Damon Smith: Calamity and Catastrophe

Danny Kamins, Damon Smith, Alvin Fielder, Joe HertensteinAfter Effects (FMR, 2017)

John Butcher, Damon Smith, Weasel WalterThe Catastrophe of Minimalism (Balance Point Acoustics, 2017)

after-effectsDamon Smith favors a prickly brand of free improvisation, packed with extended technique and sound experiments, a style designed to agitate.

It’s a good foundation for a storm-themed album, and the two-drummer attack (Alvin Fielder and Joe Hertenstein) on After Effects produces the right level of calamity. The mood is augmented by Danny Kammins’ sax, which sometimes matches Smith’s screechy, noise-driven sound but also leads some downright jazzy passages.

The song titles are all storm-related, with “Storm Pt. 1” being a particularly direct example. It’s an aggressive attack, as you’d expect, with Kamins screeching aggressively and the drummers battering relentlessly.

The album isn’t all chaos, though. “Gentle Breeze” is a short improvisation introduced by deep,weeping bowed bass. “The Wind,” a 13-minute centerpiece of the album, includes a punchy stretch of improvised jazz, more swingy than menacing.

 
“The Hurricane and the Calm” isn’t the most tumultuous of the tracks, but it’s still rather aggressive — and, surprisingly, gives way to the “calm” of a swingy jazz stride, complete with walking bass and sunny-sidewalk demeanor.

I’m not sure the song sequence is meant to parallel a storm’s life cycle exactly, but the final tracks do seem to be about the aftermath. “After Effects” has a grumpy demeanor that, for me, represents a survey of the storm’s ugly aftermath. And “Clean Up” isn’t the serene rainbow ending you might expect; it’s actually rather disturbing, a sprint of an improvisation that seems more like a forlorn glance at heartless destruction and scattered debris.

smith-catastropheThe latest release from Smith’s own Balance Point Acoustics label, meanwhile, is stormy in brighter, more joyous way. It’s a live session with Weasel Walter on drums and John Butcher on sax, taped in 2008 at the late, lamented 21 Grand.

The three know each other well (or, at least, Smith knows both Butcher and Walter well), and the familiarity creates a celebratory squall.

“A Blank Magic” is propelled by the birdcall warbling and squawking that I most associate John Butcher with, his vocabulary of bizarre and mellifluous saxophone sounds. His encyclopedia of extended techniques — gargling, bumpy sounds, or ecstatic screeches — pairs well with Smith’s, the two of them tapping from similar raw materials to construct probing improvisations.

Weasel Walter packs “An Illusionistic Panic Part 2” with his brand of balletic aggression — hard, fast playing on relatively soft or quiet surfaces; this lets him propel the action and fill space without overwhelming the other sounds.

“Modern Technological Fetishes” really pushes the needle on intensity and volume early on, with Walter going absolutely nuts as Butcher and Smith crank the heat. As often happens (and I keep meaning to write about this), the piece’s second half takes the opposite approach, beginning in quietude and ending with speedy but laid-back playing, with Butcher’s sax hitting some calm stretches of nearly conventional melody.

Here’s an excerpt from the earlier, noisier part of that track.


 

Mission Creek: Creative Music, Represent!

source: facebookLineups for the Mission Creek Music Festival are out, and in addition to the usual rock/pop bands, they include some good representatives of improvised or jazzy music. Pinning down exact dates for exact shows is a challenge, though.

Mission Creek’s Facebook Page has a lot of the details, and you can see a few of the fliers up close. But the information there is listed in droplets; this page at Sonic Living provides a partial bird’s-eye view of the schedule, although they’ve subtracted some listings in the last 48 hours.

At any rate, there’s good music to be had:

* I know Inca Ore by reputation only, but it’s a good reputation. She’ll be headlining at the Argus Lounge on Tuesday, July 21.

* The show at the Argus Lounge lists William Winant, Weasel Walter, and Moe! Staiano, three terrific improvising percussionists. It appears they’ll be playing as a trio, which should be awesome. I’ve seen listings for this show on July 22, 23, or 24, so it’s anybody’s guess when this actually happens. (The flier above says July 22.)

* Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky is on a bill with some folky acts (Ramon & Jessica, for one). It was listed somewhere as a Friday, July 24 show.

source: facebook event listing, click to see(UPDATE 7/11/09:  Per Ursula’s note below, this show is at the Socha Cafe, where Mission and Valencia intersect (!) in San Francisco.  Details on this Facebook page, which is where I stole the nifty flier at left. Thanks Ursula!)

Aaron Novik is a clarinetist who plays in a wide scope of bands, many of them his own. He’s done Klezmer-tinged jazz (Gubbish), free jazz (Telepathy), modern fusion/improv (Kipple), metal (Simulacra, Edmund Welles) … and Thorny Brocky, which takes compositions from multiple Novik bands and puts them in a context that includes accordion (Dina Maccabee, who’s half of Ramon & Jessica) and violin (Marié Abe). Reverent Sisters and Poor Sweet Creatures were also on the bill that I saw.

That Pounding in Your Head

Peter Evans/Weasel Walter Group — Oculus Ex Abyssus (ugExplode, 2008)

Weasel Walter and Mary Halvorson — Opulence (ugExplode, 2008)

source: ugExplodeWeasel Walter and Peter Evans, along with the still ascending guitar hero Mary Halvorson, recorded a live session for WFMU that will be played Wednesday, May 13, at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time. The “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love” blog mentions it here.

The past year or so has been prolific for all three musicians, and it’s been fruitful in terms of Walter’s collaboration with the other two. In other words, these folks have been already doing some darned good work together. Walter’s Web site promises a CD-R and DVD with the three of them.

The first side-long improvisation on Oculus, titled “The Eyes of Hell,” starts with a snap, diving straight into a spiky, ear-poking mood. Each player contributes dots of sound, or short lines, to create a busy canvas. Within a minute or two, they’re really going at it, a fierce tumult. Evans’ crisp, aggressive trumpet style — showcased with the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing — is a great counterpart to Walter’s punk-infused free-jazz drumming, and they provide plenty of rapid-fire clatter together.

Damon Smith can more than keep up with them on bass, and he’s strong enough in the mix to not get drowned out. Paul Hartsaw on sax rounds out the quartet, putting up fluid squiggles to add to the fray. Maybe it’s a matter of sheer volume, but I find myself keeping Evans at a mental front-and-center position.

Of course, these guys are too professional to just blow aimlessly. The fast quartet flows are fun to get swept away in, but then the group will stop for a new statement — a brightly jagged Smith/Evans duet, or the quiet closing moments with fast bass bowing by Smith and circular-breathing spirals from Hartsaw.

“Ex Malum Adveho Sonitus,” the other side-long piece, opens with the same ferocity, but its mad cacophony has a more lingering tone to it, particularly when Evans hands out long, grumbling tones on the trumpet as opposed to the slash-and-burn strategy on side A. At a couple of points he seems to carry out some circular breathing on the trumpet — or maybe it’s Hartsaw’s sax that I’m mistaking for trumpet — or maybe Evans just has incredible lung capacity.

There’s also a good quiet break that lets the swarm clear but doesn’t lose the tempo or flow. From there, the band builds back into a frenzy for a nice conclusion.

Did I mention that Oculus is on vinyl? It’s on vinyl, shiny green vinyl with an orange center label. Oooh, shiny. And it was recorded at the very cool New, Improved Recording in Oakland.

Havlorson/Walter: Opulence
Havlorson/Walter: Opulence

Opulence (on CD) was recorded in 2007, presaging Halvorson’s arrival as someone the New York Times would write up. (She and Jessica Pavone are also on the cover of the current Signal to Noise magazine.)

Halvorson’s edgier guitar playing, with distortion cranked up on her jazz guitar, is no surprise, given some of the indie-rock leanings on her Dragon’s Head CD. It’s a good match for Walter. “A Diamond Encrusted Frisbee” and “Rare Vodka from the Fourteenth Century” also get appropriately ragged, and Halvorson goes for the all-out rock sound on “Lapis Lazuli Nights,” a blazing rock instrumental with Walter adding appropriate drama on cymbals and bass drum.

But she and Walter try the opposite trick, too, showing that Walter’s hyperkinetic noisemaking can work in a free-jazz setting. “(Rich)” Corinthian Leather starts with Walter playing in rapid-fire mode, but softly. Halvorson joins in with her more standard jazz guitar sound, with fast, deft sketches and, later, sparkly high twangs like sideways falling stars.

Yes, I mentioned Opulence before — here.

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.]