Ivy Room Experimental Improv Hootenany, November 16

Last Monday, I performed again the experimental improv “Hootenanny” at the Ivy Room in Albany, CA. This is always a fun series to participate in or attend. It starts a little later at 9PM, and is set in a rather plush bar that makes a great setting for drinks and experimental music.

Free Rein. Photo by Michael Zelner

The evening opened with Free Rein, consisting of Andrew Joron (percussion, theremin), Joseph Noble (woodwinds) and Brian Lucas (guitar).  They began with Joron playing a bowed metal percussion instrument and Noble on flute.  The bowed instrument had discrete pitches and the music was quite tonal and repetitive, almost hypnotic. They were joined after a while by Lucas on guitar, and together weaved between pentatonic and chromic sounds that were sometimes quite lush, and other times sparse. Joron switched the theremin at some point during the set, and there was a particularly interesting duo of theremin and pennywhistle.

Free Rein gave way to The Lords of Outland with CJ “Reaven” Borosque (electronics), Philip Everett (drums), Ray Scheaffer (bass), and Rent Romus (alto saxophone).  There sound was loud, fast, dramatic, with many of the standard idioms from free jazz, run of fast notes (particularly from Romus on sax), squeaks, and loud hits.  It was interesting to have the electronic noises set against the jazz sounds.

Lords of Outland.  Photo by Michael Zelner.

Lords of Outland. Photo by Michael Zelner.

The set was very energetic and seemed to go by fast, and I had to keep track of time lest I miss the start for the set that I was curating.  On cue, as they faded out, we began to fade in.

Photo by Michael Zelner

Photo by Michael Zelner

The set I curated included myself on electronics, Brandan Landis on prepared guitar, Beau Casey on violin and David Slusser on saxophone and the Slussomatic. As usual, I began by ringing one of my prayer bowls, which was answered by the metallic sounds of the prepared guitar and the violin, followed by the Kaos Pad and Evolver, and then the Slussomatic.  None of us have played together as a group before, but I was happy with the way we able to play off one another.  There were a couple of moments that particularly stood out for me, such as a rhythmic ostinato that emerged organically and I then reinforced; we went on with that pattern for a while, adding accents and syncopations; towards the end, the full ensemble played a series of loud and dramatic swells (anchored by a noise patch on the Evolver) that brought the set to a close…

Elizabeth Torres with Cansafis Foote. Photo by CatSynth.

…which segued to the next set featuring Elizabeth Torres on tenor sax, with Cansafis Foote on baritone sax and Mario Silva on trumpet.  The set began with Torres and Foote as a duo, moving between very synchronous playing in which the two saxophones acted as one instrument, and Torres’ improvising freely against a driving but ever-changing rhythm provided by Foote.    The duo was then joined by Silva, again moving back and forth between more free improvisation and rhythmic sections.

Thanks again to Lucio Menegon for hosting the series and Suki O’kane for being “virtual Lucio” on this particular night.

Blessing Moon – July 9, 2009

The past Thursday was the latest in the Full Moon Concert Series at the Luggage Store Gallery, curated by Polly Moller. This month’s theme was Blessing Moon.

The first set was by a new all-improv trio Free Rein. The group focuses on “Earth music for space people” and includes reeds/flutes, Danelectro 6 string bass, percussion,voice, cymbal, keyboard and theremin.

[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

Musically, the set began with microtones and synchronicity among the flute, theremin and another wind instrument. Melodic elements were sometimes present, performed on one of the flutes or the theremin. Other elements that stood out included the bowed cymbal, which blended with the other instruments in drones, a bird-like slide whistle against a saxophone, and undulating tones and the formation of harmonies between the percussion and low-frequency modulation. This fit with their statement of “spontaneously collaborating with the Moon, sculpting a sound that reflects back to Earth, playing tones that wax and wane through vibration, harmonic bodies phase shifting.”

The second set was performed by Valka, featuring Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobson (who have also collaborated as myrmyr) with guest Noah Phillips on guitar. Szelag was performing with an electric cello, Jakobson on violin, and all three performers together had an impressive array of pedals arranged centrally between the string instruments:

[click to enlarge]

From the program notes, “Valka’s Blessing Moon rituals are inspired by ripe dreams and the balance between dark and light.” This includes drones, effects, lots of long tones and big masses of sound, with a mixture of harmonicity and noise. I did focus on slow bends and other gradual changes of tone through the performance. The first piece did end on a dramatic note, with a rather loud insect-like sound that seemed to have taken the musicians by surprise.