Happy 80th, Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan's 80thIt was good to see Jim Ryan in high spirits for his 80th birthday concert last Sunday. The time slot competed with a few other good events, but the SIMM series at San Francisco’s Musicians Union Hall draws a good turnout. The room was nicely crowded and full of conversation between sets, fueled by cake and melting ice cream (the Union Hall’s performance space gets warm quickly).

Ryan handed out glow bracelets and laser rings that everyone had to wear, and he put on a good show in two sets of flute, sax, and poetry.

Beyond being a performer, Ryan has been an organizer and instigator on the scene. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, he ran a local zine, back when there were such things and most people didn’t have web sites. He also curated a few different weekly series, including one at the Starry Plough in Berkeley — a venue where the ownership and bookers are friendly to creative music, but the crowds sometimes aren’t.

I remember one show there with a group called Mosthumbz — out-there, jazzy stuff with a heavy improv component. The bar was full of regulars that night for some reason, and they were grumbling about the music. But one of their compatriots — a guy with an Irish accent, even — stood up for the music. “This is what I love about the ‘Plough. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, and he meant it. And he enthusiastically applauded every number.

Organizing creative-music shows certainly has its frustrations. Hopefully, little moments like that enhance the rewards.

View from the door: Jordan Glenn's Mindless Thing
View from the door: Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing

Ryan’s birthday concert opened with Jordan Glenn’s Mindless Thing. The band played drummer Glenn’s thoughtful, chamber-like compositions, which seemed to be built around Ryan’s poems, with music and words serving one another as accents and punctuation. Ryan’s poems were a gradual tumble of thoughts, introspective scenes cut with surreal changes of direction and a sense of humor.

The band was heavy in tuned, percussive instruments — vibraphone (Rob Lopez), hammered dulcimer (Damon Waitkus), piano (Michael Coleman), and guitar (Karl Evangelista) for sounds that could be placid like deep water or rustling and restless like a mountain stream. Evangelista kept the guitar volume turned down, but still shredded madly in places, creating an oddly pleasant background fuzz — it was a nice effect. Their closing piece had everyone playing homemade can-and-string instruments, gently banging and plucking away.

For the second set, Ryan led a quartet with Scott Looney (piano), Jason Hoopes (bass), and Jordan Glenn (drums) in a long, jazzy improvisation that kicked off as a fast and heavy post-bop bounce. They kept that jazz vibe going for a second piece featuring Rent Romus (sax) and C.J. Borosque (trumpet), who along with Looney had been members of Forward Energy, a Ryan-led improv band. That piece took off like a screaming rocket and kept the energy going for the most part, a good upbeat way to close out the birthday celebration.

From left: Scott R. Looney (in the shadows), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn
From left: Scott R. Looney (in shadow), Jim Ryan, Jason Hoopes, Jordan Glenn

Scott Looney Isn’t Just an Opening Act

Scott LooneyRepercussions (Edgetone, 2007)

Looney/Lake/Smoker/EllisUrban Ruminations (Metaphysical, 2009)

Continuing the litany of Endangered Blood opening acts, we get to tonight’s show in Oakland at Studio 1510 (at 1510 8th St., Oakland) where the opening band will be a new trio of Scott Looney (piano), Doug Stuart (bass), and Kjell Nordeson (drums).

Of the three, I’m most familiar with Looney, proprietor of 1510. He’s a terrific improvising pianist as well as an electronic musician. And with Studio 1510 he’s hosted some monumental shows for local and visiting artists.

I’ve seen Kjell Nordeson perform a few times. Terrific percussionist in jazz/improv settings as well as the new-music oeuvre; he was featured in one of the Sylvano Bussotti pieces in last week’s sfSound performance. I’m not familiar with Doug Stuart, but, uh, I’m sure he’s a nice guy.

Let’s focus on Looney’s piano playing, though. A couple of CDs show off his dexterity and stage presence in improvised settings, and they demonstrate why you ought to go see this trio tonight.

In the solo Repercussions, Looney flashes a variety of styles including thickly chorded jazz/classical leanings, stacking one spontaneous idea onto another to form strong, arresting pieces. He’s mostly playing the piano straight, unadorned, although prepared piano and fingernails-against-strings show up in a few places. Here’s a rich little segment of the track “luxtasEnTempore,” showing off some nice technique and even handfuls of songlike chords at the end.

I feel like I should showcase one of the more abstract tracks — you know, show off my avant-garde cred — but this one really grabbed me, not for its tuneful moments as much as for its fast, florid technique. Nice stuff.

Urban Ruminations puts Looney in a quartet setting with some amazing partners: Oliver Lake (sax), Paul Smoker (trumpet), and Lisle Ellis (bass). They’ve got an admirable rapport. And while Looney shines as an equal-part leader in most of the pieces, I find myself coming back to this selection of “Monad/The Is Eye,” where Looney takes the role of ersatz drummer, settling into a groove that sparks off some nice horn soloing. (Sample is just less than 2 minutes.)

I don’t know what direction the Looney/Stuart/Nordeson trio would take, but these records might offer a clue. The people who show up to see Endangered Blood will probably get a treat in seeing Looney’s opening act.

Endangered Blood: The Openers

Is it weird that I’ve been obsessing about the opening acts on Endangered Blood‘s Western U.S. tour?

To recap: This is the NYC quartet of Chris Speed (sax/clarinet), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Jim Black (drums), and Trevor Dunn (bass).  They’re all a big part of the current downtown NYC scene, but they rarely get out west due to the impracticalities of touring. But Dunn used to live in the Bay Area, and Speed and Black once hailed from Seattle, so they’ve got ties.

Anyway. The discovery of Richard Sears‘ music is what got me thinking along these lines. From there, some known quantities and one unknown but very interesting one turned up.

Taken from the Jim Black events page, here’s Endangered Blood’s schedule.

Dec. 5, Chicago, @ The Hungry Brain. This already happened, so we’ll skip it.

December 6th, Seattle, @ The ChapelWayne Horvitz Quartet. With Neil Welch (sax), Willem de Koch (trombone), and Luke Bergman (bass).  Presumably you know the many colors of Horvitz. Welch is quite active on the Seattle scene as well. His Narmada album shows a late-’60s reverence to the origins of free jazz, and, separately, an interest in Indian ragas… but he’s also done work with loops and pedals.  Here’s a review of Narmada, and you can hear samples at CD Baby.  Presented by the Wayward Music Series.

December 7th, Portland, OR @ Hop and VinePaxselin Quartet.  Fronted by sax and clarinet, Paxselin dabbles in bopping free jazz and some somber chamber-sounding material as well. Presented by Portland Eye & Ear Control. Hear samples of them on CD Baby, eMusic, or CD Baby again.

December 8th, Eureka, CA @ Red Fox TavernWSG Krawdad? Dunno.

December 9th, Boulder, CO @ Old Main, CU CampusKneebody.  An awesome band that I’m stunned to discover I haven’t mentioned on this blog yet. Youthful, creative, and exciting enough to have been the first non-Dave-Douglas artist to appear on Dave Douglas’ then-new record label. This one’s a double-headliner show (like a double A-side single, for you oldster types out there) and might be the most exciting bill on the docket. Read more at kneebody.com, and sample their new album on eMusic.

December 10th, Oakland, CA @ Studio 1510 Performance Space — Scott Looney (piano), Doug Stuart (bass), Kjell Nordeson (drums), a new Bay Area trio. Looney can be heard in contexts from jazzy free-jazz to abstract improvising to pure electronics; this trio looks like it’ll stick to the first category. Sounds very promising.

December 11th, Los Angeles, @ The Blue WhaleRichard Sears (piano) and band. Sears’ album, Rick, is streamable on his site, and it’s good stuff. Just check out the exciting title track, with its pulsing guitar and very, well, Chris Speed-like sax played by Sam Gandel.

December 12th, Phoenix, AZ @ Modified Arts — Unknown.

December 13th, Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture — Folky acoustic music from Sara P. Smith, formerly the trombonist with Chicago-area groups like Isotope 217. You can hear more at sarapsmith.com.

A terrific list, overall. Given enough resources and free time, I’d be tempted to follow Endangered Blood around just to listen to their opening acts. Hopefully some of them benefit from the exposure, or at least get a good audience (gigs are so hard to come by, for many of these folks).  If nothing else, some of them can say they’ve gained one new listener already.

You can hear Endangered Blood’s music on Myspace and YouTube (see below).

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).

Cool.

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.

When Frank Comes To Town

Gratkowski/Looney/Smith/Nordeson — Mimetic Holds (Balance Point Acoustics, 2008 )

Mimetic Holds, from Balance Point Acoustics (Source: emusic)Frank Gratkowski (clarinet/sax) seems to get over to the Bay Area quite a lot. (In fact, he’ll be here again around April 4 for, among other things, Philip Gelb’s food/music series.) Point is, Gratkowski doesn’t seem like a stranger, and maybe that’s why the rapport on this improv album flows so well.

This is abstract improvised music, as is usual for Damon Smith‘s Balance Point Acoustics label. Many tracks follow a pattern of slow, thoughful improvising that builds to a nice, loud frenzy. It’s not at all formulaic. It’s more that when you’re jamming with friends, and the moods and ideas click, it’s probably easy for the pace and volume to pick up. The result is a nice ride for the listener.

Take the 15-minute “Indexes Provolones.” It starts with relatively slow moving spaces and an airy, flutelike sound to Gratkowski’s careful clarinet notes. A quiet bass solo shows off some of Smith’s tricks, with the bow glancing and gliding across the strings. The second half opens up into some jazzlike group work, with bright clarinet and piano (Scott R. Looney) lines backed with some dense percussion (Kjell Nordeson), before turning fierce. Twice in the late minutes, you can hear the whole band surge forth, as if cranking the dials all at once.

“Mimetic Holds” is perhaps the most extreme track in exploring thoughtful silences and quiet, creeping progress. But it, too, develops into hard-clacking percussion with bass and clarinet doing faroff wailing sounds and ends with a more celebratory free-for-all. Overall, it’s a rewarding 13-minute journey.

You don’t always have to wait that long. “Any Icon Melody” has plenty of action from the get-go. “Badger Interlocks Kiwi” starts restlessly, with toneful sax improvising over a piano cascade and rustling bass/drums that quickly builds into faster playing and a fiery blast.

I should also point out that these titles, by themselves, are pretty darn cool. “Diverse Xenon Loops” and “Crablike Editing Works,” which really does start out crablike, are just scrumptious phrases.

Upcoming Shows: The Greenlief Five

Phillip Greenlief, at Bluesix with The Lost TrioYou don’t turn 50 every day (so I’m told). Phillip Greenlief is celebrating in fine fashion, with five shows starting with Valentine’s Day. Below, I’ve cut-and-pasted his show announcement and added some comments in italics. Happy birthday, Phillip!
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concert #1 – an evening with the lost trio
phillip greenlief – tenor saxophone; dan seamans – bass; tom hassett – drums
saturday, february 14th (phillip’s birthday) 8:30 pm
@bluesix acoustic, 24th street (at treat street), san francisco, 94110

[For two decades, this trio’s been playing their mix of covers: standards, rock songs, country songs. They’ve got a great sound together.  Click at right for a full band picture taken at Bluesix.

Bluesix, by the way, is a Mission District housefront that hosts quite a range of interesting music. It’s the kind of place that makes you glad to live in a big city.]

concert #2 – improvised music at 1510
first set – michel doneda, tatsuya nakatani
second set – tom djll, michel doneda, phillip greenlief, scott looney, tatsuya nakitani
sunday, february 15, 8pm
@1510 performance space – 1510 8th street, west oakland 94607

[Doneda (sax) is in from France for a few concerts. Nakatani (percusssion) is on his way back to Japan and will be in the Bay Area for just this one night — listen to him here. Djll (trumpet) and Looney (piano/electronics?) are mainstays of the local scene.]

concert #3citta di vitti at improv hootenany
monday, february 16 9:30 pm
@the ivy room – san pablo street, just north of solano avenue, albany

[Jazz trio playing music inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.]

concert #4music for large ensemble [click for details]
compositions by greenlief for orchesperry, special guests, the cardew choir
tuesday, february 17, 10:30 pm
@the uptown – telegraph street@18th street, oakland

[Part of Weasel Walter‘s monthly Avant-Garde Tuesdays at this downtown rock club. It’s a free show! (Donation suggested.) Come out, see a sprawling 20-piece band of great local musicians — and help convince the Uptown that they’re doing a good thing by supporting this music.  With two opening sets, including a quartet with Weasel Walter.]

concert #5orchestra nostalgico plays nino rota
sunday, february 22 @9:30 pm
@amnesia, valencia street between 19th & 20th streets, san francisco 94110

[Amnesia’s a bar, but one with an affinity for jazz/world live music and the occasional out-of-left-field group, like the What Cheer? Brigade. Cool place; the music will fit the vibe, even if the band doesn’t fit the stage.]