Now Batting for the Nels Cline Singers

Bassist Devin Hoff has left the Nels Cline Singers and will be replaced by Trevor Dunn, according to Cline’s latest email newsletter to fans.

(I feel like such the sportswriter here. It’s like the Giants signing Miguel Tejada, and then the Padres trading to get Bartlett from the Rays to fill the shortstop void. Totally the same thing, right? Right?)

Hoff moved to Chicago from the Bay Area and probably wants to concentrate on establishing himself there. He’s also been doing some projects of his own, including a solo metal-influenced album that I’d been meaning to mention here.

The more relevant news is that the ‘Singers will be playing California in February — specifically, at The Independent on Thurs., Feb. 3, and near Santa Cruz at Don Quixote’s on Fri., Feb. 4. They’ll be adding Yuka Honda on keyboards and sundry. For a glimpse of how that sounds, check out their Honda-infused appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series, from September 2010. The band kind of tones down for the small setting; their performance has a spacey jam in the middle — slow, mind-expanding sounds — and ends with straight jazz guitar that gets bent up.

Scott Amendola in Mountain View Tonight

Tonight (Oct. 24) is the night Scott Amendola‘s tour, supporting his album Lift, comes to Mountain View, to the Dana Street Roasting Company.

It’s not your last Bay Area chance to see his trio in action; they’ll be at Yoshi’s and Kuumbwa as well. (See “Amendola Approacheth.”) But for those of us who live closer to the Peninsula than to the cultural hubs of San Francisco and Oakland, it’s a rare chance to support creative music in our own ‘hood.  Dana Street’s owners have been generously offering their storefront for mainstream jazz and other foot-traffic music, but the owner is tuned into the Nels Cline vector of creative music and has welcomed it into the shop — allowing Steuart Liebig to electronically jam on a Saturday night, for instance. Let’s reward them for that.

Besides, there’s no baseball game tonight. What else are you going to do?

Scott Amendola TrioLift (Sazi, 2010)

Now, it’s true that Amendola’s isn’t the most extreme type of creative music. It’s got a downright friendly sound that won’t scare away a coffeehouse crowd.

“Tudo de Bom” opens Lift with a downright friendly vibe, picking up a patient groove with tinges of Afropop, led by Jeff Parker spinning easy-flowing guitar lines. John Shifflett’s catchy bassline on “Blues for Istanbul” introduces a richly slow “world”-music blues. Someone walking in off the street, looking for a double-decaf-half-soy-whatever, could easily be drawn in by these welcoming sounds.

Even the more abstract, electronics-drive opening on “Cascade” gives way to a light-touch guitar line. I said you can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but the two in question turn out to be quite representative of the album.

For rockin’ moments, “Death By Flower” gets loud and Cline-like. “The Knife” has a crunchy beat and surf/spy-movie guitar for one of the catchier themes on the disk.

The trio on Lift is a subset of the quintet that’s played on Amendola’s last album.  The group is missing Jenny Scheinman’s violin and Nels Cline’s guitar, but Amendola partly refills the space with electronics. He’s been trying this direction for some time, finding ways to trigger electronics himself in his live shows. (Cline has taken advantage of this, both in The Nels Cline Singers and with The Celestial Septet — reviews here and here.)

It’s interesting to hear how Amendola wields the smaller band. The first minutes of “Cascade” are a terrific group effort, with colorful electronics taking the lead, Amendola’s drums loud and up-front, and Parker serving as a shimmering backdrop. Shifflett even gets the first solo. But for most of the album, Parker’s guitar holds down the lead and melody roles, as you’d expect in a trio. He presents a mostly light touch on guitar, backed by denser bass lines and bustling drums.

Amendola Approacheth

Drummer Scott Amendola is about to put out his first album leading a trio, Lift. It’s coming Oct. 19.

You can hear tracks by going to Amendola’s “Audio/Video” page. Click on “radio,” and the fixed program will start with the snappy funk of “Lima Bean” followed by the airy drum solo that opens “Lift,” the title track that sketches a peaceful twilight setting. (Then stick around for the high-strung funk of “59th Street Blues,” from Amendola’s first album.)

You can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but here goes. The surface is showing a reimagining of T.J.Kirk-type funk and a rediscovery of jazz territory. But the start to “Lift” shows there’s going to be room for some wide-open improvisation as well.

Amendola also has a love of African pop and a growing sensibility for electronics both as featured instruments and as backdrop. Those factors gave the Scott Amendola Band a broad scope. The most recent album, Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005) does have some funk and rock elements — one track could be a Crazy Horse instrumental — but it’s also got deep, ambitious pieces like the reverent “Cesar Chavez.”

That band also benefitted from a lineup of expansive players — Jeff Parker and Nels Cline on guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Lift pares things down to a trio, with Parker and S.A.Band bassist John Shifflett. But at the same time, Amendola has broadened his scope in compositions and in performance options — his electronics play some key roles in recent Nels Cline Singers albums, The Celestial Septet and the colossal Initiate.

Amendola is taking the trio on a small CD release tour around the Bay Area and up the coast.  (Note that the itinerary includes Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View — a neat local coffee house that’s willing to go out on a limb for the sake of good music. Support them!)

Sat. Oct. 23 — Blue Whale, Los Angeles
Sun. Oct. 24 — Dana St. Roasting, Mountain View, 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Oct. 25 — Yoshi’s Oakland, separate shows at 8:00 and 10:00
Tue. Oct. 26 — Earshot Jazz Festival (Cornish College of the Arts), Seattle
Wed. Oct. 27 — The Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, Ore.
Thur. Oct. 28 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, 7:00, or 6:00 if you want dinner beforehand

Kihnoua

KihnouaUnauthorized Caprices (Not Two, 2010)

Performs Friday, Sept. 24, at the Community Music Center, San Francisco, along with the Marco Eneidi & Vinny Golia Quartet.

Vocals are a weak area for me, by which I mean, I sometimes have trouble getting into avant-garde vocalizing. The swoops and screeches and groans just don’t click with me sometimes; they’ve got an artificial feel next to the music.

Kihnoua is a trio where you can’t miss Dohee Lee on crazed vocals: babbling, wordless singing, the patter of spoken nonsense syllables. But with this group, the vocal sounds seem to mix well with the whole. That concept of voice-as-instrument works, as Lee does indeed treat her vocal chords as an instrument, often a backing one.

Lee knows when to get subtle and when to solo. And Larry Ochs‘ sax, sticking mostly to conventional playing, becomes a soothing, jazz-infused balm next to Lee’s raspier or pricklier playing.

On top of that, these are some nicely crafted pieces — probably improvisations guided by frameworks provided by Ochs.

For instance: The ending of the 19-minute “Nothing Stopped But a Future” is a glorious long tail, a group work that sustains its dark intensity as a climax, then tails off to make way for a Lee solo — it’s a terrific group effort, if it wasn’t all planned — and an all-out tumult as a finale.

I also like the gray-skied tumble of “Weightless,” which actually carries some of the more extreme vocalizing on the record — starting with whispery, raspy sounds and culminating in a mad babble delivered with froth against Amendola’s intense drums. That’s a well crafted passage — Lee eventually drops out, leaving the drums to continue the solo.

Ochs has convened different versions of Kihnoua over the years for one-off performances, always with a guest instrument added to the usual trio (Ochs on sax, Lee, and Scott Amendola on drums). Cellists Joan Jenrenaud and Okkyung Lee were there for the two performances I’ve seen, one of which was played under rather adverse conditions — I wrote it up back in 2008.

On this record, Kihnoua becomes even more of a party. The trio is joined by Liz Allbee on trumpet most of the time — man, I wish I’d seen her perform with the punk-instrumental Mute Socialite — and adds Jeanrenaud, Fred Frith, and Carla Kihlstedt for the aforementioned “Nothing Stopped.”

Scott Amendola’s Week

Some interesting upcoming shows featuring drummer Scott Amendola:

Thursday, April 8 “The Good Life: The Music of Ornette Coleman.” Part of  SF Jazz’s Hotplate series, where local musicians delve into the catalogue of one of the greats.  Amendola (drums) has assembled a quartet of Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Trevor Dunn (electric bass), and Rob Sudduth (sax) for the occasion. Held in San Francisco at a cozy Mission District bar called Amnesia.

Goldberg, Dunn, and Sudduth all used to play together in Graham Connah‘s bands in the ’90s.  Good stuff.

Friday, April 9 — At the Starry Plough (Berkeley), a double bill.  First, Amendola vs. Blades, a funky duo with Wil Blades on organ.  Check out the review in the L.A. Times.  Then, a reprise of the aforementioned Ornette quartet.

Saturday, April 10Kinhoua, noted in this old post.  This is one of the Larry Ochs not-jazz projects, teaming up Ochs on sax, Amendola on drums, Korean vocalist Dohee Lee using her voice as a wordless instrument, and one more person — previously a cellist, this time Trevor Dunn on bass.

It’s going to be a rewarding show covering more abstract territory than the Ornette or Blades shows. The show also marks Kihnoua‘s debut CD release, on the Not Two (or is it NotTwo?) label.

Kihnoua performs at the Jazzschool in Berkeley — where I think I previously saw Kinhoua with Okkyung Lee on cello. Kinhoua then goes on for a tour of Europe starting in late April.

UPDATE 4/7, 5:00 p.m.: A message to Larry Ochs’ mailing list says the new Kihnoua CD will be available at the show for $10.  It won’t be in retail until May and will likely cost a lot more at the time, so you’ve been notified.

Nels Cline Anticipation

I like the promo being put behind Initiate, the upcoming (April 13) album from the Nels Cline Singers.  There’s a spiffy new front page at NelsClineSingers.com.  And Cryptogramophone is running a contest: Answering a trivia question will make you eligible to win all four Nels Cline Singers CDs, a T-shirt, a tote bag, and a poster.  (The only caveat is that the winners are being drawn on April 31. You might have to wait a while.)

(And no, they didn’t scrub the trivia question answer from the Web. Go scout around, and along the way, you’ll pick up some interesting names  and facts from recent L.A. free-jazz history.)

For the uninitiated, the Singers are a singerless trio that plays a wide swath of outsider jazz.  Cline’s guitar runs jazzy and jangly on some tracks, with shadows of prog rock here and there, but each album also tends to have at least one rockin’, indie-sounding instrumental, and at least one drifting, tetherless, seemingly formless piece. The rich variety is all the more reason to put out a double album — Initiate being a package of one studio disk and one live disk.

And it’s the Singers who augment ROVA on the new album, The Celestial Septet.

Cline’s on guitar, of course, with Devin Hoff — formerly of the Bay Area duo Good for Cows and a host of jazz projects — on bass, and versatile mercenary man Scott Amendola on drums. (Amendola has some interesting shows coming this week. More on that tomorrow.)

Pre-ordering for the CD is available through the IndieJazz Web site — or, if you want the T-shirt and tote bag, the Wilco site.

Sax & Drumming Core

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core — Stone Shift (Rogue Art, 2009)

* Appearing Sunday, Oct. 4, at 21 Grand, w/Ochs’ Kihnoua (see below)
* Also in NYC on Oct. 13, performing at Roulette.
* And lots of other east/midwest cities (see below)

source: roulette.org; by Georg PillweinDrumming Core puts Larry Ochs‘ sax in the middle, flanked by drummers: Donald Robinson on one side and Scott Amendola on the other. It’s not a unique setup (see Ken Vandermark and Sound in Action), but it’s compelling, and Ochs has gotten good mileage out of it.

While Stone Shift is the third Drumming Core album in seven years — a decent track record for avant-garde groups — tours and shows for the group have been sporadic, probably a byproduct of busy schedules and the usual economic handicaps.

Based on Ochs compositions, Drumming Core pieces have a songlike feel. The drums get plenty of freedom, but for long stretches, they’re also responsible for keeping an overt rhythm to the pieces, creating an interweaving of rhythms and soloing that doesn’t get overwhelming.

In live shows, it’s a treat watching the contrast between Robinson and Amendola. Both play all kinds of styles, of course, but each has trademark moves that are particularly satisfying — Amendola’s traces of funk in the beat, Robinson’s deliciously intricate mallet work on the toms. Their styles overlap quite a bit, too, but the differences make a live Drumming Core show really percolate.

For the past couple of years, Drumming Core has added the team of Satoko Fujii (piano) and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), who appear on Stone Shift. The result opens up more possibilities for interplay and new sounds, of course.

I really enjoyed the dry, stripped-down feel of the original trio, but I also can’t blame Ochs for wanting to explore new territory with the band and the compositions. Stone Shift is a good listen, built of four extended pieces that make good use of all the band’s talents.

“Across from Over” opens in a swingy, thumpy vein, Ochs buzzing on tenor sax with the drummers playing rhythms that could have fit a blues jam. After a few minutes, the trumpet makes its entrance — but then, everything condenses into a quiet improv, pocked with tiny blips of organ-sounding synth.

The final minutes get into an exciting rhythmic pulse, with heavy-handed piano and ecstatic trumpet blares over a deep drumbeat. It shows how the extra two instrument can kick up the level of drama.

source: roguart.com, note the missing 'e'Some of that drama also shows up in “Finn Veers for Venus,” which goes for an open and spacey sound accented by occasional synth flurries. (Every Drumming Core album has had a Finn/planet track: “Finn Crosses Mars,” then “Finn Passes Pluto.”)

“Abstraction Rising” shows off the compositional nature of Drumming Core, in the form of unison sax/trumpet lines, a sound that draws from the late ’60s well. The track puts Fujii’s piano up front right away, a combination of abstract splashing and ocean-deep middle-register phrases. As the sound settles down, the trumpet and sax play out a unison jazz line that draws from the ’60s well. After some brisk group improv, another composed line surfaces from a pulverizing sea of low-register piano (a Fujii trademark).

The quiet opening to “Stone Shift” shows off the subtle possibilities of the drums, including an especially tight, soft roll that could be either drummer but conjures up Robinson in my mind.

I have to admit, Fujii’s use of synthesizer on here is weird and sometimes distracting, like a gimmick. You could call that a bias on my part — here’s a new sound that my ears don’t associate with this type of music, or at least with this band, so it’s getting rejected like an organ transplant. Could be. Or maybe, just as the bagpipes or piccolo wouldn’t sound right in certain settings, the synth isn’t what’s needed here. At any rate, she uses it sparingly, and sometimes to good effect — a bubbling low-register synth backing serves well against an energetic Ochs solo on “Stone Shift,” like a menacing lava pool just under the surface. And near the end of the piece, there’s a sparse phase of muted trumpet and tiny sax sounds — it reminds me of parts of Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures — with light synth that acts as a background curtain.

All told, this is a solid album. Catch this group while you can. Like Finn passing all those planets, they don’t come around as often as you’d like.

By the way, a word about Kihnoua, which will be performing at the Oct. 4. show. It’s an improvisatory group that includes Amendola, vocalist Dohee Lee, and various guests: Okkyung Lee or Joan Jeanreneaud (cello) in the permutations I’ve seen; Fred Frith (guitar) or Liz Allbee (trumpet) on the Oct. 4 show. I wrote up a brief review of a performance last year, and Ochs is aiming for a CD release in the spring.

Here’s the rest of the Drumming Core tour itinerary, for those who aren’t in the Bay Area or NYC:

Oct 8: The Whole Music Club, University of MN, Minneapolis
Oct 9: Sheldon Concert Hall, St Louis, MO
Oct 10: Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida
Oct 11: Timicula White House, Orlando, FL
Oct 12: Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY
Oct 13: Roulette, New York City
Oct 15: Real Artways, Hartford, CT
Oct 16: Portland Conservatory of Music at Woodford¹s Church, Portland, ME

‘Go Home’ Comes Out

Ironic that my first night out in weeks would be to see a band called Go Home. I’d written about them here. They opened a California mini-tour tonight at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, and they brought the house down. You can relive the moment via this really awful picture from my cheap but loveable camera.

gohomeliveGo Home is a supergroup, at least from a Bay Area fan’s POV. To review: Ben Goldberg (clarinet) does the composing for the band, molding songs from Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy influences and adding a touch of Klezmer. But he’s written these pieces knowing that Charlie Hunter is in there on 7-stringed guitar, ready to deliver the funk (as is drummer Scott Amendola), leading to some hard-driving, danceably bluesy songs.

Hunter, Goldberg, and Amendola all have local followings, so it was a receptive crowd tonight, with generous applause after almost every solo. It was fun. Ron Miles was the only unknown quantity to the crowd, being a trumpeter from Colorado, but he won them over immediately with his solo on “TGO,” the catchy opener. Everyone got a solo on that one, actually, and it was a nice way to rev up the audience.

Continue reading “‘Go Home’ Comes Out”

Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Go Home

Say … that first track, “Wazee,” on Ben Goldberg’s Myspace page … is that the new band Go Home?

gohome

Go ahead, listen. It’s got Goldberg’s clarinet strolling by with a light Klezmer influence. Funky beat like Scott Amendola might lay down. Guitar that sounds like Charlie Hunter. A trumpet that could well be Ron Miles.

Go Home, consisting of those four guys, recently recorded an upcoming CD in New York, as mentioned on Hunter’s blog. And they’ll be playing a few gigs very soon in Northern (including Northern) California:

Thursday, Feb. 5, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz
Friday, Feb. 6, at Cafe Du Nord, SF, sort of
Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Freight & Salvage, Berkeley
Sunday, Feb. 8, at Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley
Monday, Feb. 9, at Humboldt State, Arcata

Click the Arcata link for three more tracks: A slower one with a looser feel, a jumbly out-jazz tune heavy on the improvisation, and one with coolly Spanish/Flamenco tones (using my own possibly inaccurate understanding of those terms).

Continue reading “Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Go Home”