Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Sick Days and Introspection

The new year has brought plague and pestilence to CatSynth HQ, as I succumbed to the current vaccine-resistant strain of the flu.  It’s been mostly bed rest since Wednesday, but fortunately, I have Sam Sam nearby.

She has been affectionate and attentive, more so than usual.  I suspect that is also due to my having started working in an office again after being home with her for most of December.  That’s a story for another time.  In the meantime, we are enjoying one another’s company, even if I am low on energy and sometimes a bit delirious.  Here is a closeup of her.

In a way, the illness and rest have extended the period of solitude and introspection from the last weeks of 2017, which I do not mind at all.  It’s given me more time to think about the vague ideas and plans that I have for this year, though it postpones getting started on any execution.  On the negative side, I had to cancel a gig today in Sacramento, extending what I call the “Sacramento Curse” where every planned show in that city since the beginning of 2014 has been missed for one reason or another (the first and most dramatic being one that was canceled due to a massive fire near the venue – fortunately, no one was hurt and the venue was fine afterwards).  It has also slowed down activity that requires looking at screens for prolonged periods.  I made an exception to get this post out.

Lying down and letting one’s mind wander with a slight fever does lead to interesting thoughts.  A different experience from The Disintegration of Thought during periods of health, but interesting nonetheless.  Some are complete nonsense, but others are consistent with introspection and what it takes to try and be happy and healthy in these challenging times.  The roles of fear and caution are part of that internal dialog, as well as creativity in general.   Perhaps I will have more to say about them as I return to health, perhaps not.

Reconnaissance Fly in January, with Luke Westbrook, Grex and Greenlief/Dykstra/Perkis

Today we look back at two Reconnaissance Fly performances in early January. The first was a return to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, and the second was at Revolution Cafe in West Oakland. By coincidence, we shared the bill on both nights with guitarist Luke Westbrook who was visiting from New York.

This was Reconnaissance Fly’s third gig at Luna’s – we like playing there and not just because it shares my cat’s name. But the stage was once again a bit cozy for a band of our size, even more so now that we have a fifth member, Chris Broderick on reeds (saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet). This was our first public performance with the new quintet lineup. So it was a bit of puzzle trying to get the bass, drums, keyboard and bass flute on the stage, and still find room for the people who play them. But somehow we managed.


[Photo by Tom Djll]

Our set went well – at least, I was pretty happy with it. Our opening graphical score improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong went off without a hitch. As Neat As Wax is becoming our most consistently well-played song, as it is not too difficult and it is quite lyrical and rhythmic. Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse Iz Crede Nza are our most difficult, but also the most energetic and got a great response from the small but enthusiastic audience when we hit the final notes.

After striking the stage, it was time to relax with beer and guacamole and other treats and enjoy the next sets. Luke Westbrook took the stage for a solo guitar performance.

He has a very intense stage presence and a virtuosic technique, but the music itself has a certain ease to it. It began with gentle arpeggios that had a consistency even as they were constantly changing. These evolved into more defined repeated phrases over time that were occasionally punctuated by the occasional chromatic tone or blues-like bend. Later on, the music become more distorted with noisier and more percussive elements. There was a passage of single repeated tones that provided an increasingly anxious vibe before settling down again.

Westbrook was followed by Philip Greenlief and Jorrit Dykstra on saxophones with Tim Perkis on electronics. On the things I look for in electro-acoustic combos is how well the electronic and acoustic parts blend. In the case of this trio, they blended quite seamlessly from the start with long tones of subtly different intonation. The music soon became more animated, with syncopated saxophone rhythms set against low gurgly electronic sounds.

There were many humorous moments with matching squeaks and bleats, and richly textured moments with multiphonics against electronic pads. Perhaps the most amazing moment of the entire set was a long virtuoso noise solo by Dykstra. It is hard to describe in text, but it was one of the most impressive saxophone performances I have heard in a while. The later sections of the performance featured more percussive saxophone sounds, key clicks and striking of the metal hardware set against contrasting electronics with vocal and wah-wah effects.


Revolution Cafe is located deep in West Oakland, not far from the rebuilt I-880 freeway, which makes for an interesting exterior environment. The interior is something altogether different, with every surface adorned with vintage and eclectic artifacts. There were street and highway signs, political posters (from old Oakland Mayoral elections to the most recent Jean Quan recall announcements), vintage keyboard instruments, strange dolls and even a shrine of sorts of Frank Zappa. I spent quite a bit of time just photographing the space before even considering the music.



[Click images to enlarge]

The show was actually the latest incarnation of Karl Evanglista’s Light A Fire series. I had performed in this series last year with solo electronics. This even opened with another solo guitar set by Luke Westbrook.

Westbook’s performance was actually quite different from the one he did two night’s earlier. While his technique was on display both nights, this one was more virtuosic and more diverse in terms of material and sound. This performance was mesmerizing. I had a sense of warmer colors as he played, though that may have been a kinesthetic combination of the cafe’s ambience and Westbrook’s harmonies.

Next up was Grex, the duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, voice and flute. Their music covered quite a bit of range, some more song-like with voice, keyboard and guitar, some closer to free-jazz with fast-moving improvised lines. One memorable moment featured featured a mellow guitar solo – Evangelista is quite a versatile guitarist – that morphed into in a driving loop pattern with distortion that produced its own harmony.


[Click image to enlarge]

I believe at least some of the material was from Grex’s recently release CD. You can follow the link above to find out more info.

Finally, it was our turn to take the stage. I had toyed with the idea of using the Cafe’s B3 for An Empty Rectangle, but in the end decided it would have been a lot of effort, especially with a stage that seemed to be even smaller than Luna’s Cafe We had a lot of fun and played with a lot of energy that matched the intensity of Revolution Cafe’s decor. It didn’t feel as tight or accurate as we would want for a Reconnaissance Fly set, but it did have the humor that has become part of our band’s character.

Additionally, the visuals of the space and the presence of the old keyboard instruments did inspire me to consider a future solo performance or installation there. I don’t have much more to say about that yet given everything else that is going on this season, but something to consider for later…

Reconnaissance Fly in Oakland and Sacramento next week

The first performances of 2012 both feature Reconnaissance Fly with our new expanded lineup.  Chris Broderick joins myself, Polly Moller, Tim Walters, and Larry The O.  We will be back at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento on Monday and then at in Oakland on Wednesday.  Details below:

Monday, January 9, 2012, 7:30PM
Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th Street, Sacramento, CA

Reconnaissance Fly is back hoping to get stuck in the Luna’s Cafe guacamole once more. Phillip Greenlief & Jorrit Dykstra will play transcendent saxophones and Luke Westbrook will make guitar magic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 9PM
Light A Fire Returns! Luke Westbrook/Grex/Reconnaissance Fly
Revolution Cafe,1610 7th St, Oakland, CA

The Light A Fire series returns! This will be the pilot show for a brand new curation–if we turn out, this series stands to provide a regular home for the local creative music scene. Come out and enjoy the weird and wonderful environs of Cafe Rev in Oakland (fully stocked with great food, coffee, a stage area, and copious seating…)

1. Luke Westbrook/Vijay Anderson Duo
Luke Westbrook (guitar), Vijay Anderson (drums)
westbrookmusic.net

2. Grex
Karl Evangelista (guitar, vox, etc.), Rei Scampavia (keys, vox, etc.)
www.grexsounds.com

3. Reconnaissance Fly
Chris Broderick, Amar Chaudhary, Polly Moller, Larry The O, and Tim Walters
www.myspace.com/reconnaissancefly

Reconnaissance Fly and FPR Trio at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento

Today we look back Reconnaissance Fly’s performance at the Nebraska Mondays series at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento. We had played this series last year as well and had a positive experience, and looked forward to performing again this past June. And of course, I cannot turn down an opportunity to play someplace called “Luna’s Cafe.”

It was a hot day in Sacramento. Though I have to admit, I was actually feeling relatively comfortable in the evening warmth, and took the opportunity to walk around, take photos and experience the atmosphere. Inside the cafe, things were once again a bit on the cozy side.

But we somehow managed to get a keyboard, drum set, bass and concert and bass flutes onto the stage along with the four humans that were supposed to play these instruments. Interestingly, in this photo it seems a lot more spacious than it actually was.

[Photo by George R. Thompson.]

It is always interesting to perform for a relatively intimate audience in a setting such as this, especially with a program as varied as our Flower Futures spong cycle. People seemed receptive to both the more purely experimental pieces and the more idiomatic jazz shuffles, sambas and rock ballads. It was also our first show featuring our drummer Larry The O – I thought he brought a new vitality to our most rhythmic pieces in particular, such as An Empty Rectangle and sense iz crede nza. In balance, it was a successful performance.

We shared the bill with the FPR Trio, consisting of Phillip Greenlief, Frank Gratkowski, and Jon Raskin on saxophones, and after a hasty teardown of our equipment we settled by the bar for refreshing beverages, tasty snacks and the opportunity to hear this accomplished ensemble. They performed several pieces based on graphical scores (which I got to take a look at after the performance). The first pieces featured complex polyrhythms with occasional bursts, blurts and squeaks. Every so often as things built up, they would resolve softly, either to an anxious harmony or even to something tonal. There were moments of very defined counterpoint embellished with virtuosic flourishes.

However, the most impressive and memorable part of the set was when all three saxophones came together in a trio of multiphonics. It is a tribute to their skills that they were able to produce complex harmonic series, periods of unison, and intricate beating effects. The timbres moved in and out of stability, and at times seemed like the metallic resonance of a digital subtractive synthesizer. They went on for quite a while in this way, and I and many of the other members of the audience remained captivated throughout.

Thanks to Ross Hammond for continuing to support us through this series, and to Art Luna for hosting us at the cafe.

Wordless Wednesday: Color Convergence

Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento, June 20

Monday, June 20, is our next Reconnaissance Fly show. We will be returning to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento for the Nebraska Mondays series.

Of course, we have to take every opportunity to bring new music to any and all venues that include “Luna” in their names.

This is our first performance in which our new drummer Larry The O will be joining myself, Polly Moller and Tim Walters. We will be playing our “spong cycle” Flower Futures, featuring pieces in a variety of styles based on spoetry (spam poetry).

Those in the Sacramento area are encouraged to come out and see us (and I know at least a few of you who read this do live and work there). For those not in the area, I will be live tweeting @catsynth with hashtag #rfly.

Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento

This is the “official CatSynth report” from our Reconnaissance Fly show at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento last Monday.

Luna’s Cafe is in downtown Sacramento, within a couple of blocks of the large park that surrounds our State Capitol.

[click to enlarge]

I had stopped in during then In the Flow Festival back in may, so everything was quite familiar.

Inside, the stage was…well…a bit cozy.

[click image to enlage]

We managed to fit ourselves on in an odd arrangement of angles and overlapping. Polly was in this small triangle of space bounded by the stage front, the keyboard and the drum set.

[click image to enlarge]

The painting behind the stage is David and the Giant Under the Blue Moon, by Bill Carr. All of Carr’s paintings on the wall had a moon theme, which was rather apropos of the venue (although “Luna’s” actually refers to the name of the proprietor of the cafe and not directly to the moon or to any cats we may know).

I felt like we did not play as well as we did at the Outsound Music Summit, but it was still a fun experience, and we got a warm reception from the audience (including the other musicians)

We were followed by the Garage Jazz Architects, with Lob Instagon on bass, Chad E Williams on guitar and Mark Halverson on drums.

[click image to enlarge]

They played a mix of covers and originals. After an original piece called “Butter”, they moved into a series of including an interesting version of the Simpson’s theme with alternate harmonies, and several other classic TV shows. One of the originals was a surf-style piece entitled Surf Orangevale. From what I am told, Orangevale is a completely landlocked area east of of Sacramento. Lob also recited a poem that he composed on August 9, 1995 after hearing of the death of Jerry Garcia – a poem he only reads on August 9 – with musical accompaniment by the rest of the band.

Lob also leads the group Instagon, which has a different lineup every time it performs. After the show he invited me to join in the next Instagon performance, which just happened to be at the regular Outsound Thursday night series at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. That took place last Thursday, so look for an upcoming report soon.

Thanks to Ross Hammond for inviting us to play, and Art Luna for hosting us at the cafe

Reconnaissance Fly At Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento. Monday, August 9

Our next Reconnaissance Fly show will this Monday at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, CA.

We will be sharing the bill with the Garage Jazz Architects. The show is part of the weekly Nebraska Monday’s jazz series hosted by Ross Hammond. Our spong cycle Flower Futures should be an interesting contrast.

Sacramento may be a bit of a distance for a Monday night show, but there is no way I could turn up playing at a place called “Luna’s Cafe”!

Report from the In The Flow Festival

As I prepare for my next performance with Reconnaissance Fly tonight (details here), it seems like a good time to look back at last week’s In The Flow Festival in Sacramento.

My roadie friend and I arrived in Sacramento around 12:30 to the rather calm and rather pleasant jazz-guitar sounds of the Nahum Zdybel Trio. As we wandered off for a quick bite to eat, I was thinking how much of a contrast our own set would be. When I returned to set up, the ensemble on the other stage lead by Henry Robinette was harder and more driving – with much stronger drum, bass and rhythm guitar – but still straight ahead jazz.

[Reconnaissance Fly: (Tim Walters, Polly Moller, Amar Chaudhary).  Photo by Jen Hung.  Click to enlarge.]

So then it was time for us to perform. Our set begins with my graphical improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong, a complete 180 degree turn from the previous sets, though it does feature a short section of tongue-in-cheek early 1970s lounge jazz amongst the free improvisation and noise. We also did both of our rock-inspired pieces One Should Never and An Empty Rectangle (written by Tim Walters); a more refined version of The Animal Trade in Canada with both a bluesy “Ca-na-da” rock-out and an Afro-beat jam; and an abridged performance of our epic Ode to Steengo. All the pieces feature spoetry, i.e., spam messages that rise to the aesthetic level of poetry.

Our set was followed by Fig, the duo of Nels Cline and Yuka Honda. Their set started relatively calmly and quietly, but by the time I finished packing and had a chance to wander over to the other stage, things began to get a bit louder.

[Fig (Nels Cline and Yuka Honda). Click images to enlarge.]

Nels Cline alternately set driving heavily processed guitar rhythms and long virtuosic lines against Honda’s beats, which featured highly synthetic percussion sounds. Often, she was playing a Tenori-on, as featured in the second photo. Overall, the set moved back and forth between beat-based sections and “skronking” (i.e., arhythmic and often noisy performance with fast runs of ntoes), ending with an extended guitar-and-drum-machine jam with a more techno feel.

The next set (back in previous room) was Ambi, a duo of Stuart Liebig and Andrew Pask. As the name suggested, the music had an “ambient” quality to it in that the sounds created an environment for the listeners more than individual lines and riffs to focus on. The set opened with lots of one-off percussion samples with pauses of varying length, some notes being very isolated and others coming in small clusters. On top of the percussion hits were layered long “space-like” sounds, liquidy bass notes and saxophone. Gradually, beats emerged from the ambient mix, but the patterns were regularly broken by other off-tempo sounds. I did notice they were using a Monome, a complement to Honda’s Tenori-on from the previous set. After a while, the beats become stronger and more stable, but were again interrupted by the sound of a thunderstorm that gave way to analog-sounded filtered arpeggios. Towards the end, the set, which unfolded as one long piece, evolved into a jam between bass (Leibig) and saxophone (Pask).  It concluded with a driving funky bass riff, which stopped suddenly in mid-motion, an ending I found quite effective.

After this set, we took a break from the festival to explore a bit of Sacramento, including the immediate neighborhood and some of the downtown. This excursion inspired last weekend’s Fun With Highways: Sacramento Edition article.

We arrived back at Beatnik Studios in time to L Stinkbug, featuring GE Stinson, Nels Cline (again), Scott Amendola and Steuart Liebig (again). There was certainly a lot of “double-dipping” in the lineup of the festival, but that seems appropriate for an event focused on improvisation, and the performances among the different combinations of musicians can be quite different. L Stinkbug was, if nothing else, loud. Certainly, these are all very technically adept musicians, and the combination of driving beats and skronking should be relatively loud, but perhaps a little less so in this particular space. We moved back and forth between the main stage and the adjacent room to avoid the full affects of the volume.

If there was one overall regret from my abbreviated experience at the festival, it is that it was an abbreviated experience. I missed a few sets that I would have liked to see, including Vinny Golia, whom I had heard at last year’s Outsound Music Summit, and the Thin Air Orchestra, featuring many familiar wind players.

Fun with Highways: Sacramento edition

This is a major interchange in Sacramento, California, where I spent most of yesterday. Running north-south along the river is I-5, while east-west is the Capitol City Freeway (Business 80 and US 50).

To the southeast of the interchange, along X street, is the neighborhood that includes Beatnik Studios, where I performed with Reconnaissance Fly at the In The Flow Festival. See our previous article for a link to a liveblog of the festival.

The nearby entrance from 16th street to the Capitol City Freeway is marked only as Business 80, and does not mention US 50.

One can follow 16th street north under the freeway to the downtown and midtown section of the city. This includes our rather dysfunctional state capital, and a scattering of fun local businesses north of N street, including Luna Cafe, which was hosting events related to the festival on other evenings. We were not there at right time to see the festival events, but we did stop in for some handmade juices and enjoyed sitting out on the sidewalk in the early evening. For those of us who live in San Francisco, a warm evening is a rare treat.