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.