It Was Half of 20 Years Ago Today

Recently I found this: a promo bookmark from the Hotel Utah, a cool little bar and music venue in San Francisco’s SoMa district:

dscn3549-hotelutah

I believe it’s from 2007. Click here for a full view. Then take a closer look at this entry:

hotel-utah-death-jazz

Search my blog, and you’ll find references to three of those four bands. This would have been one amazing show: punk energy (Mute Socialite, led by Moe Staiano and featuring Ava Mendoza), tangly free jazz (Go-Go Fightmaster, who are the same people as Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch), fast-and-fluid prog (miRthkon). I’ll give Mezzkill the benefit of the doubt and assume they were awesome, too.

Don’t take my word for it. Check them out on Bandcamp! Mute Socialite, Go-Go Fightmaster, miRthkon.

Hell of a show. Wish I’d gone.


mutesocialite2007 predates this blog, so this seems like a good time to mention I had an older, primitive site — basic HTML text — where I used to recap my KZSU radio playlists. You’ll find, for example, a short writeup about Mute Socialite, complete with a ghastly formatting error.

In fact you can look up these bands on my old KZSU playlists by using the Find It! utility on Zookeeper, our music database. Type a word or phrase, and it will call up lists of artists, albums, and songs from the KZSU library, as well as relevant playlists. Give it a whirl.

Lastly — Special shoutout to Aaron Novik’s Kipple, who can be seen at the top of the bookmark. They’re on Bandcamp, too.

Adam Lane Trio

Adam Lane TrioAbsolute Horizon (NoBusiness, 2013)

Adam Lane Trio; click to go to NoBusiness Records“Spontaneous compositions,” Adam Lane calls them, rather than group improvisations, and the way these pieces build, the term seems to fit. Some of these improv-jazz pieces feel like they’ve got the blueprint of a composition behind them.

Take the very gradual buildup at the start of “Absolute Horizon.” When Darius Jones enters with his trademark sax wailing (the microtone-packed faltering that comes close to a human voice), he parses out the melody obeying bars-of-four patterns from bassist Lane and drummer Vijay Anderson. The group stops for a Lane bass solo that eventually becomes the intro to a slower, more tense group segment — a nicely planned trajectory that wasn’t formally planned.

Here’s a bit of that weepy Jones sax:

“Run to Infinity” could been a monumental ’60s free-jazz classic, if you hadn’t told me who was playing. The early improvising builds up to a fast bass/drums rhythm, over which Jones chooses to play a slow, serious melody — shades of free speech and radical ideas coming up through the ages — sounding meaningful even as he starts digging and swinging hard. This is free jazz getting down to business, picking a spot to groove and letting the music ride from there.

I’ve always used the word “fluidity” to describe Lane’s bass playing, and you get plenty of that effect here. On the cautiously quiet start to “Apparent Horizon,” you can really savor Lane’s bass against Jones’ sax. He plays in faster modes — both improvising and really fast bebop-bass walking — during the breezy, fast first half of “Light.” He also gets to play rock star in spots; “Stars” pulls out some electric effects that turn the bass into a staticky maelstrom battling the other two players.

Jones himself — who’s previously included Lane in his band — is at home on this album with his storytelling style of sax improvising, freely flowing and emoting in solos that seem more like conversations. Anderson is his usual hyperkinetic self, hammering out blindingly fast, precise rhythms, even when playing with abandon.

“Apparent Horizon,” after its quiet intro, dives into a serious groove around a Lane bass riff. Here you get Jones soloing in a more traditional free-jazz role, with Anderson clattering away on sturdy toms and tapped cymbals.

On “Light,” Anderson and Lane mess with playful beats, letting a couple of upbeat, rhythms (one that’s almost silly) develop into toe-tapping segments. It’s nice material for Jones to work with, and it makes for a bright closer to the album.

Oakland Free Jazz Roosts at Duende

Duende's dining area: The view from the music loft.
Duende’s dining area: The view from the music loft.

Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.

The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.

Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.

Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.
Anderson, Goldberg, Brown.

Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.

Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.

Johnston's quintet.
Johnston’s quintet.

The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.

Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.

You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.

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Monday Jazz at The Layover

The Layover's logo. Click to go there.There’ll be creative jazz in downtown Oakland every Monday night for a while, starting tonight (Jan. 7).

The place is called The Layover, and it bills itself as a bohemian music/art bar. Local musicians, billing themselves as the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society, have organized the Monday jazz sessions.

The debut bill is the trio of Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sheldon Brown (alto sax), and Vijay Anderson (drums); you can read more about them at Anderson’s web site.

For a bit of info about the Jan. 7 show, see Facebook.  The full Layover calendar is here; clicking any of the “Oakland Freedom Jazz” links reveals the full calendar:

    gba

  • Jan. 7 — GBA, as noted above
  • Jan. 14 — Darren Johnston Ensemble performing “Broken Shadows” (the Ornette Coleman album, I’d assume)
  • Jan. 21 — Lisa Mezzacappa, leading both a string band (violin, cello, guitar, etc.) and her Bait & Switch quartet
  • Jan. 28 — Aram Shelton‘s Ton Trio II. (See the comments, and for a bit about Ton Trio, see here.)

Whether this continues for more than a month, we’ll see. It would be nice, even though the first Monday of each month would conflict with the monthly jazz show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco.

The Layover is at 1517 Franklin St. between 15th and 17th, in downtown Oakland.

Hell-Bent for Saxophone Glory

Marco Eneidi plays in the Bay Area Sept. 29 and 30 … see dates at the bottom of this post.

He also played on Sept. 28, but I wasn’t able to get this posted before then. Bummer.

Vinny Golia, Marco Eneidi, Lisa Mezzacappa, Vijay AndersonHell-Bent in the Pacific (NoBusiness, 2012)

Marco Eneidi‘s occasional trips back to the Bay Area are becoming a regular occurrance, so it’s nice that this time, he’s got some product to hawk at his shows, in the form of this terrific CD.

He’ll be playing the Bay Area throughout this coming weekend (the dates are listed further down).

A free-jazz saxophonist in the Jimmy Lyons mold, Eneidi lived here for nine years before relocating to Vienna in 2004, where he’s run weekly jam sessions under the auspices of The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music.  (See also: ‘Couple other posts from 2009 here and here, and a 2010 album review.)

This particular trip reunites him with Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and Vijay Anderson on drums. Together, they form what’s now been dubbed an “official” trio, called Shattered.

They’re on this CD, as is saxophonist Vinny Golia, from Los Angeles. Golia gets listed first on the CD’s spine — but really, this is one of those equal-collaboration arrangements, an improvised jazz session with equally contributed parts.

All four musicians have played together in various combinations. Eneidi used to jam weekly with Anderson. Anderson and Mezzacappa are in the quartet Go-Go Fightmaster and/or Bait and Switch (same personnel, different purposes). Mezzacappa and Golia play duets on Golia’s recent album, The Ethnic Project (which I keep meaning to review here; it’s a nifty concept).

Getting back to Hell-Bent in the Pacific — it’s an album full of life and energy. Eneidi sounds great going for the energy-jazz thing, with his barking, clipped sax grooving through ecstatic bursts. His alto sax also sounds songlike and toneful during slower passages — the CD was very well recorded at Oakland’s New, Improved Records — making for some luscious passages on tracks like “Everything Imaginable Can Be Dreamed” or the dark forest of “Pendulum.”

I don’t mean to make the CD sound like Eneidi’s show; the bass and drum work, such as a terrific duet opening “Catholic Cornstocking Smut-Hound,” make for some of the best moments on the album. And Vinny Golia puts in some vital contributions, which goes without saying. But it’s great to hear long doses of Eneidi — not just the rapid-fire free-jazz moments, but the more easygoing passages too, where you get a good sense of the blues and jazz history layered into his improvising.

Among the tracks that are less obvious — those that you might miss on a first listen — I was really taken by “Prisoner of a Gaudy and Unlivable Present,” which I think consists of just the Shattered trio.  It starts in a calm place, Eneidi in a conversational mode with bass and drums in a low-key banter. As the music starts building, Eneidi ups the flow just slightly, while Anderson moves to a light snare patter, then into tom rolls and more furious cymbals. After about four minutes, Eneidi is rising to a squall on sax — and the trio kicks back down to a quiet place, almost a misty blues. It all ends with a three-minute cooldown, back in that conversational zone.

Marco Eneidi dates:

  • Fri. Sept. 28 @ Berkeley Arts Festival — Shattered (trio of Eneidi, Mezzacappa, Anderson) playing  two sets starting at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sat. Sept 29 @ Omiiroo gallery (400 14th St., Oakland) — Eneidi duet with Marshall Trammell (drums), 6:00 p.m.

Vijay Anderson Taking His Band to Europe

Drummer Vijay Anderson is trying to raise funds to take his Touch and Go Sextet overseas, to the Novara Jazz Festival in Italy. Donations at the IndieGoGo site can be made through March 26.

This video has some text that explains the situation (it starts at about 1:10).

Your donation will go to the band regardless of whether they make their goal (unlike Kickstarter, which is a bit more like a challenge grant). The reason to do it through IndieGoGo is for the usual assortment of goodies — in this case, an unreleased live recording and your pick of free CDs. There’s also a drum lesson up for offer, although it looks like no one’s taken Anderson up on it yet.

I’ve written before about his Hard-Boiled Wonderland album, which struck me as more improvisation-based or at least very loose in defining musicians’ parts. Touch and Go’s music is more about Anderson’s jazz compositions. There’s more info and a brief interview with Anderson on the Porto Franco blog.

The band consists of musicians who are great bandleaders in their own right: Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Aaron Bennett (sax), and Sheldon Brown (clarinet). It’s like an all-star team being sent to Novara, enjoying an international stage for showing off Bay Area jazz. Best of luck to them.

Vijay Anderson

Vijay Anderson’s sextet performs Monday, Feb. 7, at the Make-Out Room, San Francisco.

Vijay AndersonHard-Boiled Wonderland (Not Two, 2010)

As a drummer, Anderson has a nice free-jazz resume that includes Marco Eneidi, sax screamer Lynn Johnston, and the highly acclaimed bands of Adam Lane. More recently, he’s been part of the four-person axis that forms both Go-Go Fightmaster and Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait and Switch. His style can be fleet and explosive.

But Hard-Boiled Wonderland, like a lot of good improvised CDs, is more about process. Anderson sits more in the background or is even absent (as on the tracks “Nix” and “Dilation”).

It’s improvised jazz in a group setting, a sextet of equal parts where the two horns or the two guitars could be spinning virtuoso lines or providing the backdrop for the scene.  The predominant sound is the vibraphone played by Smith Dobson V, presenting a cooled sound even on the title track — where the guitars, played by Ava Mendoza and John Finkbeiner, chug away continually, sometimes heavily distorted. It’s a drifting piece full of peaks and valleys, using long tones and guitar effects to build the music to its heights.

For much of the album, Anderson uses subsets of the band. “Skittering” drops the vibes in favor of letting one guitar and Ben Goldberg’s clarinet take the lead. As if to show what a group effort this is, I’m not sure Anderson and Dobson play at all on “Dilation,” a slow piece with rubbery clarinet sounds, carefully springy guitar, and some continual bubbling from Sheldon Brown’s sax.

“Swimming in a Black Well” is an Anderson/Dobson duet and one of the more directly jazzy pieces on here. Anderson lays down a jazz-aimed cymbal-tapping rhythm, and Dobson solos accordingly on the vibes. That’s followed by one of the least jazzy pieces, the choppy, all-out abstraction of “Nix.”

On “A Widow’s Last Penny,” the two horns flit among a shimmering backdrop created by Anderson’s rolls on the toms and the occasional splash from Dobson. Long, stretched guitar wails complete the picture.

A lot of attention is going to go to the title track that starts the album, but it’s the finale, “March at the End of the World,” that really shows off what the band can do. It’s also the one track that feels like it might be composed, or at least pre-planned. Military drums lead to shrill horn calls, a military declaration drawn in jazzy cartoons. After some loose improvising, Anderson starts into a drunken swing beat, surrounded by mildly chaotic group sounds.

Anderson’s Touch and Go band, part of the Make-Out Room’s monthly jazz installment, will be a different breed: four horns and a bass. A different sound, probably, with an intriguing lineup that includes Brown, Goldberg, and 3/4 of Byte and Switch/Go-Go Fightmaster.

Further reading: There’s a brief review of Hard-Boiled Wonderland in the East Bay Express and a longer one at Stef’s Free Jazz blog.

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait and SwitchWhat Is Known (Clean Feed, 2010)

This is a long-standing Bay Area band that plays Mezzacappa’s compositions, but the same people (including Mezzacappa) also form the band Go-Go Fightmaster, another awesome slice of free jazz.

(INTERLUDE: Go-Go’s got a gig Sept. 6 at the Make-Out Room. Go!)

But Go-Go is more slash-and-burn, while Bait and Switch is rooted in the free jazz of Henry Threadgill and Eric Dolphy (two choices among the influences Mezzacappa lists in the liner notes).  Songs here do include untethered free improvising, but many of them are cemented by swingy heads that recall the best of ’60s/’70s jazz.

I don’t want to make too much of the retro connection, though, because the album doesn’t sound retro. These are modern originals, with composing that stems from Mezzacappa’s exercises in transcribing solos. (Some of these pieces might also be derived from the group’s improvisations; I remember hearing her saying something to that effect.)

John Finkbeiner’s guitar certainly reaches beyond jazz, especially when he adds distortion and fuzz, as in his solo on “Zzllzzpp.”  Aaron Bennett’s subsequent sax solo on that track might sound friendly and swingy, but it’s accompanied at first by a bumpy bass (Mezzacappa) and drums (Vijay Anderson) rhythm, and later by an evil and raucous set of riffs from the band.

For cover songs, you’ve got nonobvious choices. Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” is appropriately stabbing and buzzing, with a head that’s got an infectious rolling swing to it. “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting” is a composition by Steve McCall (drummer of the trio Air, among other groups), turned into a reverent bass solo.

A couple of quieter tracks later in the album, like “Catalypsoclysmic,” are a treat. Then, near the end, there’s “What Is Known,” where the band really blows off the doors, creating a wail that draws back on the passionate, political style of free jazz.

Here are two takes on a bright, catchy song called “The Aquarist” — one from Sacramento’s In the Flow festival, and one from a house concert. It’s got a bright, swingy theme and some space for sax and guitar solos. You can also catch early recordings of Bait & Switch songs on Mezzacappa’s Myspace page.

… And, if you care, I saw this band live about a year ago. Really glad that they found a good home for their first album.

Ivy Room Mondays

Lisa Mezzacappa, John Finkbeiner - Ivy Room, May 2009I wasn’t at Kingman’s Ivy Room tonight, but I was a few weeks ago, and what better excuse to write a blog.

The Ivy Room is a mid-sized bar, plush and casual and friendly, located in Albany just blocks north of Berkeley, or so it felt to me as I drove up. The place is being kind enough to let the improv crowd take over on Monday nights, either for a few short sets or an all out Improv Hootenanny Night that has its own MySpace page.

It’s a fun atmosphere. There’s no cover, and the Ivy Room is airy and clean — the kind of place where you’re welcome to sit on the carpeted floor in front of the music area, and you don’t worry if anything’s been spilled there. (Caveat: Monday night crowds aren’t usually the spilling type.)

Some photos from my May 25 excursion. Yes, the date on my camera was wrong.

Up top, you’ve got Lisa Mezzacappa‘s Bait and Switch, the successor to Before and After. It’s free jazz, with compositions derived from the best segments of group improvisations. The result is like Ornette Coleman taken a step further into abstract territory and noise rock at the same time, with a mood that jumps like ’60s free jazz. That’s Mezzacappa on bass and John Finkbeiner on guitar.

Aaron Bennett, John Finkbeiner, Ivy Room, May 2009At left is a second picture of the band, with Aaron Bennett (sax) at left. In this one, Vijay Anderson (drums) and Mezzacappa are obscured, making it look like the two white guys are all that matters. Hey, it was dark. All I do is point the camera and hope.

Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, Damon Smith / Ivy Room, May 2009The trio of Jacob Felix Heule (drums), Aurora Josephson (vocal), and Damon Smith (bass) did one long improvisation, a dark and keening piece with Josephson’s voice spiking in anguish. Nice stuff.

Ivy Room, May 2009I don’t recall the details of the quartet at left. I’m pretty sure that’s Tony Dryer on bass at the far left, and two of the four members were from Norway (the guitarist and other bassist?). They, too, played a single long piece, concentrating on smaller, quieter spaces; the guitarist, in particular, buckled and thrashed to the music but was producing small crackles and crinkles, a kind of studied intensity.

It’s always nice to see a bar or restaurant take a chance on experimental music. A good cluster of these series has sprung up, maybe because venues are more willing to take chances in the face of recessionary crowds. The Make-Out Room (San Francisco, Mission District) has been hosting creative jazz on the first Monday of each month, and The Uptown (Oakland, downtown) is letting Weasel Walter curate an avant-garde program on third Tuesdays. The next of those will be tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be there, sleep cycle permitting.