‘Tides’ at SF Offside 2013

DSCN2817The third and final night of the SF Offside festival was like one big sigh of relief for organizers Alex Pinto and Laura Maguire (at right). After dreaming up the festival on the spur of the moment in late 2011 or early 2012, they had now pulled off a two successful sets of concerts and had quickly built a following that seems to cut across multiple layers of “jazz” fandom.

They thanked the audience; the audience thanked them. It was one big group hug, and why not? It’s a worthy cause to celebrate, this coming-together of a music scene that too often feels marginalized, lost in an indifferent Bay Area fog. It’s also a reminder to us all that this music is going on around us all the time — Sheldon Brown talked about his band playing at El Valencio restaurant, for instance. I had no idea.

Subtitled “Tides,” following the previous nights’ themes of “Streams” and “Currents,”  the program kept up the concept of presenting disparate settings for improvisation and jazz.

Lisa Mezzacappa and Steve Adams (bass/sax) played a set of compositions they’d written for other bands and other contexts. I always like seeing a song get extra life in a new environment.

DSCN2796Adams’ “Black Notebook #11” got things started with a strong bopping feel, while the graphic score that came next created a more expansive sound. Mezzacappa contributed “What Is Known” and “The Deep Disciplines” from her Bait & Switch and Cylinder bands, respectively. The latter track’s free-jazz energy had Mezzacappa dancing around with her bass and both players smiling broadly. DSCN2798

A Carla Bley cover, with its strong melody, got good audience response. One piece with Adams on bass flute had the cryptic peacefulness of a zen koan. They finished with an upbeat piece where Mezzacappa ran through lots of percussive sounds and off-the-wall techniques while Adams burbled away on a sax solo. Great stuff.

The Sheldon Brown Group. See if you can spot all five of them.

The Sheldon Brown Group brought a fusion attitude, with electric guitar, five-string electric bass, and powerhouse drumming contrasted with the acoustic sounds of Brown’s woodwinds and Jonathan Alford’s piano. This was a more familiar jazz format, with songs having definite heads and soloing spaces, but Brown kept it interesting with a few changeups.

“Temptress,” a slower song, was built on skeletal chords, over which the drums and soprano sax aired out fiercely. Their opener, “Fatma’s Love Song,” featured a clackety African beat and tough, fusiony guitar-and-bass chords. Alan Hall turned in a crowd-pleasing performance on drums, filling the space with energy, but I liked his work on “Random Shards of Daring Know,” a more open-ended song with a contrary swing. His drums and Brown’s clarinet took the lead voices for a long stretch of untethered improvising, with Hall showing some creative and sensitive playing.

DSCN2829Dave Mihaly’s Shimmering Leaves Ensemble, the final band of the night and the festival, showed something truly different. Mihaly, a drummer, has put together a gentle folk/Americana band with an occasional jazz kick.

Shimmery electric guitar, played by Michael Cavaseno with a country twang, defined much of the sound, while the trio of David Boyce (sax), Ara Anderson (trumpet), and Charith Premawardhana (viola) stood to the side, concocting a backdrop of lingering, moody chords and sometimes stepping up for some soloing. Boyce played at the first SF Offside as part of free-jazz improvisers The Supplicants, but in Mihaly’s band, he sticks to lyrical, tuneful playing.

The band lives up to its “Shimmering” name. Mihaly’s songs have a languid feel, emphasizing a drifting, songlike quality over soloing chops or complex composing. (Although the roaring ’20s sound of “Oil Painting for Adolphe Sax & Coleman Hawkins” has a bouncing, nonobvious rhythm behind it; that’s one to do a cartoon dance to, Mihaly told us.)

DSCN2835For a few tunes, Mihaly sang gentle vocals and added more guitar, letting Boyce or Anderson take a turn at the drums. In both cases, their job was to add color and texture rather than lay down a beat; Anderson had the sharper turn of the two, I thought, peppering a folky song with quick jabs and accents.

Pinto is moving to India on a Fulbright grant, so SF Offside is in for some changes. They’ve shown this format can draw an audience, though, so hopefully they can keep the spirit burning for another year.

Mihaly demonstrates the ‘dance craze’ that goes with one song, a toe-tapper in 5/8 time.

SF Offside Returns

fb-logo-sfof4The SF Offside jazz festival is back for a second year, gracing three different Bay Area venues at the end of May.

The best resource to learn more is going to be sfOffside.com, where they’ll be posting profiles on the musicians and where you can already see the full 2013 lineup, cut-and-pasted below.

But first, a taste:  A video snippet of the Wiener Kids Family Band, which currently tops the Wiener Kids video page.


Here’s the full lineup:

NIGHT 1 – “STREAMS” – THURSDAY, MAY 23, 8-11PM     
Awaken Café, 1429 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
New collaborations, new directions

Aram Shelton – alto sax
Jason Gillenwater – tenor sax
Alex Pinto – guitar
Doug Stuart – bass
Shaun Lowecki – drums

Jaz Sawyer – drums
Asonic Garcia – sampler, synth, electronics
Mike Boo – turntable, sampler, electronics

Jordan Glenn – conductor
Cory Wright – clarinet
Aaron Bennett – soprano sax
Christina Stanley – violin
Kate McLoughlin – bassoon
Rob Ewing – trombone
Damon Waitkus – banjo
Karl Evangelista – guitar
Dominique Leone – synth
Kevin Thaxton – bass
Jon Arkin – drums

NIGHT 2 – “CURRENTS” – FRIDAY, MAY 24, 9pm-midnight  
Duende, 468 19th Street, Oakland, CA 94618
Leading-edge local jazz

Mads Tolling – violin
Dave MacNab – guitar
George Ban-Weiss – bass
Eric Garland – drums

Howard Wiley – sax
Marcus Shelby – bass
Sly Randolph – drums

NIGHT 3  – “TIDES” – SATURDAY, MAY 25, 8-11pm  
Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, SF, CA 94110
“The traveler hastens toward the town…”

Lisa Mezzacappa – bass
Steve Adams – saxophones

Sheldon Brown – soprano & tenor saxophones, clarinet
Dave MacNab – guitar
Jonathan Alford – piano
Michael Wilcox – bass
Alan Hall – drums

Dave Mihaly – drums, guitar, voice
Ara Anderson – trumpet, percussion
David Boyce – saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Michael Cavaseno – guitar
Charith Premawardhana – viola

Weekend of the 23rd: Vexations, Sonny Sharrock, Switchboard Music, Martha & Monica

Vexations tres lentSomewhere in San Francisco right now, someone is playing Erik Satie’s “Vexations.”

The 840-cycle piece started at Berkeley Arts in the afternoon of March 23 and is continuing until noon Sunday, March 24. It’s organized by Joe Lasqo, who organizes a previous “Vexations” in September that was “straight,” with musicians at the piano reading notes on paper — but even that had its twists and variations, he says. This time, the artists are playing a variety of instruments, including some that don’t play musical notes. (Berkeley Arts: 2133 University Ave., Berkeley.)

There’s also a fundraiser for the SF Offside festival. The show should be starting right about now — it’s the Sonny Sharrock Experience, a quartet that includes Offside co-organizer Alex Pinto playing the all-important guitar part as they cover Sharrock’s music (and McCoy Tyner’s, and Alice & John Coltrane’s). So, you could catch that show (Revolution Cafe: 3248 22nd St., San Francisco) then cross the Bay to camp at Berkeley Arts for a night of “Vexations.”

Switchboard 2013Then, there’s the Switchboard Music Festival — an eight-hour celebration of creative, modern, quasi-classical music presented with a dynamic, almost indie-rock vibe. That starts at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, at Brava Theater (2781 24th St., San Francisco).

martha&monicaIf you got restless just before 4:00, you could leave that venue (possibly missing part of Ava Mendoza’s Unnatural Ways’ set, which would be a tough call) to see martha & monica, the piano/cello duet, perform the world premiere of a piece by Matt Ingalls (of the sfSound troupe) and pieces by Elliott Carter and Dmitri Shostakovich. (Old First Church: 1751 Sacramento St., San Francisco).

Then you could head back to the Brava Theater for the concluding hours of the Switchboard Festival. Could you take the bus there and back! Sure! I think. (My Muni mojo is about a decade old.)

Someday, someone is going to look back at this as one hell of a musical weekend. Why should it be you?

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.