Finnish Roots

Jeanette Wrate & Northern Lights EnsembleEchoes of a Northern Sky (Cryptogramophone, 1999)

I came into this one expecting something “world” music-like or new-agey, but the first instants of “Entelli” have drummer Wrate tapping away at the cymbals in a classically jazz fashion. It’s refreshing, like a first whiff of coffee that tells you you’re going to like this cafe.

Finnish folk songs translated into jazz syntax are the root of the album, and it’s full of the bumpy time signatures associated with some European folk musics. Jeff Gauthier‘s violin usually leads the spritely melodies with a clean, airy sound, reminding me in spots of the album Darol Anger and Barbara Higbie did for Windham Hill. So, I suppose there’s a touch of the new-agey sound I expected, emphasized by some of Craig Ochikubo‘s synths, but it’s still a jazz-rooted and acoustically driven album.

It’s certainly easy on the ears (Gauthier’s own albums track a similarly breezy, airy melodicism) but the album packs a lot of non-traditional touches, both in the jazz and Finnish senses. Group improvisation is a big part of “Kantele” (a fun, jabbing tune dedicated to Wrate’s mischevious father), where Wrate ends up adding squeaky toys to the mix, and “Hopsis,” a Wrate composition that opens up for some nice acoustic piano from Ochikubo.

“Sofia’s Flykt” is one of my favorite tracks on here. Written by Maria Kalaniemi (a Finnish accordionist), it’s an uplifting jig with an impish quality. The mood slows down a bit for a nearly bluesy violin solo, Gauthier’s bow dragging over electronically enhanced strings to produce a sound close to an electric guitar. Ochikubo turns more toward an accordion sound on that track and Wrate’s original, “The Shadow of My Tango,” giving those songs a bit more of a folky, traditional sound.

Jazz is the dominant force here, though, as emphasized by the sweetly straight-jazzy track, “Evening Prayer,” ending the album. It’s neither new-agey nor prayerful, with a touch of New Orleans in its attitude.

This was Cryptogramophone’s first release, and one I hadn’t heard until this month. It was a nice start for a really good record label.

L.A., Hear Richard Sears

Performing tonight, Dec. 11, 8:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., at The Blue Whale (Los Angeles), opening for Endangered Blood.

Richard SearsRick (self-released, 2010)

“Opening” isn’t quite the word for Sears’ band’s show tonight. Down in Los Angeles today/tonight, Sears, Endangered Blood, and a cast of dozens will be performing tonight, a benefit show for The Blue Whale, a venue that’s been good to the creative music scene.

Like the poster (at right) says, the festival starts at 12:30 p.m. and goes and goes and goes.

As mentioned earlier, pianist Richard Sears was the catalyst for this series of posts about some of the opening acts on Endangered Blood’s western tour. So, we’ve come kind of full circle, to tonight’s show and the album Rick.

It’s far from your typical jazz album; in fact, if anything, Rick bears resemblance to the work Jim Black has done with his band, Alas No Axis. Sears spends a lot of his time on organ or electric piano playing foil to Adam Ratner’s jangly, pounding guitar and Louis Cole’s drumming. Sax from Sam Gendel or Doug Mosher tops things off. It’s a fresh combination full of new energy.

Like Alas No Axis, the band on Rick hits a mix of jazz ideas and indie rock. It’s a lively combination on faster tracks like “Rick” and “Radio Flyer,” which kick off the album. Things slow down from there but get no less interesting. “Blue Whale, Blue Wail” is a soaring slow burn, and “11:11,” where acoustic piano actually shows up, is a quiet and thoughtful track bringing the album to a nice close.

It’s time for the big confession about Endangered Blood: I didn’t get to the show in Oakland last night, and I knew all along that I wouldn’t, due to a family commitment. I hope the turnout was great, and I wish I could jet down to L.A. for this Blue Whale festival, which sounds amazing. Hopefully, all this typing has done some good to help support the shows. And on a selfish note, I’ve learned a little about some artists new to me, such as Sears. That’s always an exciting journey.

Endangered Blood: The Openers

Is it weird that I’ve been obsessing about the opening acts on Endangered Blood‘s Western U.S. tour?

To recap: This is the NYC quartet of Chris Speed (sax/clarinet), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Jim Black (drums), and Trevor Dunn (bass).  They’re all a big part of the current downtown NYC scene, but they rarely get out west due to the impracticalities of touring. But Dunn used to live in the Bay Area, and Speed and Black once hailed from Seattle, so they’ve got ties.

Anyway. The discovery of Richard Sears‘ music is what got me thinking along these lines. From there, some known quantities and one unknown but very interesting one turned up.

Taken from the Jim Black events page, here’s Endangered Blood’s schedule.

Dec. 5, Chicago, @ The Hungry Brain. This already happened, so we’ll skip it.

December 6th, Seattle, @ The ChapelWayne Horvitz Quartet. With Neil Welch (sax), Willem de Koch (trombone), and Luke Bergman (bass).  Presumably you know the many colors of Horvitz. Welch is quite active on the Seattle scene as well. His Narmada album shows a late-’60s reverence to the origins of free jazz, and, separately, an interest in Indian ragas… but he’s also done work with loops and pedals.  Here’s a review of Narmada, and you can hear samples at CD Baby.  Presented by the Wayward Music Series.

December 7th, Portland, OR @ Hop and VinePaxselin Quartet.  Fronted by sax and clarinet, Paxselin dabbles in bopping free jazz and some somber chamber-sounding material as well. Presented by Portland Eye & Ear Control. Hear samples of them on CD Baby, eMusic, or CD Baby again.

December 8th, Eureka, CA @ Red Fox TavernWSG Krawdad? Dunno.

December 9th, Boulder, CO @ Old Main, CU CampusKneebody.  An awesome band that I’m stunned to discover I haven’t mentioned on this blog yet. Youthful, creative, and exciting enough to have been the first non-Dave-Douglas artist to appear on Dave Douglas’ then-new record label. This one’s a double-headliner show (like a double A-side single, for you oldster types out there) and might be the most exciting bill on the docket. Read more at, and sample their new album on eMusic.

December 10th, Oakland, CA @ Studio 1510 Performance Space — Scott Looney (piano), Doug Stuart (bass), Kjell Nordeson (drums), a new Bay Area trio. Looney can be heard in contexts from jazzy free-jazz to abstract improvising to pure electronics; this trio looks like it’ll stick to the first category. Sounds very promising.

December 11th, Los Angeles, @ The Blue WhaleRichard Sears (piano) and band. Sears’ album, Rick, is streamable on his site, and it’s good stuff. Just check out the exciting title track, with its pulsing guitar and very, well, Chris Speed-like sax played by Sam Gandel.

December 12th, Phoenix, AZ @ Modified Arts — Unknown.

December 13th, Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture — Folky acoustic music from Sara P. Smith, formerly the trombonist with Chicago-area groups like Isotope 217. You can hear more at

A terrific list, overall. Given enough resources and free time, I’d be tempted to follow Endangered Blood around just to listen to their opening acts. Hopefully some of them benefit from the exposure, or at least get a good audience (gigs are so hard to come by, for many of these folks).  If nothing else, some of them can say they’ve gained one new listener already.

You can hear Endangered Blood’s music on Myspace and YouTube (see below).

Endangered Blood, Richard Sears, Here, L.A., NYC

Stringing things together on the Web again:

1. Holy cow, some downtown NYCers are coming our way.  Endangered Blood will be playing at Studio 1510 (Oakland) on Friday, Dec. 10.  Here’s the calendar listing.

The band is Chris Speed (sax), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Jim Black (drums).  I’m familiar with the constituent parts but not the whole.  This Danish calendar says they “create a new sound that integrates swing, free jazz, and rock, while maintaining the experimental energy that all these musicians are known for,” and it points to another couple of more detailed quotes, from sources closer to home. The video below offers some clue as well.

Opening that show will be the Bay Area trio of Scott Looney (keys), Doug Stuart (bass), and Kjell Nordeson (drums).


2. That show is part of a western U.S. tour, so they’ll be in L.A. too, at Blue Whale on Saturday Dec. 11.

3. Keyboardist Richard Sears will open for them in L.A., with a full band. (Photo at right by Dario Griffin.) I’d never heard of Sears before, but his album, Rick, is streamable on his Web site and sounds pretty dang cool — the title track blends a choppy, agitated guitar rhythm with the kind of lazyboat horn melody that’s found on some Chris Speed and Jim Black records.  Thus do we come full circle, if we stretch hard enough.