Oliver Lake + Guitars

HatOLOGY is one of those labels where I occasionally like to reach in and grab something almost at random, and that’s how I came across Oliver Lake‘s Zaki (hatOLOGY, 2007).

Coincidentally, one of my pickups at New York’s Downtown Music Gallery recently was an obscure-looking Oliver Lake Quartet CD titled Virtual Reality (Total Escapism) (Gazell Productions, 1992).

Both selections came from my interest in catching up with Lake’s career, but they turn out to have something more in common. Both employ guitarists who were up-and-comers at the time, although they operate on different frequencies.

lake-zakiZaki is a 1979 live recording featuring guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson, who recorded a handful of free-jazz albums in the ’70s. The trio, completed by Pheeroan Ak Laff on drums, has a bright energy, with corners and angles spilling forth from Jackson’s guitar, frequently aggressive in a Sonny Sharrock mode.

One highlight is “5/1,” which consists mostly of a gutteral, wide-awake trio improvisation.

 
Virtual Reality is a more “inside” session, albeit with progressive leanings, featuring well known compositions by Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, and one by Rahsaan Roland Kirk that’s new to me (“Handful of Fives”).

lake-virtualThe guitarist Anthony Peterson, is described by Sam Charters in the liner notes as “one of that creative group of younger musicians who have turned Brooklyn into a new jazz center.” I like that, given that the “new jazz” vibe has kind of stuck even through 2017. Ak Laff is on drums again, with Santi Debriano on bass.

It’s a different listen, feeling pleasantly laid-back during even the most fiery and fluid of solos, and I’m enjoying it. Peterson is more in a straight-jazz pocket than Jackson was, but he’s worthy of attention. Here’s his solo on the title track, where I especially enjoy the way he starts casually spewing thickets of chords:

 
Neither Peterson nor Jackson seems to have clicked in the free-jazz world. Jackson recorded an interesting quartet album with Lake, (Wadada) Leo Smith, and David Murray called Clarity (Bija, 1977) — but in the long run, he chose to follow his pop/R&B muse. He’s still making music, posting singles to Bandcamp. Peterson recorded three albums with Lake but vanished after that.

It’s just another reminder of how many talented, compelling musicians are out there; there’s always one more deserving name that you’ve missed. And while it’s no secret that Lake is versatile, it’s still gratifying to be reminded that his career took him in so many different directions. Maybe I’ll give another listen to his big-band stuff next.

Charles ‘Bobo’ Shaw

397px-charles_bobo_shaw
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the heels of the news about Hamiett Bluiett’s health issues comes the passing of his St. Louis compatriot, Charles “Bobo” Shaw.

Both were involved in St. Louis’ Black Artists Group. Shaw’s was more directly connected with one of Bluiett’s World Saxophone Quartet compatriots, Oliver Lake, whose quartet, including Shaw, worked in Europe. If you’re looking for a Bluiett connection, though, he and Shaw were together as late as 2015, when Bluiett’s Telepathic Orchestra played New York’s Vision Festival.

Shaw is one of the many blank spots in my jazz knowledge, maybe because he’s more connected with funky jazz (such as the band DeFunkt) than with the “free” stuff. I’ve been checking out the Human Arts Ensemble, a group that he ended up leading in the late ’70s, which has been a blast.

I love the rough edges on Junk Trap (Black Saint, 1978), the raspy horn tones and the jumbly, not-quite-synched unison lines. The album features a crack band — Shaw (drums), Joseph Bowie (trombone), John Lindberg (bass), Luther Thomas (sax), James Emery (guitar) — so the rawness isn’t a lack of ability; it has more to do with the pure joy being poured into the music. On “Night Dreamer,” Emery even starts channeling Sonny Sharrock; I’m not sure it completely fits that particular tune, but it sure is fun.

But it’s the 1973 album Funky Donkey that shows the Human Arts Ensemble really pushing the needle. The title track is a funk fireball, and “Una New York,” composed by Shaw, has a more mellow vibe but is no less earnest.

I’m sorry I didn’t catch up with Shaw during his lifetime, but I’m grateful for the history lesson.

(Plate o’ Shrimp moment: Another of Shaw’s bands, Solidarity Unit Inc., gets a shout-out by Bryon Coley and Thurston Moore in this 2009 Arthur magazine article. Just above that is a mention of pianist François Tusques — someone else I only recently discovered — performing on Sonny Murray’s Big Chief album.)

Generations Quartet: Fonda/Stevens Plus Oliver Lake

Generations QuartetFlow (Not Two, 2016)

generations-flowThe name “Generations Quartet” apparently refers to the youth of drummer Emil Gross, who’s found himself in a supergroup of veterans who’ve helped advance the creative language of jazz.

Me, I prefer to consider the name as a reference to concepts echoing down from past generations, mixing with today’s ideas to create a musical spirit for tomorrow.

Bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens have been partners for decades, not only in the longstanding Fonda/Stevens group but in bands such as Gebhard Ullmann’s Conference Call.  Their calling card is steeped in the traditions of the ’60s, colored with rich creative touches from the worlds of free jazz and free improvisation.

Lake — who recently came through the Bay Area for the Outsound New Music Summit — is familiar with all those languages as well, of course. It all adds up to a depth and reverence in these tracks, taken from live sets in Germany last year.

They do exercise their free-jazz muscles. The track “Flow” features disjoint sax lines, leading into some crooked-line free-for-all playing — high-energy stuff. “Rollin'” is the basic, midtempo jam that the title suggests, but against its bluesy air, Lake is “rolling” at a slightly different pace, playing sour tones and a slower counter-rhythm. His solo eventually works its way into blazing free territory; the groove fractures and yet continues (yeoman’s work by Joe Fonda on bass, freeing up Gross’ drumming).

“Mantra #2” is the one that really echoes down from the ages, with a delicious, deep bassline redolent of that ’60s eternal-seeking vibe. Lake uses that backdrop to build some heartfelt soloing. It isn’t perfectly polished (this is a live take, after all), but I love the way you can hear Lake feeling out the song and the moment, working many different angles to build his statement.

 
“Me Without Bella” deserves a mention, too — a 17-minute exploration that starts as a dirge, eventually building into a midtempo, soul-searching groove. After an arresting bass solo from Fonda, the band really kicks into gear, with Lake in buzzing, fiery mode and Stevens and drummer Gross pounding away — all without losing control of that tempered groove.

Outsound New Music Summit 2016

2016_SummitCollage-cutStarting tomorrow in San Francisco, the week-long Outsound New Music Summit will convene for the 15th time. It’s a week-long series of shows celebrating creative music of many stripes, from jazz and new-classical to noise and prop.

I’ve written about the event quite a bit over the years, and you can also learn more by digging through the Outsound archive.

The event runs July 24-30, at the Community Music Center (544 Capp Street @ 20th, San Francisco). Check out the full schedule here.

outsound-logoFor a deeper look, you can explore the “In the Field” series of video interviews, posted by Outsound organizer Rent Romus. They’re extensive (usually 20+ minutes) and often explore how these musicians got turned on to creative music and out-there sounds.

Here’s my smattering of highlights — based primarily on how familiar I am with the musicians and concepts. Meaning, I’ve left lots of deserving artists behind; explore the full schedule for more info, with additional video and audio information.

Concert times are 8:15 p.m., except as noted.

Touch the Gear (Sun. July 24, 7:00-10:00 p.m.) — An Outsound tradition. It’s a hands-on exhibit of electronics and noisemakers (and sometimes some more “normal” musical instruments”), giving you an opportunity to find out where some of these unusual noises come from. It’s very informal and, well, noisy: You wander the tables, ask some questions — and push some buttons and make some noise yourself.

Sonny Simmons documentary (Mon. July 25, 7:00 p.m.) — A screening of Brandon Evans’ 2003 film, “Sonny Simmons: The Multiple Rated X Truth.” Simmons is a fascinating story, a forgotton hero of ’60s free-jazz who became re-remembered starting in the early ’00s.

Dan Plonsey: “On His Shoulders Stands No One” (Tues. July 26) — Expect Braxton-like expanse, but with a friendlier, warmer touch than Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music or Echo Echo Mirror House. Find out more in Plonsey’s video interview (embedded here).

Brett Carson’s Mysterious Descent (Tues. July 26) — A theater/poetry/music piece based on the extant texts of the Idnat Ikh-ôhintsôsh (i.e., a language of Carson’s own devising). Might be the most “out-there” concept on the docket. I’m not sure what to expect; I just got drawn in by Carson’s “In the Field” inteview.

Vinny Golia, Lisa Mezzacappa & Vijay Anderson (Wed. July 27) — Three musicians whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired. This should be a rewarding set of sax-bass-drums improvised jazz. Note that they’re also three-fourths of the band on the album Hell-Bent in the Pacific, which included the late Marco Eneidi on sax.

lake-robinsonOliver Lake & Donald Robinson (Thur. July 28) — Outsound goes above and beyond to support local artists, but the festival also usually includes notable names from out of town. Oliver Lake is a luminary known for the World Saxophone Quartet, Trio 3, and his extensive solo career. (See SF Weekly‘s preview.) Donald Robinson is a hero of the local scene, a drummer whose fluid, airy style has always impressed me. He’s also a veteran of the early ’70s free jazz scene in Paris, where his musical cohorts included Oliver Lake. Who knows whether they kept in touch or even knew each other well; in any event, this should be a special dialogue between kindred spirits.

There’s also a trio improv that combines Brandon Evans with local luminaries Christina Stanley (violin) and Mark Pino (drums); an avant-pop night promising shades of prog and electronic music; and an appearance from the long-running, unpredictable Big City Orchestra.

And plenty more. Seriously, explore the schedule. There’s a wide range of music in store.