Two Sides of Rent Romus

Rent Romus’ Life’s Blood EnsembleRogue Star (Edgetone, 2018)

Rent Romus’ Lords of OutlandIn the Darkness We Speak a Sound Brightness and Life (Edgetone, 2018)

Saxophonist Rent Romus has been more prolific than ever in the last couple of years, or at least it seems that way to me. He has a spate of new material out on his Edgetone Records label, including these two CDs from a couple of longstanding bands.

 
Rogue Star, by Romus’ Life’s Blood Ensemble, presents his more formalized side — compositions rooted in concert-hall jazz styles, with dynamic multi-horn themes, the cool touch of Mark Clifford on vibraphone, and, of course, plenty of space for group improvisation.

The Life’s Blood Ensemble started in 1999 as a trio including drummer Timothy Orr, and the group was introduced to the world on Blood Motions (Edgetone, 2001), built around compositions from Romus’ time in Copenhagen. The band has since grown in size and ambition, becoming a three-horn septet playing backed by the dual basses of Max Johnson and Safa Shokrai, who get an unaccompanied duet to start “Cassini” and in the middle of “Think!” Tracks like “Emotism” are intelligently plotted, with polished unison lines and crisply energetic solos.

“Think!” operates in bursts of ’60s-feeling energy, interspersed with composed lines shaping cohesive group improvisation. “Space Is Expanding” features big-band-style solos and drumming, possibly a nod to Sun Ra. And I love the way the title track blossoms into a loose multi-horn improvisation with a relaxed, sunny feel.

 
romus-darknessI think of Lords of Outland as Romus’ more gutteral outlet, rooted in jazz but with a contrary streak. This is one of Romus’ earliest bands, created more than 20 years ago and reviewed on this blog multiple times.

In recent years, with the steady rhythm section of Ray Schaeffer (six-string electric bass) and Philip Everett (drums), the Lords have moved into the territory of prog and cosmic rock and, increasingly, electronics played by multiple band members.

The electronics get an even bigger role on In the Darkness, mainly from the hands of Collette McCaslin. She plays trumpet and sax as well, but many of her contributions are in the form of analog blasts and bleeps, an extra touch of aggression and flamboyance. I presume it’s her delivering the solo electronics showcase on the track “Interstellar Deletion.”

The “darkness” of the title often feels like a joyous darkness, as on the nine-minute “Open Your Hand and Walk Away,” with Romus’ tenor sax calmly testifying among the din. That track also includes a good spacey showcase for Schaeffer’s bass and effects.

Many of the tracks are outright bright, really.  “From a Trunk Buried in My Closet” develops into a chaotic, celebratory flow underlaid by squelchy bass and subtle garnishes of electronics. “A Pile of Dust We Emerge” has McCaslin adding soprano sax tones for additional color.

 
“See the Path Before You” adds a touch of mysticism — a spirited sax-and-electronics duo, followed by ceremonial somberness between trumpet (also McCaslin) and sax. “As Water We Emerge Toward Us” is a more disjoint kind of free-jazz, fast-paced but with plenty of white space for a more contemplative mood.

These albums have a lot in common, starting with Romus’ fleet sax work, but they represent different angles on the process of making music. They just happen to have come out at around the same time, and they do make for a nice set.

KZSU Day of Noise 2016, Happening Now

2016“Now,” meaning Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, Pacific time.

Every year, KZSU puts on 24 hours of mostly improvised, mostly noisy music — electronics, ambient, jazzy, sound-wall-ey, you name it. It’s a glorious tradition led by DJ Abra (aka Dr. Information).

From 3:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., you’ll hear The Voice of Doom — a barrage of exotic instruments from the collection of Doom the KZSU DJ who started the Day of Noise tradition years ago.

From 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., bran(…)pos will be on. I know him for harsh, vocal-driven noise, but who knows — he could perform anything.

Improv-rock group Lost Planet performs from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

From 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., you’ll hear a couple of groups from the Bay Area improv scene, combining classical and jazz ideas with good old noise. Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, and John McCowen perform first, followed by Tania Chen, Matt Ingalls, and Ken Ueno.

Day of Noise favorite Henry Plotnick, a teen prodigy who weaves hypnotic layers of keyboard minimalism, performs from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Computer-music pioneer Tim Perkis seizes the airwaves from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Rent Romus and Collette McCaslin of longstanding jazz outfit Lords of Outland play as part of a trio from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. They’re both very noisy people when they want to be; don’t expect “jazz.”

… And there’s a lot more that I’m probably missing as I skim the schedule. The whole thing is listed here, and you can listen online at kzsulive.stanford.edu.

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.

Outsound: The Axiom

Louis Jordan.   Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
Louis Jordan. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.

More about July’s Outsound New Music Summit, this time from the jazz-and-compositions concert that was titled, “The Axiom” …

I wrote about the concluding act, Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, here (now with pictures). The rest of the evening was solid as well — and Bruckmann’s wasn’t the only impressive long-form, world-premiere piece. Lewis Jordan got a great reception for his jazz suite, “Only Children.”

The suite felt large, musically tracing the path from childhood to old age, and featuring a poem of Jordan’s about the adults that children become. It began with a springtime feel, content and innocent. Later motifs included a fun Mediterranean-sunset air that became the backdrop for one of India Cooke’s best violin solos.

Overall, the piece carried on in rich jazz tradition, with engaging solos and, in some places, group work over forceful, swinging bass riffs. I liked the way John-Carlos Perea held the music together during those passages.

Louis Jordan's Music at Large:  India Cooke, Jordan, JImmy Biala, John-Carlos Perea, Karl Evangelista.  Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
Louis Jordan’s Music at Large: India Cooke, Jordan, JImmy Biala, John-Carlos Perea, Karl Evangelista. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.

Toward the end, the group settled on a gentle, almost weary riff that sounded like a concluding statement. It seemed to repeat one time too many … just lingering … and then, it burst into a jaunty blues, not too fast but saucy and lively. It definitely put a smile on your face. They jammed with that for a few minutes before letting Karl Evangelista erupt into an all-out guitar freakout.

I like to think this part of the suite was meant to show a bursting of happiness and activity late in one’s life, as opposed to the resignation of being used up. In that light, “Only Children” left a feeling of joy and hope in the air.

Rent Romus. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
Rent Romus. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.

Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland played a strong set mixing free jazz with heavy, sky-high psych. It included a few new pieces from a sci-fi-influenced suite about “Dr. K.” and also at least one from the Lords’ considerable catalog. The quartet lineup was enhanced by two players from Columbus, Ohio: Hasan Abdur-Razzaq (sax) and L.A. Jenkins (guitar).

Abdur-Razzaq — part of the Rejuvenation Trio album that I reviewed a couple of years ago, added a deep sense of the jazz tradition, while Jenkins’ guitar colored the mix with psych reverb. Both were good complements to the Lords of Outland sound — Jenkins fitting the music’s dark sci-fi overtures and Abdur-Razzaq helping tether it to jazz. C.J. Borosque delivered some crisp trumpet solos, and of course, we got a few minutes of Romus playing two saxes at once.

Overall, a great show. Bruckmann’s “…Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” has now been studio-recorded for eventual release, and one can only home Jordan’s “Only Children” can similarly live on.

LA Jenkins.   Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
LA Jenkins. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
Karl Evangelista.  Photo by Peter B. Kaars.
Karl Evangelista. Photo by Peter B. Kaars.

Bringing ‘Lords of Outland’ to Outsound

Rent Romus’ Lords of OutlandThee Unhip (Edgetone, 2012)

The Outsound New Music Summit is a labor of love for all volunteers but especially for Rent Romus, who not only runs the whole shebang but does an aces job raising funds and gathering sponsors. It’s been a while since he’s booked himself to play at the festival, though.

Lords of Outland will be part of the final night’s performance, Saturday, July 27, a show subtitled “The Axiom” and running with the theme of blended composition and improvisation. (It will include Kyle Bruckmann’s large-scale, Pynchon-influenced piece, as previously mentioned.)

Originally a jazz band with Romus channeling late-era Coltrane on his sax, Lords of Outland has developed a dark side in the past several years, delving into electronics and sound-experimentation for a more ghoulish atmosphere. Ray Schaeffer’s down-in-the-mud electric bass certainly helps on that front, but outright electronics and the occasional ferocious free-for-all make for a more overtly ghoulish atmosphere.

Jazz is not dead in these tracks. “If Ornette Grew Cacti” opens up with an appropriately prickly take on what could have been one of Ornette’s danceable themes. From there, it goes into a speedy free-jazz attack — Philip Everett’s drumming fills the air with joyous cymbal clashing, and Schaeffer jams madly on bass. There’s also the tuneful and almost traditional “Temple of Dolphy, which shows off Romus’ sax soloing in a relatively light and uncluttered setting.

Throughout the album, C.J. Borosque shows some great work on trumpet. She’s positively screaming on “If Ornette Grew Cacti” and opens up “Planet of the Plutarchs” with some terrific improv, starting with vocalized growls and moving into bright, quick riffs. That track blooms into a bright free-jazz jam, with the bass adding a touch of psych here and there.

The free jazz and noise sides converge all over the place but are used to particularly good effect on “Dedicated to Lord Kraken off Titan off the Shores of Saturn,” where Romus cuts through thick electronics with somber, reverent sax in long tones, a ceremony of respect. In the end, it all explodes into a free-jazz celebration.

This final concert of the Summit should be a doozy. In addition to the Lords and Kyle Bruckmann, the bill includes Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large, a quintet bolstered by guitarist Karl Evangelista and violinist India Cooke. Here’s the Outsound “In the Field” video introducing Jordan, a veteran of the Bay Area jazz scene.

(See also: Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland.)

Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland

Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland with Vinny GoliaEdge of Dark (Edgetone, 2011)

The Lords of Outland, with Golia, play Sat. Dec. 17 at Community Music Center: 544 Capp St. in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Over the past 17 years or so, Lords of Outland has gone from being a free-jazz band to playing  a noisier, darker brew filled with wild electronics. Edge of Dark nudges the pendulum back toward the jazzy side by adding L.A. reeds master Vinny Golia, pitting his sax next to Rent Romus‘.

Maybe that’s one way of interpreting the title being Edge of Dark — but it’s still dark. Romus has read a lot of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, and maybe combined with the current political climate, it adds up to some ominous, looming compositions.

There’s plenty of free-jazz energy to be found, though. The two saxophonists get into some nice sparring matches, as on “Over the Rift” (both of them on tenor sax).  Golia shows of a fluid, rapid-fire style, generally more acrobatic than Romus’. Nothing against Romus — who puts forth a gruff attack and, as usual, adds lots of inventive expressiveness to his playing — it’s just that Vinny Golia is, you know, Vinny Golia.

In fact, Golia’s ebullient playing can sometimes dilute the dark mood, as on “Into Dune,” a creeping, freeform bass-and-drums exploration. Golia’s solo is bright and energetic, cutting away the near-psychedelic wandering nature of the track for a few minutes.

But it’s not as if he doesn’t fit the personality of the album. Golia does well at enhancing the slowly intense burn of “Spreading Tar of Cosmic Microinfinity,” adding a wailing soprano sax to the song’s bellowing midpoint. And he puts in a furious solo on “Over the Rift,” another track with a slow and heavy feel.

Some of the album’s highlights come when Golia takes the spotlight completely — just him against just the drums and bass, and maybe a twiddle or two from C.J. Borosque’s electronics. “Body of Memory” is a good example, with Golia going all Evan Parker on us in a twirling, fluttering solo backed only by quiet drums and ominous electric bass (played by longtime Lords members Philip Everett and Ray Schaeffer).

Just to show the dark album doesn’t want for lighter moments: “Ovular Amphivoid” is actually kind of swingy, one of the most directly jazz-derived tracks. It cuts immediately into cutting, choppy free-jazz soloing, with Romus grumpy and puffing and Golia in overblowing mode. “Night Nova” has a springy ’60s free-jazz feel, partly because of Golia’s darting flute. The track quiets down for an electronics solo, after which the band adds some abstract vocalizing to the improvising.