Perhaps not a synth per se, but still a wonderful moment of cats and music. I especially like that it’s more bluesy than most cat-and-piano jams 😺🎶
From Haburu on YouTube.
It’s been a wonderfully musical couple of weeks for us at CatSynth. Two days in the recording studio, our recent performance…and all of this bookended by concerts featuring our musical heroes. Today we visit the first of those concerts featuring Herbie Hancock at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.
Those who have been longtime readers of this site or familiar with some of my recent music will recognize the tremendous influence of Herbie Hancock, especially his Mwandishi and Head Hunters bands of the 1970s. For a concert in 2019, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. But from the moment the maestro took the stage, I was not disappointed.
Together with his current band – Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, James Genus on bass, Lionel Loueke on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin on horns and keyboard – he revisited many of the old classics, but with new twists. Some, like Chameleon and Cantelope Island, pretty much followed their classic forms and were a delight. Others, like Butterfly and Sunlight were quoted more subtly or obliquely, teasing us a bit through solos, chord changes, and excursions before landing on the tune’s head just long enough of us to recognize it and use it as a point of departure for the next section. This is something that we have heard Wayne Shorter do in his more recent performances as well – just enough of a hint of the original tune for us to notice before departing into new musical territory. It was pretty much everything I would hope for from this concert.
The music that I so love and admire (and try to play) but not as a museum or conservatory piece but as something dynamic and vital. He did a full rendition of Actual Proof, complete with introductory description – this piece is perhaps one of my favorites of his, in part because it is so rhythmically confounding – it is in 4/4 but the way the main riff spreads over bars, it can be hard to tell where the measures begin and end. I also enjoyed how he broke out the keytar and the vocoder from the late 1970s in several songs.
It wasn’t all updates on old favorites, as there was newer material as well. And he remains a consummate showman, giving his personal energy back to the crowd. Towards the end of the set, he led all of us in a wave while beaming from ear to ear – this then served as the introduction to a final encore jam of Chameleon where Kamasi Washington and others joined him on stage.
Kamasi Washington’s own set was also full of energy and complex music – perhaps a bit overshadowed for me by Herbie, but still a favorite of the crowd many of whom were sporting Washington’s t-shirts. He had an interesting band with two drummers (Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr) and Cameron Graves on keyboard/synth. Rounding out the band was Ryan Porter on the trombone, Patrice Quinn on vocals, and Miles Mosley on bass. Perhaps the most touching moment was when Washington’s father, Rickey Washington, came out to join the band on soprano saxophone.
The opening set featured Robert Glasper and his band. A local favorite, his music weaved together elements of jazz with hip-hop. Centered around Glasper on keyboards, his group brought together different elements such as upright bass and turntable.
Overall, the show taken as a whole was one of the best live concerts I have seen in a while, which each group building on the foundation set by its predecessor, culminating in Herbie Hancock’s musical odyssey (there was, however, no Arp Odyssey this time). Even as an even chill settled into the Greek Theater during his set, I barely noticed. As as I practiced for my own music the coming week, I couldn’t help but notice myself doing more of those chromatically rising fast runs that are so characteristic of his solos. It’s not copying, but rather influence and tribute – a subject for another article at another time.
Cute cat sitting behind the keys of a piano and clearly enjoying the jazz/bluey music. Via Classic FM on Facebook.
This piano is purrfect 😻
We at CatSynth agree. And for anyone who protests that a piano is not a synth: yes, this is true, but we recommend just chilling and enjoying the music like this cat.
As 2018 draws to a close, we look back a recent show we saw at VAMP (vintage – art and music – for the people) in Oakland. It was the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV.
As one can see at the start of the video, it was pouring rain that night. And it did not let up for the entire evening. But that did not stop an intrepid collection of music lovers from settling into VAMP’s small and quirky space to hear two great ensembles.
The venerable Rova Saxophone Quartet have been performing together for 40 years, so it’s not surprising that they have coalesced into a sound all their own. Each of the four members, Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and Jon Raskin, have their own character, but as a group they function as one instrument. This is true even during fast runs, as they did in the latter half of the set, and when various members drop out or “solo” for a section.
Rounding out the evening was the Life’s Blood Trio, led by Rent Romus (saxophones) and featuring Safa Shokrai on upright bass and Timothy Orr on drums. This is a version of the larger Life’s Blood Ensemble pared down to its essentials. But there is still a rich and full sound in the spartan setting, with the three members filling the full harmonic and textural space. Romus’ performance is always expressive and frenetic, filled with emotion. Shokrai played an amazing extended bass solo. Orr kept things grounded, including during a solo of his own.
VAMP is a bit of a performance in an of itself, with its odd collection of items for sale and a record collection that requires one to sift through and look for surprises. They’ve been holding on, even as Oakland changes in myriad ways. We look forward to seeing more music there – and perhaps playing there again – in 2019
Today we look back at the show featuring Vacuum Tree Head and the Moe Staiano Ensemble at The UPTOWN in Oakland. It was also the subject of our most recent episode of CatSynth TV.
This was the most ambitious Vacuum Tree Head show to date, at least during the time I have been involved in the band. There were ten musicians involved: Jason Berry conducting, Steve Adams (of ROVA fame) on baritone saxophone, Jason Bellenkes on various woodwinds, Amanda Chaudhary on keyboard, Richard Corny on guitar, Michael de la Cuesta on guitar and synth, Justin Markovits on drums, Joshua Marshall on saxophones, Amy X Neuburg on voice and
The band delivered an impressive and truly dynamic performance, going through a diverse mix of styles from our current repertoire. And that fact that the core of the lineup has stabilized means that the tunes are always getting tighter and more idiomatic, especially our “big” numbers Nubdug and EMS Deluxe – I always have a lot of fun in the latter with a big 1970s style electric-piano solo. But this set was more than just music – it continued the band’s pattern of adding new spectacle at each show. This time, we had a juggler, Colin Hogan, and my friend and frequent collaborator Serena Toxicat held up signs for audience participation. The juggling was a unique moment, with Hogan tossing lighted beanbags and other objects as we played a new version of the tune Marlon Brando
Overall, I had a wonderful time playing, as I’m pretty sure the entire band did. And we got a great response from the audience at The UPTOWN. Next, it was time for the Moe Staiano Ensemble to take the stage.
This was also an ambitious set, building on Moe’s previous ideas but with an even larger ensemble of guitars: Jay Korber, William Bohrer, Melne Murphy, Damon Wood, Robin Walsh, Drew Wheeler, Bill Wolter, John Shiurba, Josh Pollock, David James, Marc Zollinger, and Karl Evangelista. That, my friends, is a lot of guitars! But they were also joined by Steve Lew on bass and Jeff Lievers on drums.
Moe’s large scale composition followed a classical form of three movements: a loud opening fanfare, a calm and moody second movement, and amore dynamic finale. It featured many of the idiomatic elements I have come to know and appreciate in his compositions from my time playing in Surplus 1980, including the repetitions coming in and out of phase. During the first movement, there was a driving eight-note patterns with phasing that created an intense but pointillated wall of sound. The second movement, which contained slower notes and lots of open space, was exceptionally beautiful, and my favorite part of the performance. You can hear some of it in our video.
It was a wonderful night of music in Oakland, and I was happy to be a part of it both as a performance and an audience member. There was a fairly decent turnout, especially for a Tuesday. It’s not every day you can get this cast of musicians on a stage at once, as both groups did, but I look forward to the next time they do.
As we busily prepare for the next Vacuum Tree Head show this coming Tuesday, I find myself looking back at my last show with a very different band, Manul Override earlier this month at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco. It was the subject of a recent CatSynth TV episode.
The evening began with an improvised set featuring saxophonist David Pate with keyboardist Steve Cohn.
Then it was time for Manul Override’s debut show. This was a new group I put together with my friend and collaborator Serena Toxicat on voice and former Surplus-1980 bandmate Melne on guitar.
We had a lot of fun on stage, and the energy spread to the audience, with dancing and meowing all around (all of our tunes had at least some connection to cats). I was particularly happy with the opening incantation, which featured a French rendition of Serena’s ode to the goddess Bast, and our 1980s-pop-style tune “Goodnigobbles”, which also featured Serena seductively delivering lyrics and spoken words in French. Melne had a chance to show her versatility throughout the set, including our extended funky jam in the middle of the set. As with all new musical projects, this is a work in progress, figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t, and how to make each show better than the previous one. But it was also fun visually, with our fashion statements, cat ears, and Melne’s lighting.
The final set featured Ornettology, a project led by guitarist and composer Myles Boisen. As the name suggests, the group is inspired by the music of Ornette
The band delivered a truly dynamic performance that featured some of Ornette Coleman’s more familiar tunes, including “Ramblin'” and “Mob Job” There were some great solos from each of the members of the group as well. You can hear some of Philip Greenlief and Myles Boisen soloing in our video.
The last few shows I have played at the Make-Out room always have a great audience – full houses that seem to appreciate having live music, whether they came to hear the specific artists or just happened to drop by. A few in the latter category seemed to quite enjoy our Manul-Override set, signing Serena’s leg cast (she had an unfortunate accident a couple of weeks before the show) and taking selfies with us. It was a fun night of music all aroundl.
Today we visit with our feline friends in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland. First up is Marlon, formerly known as “Fluffy.”
Despite living outdoors, he is healthy and well-fed, and clearly has a past that includes life as a pet cat. He loves people and didn’t need much convincing to spend time indoors. Indeed, he is living it up with his indoor time, getting food and scritches and soft blankets to relax on.
He is a big fellow but has a tiny voice that sounds more like “merp” than “meow”. I don’t yet have any video of his vocals, but you can see him thoroughly enjoying himself in this Instagram video with the music of John Schott playing in the background.
You can hear more of John Schott and his Actual Trio in this CatSynth TV video. In the meantime, let’s check in with Sophia, formerly known as “Hissy.”
As one can see in this photo, she is a beautiful cat, with Siamese-like markings and a graceful bearing. We think she might have once been a pet as well, but she is still extremely skittish around people. I mostly just get a glimpse of her from a distance and she runs off at any attempts to get closer. But she usually remains hidden nearby when Marlon is around. The two of them seem to have a special bond, despite their divergent attitudes towards humans.
We hope all our human and feline friends have a lovely weekend.