Lords of Outland, Keeping It Dark

Lords of OutlandLords O Leaping (Edgetone, 2014)

lordsPowerhouse saxophonists make good foils for Lords of Outland, the free-jazz group that’s been a vehicle for saxophonist Rent Romus for more than 15 years, possibly 20. Vinny Golia made his contribution on the Lords’ Edge of Dark, and it’s Josh Allen’s big tenor sound that adds a jolt to Lords O Leaping.

Lords of Outland — now without Romus’ name on the cover — has explored the more ominous side of free jazz, often inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and the heavies of old-school sci-fi. Romus’ compositions often conjure images of gruff rebellion, but on many track’s it’s electric bassist Ray Schaeffer adding the dark shading, an ominous, liquid low end.

The title track gives each of the three horns — Allen, Romus on alto, and Collette McCaslin on trumpet — a chance to play over a quick-handed bass/drums backing. It’s a terrific exercise in free jazz. Allen’s composition “Plan 9” seems to show a bit of the Albert Ayler influence that’s always driven Romus. It launches abruptly, with the three horns grappling in a way that adds up to an Ayleresque marching band filing into the room:

“Miasma” is a slower track with Allen in powerhouse mode, ending his solo with long screaming notes. Allen also gets to show off some raspy volume in “Rhetoric,” a track that starts with some silky group improvisation.

The Lords’ experiments with analog electronics figured heavily on previous albums, but the pedals and wires (probably performed by McCaslin, although Schaeffer gets a credit for them, too) are limited here to the track “Ara.” Amid the song’s gentle, even-handed setting, the retro bloops and buzzing play out as a solo against the bass and drums.

Throughout the album, Phillip Everett’s drums keeps the energy level up, filling space with quick wrist snaps on cymbals and toms. Romus spends long stretches comping alongside Allen, but of course he gets turns showing off his own darting, agile playing as well. McCaslin’s fleet trumpet adds a steely touch to the sound, although she’s often drowned out by the saxophones. It all adds up to another nice entry from a long-standing edition of the Lords.

Josh Allen’s Deconstruction Orchestra

The Outsound group has posted several videos from this year’s New Music Summit, the annual creative-music festival held every summer in San Francisco. (You’ll find the full playlist of videos here.)

Video is a powerful tool for documenting live music, especially creative music. The music is underrepresented in the media as it is. Video evidence of past performances could be a useful promotional tool, especially when traveling out of town. And for this kind of music, it’s not as if the fans will stay home hoping there’ll be video to replay later — that’s hardly a guarantee.

Here’s Josh Allen conducting an improvising orchestra. It’s a grand, hour-long piece full of big sounds and blazing solos. Rent Romus and Vinny Golia, on saxes, really sink their teeth into it early on. Afterwards, there’s a fiery encore where we get to hear Allen’s tenor sax assault. Great stuff.

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.