A Vast Collage Curated by Laura Jurd

Laura JurdStepping Back, Jumping In (Edition, 2019)

Trumpeter Laura Jurd might be best known for her quartet Dinosaur, which mixes creative jazz with a pop aesthetic. It’s decent stuff, quite hip. But Stepping Back, Jumping In is a different animal: a tumult of ideas from Jurd and four other composers, drawing from a rich pool of creativity.

Commissioned by King’s Place in London and featuring 15 musicians in various combinations, Stepping Back does have a cohesive sound, a brainy jazz approach with a sense of humor. Jurd opens the album with her composition “Jumping In,” a multi-paneled mural full of swirling colors, complete with banjo. The hyperactive opening really does jump in, and the piece doesn’t let go from there, seemingly piling on with ideas from every corner of Jurd’s brain.

Strings feature heavily. The Ligeti Quartet, who worked with Jurd on Landing Ground (Edition, 2012), contribute a variety of textures, including elements of circus-y classical, the folk-tinged whimsy common in European jazz. The Ligetis are not just an adornment, but the core fiber of some pieces.

“Ishtar” builds a spare but bustling landscape where crooked and/or whimsical denizens pass by — it’s almost like surreal people-watching. Elliott Galvin composed that one (he and the other Dinosaur members appear in various spots on the album) and contributes and a lush piano solo. “Companion Species,” composed by Anja Lauvdal and Heida K. Johannesdottir, starts with a hailstorm of prepared piano and a Bitches Brew-style flash mob jam, before jumping into a funky groove that gets fusion-proggy toward the end.

The album is not all frantic. “I Am the Spring, You Are the Earth,” composed by Soosan Lolavar, is more about a feeling than any specific melody. Jurd’s trumpet joins the strings and a percussionist for what feels like a guided improvisation, with the sound blooming like the gradual, gentle ending of a long winter. Jurd displays a more conventional type of composing on “Jump Cut Shuffle,” a straight string quartet (by modern standards) based on a catchy recurring melody — but it’s neither staid nor straightforward.

For more about Jurd: All About Jazz ran an interview in May, discussing composition, the formation of Dinosaur, and influences from Stravinsky to Deerhoof.

Jared Redmond, Center for New Music, 2/26/20

jaredredmond-park-seongsu00059340
Photo: Seongsu Park. Source.

The last live show I saw before going into social isolation was pianist Jared Redmond giving a recital at the Center for New Music (San Francisco). The program was very modern, leaning toward brand new compositions, the kind built of hammering densities and streaks of silence. Lots of reliance on the uppermost and lowermost registers, often together.

Redmond kept the program accessible and fun by introducing each piece in detail, discussing some of the themes and ideas at play. Composer Jung-eun Park was on hand for Redmond’s performance of her Moto Perpetuum (2019-20), explaining that the title comes from the sense of perpetual motion in traditional classical music (Bach, for example), those seemingly endless rivers of notes.

Kurt Rohde was there as well, telling the history of his composition Trotsky’s Icepick, which Redmond had played previously in an earlier form (2018) that Rohde later revised (2019). The piece was inspired by the death of Leon Trostky as depicted in a play, where Trotsky fends off and defeats his attackers but is mortally wounded. On the piano, the initial strike was represented by piercing stabs at the very highest keys. The ensuing battle made use of very high and low registers, sometimes in mirror-image progressions that approached the middle of the keyboard from both ends.

As the piece would down, there was a particular sound Redmond made, a chord muffled and then resonating. I don’t know how he did that. Prepared piano would have been my guess, but he didn’t “prepare” anything, and I didn’t see his feet moving on the pedals. Maybe he had two pedals depressed at once? At any rate — a new sound, organically produced. That was intriguing.

Redmond’s own Doth (2019) was packed with brutal and complex snarls of low notes, reflecting his interest in metal music. The Ji-ye Noh composition Gloria (2019-20) stuck to lots of high-register twisting paths. And Redmond closed with Giacinto Scelsi’s Un Adieu (1988), the last piece the composer wrote — gentle and sad, and full of ringing overtones.

Conditions permitting, Redmond is due to return in early 2021 for a pair of piano and electronics recitals, according to his concert calendar. He lives and works in South Korea — hence, his access to new Korean compositions — but seems to have ties to the Bay Area. I think he was even wearing a Berkeley T-shirt under his concert jacket.

I could post a video of Redmond playing Ligeti, but I think I’d rather show off some of his composing. Here’s “Hemistichs” (2008) for string sextet.

Dave Douglas’ Take on Modern Chamber Music

Dave Douglas & Monash Art EnsembleFabliaux (Greenleaf, 2015)

dave-douglas-monash-art-ensemble-fabliaux-greenleafYou might get scared by the first strains of “Forbidden Flags,” which opens Fabliaux with regal horns indicating the start of a knightly joust or a Shakespeare play.

But there’s jazz to be had here, nestled into a setting of new chamber music. The Dave Douglas you know and love is in there as well. He’s teamed up with the Monash Art Ensemble, an Australian collective that commissions new works including a 2014 album recorded with George Lewis, to create a jazz/new-music mix, the work of a creative big band with flair.

The regal opening and the medieval album cover are nods to  Fabliaux‘s inspiration, the 14th-century French composers of the Ars Nova. (Wrong century for Shakespeare.) The concept here is not about the sound of 14th-century music; it seems to be more about building off the rhythmic ideas like hocketing or specific types of counterpoint. The music produced by the ensemble — comprised of four quartet ensembles (strings, brass, winds, percussion) plus electronics — flashes through a variety of tempraments and sounds, in the end producing something that really could sit in the jazz section.

“Forbidden Flags” soon gives way to more big-band-sounding harmonies backing a trumpet solo (Douglas himself, I assume). “Legions” has the horns charting bold big-band chords behind the opening electric piano solo and the cool 7/8 rhythm.

“Tower of the Winds” uses quirky woodwind melodies to re-create a ’50s-style soundtrack for walking down a sunny Manhattan street. Later, it mashes the winds and brass into some complex intertwining that sets up dynamic drum and electronics solos.

Most pieces move like clockwork with the slick, precise, sound of well-executed charts, but Fabliaux is also full of creative soloing. “Legions,” for instance, packs some bright, engaging solos from sax, trumpet, and violin.

 
The composing is packed with twists; not every piece is a big-band chart. “Whirlwind” is a post-minimalist experiment, built of little repeating riffs mixed together in queasy harmonies and not-quite-overlapping cycles. The start of the piece lives up to the title. “Gears” has a tumbling feeling of out-of-phase rhythms, a giant machine that seems chaotic and lumbering but is really working under its own logic.

Even though Fabliaux is a Dave Douglas composition, I’m left feeling like it’s more a Monash album than a Dave Douglas album. It’s a good introduction to the ensemble, anyway, and leaves me interested in hearing what else they can do.

Tim Daisy: The Drums of October

Tim DaisyOctober Music, Vol. 1 (Relay, 2014)

daisy-octoberIn addition to being a first-call free-jazz drummer on the prolific Chicago scene, Tim Daisy is also a composer. For October Music, he’s sketched duets to play with seven hand-picked partners, pieces seemingly built to play off their strengths. It’s got some serious moments but overall feels like an opportunity to just enjoy making some music with friends.

Many of the sessions come in a jazzy vibe — especially “Writers,” a spirited free-jazz romp with Marc Riorden on piano. It quickly gets into a sprint, with Riorden’s knotted piano improvising racing against Daisy’s fleet, subtle drumming. The composed theme, when it emerges, is a skeleton staircase of rising notes, setting the stage for a second round of high-energy improvising.

“Roscoe St.,” with Dave Rempis on baritone sax, seems like a nice reflection of Roscoe Mitchell’s many facets, a combination of burly, swinging saxophone and warbly experimental sounds. “For Jay” likewise slips through a few mood changes, from a sprited jazz-improv duet to a more careful space where James Falzone’s clarinet paints images of stillness against some astoundingly fast vibraphone — Daisy showing off some serious high-precision rolls on the sustained notes.

Other pieces opt for a modern-classical sound. “Some Birds” features Katherine Young, who’s explored the outer limits of the bassoon. It’s a calm chamber piece with vibraphone, presented with care, as if you were watching the assembly of a delicate and carefully balanced structure. “Near a Pond” is a studious piece where Jen Clare Paulson plays some sad, folky melodies on viola but also gets a moment of scratchy, whispery experimentation, adding to the overcast feel. It all culminates with a surprisingly vibrant marimba solo.

Vibraphone takes center stage on “For Lowell,” with Jason Adasiewicz at the hammers, playing bright, cool splashes against the palette of Daisy’s drum kit. “Painted,” with Josh Berman on cornet, is a reflective ending, played at a decently chipper clip but with lots of white space, created mostly from Daisy’s restraint on the drum kit. It’s not exactly sad, just very thoughtful.

You can find a more of Daisy’s composed or improvised musical ventures on Bandcamp. Here’s a dash of the aforementioned “Writers,” with Marc Riorden on piano:

Vicky Chow and the One-Bit Army

Tristan Perich [Vicky Chow, piano] — Surface Image (New Amsterdam, 2014)
Vicky Chow (Tristan Perich) -- Surface Image (New Amsterdam 2014)“One-bit electronics” refers to a speaker that either beeps or doesn’t. Only one tone is possible, and it’s on or off — much like the bell on an Apple II computer or IBM PS/2, if anyone remembers those.

Put a bunch of one-bit speakers in a room, set to different tones, and you’d have a programmable music box. Set those tones to a bright, minimalist major/suspended chord and play them really fast, and you’d have a hyperkinetic, jumpy music box — and a captivating, forceful musical experience, if you did it right.

Now add a pianist who can either augment or cut across the flow — and you’ve got Tristan Perich’s “Surface Image,” where pianist Vicky Chow does battle with (or leads the march of) 40 one-bit speakers all chattering away for a little more than an hour.

As you can see in the preview video, it’s an assault of bright, insistent tones blasting forth.

At its peak, the music is a maximal minimalism. It’s in your face, bouncing you around like a bumper-car ride. I think the piece is best experienced in one sitting — yes, your attention wavers, but as it does, your experience shifts from a pinpoint shower (lots of individual notes hurtling forth) to a shimmering haze (everything blurring together).

That first half really is fun, with Chow and the electronics playing in an upbeat frenzy with a stiff rhythm. It feels light even as Chow bears down on the keyboard, hammering away at marshmallow-puff harmonies or playing impressive runs against the speakers’ pulsing. The inevitable change of mood is a welcome break, though, one that’s key to molding the music into a story. It’s a story with a mostly predictable trajectory (hey guess what: it slows down in the second half), but it’s a good one, and the conclusion was not really what I’d expected.

The one-bit speakers are split between the listener’s left and right stereo speakers, so when they really get going, there’s an odd sensation of the left and right sides blinking on and off in opposite phases. (Fans of Bang on a Can, of which Chow is a member, might recall the Louis Andriessen piece “Hocketus.”) It’s an interesting effect that makes you wonder what the piece would be like in a live performance — especially one like the SF Tape Music Festival, with speakers around the room.

For a more academic yet still captivating example of one-bit electronics, in a venue where your exact location really matters, check out Perich’s 1,500-speaker microtonal wall:

Sperryfest 9, and a Visitor from Vancouver

Clarinetist François Houle will be the featured player at this year’s Sperryfest, the series of concerts in honor of the late bassist Matthew Sperry. Concerts run July 13 to 15.

Part of Vancouver’s terrific jazz community, Houle has an output that covers a nice swath of experimental musics. He’s done some nice free-jazz work for the Songlines label, including a 1999 album called In the Vernacular that I remember fondly. He’s also recorded on Spool, output that I’m less familiar with but that includes some of the key Vancouver names of the last 10 to 15 years, including Peggy Lee (cello) and Dylan van der Schyf (drums).

Houle brings a fresh energy to new classical music as well. I’m thinking particularly of Double Entendre, an album of new-music pieces for multiple overdubbed clarinets and pre-recorded electronics (a.k.a. tape music). More recently, he recorded the piece, “Flirt,” a duet with accordianist Jelena Milojevic composed by Doug Schmidt. This page on his web site sets the stage and links to an MP3 recording of the upbeat, pulsing piece.

The SperryFest schedule runs as follows:

Wed. July 13, 8:00 p.m. — Houle solo, at a special dinner concert for 20 put on by In the Mood for Food. This one’s going to be hard to get into, because some spots are reserved for Sperry’s family and friends.

Thu. July 14, 8:00 p.m. — TrioShift (three musicians improvising at a time; here’s a 2010 explanation) and Cornelius Cardew’s “Treatise,” performed by Orchesperry.  At the Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market St., San Francisco).

Fri. July 15, 8:00 p.m. — Houle performs solo, and in duets with Gino Robair. At Temescal Arts Center (511 48th St, Oakland).

Posts related to previous SperryFests (including background about why Matthew remains an inspiration, eight years on):

Longer Burning, Short Fuse

We got a heckler at the Pamela Z viola show Sunday night.

He prematurely ended the performance by Jhno, who was building an improvisation in his usual format: long electronic washes of sound and feedback, some of it using a viola as source instrument.

Yes, it was loud. The man, an elderly gentleman, decided the loudness was physically painful. And so, he abruptly started to applaud and yell “Bravo,” clearly indicating he’d had enough.  Jhno continued, maybe even turning it up a little to drown out the distraction. (At the time, nobody knew it was the loudness that bothered the guy. I think most of us assumed he just didn’t like the nonconformity of it all.)

The guy didn’t quit. He started rapping the floor with his cane — how stereotypical is that? — and started shouting over the music: “Thank you! Over! FINISH!”

Jhno wasn’t able to shrug it off. He threw the viola to the ground and stormed off. The viola was destroyed, the neck snapped apart. The rumbling tones he’d set in motion just lingered as audience members started heckling the heckler, telling him what a jerk he was, asking why he didn’t just leave.

Luckily, an intermission was programmed after Jhno’s set. Friends of Jhno’s turned his equipment off and cleaned up, and the audience dispersed and cooled down. It was a long intermission.

The heckler stuck around and was more than willing to explain his position. He was a violist himself — with one degree of separation from the Kronos Quartet, it turns out — and he probably did object to Jhno’s presentation, where the viola came through only in warped, distorted form. But what got to him was apparently the volume, which he decided was worth causing a scene.

I still don’t understand why he didn’t just step out. But at least, he was calm afterwards, and he welcomed discussion with the detractors who tried to engage him (although he did repeatedly call Jhno’s piece an atrocity). Joan Jeanreneaud, the cellist, debated him for a long time; they parted peacefully but didn’t convince one another.

The program’s second half went smoothly, including Jhno silently returning to the stage, as scheduled, to help with Hank Dutt’s performance. At the end, when Pamela Z asked for some extra applause for Jhno (who’d apparently left the building by then), the heckler joined politely.

What he did was ridiculously selfish. (I don’t think his wife was happy with him, either.) But Jhno didn’t help matters by smashing his viola, something I think he’s going to regret. I understand how interruptions like this can throw someone off their game, but there had to be a better way to respond.

I’ve been at performances where people didn’t like the music, but the only other time I remember actual catcalls was at the Starry Plough — a bar in Berkeley that’s willing to host the occasional experimental show. A group of Irish fellows (I got the impression they were a casual soccer team) made a few disgruntled noises during an improv set. It didn’t last, though, and in fact, one member of the group shushed the others, encouraging them to give the music a try. “This is what I like about the Plough,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get.” And he applauded enthusiastically for each piece.

Me, I’ve been to three performances where the music made me physically uncomfortable. Never once stopped a show because of it. I’ll save that for another time; 570 words about this is enough.

Upcoming Shows: 6/3/11 and Onward

Lots going on in Bay Area music circles for the next several days.  In chronological order, starting with tonight:

* Mission Eye and Ear — The latest in Lisa Mezzacappa‘s ongoing series of film/music collaborations, featuring short films with live-performed soundtracks. Tonight’s installment includes music by Darren Johnston, Aaron Novik, and Matt Ingalls. There’s a little more information in this article about Mezzacappa’s own band. At Artists Television Access (992 Valencia Street @21st, San Francisco), Friday June 3, 8:00 p.m.

* ROVA + DJ Olive + DJ P-Love — As mentioned here, it’s the 33-1/3rd anniversary of ROVA’s first concert, and they’re celebrating with an SFJazz-sponsored, one-time concert.  At Swedish American Hall (2174 Market St., San Francisco; same place as Cafe Du Nord), Saturday June 4, 8:00 p.m.

* sfSound — The modern-classical troupe performs a daytime set inspired by the Legion of Honor’s exhibit, “Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Bochgrave.” Compositions will be interspersed with group improvisations. The program mentions some early-music influence, but don’t count on hearing harpsichords and recorders. Concert is free with museum admission. At the Legion of Honor Museum (100 34th St., San Francisco), Sunday June 5, 12:00 noon.

* ROOM: Longer BurningPamela Z‘s ROOM series of shows has spotlighted individual instruments from time to time. Now it’s the violas’ turn. Hank Dutt (Kronos Quartet), Charlton Lee (Del Sol String Quartet), and Jhno (better known to me for electronics work) will perform solo and together and with Pamela Z. The program’s title comes from the classic portfolio of viola jokes that classical players know.  At Royce Gallery (2901 Mariposa St., San Francisco), Sunday June 5, 8:00 p.m.

* Michael Formanek Quartet — Part of a West-coast tour with the band from The Rub and Spare Change:  Formanek (bass), Tim Berne (sax), Craig Taborn (keys), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Previously noted here. A rare chance to see these guys in California. At Yoshi’s Oakland (501 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland), Monday June 6, 8:00 p.m.

UPDATE:  The L.A. Times has a review of Formanek’s June 1 performance at the Blue Whale.

* Jazz at the Make-Out Room — First-Monday jazz returns to this friendly Mission District bar. I think they’d had to move elsewhere for a month or two, so hopefully, the bar has welcomed them back. (This is another series that was being organized by Lisa Mezzacappa.) This installment includes the Steve Adams Trio (Adams being from ROVA), Doug Stuart’s Catfish, and the latest edition of Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy.  Adams did a Trio album a while back, eventually released on Clean Feed; Forward Energy is an improv-jazz group that’s been Ryan’s vehicle for a couple of decades at least. Because it’s at a bar, there’s a good chance they’ll start late — meaning it might be possible to catch both Formanek and this show. BART could do the Bay-crossing for you. At the Make-Out Room (3225 22nd St., San Francisco), Monday June 6, 8:00 p.m.

SF MOMA Thursday Concert

On Thursday Dec. 2, if you’re taking advantage of the SF Museum of Modern Art evening hours and half-price tix, consider lending an ear to sfSound Group. They’ll be doing a concert along with Italian composer Sylvano Bussotti.

Bussotti himself will play a piano accompaniment to his silent film, Rara, described as “filmed portraits of the Italian avant-garde” from the early ’60s. It’s being shown, as a restored print, in conjunction with the exhibit, Exposed: Voyerism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870.

Then, as the exhibits close at around 9:00 p.m., you’ll be able to stick around for an sfSound performance of multiple Bussotti works, with the composer participating. The program includes very recent works as well as pieces from the ’60s.  Details here.

It’s all free with half-price museum admission ($9 for most of us), but the museum’s promo blurbs warn that seating is limited.

Bussotti is one of those composers famous for graphical scores — wild, babbling ones, in his case. Graphical scores are a tricky item, because it’s often up to the performer how to interpret the abstract shapes and drawings involved. In Bussotti’s case, his pictures use standard musical notation as a foundation, twisting the staves and notes into Alice in Wonderland underbrush.  He seems to have multiple pieces called “Rara,” and one of them piles musical notes into the shapes of the letters “R” and “A.”

On one hand, a graphical score invites more of the performer’s personality into the piece, and it emphasizes the uniqueness of the moment. Every performance is a star that shines once, then vanishes. On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder if the composer is playing a prank or, worse, just phoning it in, scribbling stuff down and leaving it up to the musicians to make something of it. Maybe it’s a little of both; there’s certainly something of a serious prankster in John Cage’s work, right?

Some samples of Bussotti’s music are up on YouTube, including the austere sounds of the “Fogli d’Album” suite (which starts here) and some rustling inside-the-piano work on “Noveletta,” below.

UPDATE: For a deeper look at Bussotti’s music, his film, and how this program all came about, check out San Francisco Classical Voice.