Posts tagged ‘san francisco’

The Supplicants and Amnesia’s Jazz All-Stars

The San Francisco Offside Festival wound up in fine fashion the night of May 26, playing to a packed crowd.

Which was nice. A lot of work went into this first-time festival, so it’s good to see that the local audience responded. The crowd was enthusiastic, and organizers Laura Maguire and Alex Pinto were encouraged enough to pledge to do it again in 2013.

The Supplicants closed things out — a sax/bass/drums trio playing improvised jazz in a post-Coltrane spirit. It’s true that a few people started leaving by then, maybe in response to the less “tuneful” sounds as well as the fact that it was approaching midnight. I was still impressed with the number who stayed — the house still felt full, but with more elbow room — and they showed lots of excitement for each of the four pieces the group played.

David Boyce on sax was the center of attention, of course, coloring each piece with flurries of notes in a studious sheets-of-sound mode before getting into long, keening cries, passionate wails out to the jazz gods. His stage presence is bookish and reserved, but he opened up the audience early on with a crack about the lowness of the room’s ceiling — I didn’t quite catch it, but it got a laugh and probably helped humanize the set for the unconverted among us.

David Ewell on bass defined the starting mood much of the time, usually settling into a riff to set up a jamming space. Hamir Atwal on drums was apparently a sit-in but did fine work; he, too, set up the moods for Boyce’s saxophone odysseys and seemed like a great fit for the flow of the music.

The pieces didn’t feel that long, maybe seven or eight minutes. The free-form music might have taxed a few folks’ patience, but overall, I think the band really connected with the audience.

The Klaxon Mutant Jazz All-Stars preceded The Supplicants and were quite a hit. This was a pickup band organized by drummer Eric Garland, who’s been playing Wednesday nights at Amnesia with a variety of musicians. They played one another’s compositions, showing off some clever writing and of course some crack musicianship. They had a casual, warm stage presence and brought a real sense of fun to their music.

The tunes weren’t ordinary jazz fare. They started off with one of Garland’s that I think added up to 4/4 time but had the sax and trumpet playing a beat or two off from the rhythm section, creating two pieces intertwining in a non-intuitive way. It was a nice effect and also catchy. Subsequent songs would play similar tricks with rhythm, keeping us on our toes.

Trumpeter Henry Hung had one composition called “Jamie Moyer” — the only song title I remember, because I got the joke. Moyer is a 49-year-old major league pitcher (that’s forty-nine) who’s known for a slow fastball that, for whatever reason, can be unhittable. The song, towards the end, appropriately playing with that, alternating on a rhythm played fast and then slow, with each slow part slower than the last. It got some laughs, even from the non-baseball fans. (Shortly after the show, the Colorado Rockies began the process of cutting Moyer, but his fastball is immortalized in a passage of the book Moneyball.)

I missed Secret Sidewalk, which had opened the evening and apparently put on an amazing show.

BayTaper was apparently there, so some recordings might be available online eventually. Meantime, you can catch a full Festival post-mortem at Untapped SF, complete with pictures. (I’d forgotten my camera.)

Big thanks to Laura and Alex for getting this whole thing put together. Here’s hoping it’s the first SF Offside of many.

May 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm 2 comments

SF Offside Festival

A set of shows celebrating Bay Area jazz has been put together by Laura Maguire, local music fan extraordinaire.

She’s calling it the SF Offside Festival, and the bill consists entirely of local talent, except for saxophonist Dave Rempis, who appears in a cooperative, experimental trio. It’s happening May 24-26.

Here’s the full-on press release:

– 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 –

What: *San Francisco Offside Festival*

When: 8pm, Thursday May 24, Friday May 25, & Saturday May 26

Where: El Valenciano (Thursday), 50 Mason Social House (Friday), plus
special location TBA (Saturday)

Tickets: Starting at $10/night or $25 for festival pass

Advance purchase: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/244401

Website: www.SFOffside.com

RSVP: www.facebook.com/events/284562801627321/**

* *

Born of a passion to celebrate the unique creativity and diversity of the local jazz scene, SF Offside has gathered together some of the Bay Area’s most exciting musical talent for an event unlike any other. The three-night festival showcases notable local musicians and composers, like Marcus Shelby, David Boyce, Darren Johnston, Lisa Mezzacappa, Larry Ochs, Erik Jekabson, Aram Shelton, Eric Garland, and many more.

*Night One: “Excursions” – El Valenciano, 1153 Valencia Street*

The festival kicks off with three different ensembles with one thing in common—mastery of traditional techniques coupled with fearless commitment to exploring innovative territories. Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa opens the evening with her improvisational “garage jazz” quartet, Bait & Switch. Following is an experimental trio featuring saxophonists Dave Rempis from Chicago (the festival’s only non-local musician!) and Larry Ochs of ROVA with the ubiquitous Darren Johnston on trumpet. These Are Our Hours, a brand new quintet featuring core members of the Oakland Active Orchestra, close the evening with explorations grounded in jazz and free improvisation.

*Night Two: “Onward” – 50 Mason Social House, 50 Mason Street*

The second night of the festival takes a decidedly contemporary look at straight-ahead jazz and presents three Bay Area composers and their respective trios—bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, and guitarist Alex Pinto. Celebrated as a leading light of the Bay Area’s jazz scene, Shelby will perform with a fresh trio that features the talented young pianist Joe Warner and the versatile Tiffany Martin on vocals. Jekabson, respected both as a bandleader and as a sideman, brings his post-bop improvisational sensibilities to the mix, while Pinto, a young guitarist trained in Hindustani classical music (who also happens to be the festival’s co-director), has a distinctive modern sound all of his own.

*Night Three: “Junction” – Location TBA (See website May 21st)*

The festival closes with an evening of genre-expanding music that intersects jazz in distinctive ways. Secret Sidewalk, an innovate quintet bridging electronic/tape music and jazz, spotlights Marcus Stephens on sax and electronics. Blending rock and jazz strategies, the recently formed Klaxon Mutant Jazz All Stars is an illustrious quintet featuring music by all five members—Eric Garland, Henry Hung, Kasey Knudsen, George Ban-Weiss, and Colin Hogan. Bay Area staple and masters of improvisation, The Supplicants, with guest drummer Hamir Atwal, end the festival with a musical journey that takes many unexpected directions.

*SF Offside Festival*

A co-production of local jazz guitarist Alex Pinto and local music curator Laura Maguire, SF Offside was created to fill a perceived gap in the regional jazz festival circuit. With an exclusive focus on homegrown talent, the mission of SF Offside is to draw attention to the incredible creativity to be found right here in our own backyard, and to build larger audiences for specifically local jazz offerings. The hope is that San Francisco ultimately gets the recognition it deserves as home to a rich, diverse, and exceptionally talented jazz community.

*‘Like’ Us on Facebook*** …. www.facebook.com/SFOFest

April 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm 4 comments

Jack o’ the Clock, Live

Back in February, I made the trip to to Viracocha in San Francisco, finally seeing the band Jack o’ the Clock. It was a busy night — Laura, who’s curating music shows there, was telling me how the antique store’s theater space was furnished for poetry gatherings, and maybe some of those folks seemed to be there, curious about the music. Some friends of the bands, too, of course. It made for a large and warm crowd.

I’d raved about this band before but missed every single show of theirs in the intervening year. (Thanks; it’s a talent.)

They were well worth the trip. Lead vocalist Damon Waitkus plays guitar and banjo as well, and I hadn’t paid much attention to those instruments’ contributions on CD. (My ears spent more time listening to the other trappings — violin, vibraphone, bassoon, electric bass). From the CD, How Are We Doing and Who Will Tell Us, they played two solid tracks: “Last of the Blue Bloods” and “First of the Year.” Great stuff for Gabriel-era Genesis fans, with an acoustic, folky touch added. (CD review here.)

The set ended with a new one called “Ten Fingers,” full of busy percussion including Waitkus playing tuned tin cans. It was a busy piece consisting mostly of a rapidly thumping tribal rhythm. Jason Hoopes on electric bass would fill the gaps with thick, throttled soloing — what a great sound. It’s a terrific song that I’m hoping they capture to disk someday. Another new track was “Salt Moon,” a spiky instrumental.

Waitkus using metal rods to hammer at tin cans during "Ten Fingers"

The evening’s middle act was a nice change of pace, a folk-rock band from Sacramento called Be Brave Bold Robot. Dean Haakenson writes some pretty good guitar-based songs and fills them up with sophisticated, literate lyrics. Some songs had fresh and complicated takes on the usual relationship themes; others… well, put it this way: One song starts with a guy’s revelation that if he uses the toilet sitting down all the time, he doesn’t have to clean the bathroom as often. I think it was a love song in the end, but this first part got discussed in a whole lot of detail. It was pretty funny.

The whole show had opened with Death of the Cool, a piano trio with Hoopes on bass and Glenn on drums, with pianist Michael Dale. They did three improvisations, with Dale featuring a crystalline, floating style on piano at first, almost feeling tentative. By the third piece, they’d gotten into it, and Glenn laid losse with all sorts of jazzy color.

I wish I’d gotten this post out in time for Jack o’ the Clock’s two shows in Los Angeles — they’re playing tonight, March 25, if you hurry — but I don’t know what the venue is. Bay Area fans can see the group again on April 13 at The Orange Room (2885 Ettie Street, Oakland).

March 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Welcome to Viracocha

They’ve been hosting music at Viracocha, a boutique in San Francisco’s Mission District, for some time now. I finally made it to a show, and although it sounds weird to be holding music shows in an antiques shop, it turns out to be a delightful little venue.

Viracocha sells clothes, antiques, and also modern sundries: soaps; poetry and fiction books; even CDs. The wooden decor gives the place the feel of a cabin in the woods, an outpost you’ve stumbled upon.

The music is hosted in a separate area entirely, down a flight of stairs in a basement theater area that’s quite nice, outfitted with tables and chairs, some living-room decor, and a stage that’s roomier than you’d expect.

Viracocha has been hosting a variety of music, but of course I stopped by on a jazz night.

The Nathan Clevenger Group played mostly new material, composed in the last few months. Some of it is pretty complex, with lots of intricately interlocking parts and some interesting time-signature play. Yeah, they got lost early on one piece, but they got through it. Little stumbles can be worth it if you’re bringing out music that needs concentration and rehearsal. Clevenger hasn’t abandoned his jazz traditions, though, as some of the songs were cool and swingy, including (if I’m remembering right) a pretty one called “Syracuse Blue.”

(I wrote about Clevenger’s band and album about a year ago.)

They were followed by Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch. The two bands have made it an annual tradition to do a show together around the holidays; they were just a little late this time around.

Mezzacappa said Bait & Switch had a studio date planned for their next album. We were to be the last audience to hear the material before it got nailed down in recorded form, she told us.

I don’t recall the titles, but the new songs sounded great. One was about the red ants marching up from Central America to destroy us all, and it was appropriately march-like and a little bit cartoony. Another song played some fluid games with tempo. Vijay Anderson laid down a clackety racket on drums while the other three members played simple patterns. Anderson then sped up and slowed down the pace, with the band following his cues to create a rubbery sound.

I’m hoping Viracocha can keep going as a music venue. It’s a good addition to the Mission District scene, it’s got a wide-open booking attitude, and it’s just plain nice. Booking is handled by Laura, who runs the cool Fenderhart blog and also blogs about upcoming live-music shows under the handle LiveNLocal. You can find out more by joining the Viracocha mailing list (there’s a link on the Viracocha site) or by following LiveNLocal on Twitter (@LnLSF) or Facebook.

January 29, 2012 at 11:42 am 2 comments

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 bayimproviser.com or transbaycalendar.org.

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.

November 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm 1 comment

A Clean, Well Lighted Place for Jazz

Holy cow — this entry was intended for the week heading into Aug. 7, and I apparently never hit “Publish” on it. Big mistake. I’ve modified it for this late date, but beware of any references to “this week” or “next week”!

Free jazz is taking the stage for five Sundays at Bird & Beckett Books in San Francisco. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and you’ve got just a few more chances (for now) to take advantage of it.

Bird & Beckett is a cozy, old-school bookstore, with cramped, crooked aisles nestled between shelves stuffed with old and used books. It’s a nonprofit, and as part of its mission, it provides a stage for music twice a week (in addition to poetry readings and other normal bookstore presentations). So, for five weeks, the owners are giving some edgy jazz the stage: Sundays, 4:30 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m.

I had a great time checking out the first installment, on July 31. I’d never been to the Glen Park section of San Francisco; it’s quiet and upscale, with lots of thin, hilly streets. Very young couples with very little kids were walking the sidewalks. Inside the bookstore was an audience of people in their 60s exuding a very San Francisco vibe (one woman walked past me smiling, redolent of pot). And they were a good audience, rapt, filling the 20 or so chairs set out.

They put out snacks, too: drinks for a small donation, and a couple of boxes of crackers apparently up for grabs. I’d feel nervous about all those half-full cups being parked on bookshelves, but nothing spilled that I could see.

The program is the product of multiple artists pinging Bird & Beckett about possible shows. Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland — on the power-noisy side of free jazz — was one, and Jim Ryan was another. That gave Romus the idea to bundle a set of shows together into a mini-festival that the local Outsound organization could help promote. They’re calling it Out Fest.

The first installment was a quartet called Time Is Now, Not Money, a quartet rooted in bebop and some standards but also willing to fly freely. Vocalist Loren Benedict of The Holly Martins was center stage, spinning his silky improvised language for a good Sunday-afternoon feel. Scott Looney on piano was in fine jazz form; it’s the most “inside” I’ve ever heard him play, and he did it with flair and style.

The group’s leader seems to be bassist Bishu Chatterjee, who threw some extended techniques into some otherwise straightahead numbers and overall showed an enthusiasm for extending musical boundaries. Not everything worked — an attempt to play using the wrong side of the bow looked more interesting than it sounded — but the spirit was right.

The players also paired up for improvised duets that made up about one-third of the program, maybe a little less.

Standards won’t be in the house when Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy plays Aug. 7; their repertoire is improvised, although it does draw from elements of free jazz. Likewise for the final show, Aug. 28, when Rent Romus’s Lords of Outland play. Romus is planning a set that leans more on jazz-context compositions as opposed to howling electronics.

My only complaint is that Glen Park shuts down early; fancy restaurants were still open at 7:00 p.m., but finding a simple espresso took effort. Lovely part of town, though. Great place for a Sunday stroll.

Here’s the remaining Out Fest lineup:

  • Aug. 14 — Chuck Manning/Stu Pilorz Outfit with Ollie Duedek and Omar Aran.
  • Aug. 21 — Time Is Now, Now Money, redux, with guest Kasey Knudsen on sax. (She’s in The Holly Martins with Benedict.)
  • Aug. 28 — Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland

August 18, 2011 at 2:36 am 3 comments

Sylvano Bussotti, Live

I shouldn’t have characterized Sylvano Bussotti‘s music as being “graphical scores.” After seeing some of the music up-close, and seeing Thursday night’s performance at SF MOMA, I’m pretty sure that his crazed sheet music is really meant to be read at face value.

Mind you, there’s some room for improvising and for unpredictable elements, such as when a player is told to use a forearm to smash all the low piano keys at once. But there are also moments of timed precision, matched melodies, and, especially in last night’s two-piano finale, careful coordination.

The scores are gorgeous, and they drew a lot of attention as they sat in the MOMA’s atrium lobby before the music started, attracting lots of cellphone cameras and, happily enough, generating lots of discussion, from music fans and passers-by alike. Thursday nights, the museum stays open late, so the crowd for the Bussotti concert was well into the hundreds, many of them hipster types on hand for the (unrelated) free food and non-free wine.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the theatrical setup:  Music stands and the two pianos, and some of the scores, were left out during the early part of the evening, as the crowd milled around. It turned out that the music, performed by sfSound, was to be staged in sections of the lobby, across a central strip — the opening trio being in the center, then the other small-group pieces off to the left or the right, while the audience lingered around the perimeter of this makeshift stage. People really seemed to enjoy that.

The space got best used late in the performance, for a nonet titled “AUTOTONO” that had two pianos on either end of the performance strip and the rest of the group scattered in between, a setup that was visually arresting, with sound coming at you from different directions.

The rest of the program consisted of smaller sfSound subgroups playing Bussotti pieces from past and present. It started with a choppy, jousting string trio called “Phrase a Trois,” one of the scores the audience had been admiring beforehand. Matt Ingalls later played a solo clarinet piece, “Variazione Berio,” where he took advantage of the fact that a clarinetist can carry his own sheet music. Ingalls wandered the space, turning every so often to change the angle of the sound (it does make a difference), often stopping to let one long, piercing note properly strike the walls and ring.

The crowd was surprisingly respectful, considering how many hadn’t come for the music per se.  Yes, there were lots of ancillary noises — doors closing (especially the front doors, as the crowd thinned during the 70 or so minutes of music), dishes being cleaned up, the occasional elevator bing. Very little conversation, though, which was admirable. I was grateful for that.

More than 100 people remained by the end, reverently sitting through the 22-minute “Tableuax Vivants,” a selection from (or a prelude to?) the opera, La Passion Selon Sade.

This one was really interesting.  It’s for two pianists who start by playing one piano — but they don’t just play high keys/low keys like you’d expect. They play in the same register, and more important, one player sometimes reaches into the piano to hold down a string while the other one plays, or sometimes to pluck a string. The result is that the two players are continually leaning over one another, carefully poking their arms past one another. It’s like a dance.

And it’s meant to be. “The staves (and thus the pianists) sensually merge and depart — both an essay on proxemic theory and an exquisite way of staging intimacy,” Luciano Chessa wrote in the detailed show notes we were given. (A lot of which can be read in this SFCV article: “A Rare Silent Film from an Experimental Composer.”)

The pianists — Christopher Jones and Ann Yi — eventually separated to the two pianos to complete the piece, which went on to instruct them to pluck the strungs, hit them with soft mallets, and slap them with a whip. The finale of the piece has both pianists putting away the score and playing from memory, fading out when they get stuck. Jones and Yi actually lasted about the same amount of time, which made for a more abrupt and solid ending than you’d expect — but it worked.

Bussotti himself was on hand, performing in two of the pieces. He spoke gruff, stark lines (in French) in “Geographie Francaise” and a more pensive commentary (in Italian) for “In Memoriam Cathy Berberian.”

And as mentioned in an earlier post, this program had started with a screening of Rara, Bussotti’s silent film, with Bussotti himself providing piano accompaniment. Most of the film consists of long close-ups of people, mostly shirtless men adorned with gaudy necklaces, tears on their faces. Bussotti’s music wasn’t as sparse as I’d expected — it jumped and leapt, then halted for long pauses. He slipped into straight tonal music on a few occasions, which was surprising — heavy sentimental chords, or slow, regal harmonies. He also had a couple of tricks up his sleeve. For example: By holding down certain keys with one hand while playing notes with the other, he created some different sounding harmonics. It was like holding down the sustain pedal for only a handful of notes — producing the same shimmering decay, but on a different chord than usual.

The film and the concert were very warmly received, and Bussotti showed a lot of energy for someone approaching 80, walking slowly but striking confidently at the piano. The program of pieces selected by Luciano Chessa created a good rhythm as a whole. Bussotti seemed to enjoy his special evening, and maybe the music got heard by some ears that otherwise wouldn’t have given it a try.

Check out sfSound at http://sfsound.org.

December 3, 2010 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment


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