It’s John Zorn’s Metal Band

John ZornIpsissimus (Tzadik, 2010)

Ipsissimus“John Zorn’s metal band” is not news to most of you, it’s true. But most of my delving into the Tzadik catalogue hasn’t been in the metal/Mike Patton vein, so I hadn’t encountered Moonchild until now.

Where Naked City’s Torture Garden was informed by speed-blasting punk, Moonchild is more about the weighty styles of contemporary metal. Ipsissimus, the latest of that band’s five albums, does indeed get heavy, and yet, it’s got references back to prog rock and even jazz that give me some grounding in the music. (UPDATE: See comments; it turns out the latest Moonchild album is Templars – In Sacred Blood, which has lyrics and adds John Medeski to the mix.)

Which is helpful, because metal tends to combine murk and hyperstimulation in a way that gets lost on me. “Warlock” and “The Book of Los” both provide a balm of prog-rock brightness, at least in spots. And the opener, “Seven Sigils,” flickers between a 4/4 and 15/16 time signature, I think — which, combined with the knowledge that nice-guy Joey Baron is on the drums, tickles my prog center nicely.

Later on that track, Zorn’s sax solo even hits some surprising moments of soul-jazz melody before getting into, you know, Zornisms.

Throughout the album, Trevor Dunn gets to crank out the low-end electric bass lines — I’m guessing he relishes the sessions where he gets to do that — and Marc Ribot’s guitar gets all crunchy in that choppy metal vein. I don’t mean blazing speed-metal, but heavy storm-of-doom stuff with Mike Patton providing the Cookie Monster vocals.

Tracks like “Supplicant” are where Zorn and especially Patton really bring the metal in midtempo, heavy-growl mode. Unexpectedly, Ribot chooses a classic-rock guitar sound for his subsequent solo. On a “metal” album that draws from so many other resources, it fits.

Graham Connah Rides Again

Adm. Ted Brinkley’s Hornblower Cruise plays the Jazzschool (Berkeley) Sunday, Jan. 2, at 8:30 p.m. No cover; $5-$15 donation suggested.

To most of you, Trevor Dunn (now part of The Nels Cline Singers) will always be the guy who played bass for Mr. Bungle.

To me, he’ll always be the guy who did this:

That’s the intro to “More of the Same but Not So Different,” a track on the 1994 album Snaps Erupt at Pure Spans by the Graham Connah Group. It’s not just that the solo is cool, inventive, and arresting (which it is). It’s the snappy, jazzy riff that starts and ends it, becoming the backing rhythm for the piano theme. That bass part made this tune one of my favorites from any Connah album.

Connah, a keyboardist and composer, has been a fixture in Bay Area jazz ever since those early ’90s days. He’s less visible these days — “assiduously avoiding publicity” is how Andrew Gilbert puts it in this SFGate calendar item — but he’s still around, performing rather regularly at Revolution Cafe in the Mission District under the name Admiral Ted Brinkley (semi-ret.).

He’s playing at Berkeley’s Jazzschool on Sunday night, Jan. 2 — a free show, technically, though they’re welcoming donations at the door. Gilbert’s writeup indicates this is a bimonthly happening, which would be great news. Assuming he also keeps up the Revolution Cafe appearances, Connah’s band(s) might be on stage at least once a month.

His music’s evolved considerably. Around 1994, he was fronting small combos playing twisty, smart-alecky jazz — it was like being handed a road map drawn on a mobius strip, and yet, it was still jazzy enough to envision being played by guys in suits at Yoshi’s. (They didn’t actually wear suits, but they did play at Yoshi’s.) In subsequent years, the formula mutated: larger bands; complicated female vocal parts; occasional electric piano or organ creating a bubbly psych/fusion stew. By 2000, Connah’s music was spilling heavily into the space between jazz and rock.

Around that time, Connah’s groups were playing weekly at Bruno’s, a Mission District restaurant that saw potential in out-jazz. Those sessions led to a terrific 3-CD recording, Because of Wayne/The Only Song We Know (Evander Music). My recollection is that Connah gave it away to basically anybody who asked.

Based on the Jazzschool writeup and the Evander blurb for Adm. Ted Brinkley’s CD (you’ll find it here), the Brinkley bands expands the vocal parts to a chorus, promising an even grander punch. I’ve been remiss about keeping up with Connah’s music, and that’s a shame; he’s been a treasure of local jazz. The Revolution Cafe is nice enough, but a chance to see this band in the comfort of the Jazzschool theater sounds awfully enticing.

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.

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).

Phillip Greenlief in NYC

If you’re reading this and you’re in New York or Philadelphia, take note. Phillip Greenlief is coming to your town.

(If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re reading this — you can see Greenlief and The Lost Trio every Monday night, free, at Kingman’s Ivy Room, in Albany right near Berkeley. Except the next couple of Mondays because, hey guess what, he’s coming to New York and Philadephia.)

A highlight of the east-coast swing will be Greenlief playing with bassist Trevor Dunn. Think of it as a 14-years-later celebration of the duet album they put out on Greenlief’s Evander Music label, back when Dunn lived in the Bay Area. Actually, their promo slogan for the upcoming shows is “17 years in the making,” so they’re counting back even further.

The itinerary:

* Oct. 31 at Downtown Music Gallery. With Tim Perkis. Um, yeah, you already missed this one.  There’s a reason I don’t bill this site as a news site.

* Nov. 2 — at Konceptions at Korzo with an NYC trio: Angelica Sanchez (piano), Trevor Dunn (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). 667 5th Ave. (btw 19th and 20th), Brooklyn.

* Nov. 3 — at Barbes, duo with Trevor Dunn.  376 9th St. at 6th, Park Slope, Brooklyn.

* Nov. 4 — in Philadelphia: Duo with Trevor Dunn. Also appearing: The Zs (2 guitars, percussion, sax).  Presented by Ars Nova Workshop at Kung Fu Necktie, 1248 North Front St.

* Nov. 5 — at 295 Douglass, Brooklyn, with Jen Baker (trombone) and Matt Ostrowski (electronics). More about Baker’s solo album here.

* Nov. 6 — at iBeam. Trio with Angelica Sanchez (piano) and Tom Rainey (drums). What a cool way to end the tour. 168 7th St., Brooklyn.

You can see it all at the Transbay Calendar — scroll down to “Events Outside the Bay Area.”

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.

Zorn and The Dreamers

John Zorn: The Dreamers (Source: Tzadik)

Here’s how busy my week was: It isn’t until a full five days later that I bother to blog about the coolness of my lone John Zorn show at Yoshi’s.

DJ Mike and I went to the Saturday show, featuring Zorn’s band The Dreamers. This is pop Zorn. Very accessible, jazzy melodies — accessible in a Bacharach sense, almost verging on corniness at points. One song had the happy, dippy air of a 1950s department store commercial.

But this is a band that burns, and the sizzling jams that come out of these songs meld bluesy guitar; loud surf guitar (both by Mark Ribot, of course); South American themes and percussions; Cyro Baptista making as many noises as possible; and Joey Baron just tearing it up on drums, smiling all the way of course. The stage was packed with instruments. Zorn, sitting, conducted everything with satisfied glee.

Jamie Saft got to play three keyboards, alternating piano, organ, and electric piano. (I’m guessing all three keyboards were Yoshi’s own.) Trevor Dunn, a welcome face from the Bay Area scene of the past, was digging down hard on electric bass. Kenny Wolleson, another former local, played vibraphone throughout, adding that sunny touch to a lot of the melodies. Baptista, as mentioned, just played all sorts of stuff — drums, noisemakers, whitles, clangy metal spirals. I picture him going through security with these fat sacks of stuff, trying to explain that it’s for his job.

The crowd ate it up. Many of these songs, though instrumental, have the right rhythm, melody, and guitar elements to fit on rock radio, IMHO; a relatively progressive station like KFOG could easily sneak this music into a playlist. (The lamented KKCY of the late ’80s would have been all over this album.) People didn’t clap for most of the solos, but the band got thick standing ovations for the set and the encore (which appeared to consist of two Masada tunes.) Amoeba Records had a table in the lobby to sell Zorn’s Tzadik wares, and copies of The Dreamers got snatched up like candy-coated popcorn.

The Dreamers is quite “nice,” but there’s an attitude to it. Don’t picture black-and-white suburban smiles; think instead of those little cartoon guys on the album cover, and the connection to Japanese pop culture. It’s Zorn’s nod to jazz and pop, viewed not from a retro lens, but with a hipster’s eye. (You can get the cartoon guys on a T-shirt at Tzadik, by the way. Pricey, but potentially irresistable. By the way, I haven’t seen the inside of the CD package; be reminded that Zorn sometimes employs artwork that you wouldn’t take home to mom.)