Slow Burn

Grosse Abfahrt — Everything That Disappears (Emanem, 2009)

source:emanemdisc.comThe name, they assure us, is German for “great departure,” and it’s assigned to a varying collection of Bay Area improvisers teamed up with European guests. This is the third such venture, with Le Quan Ninh (bass drum) and Frederic Blondy (piano) occupying the guest chairs. (More about Ninh here.)

Like the other Grosse Abfahrt album I’ve heard, erstes Luftschiff u Kalifornien (Creative Sources, 2007), there’s a patient aesthetic at work. Although <i>Everything That Disappears</i> isn’t as relentlessly quiet, the pieces build patiently, loose membranes of sound drifting by.

While you’ve got four different players doing some level of electronics, it’s not always easy to distinguish the electronic sources from the acoustic ones. Some of the high-pitched whistles on the third track could conceivably be coming from an acoustic source — a bowed piece of metal or styrofoam in Gino Robair‘s hands, maybe. It adds up to a swampy mystery, odd sounds that could be coming from wispy acoustic playing.

The opening track is a foreboding hum, atop which are sprinkled tiny sounds: metallic tinkles or the tap of a drum. The title here is “The lack Americans connected What disappears.” (Titles are taken from the first words in succeeding lines of a book, a very “This night wounds time” exercise.)

The minimalism there is an exception, though. Track 2, “negativity paradox achieved in humour realm” gets into some recognizable squiggles from the acoustic instruments, like Matt Ingalls’ clarinet, or the thumping of objects placed on Ninh’s drum, or the hush of air blown through Tom Djll‘s drumpet.

“Admittedly, social relations This” gets even noisier, packed with the crinkled and curled sounds common to acoustic free improv, ominous calm tones from the bass and/or bass drum, and smatterings of electronics added as otherworldly decorations.

Track 4 is the longest, at 38 minutes, and it opens like the start of a epic. A metallic hum, maybe some guitar feedback, and lightly ghostly sounds conjure up images of a barren desert plain. A slow-moving cacophany builds up — the individual sounds might flit past quickly, but the overall flow feels slow. You’re wading an ancient river here, not getting face-planted by a tsunami. The flow dissolves into brief silences or near-silences a couple of times — one intriguing example being just before the midpoint, where a calm percussion rhythm takes over, then gives way to subtle, hearing-test tones from the electronics. It ends with tense, high-pitched electronic squeals backed by what sounds like Ninh scraping mallets against the bass drum.

Track 4 even has an epic title: “geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters.”

It takes discipline for nine people to craft an improvisation with this level of delicacy. You might not like the band name, but this is a compelling ongoing project.

Playlist: Feb. 27, 2009

(Update: You don’t need to know much French to appreciate the tour photos on Lê Quan Ninh‘s blog. He and Doneda had quite the day going from Berkeley to Stanford up to San Francisco — he’s posted pictures of all three cities and the belowmentioned sfSound event. Cool stuff.)

KZSU playlist for Friday, Feb. 27, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Highlight: Lê Quan Ninh and Michel Doneda performing live!

le-quan-ninhAnd they were loud! I’d heard both of them in a variety of contexts, but maybe because I’d just been sampling the CD from The International Nothing, I was in the mind of expecting quiet, calm interplay. Nope.

Quan used a bass drum as a platform, creating sounds with an army of objects — a rolled-around pine cone, or the ends of drumsticks rubbed along the top, or a rock lightly scraped against the tuning pegs. He started the set by blowing viciously through a cymbal hole onto the drum surface, a big stormy sound.

Doneda got into some subtle long tones here and there but also used his saxes for brash, raspy declarations. A lot of listeners probably had trouble placing the saxophone amid the din. It was cool.

The first hour of the show was devoted to the sfSound Microfestival of New and Experimenal Music, a three-day set of shows that includes some visitors from Europe and from elsewhere in the U.S. It starts tonight, as noted here.

In addition to the live set, we played CDs from other artists at the festival, interspersed with Kyle Bruckmann explaining the whole concept. Doneda and Lê also talked about how they met up musically in communist Poland in 1986, noting that the cheesecake there was so much better than what one can find elsewhere. Doneda declared their second, shorter improv to be titled “Cheesecake Forever,” and so it was.

Continue reading “Playlist: Feb. 27, 2009”

Live Music Friday: Lê Quan Ninh, Michel Doneda

It looks like we’re on track to have Lê Quan Ninh (percussion) and Michel Doneda (sax) down to the station tomorrow, to play a set of what I’d assume would be improvised music.

We’ll try to get their live set started around 3:00 p.m., on KZSU at 90.1 FM in the Bay Area, or at

Both men are in town from France to participate in the sfSound Microfestival of new and experimental music, comprising mostly composed pieces but also some improvisation. Shows will be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at OCD Dance Commons.

Check the sfSound site for details on those shows.

Marco’s Return


Marco Eneidi is back in town for one show, this Thursday, Feb. 26 at the Luggage Store Gallery. He’ll be playing solo saxophone for one set.

Eneidi was an integral part of the local scene, but he moved away to Vienna about four years ago, partly out of disillusionment with the musical opportunities in this country. His playing is like a springboard with a fast-forward button, carving out long chains of notes in a style often compared with Jimmy Lyons. Like Lyons, Eneidi’s resume includes some studying under Cecil Taylor.

“The way he attacks and resolves what he plays is always felt in a very passionate, almost crying way,” drummer Donald Robinson wrote in the liner notes to his 2000 album, Straight Lines Skewed.  “In ballads he is beautiful and strong, in large improvised music ensembles he cuts through with a clear, distinctive voice.”

I don’t know why Eneidi has just the one show scheduled (his MySpace calendar listed about a two-week stay here). I hope people — by which I mean me, especially — make the most of it by showing up.

Arbitrary snippets from the Eneidi catalogue:

* Marco Eneidi, William Parker, Donald Robinson — Cherry Box (Eremite) … An energetic trio outing and a nice showcase not just for Eneidi, but for Robinson’s drumming.

* Peter Brotzmann, Lisle Ellis, Macro Eneidi, Jackson Krall — Live at Spruce Street Forum (Botticelli) … nice loud stuff, recorded in 2002. The last CD so far on Eneidi’s own label, to my knowledge

* Glenn Spearman — Free Worlds (Black Saint) … A posthumous compilation featuring Bay Area tenor saxophonist Spearman, a close friend and musical partner of Eneidi’s, in a variety of contexts. Spearman died in 1998, and Eneidi organized a few memorial festivals in his honor. Spearman is on Wikipedia, but his impact on the local scene goes far beyond that bare-bones entry.

* Marco Eneidi, Lisle Ellis, Peter Valsamis — American Roadworks (CIMP) … This trio toured as Sound on Survival, and for this particular recording, they seemed to concentrate on a laid-back, bluesy style.  IIRC, it’s a chance to hear a different side of Eneidi.  Sound on Survival also recorded for Henceforth Records.

* Donald Robinson Trio — Straight Lines Skewed (CIMP) … As noted above.  Robinson’s drums team with Eneidi on sax and Lisle Ellis on bass.