Monday Jazz at The Layover

The Layover's logo. Click to go there.There’ll be creative jazz in downtown Oakland every Monday night for a while, starting tonight (Jan. 7).

The place is called The Layover, and it bills itself as a bohemian music/art bar. Local musicians, billing themselves as the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society, have organized the Monday jazz sessions.

The debut bill is the trio of Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sheldon Brown (alto sax), and Vijay Anderson (drums); you can read more about them at Anderson’s web site.

For a bit of info about the Jan. 7 show, see Facebook.  The full Layover calendar is here; clicking any of the “Oakland Freedom Jazz” links reveals the full calendar:


  • Jan. 7 — GBA, as noted above
  • Jan. 14 — Darren Johnston Ensemble performing “Broken Shadows” (the Ornette Coleman album, I’d assume)
  • Jan. 21 — Lisa Mezzacappa, leading both a string band (violin, cello, guitar, etc.) and her Bait & Switch quartet
  • Jan. 28 — Aram Shelton‘s Ton Trio II. (See the comments, and for a bit about Ton Trio, see here.)

Whether this continues for more than a month, we’ll see. It would be nice, even though the first Monday of each month would conflict with the monthly jazz show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco.

The Layover is at 1517 Franklin St. between 15th and 17th, in downtown Oakland.

The Full Blown Citta di Vitti

Phillip Greenlief, enchanted by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, wrote about 40 melodic fragments inspired by the films. This was in 2006, as he explains here, and the end result was an imaginary soundtrack to the movies. (Click that link for some samples.)

He’s been performing the pieces with a trio. But their recent show at The Uptown expanded the band into a septet, putting some big-band punch into the music. With Antonioni’s L’eclisse running silently in the background, they played songs that matched with individual scenes.

I forgot my camera and had to settle for what my cellphone could do. That’s Greenlief in the foreground left. The four added members of the band are on the right-hand side of the stage, out of frame.

L’eclisse was a good choice, because the stock market figures heavily in the plot. Greenlief wrote bustling, busy jazz for that setting, appropriately New York-ish, with some strong swinging from the three additional horns and John Schott on guitar.

The trio pieces are good, too — Greenlief’s sax fills the space nicely, as he’s proven in so many other contexts. But it was fun to hear the music fully fleshed out.

The tunes aren’t scripted to match the film exactly. Each song began at a scene marker on the DVD and ended when it ended, so we skipped ahead through the film from beginning to end. Greenlief announced some of the plot details as we moved forward — we missed most of the effect of the movie but at least had an idea what was going on.

The ending was interesting. (And yes — SPOILER alert — I’m about to give away the ending. Kind of.) One of the things that had impressed me about the film to this point was the placement and framing of the actors. It was especially deliberate during the first scenes, with two characters in an apartment and lots of long silences. The end, though, shows us a images of stark emptiness. Most of the settings are unpeopled, and if someone is in the shot, they’re shown in unsettling close-ups or fragments. The music was likewise stark and lingering, full of ringing dissonances. Afterwards, Greenlief told me the ending was stepping through settings from earlier in the movie, showing you what they’re like with the characters removed. You’re forced to accept the place as an entity of its own, a single imposing character dominating the frame. What’s it all mean? Well, it’s very Film 101 of me, but I made the mental leap to nuclear war (which had been hinted at, in a newspaper headline late in the film), maybe showing how impotent the human world is without humans there to power it. I’m going to have to watch the whole film now and find out.

Dec. 3 Shows

Every now and then, a few promising Bay Area shows conflict on the calendar. That’s OK; it’s the sign of a scene vibrant enough to have that much happening. The downside is that with the lack of venues and local support, some deserving shows will fall through the cracks — but, in a glass-half-full way, it’s nice to know there’s this much going on.

You can always check for yourself at or

Anyway — Saturday, Dec. 3, is one of those intersection nights. The calendars list five shows, all of them worthwhile. I’d like to call out three:

Nightshade at Trinity Chapel (2320 Dana Street Berkeley), 8:00 p.m.
….. As I’ve noted before, this is San Francisco bassist and composer Lisa Mezzacappa’s chamber ensemble, mixing vibes, electric guitar, woodwinds, and computer electronics (and Mezzacappa’s acoustic bass, of course). Their debut CD, Cosmic Rift, on Leo Records, combines Mezzacappa’s compositions with covers from Frank Zappa and Olivier Messaien.
        * Nightshade’s Web page.
        * Recent blog post about Nightshade.

Phillip Greenlief, and Jon Raskin/Kanoko Nishi at 784 65th St., Oakland (2 blocks from Ashby BART), 8:00 p.m.
….. I’m presuming this is a house concert. I don’t know anything about the venue. This is their second show, and they’re hoping to keep a series of shows running for a while. Greenlief will open with solo saxophone, then Jon Raskin (of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet) and Kanoko Nishi on koto will perform as a duo. Expect squeaky abstract goodness (although Greenlief might decide to bring his jazz bag, too).
        * Greenlief-related: About his duo CD with Joelle Leandre.
        * Raskin/Nishi duets available on Nishi’s MySpace page.

Grex at Meridian Gallery (535 Powell Street, San Francisco), 8:00 p.m.
….. The pop/chamber duo of Karl Evangelista (guitar, vox) and Margaret Rei Scampavia, (keys, winds, vox) will perform with with guests Jordan Glenn (drums) and Karen Stackpole (percussion, gongs).  Grex will be doing songs from the recent album, Second Marriage, and previewing “the second part of its Filipino-American trilogy–a fantastical exploration of the band’s World War II-era ancestry, tentatively titled ‘Mushroom.'” Expect artsy pop, sometimes with somber overtones, juxtaposed with noisy freak-outs.
        * Grex’s Web site.
        * Previous blog entries: The Grex Factor / Fred Frith’s Manifesto.

If you’re not familiar with these venues — Trinity and Meridian are listed on my highly unpublicized Venues page.

This busy night is followed by a couple of weeks of great local shows. I’m hoping to find time to put those in another post.

The Grex Factor

Before the World Series rose to an all-consuming fever pitch, stealing time from things like this blog, I went to the release party for the new Grex CD, Second Marriage.

This was in downtown Oakland very near to Jack London Square, at the Swarm Gallery — my first trip there.  It’s a small art house that doubles as an artists’ space; offices in the back appear to be rented out as mini-studios.  The show was held in the spacious common area ringed by the offices. Not a bad spot for a show, because they’ve got the space and it’s mostly comfortable, if a little warm.

Swarm is close to some seedy neighborhoods (quite a few provocatively dressed women walking around, anyway) but there weren’t any signs of trouble around us. I was more thrown by the sight of a Bed Bath & Beyond sitting right around where the Swarm’s address was supposed to be.

Grex’s sound fuses classical piano, pop melody, and loud spasms of electric guitar — big, buzzy electric guitar. Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia, who really are getting married, performed as a duo half the time, and with drums (Tom Scandura?) or sax (Cory Wright) as guests on the other songs. A friend of theirs added video backdrop.

It was a good show, and for those who bought the new CD, they auctioned off this home-grown, 10-pronged squash. Where else in music can you see a show and take home a 10-pronged squash?

Before Grex, I finally got to see Wiener Kids. They’re as entertaining as I’d hoped — maybe not as laugh-out-loud funny as my CD review made them sound, but certainly a nice blend of cerebral jazz and smart-aleck tactics. “Here’s a Fun Fact,” off the new album What a Mess, was a highlight. It opens with intricate percussion, each band member hitting one instrument to produce overall patterns. (They got lost once or twice during this part; it didn’t sound easy.) Whistles and bird calls complete the intro before the chugging, R&B-steeped sax parts get started. Glenn also brought out the accordion for “Ballad of the Wee Dogs.”

The evening started with Alee Karim’s Science Fiction, a pop band that deals in big, flowery chords. Pretty music played at very high volumes. The band’s still new — they did flub a couple of songs — but they’d be worth seeing again, and not just because a couple of them were outside during a break having an earnest discussion about the awesomeness of Rush.

Angelica Sanchez in Town

NYC Pianist Angelica Sanchez will be playing in Oakland tonight (Sat., April 23), at 1510 Performance Space.

It’s part of a west-coast tour she’s undertaking with saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and drummer Sam Ospovot.  “We have been improvising together for several years, and that seems to be a good fit. It’s been really nice playing with Sam, he immediately brought the right stuff to the trio,” Greenlief says in an email.

I’m relieved. I’d heard Sanchez was out on the west coast this week, but the only specific show date I’d seen was in Bakersfield.  (Turns out there was also a show in L.A.) Greenlief reports that they got some paying university gigs rather easily, but other shows were harder to come by. That’s understandable, given the problems venues have been having.

Sanchez has made quite a name for herself in New York. Her 2008 album, Life Between, had a lineup of big downtown NYC names that was impressive, even if one of them was her husband (saxophonist Tony Malaby).

Her piano playing is edgy yet elegant, going for lyricism and texture more than percussive battering. Don’t get me wrong; I like percussive battering. Sanchez has a compelling style of her own, though, enough so that lazy critics like me can write about her without having to mention Cecil Taylor. (Jazz Rule No. 5: If there’s avant-garde piano, you have to compare it to Cecil Taylor.)

“Eschewing a youngster’s need to dazzle, Sanchez is subtle, tossing out gnarled chords, open almost elliptical phrasing, simple folk music-like melodies, and taunt mid-speed solos,” David Adler wrote in All About Jazz. You can read that clip and more on Sanchez’s press-quotes page.

Sanchez goes solo on her latest album, A Little House (Clean Feed, 2010). It’s got a mix of serious classical emoting, some standards-minded

Along the Edge shows signs of serious classical emoting (“Along the Edge”) and the dramatic weight you’d associate with jazz standards. (“Casinha Pequenina,” the title track, by Brazilian composer Francisco Ernani Braga.)

Of course, some of that New York sense of daring comes in, too. “Up and Over” is a repeated little gimmick that makes for a fun, accelerating ride, almost like a little musical dare that you hear acted out on your speakers. And “Giant Monks,” a title that wears its influences on its sleeve, traipses through a few different jazz fields before settling on a theme that’s like boogie-woogie mixed with pensive brooding.

A couple of the tracks add toy piano, usually played simultaneously with regular piano, as in the photo above. “I’ll Sign My Heart Away,” an old Western tune, fits the toy sound well and exudes a warm charm. “Crawl Space” is further out there, spare and abstract. “Mimi” closes the album with toy piano alone, a clinky, slowly cascading improvisation.

At 1510 tonight, Sanchez, Greenlief, and Ospovat will play at about 9:00 p.m. They’ll be preceded by the duo of Henry Kaiser (guitar) and Scott Looney (keys/electronics).

Reptet, and a Busy Bay Area Night

I’m discovering this only now, at 11:00 a.m., but I figured I should get something posted in case someone’s doing last-minute searching…

Reptet, an exciting Seattle jazz band, is winding up their west-coast tour. They’ll be in Oakland tonight, Saturday Jan. 22, at Cafe Van Cleef (1621 Telegraph Ave., downtown Oakland).

It’s one of six creative music happenings tonight in the area. (See below.)

Back in 2007, I saw Reptet at the Revolution Cafe and described them thusly:

“Really entertaining group from Seattle that deals in accessible jazzy themes and wild free-jazz solos. Pieces on the CD sound so polite and polished — and they’re played that way live, too, but the live show adds a fervor and a sense of humor that can’t be captured in the studio.”

(You’ll find further gushing by me here.)

There’s been a 50% turnover in the six-person band, but judging from the writeup got in L.A., they’re still edgy and fun. Here’s an old rehearsal video that shows off the band’s personality.

I honestly don’t know what time the show starts, but Cafe Van Cleef is your usual open-til-2 a.m. bar, so I would guess they’re starting at 9:00 p.m. or later.

That’s good, because it would give you time to go see one of the five other interesting shows happening tonight. If you didn’t think you had plans, now you do: Consider checking out one of these, then hot-footing it to downtown Oakland (near where Telegraph and Broadway converge) for Reptet.

Listings taken verbatim from BayImproviser/Transbay Calendar:

Sat 1/22 8:00 PMTemescal Arts Center [511 48th Street between Shattuck and Telegraph Oakland]
— THE UNCOMFORTABLE ZONES OF FUN experiments in experience/participation performance. Frank Moore, world-known shaman performance artist, will conduct improvised passions of musicians, actors, dancers, and audience members in a laboratory setting to create altered realities of fusion beyond taboos.

Sat 1/22 8:00 PMCNMAT [1750 Arch Street Berkeley]
— Music for Keen Ears. Goodheart, Raskin, Tarasov Trio with David Wessel. The renowned drummer Valdimir Tarasov is visiting from Lithuania and enabling this trio to perform again in the Bay Area. David Wessel will be joining them on electronics as they continue the jewel like music that rewards the keen ear. The Rova Saxophone Quartet will be performing Jon Raskin‘s new composition, “To The Right Of The Blue Wall” and other recent works.

Sat 1/22 8:00 PMTrinity Chapel [2320 Dana Street Berkeley]
Grex was formed in and around the Mills College music axis, emphasizing cross-idiomatic conceits and melding elements of disparate sources–free jazz, early minimalism, impressionist music, garage rock, electroacoustic improvisation, folk balladry–into something stark and eldritch. The duo (Karl Evangelista & Rei Scampavia) will be joined by local performers Jordan Glenn, Jason Hoopes, and Cory Wright.

Sat 1/22 8:00 PMMeridian Gallery [535 Powell Street SF]
— The Meridian Gallery presents the Thingamajigs Performance Group (TPG), which will offer new works that combine Eastern sensibilities with modern American technologies and performance practices. Creating pieces in a group collaborative process that sometimes incorporate voice and other unusual musical instruments, this ensemble of musicians expands and contracts within each performance situation. This concert will feature works written for instruments created with made/found and recycled objects, Asian wind instruments and homemade electronics.

Sat 1/22 8:00 PM Pirate Cat Radio Cafe [2781 21st Street San Francisco CA]
Cartoon Justice live on Pirate Cat Radio and At the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe in san francisco playing acoustic instruments live processed with laptop/electronics…electro-acoustic process meets shamanic-noise-jazz improv. [The location is the Revolution Cafe, basically; the place where I first saw Reptet.]

It’s frustrating to the musicians when events clash like this, but the silver lining is that there’s enough going on, musically, to create these busy nights in the first place. Now, if only a few more venues like 21 Grand (in dormancy, sadly) could get support from their respective cities…

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.