsy, opening with a jaunty sound. The horns act as the chord instrument, backing up each solo with little written-out phrases or, in the case of the bass solo, a repeated joint squeal.

“Low Impact Critter” takes a less jazzy approach, with each instrument pecking sparsely in rapid-fire tradeoffs to create the skeleton of a swing. Later, it’s got flute, clarinet, and trombone mixing it up for a drumless improvisation that’s a lot of fun. “The Sea and Space” is slow but bright, Wright’s clarinet proudly fluttering over a minor-key composition with a catchy bass rhythm and calm lines from the horns. It ends with a hard-driven groove backing Ewing’s trombone solo.

Everything wraps up with “St. Bruno’s Purview,” a showy tune with hints of old-timey melody. It features some throaty, burbly clarinet moments — a complement to two other “St. Bruno’s”-titled tracks that serve as short interludes.

The most drastic mood shift comes with the 11-minute “Eyedrop,” an exercise in sparse improvisation. Its opening themes are small modern-classical scribbles, spaced apart by quiet, crawling improv segments, one of which eventually takes over to form a slowly jazz-oriented improvising over small, composed outlines. It’s gutsy to take up so much of the album with an experimental piece, but it’s also a way to show off another side of the high-caliber band assembled here. Mezzacappa’s bass solo, over slowly cascading horn notes, is a nice lead-in to the song’s final theme. “Eyedrop” might seem like a speed bump to some listeners who tune in more easily to the overly jazzy tracks, like an orange among the apples, but I’m happy to take them all in together.

December 26, 2013 at 9:32 pm Leave a comment

Oakland Free Jazz Roosts at Duende

Duende's dining area: The view from the music loft.

Duende’s dining area: The view from the music loft.

Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.

The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.

Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.

Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.

Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.

Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.

Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.

Johnston's quintet.

Johnston’s quintet.

The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.

Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.

You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.

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December 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

Hamming It Up with Wiener Kids

Wiener Kids will perform, with a 10-person expansion, at Subterranean Arthouse, Berkeley, on on Friday, Sept. 23, 9:00 p.m.

Wiener KidsWhy Don’t You Make Me? (self-released, 2009)

Good music continues to find a home at Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse (told ya). Friday, they’ll be hosting a CD release show for Wiener Kids, a trio being expanded to a 13-tet for the occasion. I went and bought their first trio album on Bandcamp as preparation.

The band was just drummer Jordan Glenn and guitarist Steini Gunnarsson in its first phase, an apparently short period captured on the album, The Steini Year. (Great title.) Now Glenn has teamed with saxophonists Cory Wright and Aram Shelton for a decidedly jazzy sound documented on Why Don’t You Make Me?

There’s a lot of goofing around, as if the album title and cover didn’t tip you off, but the band is a serious vehicle for Glenn’s irreverent compositional ideas. They just happen to be ideas open to some silliness.

Not every track is funny, per se; the music is more like a sly, winking glance, like Groucho Marx breaking the fourth wall. But yeah, you have to like the bombastic tracks. “Nut Job” is based on a crazy, machine-like melody accented with raspy overblowing that just feeds the craziness. “Fruit Blasters” is downright jumpy and cartoony … and speaking of cartoony, “You’re a Baby Kozmo” has a playfully childlike riff that ends, again and again, with a ridiculously long baritone sax note. OK, that’s funny!

It’s all hammed up, but you know, I can dig that in music. (See also Reptet and What Cheer? Brigade.)  And plenty of free-jazz prowess shines through, to keep that part of your brain engaged.

Utter seriousness does invade on one track, “Ballad of the Wee Dogs,” which even has Glenn playing some gentle, sad accordion. It’s got a European feel with a touch of the sad clown in it, and I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It was jarring at first, but on repeated listens, it’s not so out of place.

All three members are all over the Bay Area creative-music scene, making Wiener Kids another of those ensembles that’s likely to surface only occasionally. And you’ll rarely see them with a 10-person add-on. Friday’s show promises to be unique and fun.

September 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm 3 comments

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