Where Hafez Is Coming From

I hope DJ Fo doesn’t mind me cribbing from his recent KZSU show to mention a couple of notes about Hafez Modirzadeh, who’ll play his blend of Persian scales and jazz dynamics at Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz) on Weds., Oct. 10.

It’s a CD release show for Post-Chromodal Out!, now out on Pi Recordings.

One important point first: The accent is on the third syllable:  MO_deer_ZAH_day.

The other bit of news:  The show will be Modirzadeh and pianist Vijay Iyer playing as a duet — one set only, starting 7:00 p.m. — and it will feature a normally tuned piano. Modirzadeh does promise that they’ll end the show with a tuning surprise, to add a flavor of his system and encourage the audience to “retune” their own thinking, as he put it.

The piano is the part that fascinates me most about Post-Chromodal Out!, just because the sound is so alien. The chords come out warped; they’re the sound of an optical illusion. So, the fact that the whole show won’t use a retuned piano is a little disappointing. Then again, my ears have never fully adjusted to microtonal systems, and while they sound OK to me on horns (some notes sound unexpectedly “off,” but it’s easy to digest), the keyboards have a mildly seasick sound to me.

The Kuumbwa crowds are always warm and friendly, but I don’t know if they’re ready for an hour and a half of that.

Still, the idea of the specially tuned piano fascinates me. Modirzadeh told Fo they’ve been doing the retuning in Iran, to match Persian scales, for a long time, so the process is routine.

Modirzadeh doesn’t use a straight Persian scale, though. The music is based on what he calls “weavings,” a criss-crossing of equal temperament and other culture’s musics (Persian is just one ingredient among many) to produce scales that aren’t necessarily symmetric.

He told Fo he developed this system by “looking outside myself” — by studying the African-American experience (which is crucial to jazz history) and by listening to Flamenco music, of all things, probing its similarities to Persian music. I’ve just started listening to Modrizadeh’s older album Bemsha Alegria, and the Flamenco influence there seems clear.

But back to the piano. Iyer had to rediscover the instrument as he went along, because under the new tuning system, his instincts couldn’t blindly guide him. He learned by playing, reacting to the sounds of his own instrument. I liked Modirzadeh’s description of Iyer allowing himself to be vulnerable by stepping into this process.

The same would be true of other musicians, of course. I think I remember Robert Fripp once saying it takes three years for a musician to truly, properly learn a scale or mode. But with piano, you’ve got those chords. In my head, it seems like an extra layer of things that can go wrong, an n-squared problem. Anyway, I’m impressed.

The interview was great and was accented by Fo’s deep knowledge of world music. You really should check out his Jazz Observer blog.

Modirzadeh has also been interviewed by The World, which produced a 3.5-minute story that includes interview snippets with Iyer.

Hafez Modirzadeh on KZSU Friday

Hafez Modirzadeh will be interviewed live on KZSU-FM.  It’ll be on Friday, Oct. 5, at about 8:00 a.m. Pacific time.

Modirzadeh’s new album, Post-Chromodal Out!, has been receiving lots of attention. It’s jazz based on Persian scales, a format Modirzadeh and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar have been collaborating on. (Previous mention.) For this album, they’ve added Vijay Iyer playing a microtuned piano, which “gives Post-Chromodal Out! its strongest pull of disorientation,” as Nate Chinen of The New York Times so aptly puts it.

Anyway, the plan is for DJ Fo to interview Modirzadeh on the air this Friday. The occasion is an upcoming show: Weds., Oct. 10 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Iyer will be on hand — whether playing an electronic keyboard that’s microtuned, or a specially retuned piano, I don’t know.

Hey, maybe they’ll mention that in the interview! You can find out by tuning in: 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or kzsulive.com anywhere else on the Internet.

In addition to radio duties, Fo keeps a jazz blog at JazzObserver.com.  Very professional, and augmented with some of Fo’s own photography. Check it out for his detailed reports from the recent Monterey Jazz Festival.

Amendola Approacheth

Drummer Scott Amendola is about to put out his first album leading a trio, Lift. It’s coming Oct. 19.

You can hear tracks by going to Amendola’s “Audio/Video” page. Click on “radio,” and the fixed program will start with the snappy funk of “Lima Bean” followed by the airy drum solo that opens “Lift,” the title track that sketches a peaceful twilight setting. (Then stick around for the high-strung funk of “59th Street Blues,” from Amendola’s first album.)

You can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but here goes. The surface is showing a reimagining of T.J.Kirk-type funk and a rediscovery of jazz territory. But the start to “Lift” shows there’s going to be room for some wide-open improvisation as well.

Amendola also has a love of African pop and a growing sensibility for electronics both as featured instruments and as backdrop. Those factors gave the Scott Amendola Band a broad scope. The most recent album, Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005) does have some funk and rock elements — one track could be a Crazy Horse instrumental — but it’s also got deep, ambitious pieces like the reverent “Cesar Chavez.”

That band also benefitted from a lineup of expansive players — Jeff Parker and Nels Cline on guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Lift pares things down to a trio, with Parker and S.A.Band bassist John Shifflett. But at the same time, Amendola has broadened his scope in compositions and in performance options — his electronics play some key roles in recent Nels Cline Singers albums, The Celestial Septet and the colossal Initiate.

Amendola is taking the trio on a small CD release tour around the Bay Area and up the coast.  (Note that the itinerary includes Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View — a neat local coffee house that’s willing to go out on a limb for the sake of good music. Support them!)

Sat. Oct. 23 — Blue Whale, Los Angeles
Sun. Oct. 24 — Dana St. Roasting, Mountain View, 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Oct. 25 — Yoshi’s Oakland, separate shows at 8:00 and 10:00
Tue. Oct. 26 — Earshot Jazz Festival (Cornish College of the Arts), Seattle
Wed. Oct. 27 — The Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, Ore.
Thur. Oct. 28 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, 7:00, or 6:00 if you want dinner beforehand

‘Go Home’ Comes Out

Ironic that my first night out in weeks would be to see a band called Go Home. I’d written about them here. They opened a California mini-tour tonight at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, and they brought the house down. You can relive the moment via this really awful picture from my cheap but loveable camera.

gohomeliveGo Home is a supergroup, at least from a Bay Area fan’s POV. To review: Ben Goldberg (clarinet) does the composing for the band, molding songs from Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy influences and adding a touch of Klezmer. But he’s written these pieces knowing that Charlie Hunter is in there on 7-stringed guitar, ready to deliver the funk (as is drummer Scott Amendola), leading to some hard-driving, danceably bluesy songs.

Hunter, Goldberg, and Amendola all have local followings, so it was a receptive crowd tonight, with generous applause after almost every solo. It was fun. Ron Miles was the only unknown quantity to the crowd, being a trumpeter from Colorado, but he won them over immediately with his solo on “TGO,” the catchy opener. Everyone got a solo on that one, actually, and it was a nice way to rev up the audience.

Continue reading “‘Go Home’ Comes Out”