Mensa Cat Monday: Steve Lacy and “Free Jazz”

Steve Lacy and Free Jazz

Comic by J.B.. You can find out more about Steve Lacy here and here.

This story intersects with Ornette Coleman, whom we wrote about at the time of his death earlier this year. And the desire to “play some interesting music and get paid for it” resonates with us at CatSynth.

Ornette Coleman at 85: Sleep Talk

This evening we at CatSynth would like to pay tribute to one of our musical heroes who is still alive and well and still swinging, Ornette Coleman. Known for his avant-garde jazz and free improvisation explorations, I am particularly taken with his funk/disco inflused 1979 album Of Human Feelings. As a tribute for his 85th birthday, here is that album.

Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy

The final concert of the 2012 Outsound Music Summit was Fire and Energy, a night of “improvised-jazz-inspired-music.” Labeling a new-music concert as jazz can often be treacherous, with some people all-too-quick to join arguments about what does and does not qualify as “jazz.” But in the case if this evening’s artists, who all had long established histories in the world of improvised free-jazz, there should be no argument.

The concert opened with a solo set by Jack Wright, a long-time veteran and leader of the Bay Area improvised music scene. His performance began on soprano saxophone with discrete notes and short phrases filled with overtone, microtones, percussive sounds. The were some moments that were quite subtle, with long notes that had deliberate microtonal variations or timbral variations on a single pitch- I found this to be quite expressive. There were other more melodic sections that made reminded me of old popular jazz recordings from the 1930s. Wright communicated a lot of emotion in his improvisations, with some parts sounding quite plaintive, almost a lamentation, while others were bright and happy. The first have of his set ended with some exceptionally high notes.


[Jack Wright. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Wright then switched to alto saxophone. There was something about this piece that just seemed “jazzier” – it’s difficult to pinpoint any one thing, but perhaps it is just the nature and expectations of the alto sax. This piece was also a bit louder and aggressive, with numerous scoops, bends, growls and noises. He employed extended effects with the bell to change the dynamics and timbre of the instrument (including at one point playing with the instrument pointed into his knee), and used key clicks, buzzing and voiced tones.

The next set featured Dave Bryant, first performing solo on acoustic piano and then in a trio with drummer Dax Compise and bassist Bryan Clark. Bryant is best known for his work as a member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime TIme group, and as an expert and teacher of Harmolodic Theory. His solo piano work was an impressive virtuosic display, with a barrage of fast moving chords up and down the keyboard that nonetheless were quite expressive. It felt like the music was constantly moving towards something, a bit frantically. Then all at once the energy was released as if in a sigh. He spent a fair amount of time in the often under-appreciated lower registers of the instrument, and kept the velocity of the performance going. The big loud low chords were followed by softer high chords in a moment that was reminiscent of late Romantic piano music. As he continued, he was joined on stage by Comprise and Clark, and in an instant the solo turned into an acoustic jazz trio.


[Dave Bryant Trio. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

After a short section, Bryant switch to electric keyboard and the character of music changed considerably. It became softer and dreamier, with the bass setting the tone and pace. But there was still forward motion to the performance, and more of Bryant’s virtuosic high-speed chord work that at times seemed superhuman. The pace slowed down again, with a distinctly blues-like line and then pentatonic glissandi. After another reset, a new harmony and rhythm emerged with Bryant leading the group into heavy, almost final-sounding cadences. In between, there were bass and drum solos and more frenetic work, but the cadences remained as the framework. It all came to a sudden by definite stop.

The following set featured Vinny Golia with his sextet, including Gavin Templeton on alto sax, Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Alex Noice on guitar, Jon Armstrong on electric bass, and Andrew Lessman on drums. Of all the performances on this evening, this one most embodied the concert title “Fire and Energy.” There was an intensity to the full ensemble in both fast runs, hits, and the driving rhythm that underpinned the set-spanning piece. It began rather quietly, with Golia on pray bowls. Soon, the other members of the group entered with long drone sounds, along with soft symbols, trumpet noise and a chime harmony. Golia always has a collection of saxophones and other wind instruments at his disposal, and he switched to a smaller instrument that looked like a soprano sax but with a bent neck, which he played together with Rosenboom on trumpet. The music gradually became more animated and evolved in a unison rhythm and eventually into a rather funky groove. I can easily get absorbed into music like this.


[Vinny Golia Sextet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The rhythm continued for a while, with various interruptions, including some solos – Rosenboom in particular tore it up during his trumpet solo. Then there was a sudden change in rhythm and texture, led by Templeton on alto sax. Rather then the unified driving rhythm, the ensemble played a complex intricate orchestration that still retained a rhythmic structure. There were more extended effects and sounds, such as squeaking and percussive effects, and Noice used a Kaoss Pad with his guitar. Golia switched to bass clarinet for a slower section of music that included a short four-part “chorale”. The ensemble quieted down and the prayer bowls returned, before everyone joined in for a final segment to close the set.

The final set of the evening and of the Summit as a whole was also the largest in terms of personnel. Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra is a project that brings together a large number of improvising musicians, and on this night the group swelled in number to include several musicians from the previous sets, including Vinny Golia and Dax Comprise, as well as regulars from Outsound. Festival director Rent Romus was able to temporarily remove his directors hat and play saxophones in the ensemble. Other players that evening included Ross Hammond, Randy McKean, Keith Kelly, John Vaughn, Cory Wright, Ken Kawamura, Tom Djll, CJ Borosque, Murray Campbell, Keith Cary, Mike Turgeon, Bill Noertker and Gerry Pineda.


[Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The first piece began with unison trumpets, soon joined by viola. The texture was very sparse, but they were soon joined by Hammond on guitar and the other instruments followed in a crescendo made of small bits of sound. There was a brief sax-and-flute duo, and playing inside the piano strings by Passarell. The next piece began with the rhythm section (piano, electric bass and drums) in a fast sparse motion, followed by a huge cloud of sound from the entire ensemble. The music became more rhythmic for a bit and then everyone hit one big chord.

For the next couple of pieces, vocalist Loren Benedict joined the group. After an intro with ponderous piano and then a funky rhythm, Benedict launched into an impressive stream of fast highly rhythmic scat singing. The other musicians joined in the rhythm with him. Rent Romus also had a particularly crazy double-sax solo in this piece.

One of the last pieces was softer and did not have as intense a rhythm. The guitar and viola were rather bluesy and were joined by Tom Djll with extended-technique trumpet noises. Hammond’s hard-driving guitar and minor chords combined with the others made this the ensemble’s “Miles Davis Moment” (with apologies to Raskin and Haryman from the Sonic Poetry Night). Benedict came back and joined the group for a big finale.

This was once again a long concert, but it went by rather fast given the energy and vitality of the music. It was a very strong final concert in what was a particular strong Outsound Music Summit this year.

The Edge of Dark: Lords of Outland, Vinny Golia and Mutual Aid Project

About a week ago I attended The Edge of Dark, a special Saturday-night performance in Outsound’s SIMM Series. This performance featured a live recording session of the Lords of Outland with special guest Vinny Golia, and an opening set by the Mutual Aid Project Trio.

On the Edge of Dark was a “series of new works inspired by the writings of Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series of books, Philip K. Dick’s ranting and H.P. Lovecraft’s darkest fears.” It was interesting to mix free jazz with allusions to classic science fiction (and I have actually read all six books in the Dune cycle). In addition to Vinny Golia on saxophones and other wind instruments, the performance featured CJ Borosque on no-input pedals and trumpet, Philip Everett on drums, Ray Schaeffer on electric bass, and Rent Romus on saxophones, voice and electronics.

The music itself moved back and forth between driving modern jazz rhythms and sections of atonal and arhythmic free movement, with very fast runs on the wind instruments supported by analog noise and strong drumming. The ensemble was very tight, and could stop on a single accented note together after various long runs and meanderings. Within the framework of the science-fiction inspired pieces, the music also did seem to have a narrative and dramatic feel to it.

Boroque’s electronics featured whistles and other longer slow-moving high-pitched tones that matched the saxophones quite well, where both the acoustic and electronic elements seemed to blend into a single horn trio. Another notable moment was a “double double-saxophone,” where both Romus and Golia each played two saxophones simultaneously.

As a bonus the third movement “Night Nova Into Dune” references Lovecraft’s Cats of Ulthar. (It is CatSynth, after all.) Indeed, in that particular piece, there was a section towards the end where the more intense ensemble music cut out briefly and a series of emotive horn and vocal squeaks and moans filled in the void.

This was a live recording session, so I would expect to see a version of it out sometime in the not-so-distant future.

The Lords of Outland were preceded by Mutual Aid Project Trio, a trio consisting of Trammel (drums), Tracy Hui (guitar/objects) and Nick Obando (tenor/alto saxophone). The set opened very quietly, with just tongue noises on the saxophone, moving flutter tonguing and whistle tones. Hui joined in with threaded metal bowls on top of his guitar. The overall effect was very computer-music like, even though no computers were involved, with the sound moving between very inharmonic metallic and major arpeggios. Gradually, the music moved to loud tonal notes on the saxophone and free sound picking on the guitar, and eventually the drums as well. There was a moment which reminded me a a lot of a version of Summertime from one an Elvin Jones CD that I have in my regular rotation (enough to mention it here). The music eventually become more active, moving into a more rhythmic jazz fell, even frenetic. Then back into a quiet section with just cymbals and saxophone.

The middle of the set featured a Haitian chant “for all families to come together”, a positive and supportive sentiment, particular for a country that has been through so much tragedy this year.

Guitars at Cafe Du Nord

With a bit of quiet here at CatSynth over the next few days, I can finally catch up on the many reviews and other articles waiting in the queue. And the show at Cafe du Nord a week ago is one I definitely wanted to review, as it falls in the “I’m really glad I went” category.

First, it was the main new-music show I could find the Monday after July 4. It was just a coincidence that it was the “night of guitars,” so to speak. But an impressive array of guitar talent, with Nels Cline, Jeff Parker and Jim Campilongo. Musically, I was more interested the Scott Amendola Band, which included Cline and Parker. They moved back and forth being grooves and more free-form pieces, which for me is a good mix for “club music.” The Campilongo Electric Trio was a bit more conventional, with more of a jazz and country feel in some pieces. But Campilongo did come out to play with the Scott Amendola Band as well. Yes, three virtuosic guitarists all at once.

I also ran into some folks I had recently met at Blue Six. We had talked quite a bit about making music, but didn’t exchange contact info. Quite the coincidence to run into them again so soon at Cafe du Nord. This time we made sure to stay in touch afterwards…

Portland

I am reporting on Portland after Astoria, even though we visted and played a day earlier. That’s just how things sometimes work.

We did have some time to spend in the Rose City before our show at Rotture:


Click to enlarge

We experienced Portland’s famously variable weather. Fortunately, many of the city’s attractions are indoors. This includes Powell’s Books. I could have spent the whole day in the Pearl Room, which contained the art and architecture offerings, as well as their extensive rare book collection.

Portland also has abundant public art. Across from Powell’s is this “brush,” a noted landmark:

And this “recursive elephant” was quite intriguing:

This sculpture includes other animals besides the elephants. I think I see a cat on the trunk:

It always comes back to cats, doesn’t it.

The show that evening was at Rotture, a club on the waterfront, conveniently located next to a construction zone. Although our audience was small, the show went well; and I did like the space, a converted early-20th century industrial brick building.


Click here to enlarge

They also had an interesting mural in the main audience area, and a nice large stage. We shared the bill with Emily Hay, who also does improvisation with flute and voice (although with a very contrasting sound and style from Polly); as well as Tim DuRoche and Resolution 51 (free jazz improvisation). So it was definitely worth sticking around after our performance to hear everyone else – although the entire evening was probably branded as “experimental night” or “improvisation night”, there was a great variety among the three groups, and I think the ordering worked well with us first, both musically and energy-wise.

More on Portland, our show at Rotture, and the trip up from the Bay Area can be found here.

Webs on an autumn afternoon

It's been a rather pleasant October afternoon, warm, breezy, with a clear sky. The mobile sculpture Airborne catches both the wind and the waning October sun:

The garden plants are doing about as well as they have all year. Admist a recent burst of flowers, I noticed this rather impressive spider web:

…not to mention the rather impressive spider that inhabits it:

The peace of the backyard was briefly interrupted by the sound of cats fighting. More worrisome was the sound of an angry dog barking in response. After peeking over the fence to investigate, I was assured by a neighbor that it was “just some crazy cats.” One of the “crazy cats” wandered into view and I immediately recognized him as the friendly grey tabby that often visits my yard (I jokingly refer to him for a while as Luna's “boyfriend”). Foruntately, he seemed to be none the worse for wear.


Cats, or more specifically, cat allergies, have been much in the news this weekend. The New York Times featured an article on a California biotech company that is breeding hyperallergenic “no sneeze” kitties, two of which are pictured to the right. The market for the hypoallergenic cats, which the company says will cost about $4000 USD each, is people who love cats in spite of their allergies. It is certainly a high price tag, but I gather so are the medications for the most severe allergies. Those who seek a more affordable feline companion and want to continue to adopt shelter cats can take heart in a study supporting the theory that having pets cuts allergy risks. Finally, there is this story from Wales about a hospital fighting to keep their cat Tibs, who has chearing up patients for years. While I do my best to avoid hospitals, I know having a cat around would help me during a health crisis.


I had an opportunity last night to jam with some friends and acquaintances I have not seen in a while. I played keyboard, with primarily piano, electric piano and organ sounds, though I did add a Moogerfooger pedal to the mix. Musically, we did a mixture of jazz standards, some 12-bar and 16-bar “headless” jams, and several trippy free-jazz experiments with keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. The latter reminded me of how I would like to get together a standard “quartet” at some point that freely moves back and forther between jazz/funk and experimental improvisation. It would be quite a contrast to my recent performances, but still consistent with my musical vision and sensibilities…

…in another example of slipping back and forth between disparate musical styles, I was listening earlier to alternating tracks from Ethiopiques, which I described in an earlier article, and the rather dark, political, and vaguely Middle-Eastern electronic music of Muslimgauze. The two albums could not be more different in geography, style, production and social context, yet they seemed to work well together. The dark electronica of Muslimgauze worked for me, dispite an implicit political view I probably don't share, and the gritty funk of Ethiopiques brought me back to reality. Perhaps here is the seed of another musical project…

…or just idle thoughts on a warn autumn day…