Hardly Strictly Personal 2017 Day 1: Vacuum Tree Head and More

We conclude our reverse-order look at the Hardly Strictly Personal 2017 Festival that took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley about two months ago. This day featured Vacuum Tree Head among several other acts.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Karen de la Cuesta]

This was among the best Vacuum Tree Head shows I have experienced since joining the band, in terms of energy and musical tightness. The rhythm section, anchored by Justin Markovits on drums and John Shiurba on bass functioned well as a unit and provided a foundation for the rest of the band. We had three horn players: Joshua Marshal, Jason Bellenkes and Richard Lesnik. Our guitar section featured Richard Corny, and Michael de la Cuesta, who also was part of the synth/keyboard section of the band with me. And Jason Berry ran the show with new tunes, new arrangements and interstitial entertainment. We will have a full video of our set soon along with a more detailed review, but for now here is a little clip courtesy of our friend Rick Rees.

As mentioned in previous articles the overarching theme of HSP2017 was “A Celebration of Post-Beefheart Art.” The first two acts of the evening took the theme quite seriously. Earspray projected videos along with Beefhart clips mixed with live improvisations.

Earspray

The group features Ann O’Rourke on electronics and video, Carlos Jennings on electronics, and Mark Pino on percussion. Mark returned in Crow Crash Radio, which also featured Brian Strang on guitar Andrew Joron on theremin along with guest Garrett Caples on vocals.

Crow Crash Radio

Like Earspray, Crow Crash Radio worked the Beefhart theme directly into the contact of their set, with Caples channeling him in his vocal sound and style as the band covered Diddy Wah Diddy and other songs. If there was one thing that didn’t work, it was not being able to hear the vocals well, though perhaps that was part of the concept.

The band performances contrasted sharply with a quiet so set by Jakob Pek on guitar. He uses extended techniques on the instrument, preparations, and electronics to create unusual soundscapes. The sound is mostly long tones and timbres, but punctuated by percussive elements as well.

Jakob Pek

The final set of the evening brought Lost Planet to the stage.

Lost Planet

This band, which features Dave Slusser on winds and electronics, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Len Paterson and Steve Clarke on guitars, mixed loud rock elements with space jazz for an energetic set. In some ways, they combined elements prominent in the previous band sets of the evening.

It was fun to play with VTH on this night and hear the other groups, as I also did with CDP on night 3. We would like to thank Mika Pontecorvo for organizing this event, as well as Elijah Ponteocorvo, Kersti Abrams, Mark Pino and everyone else who followed teared to make it a success.

Ides of March (or March of Ives)

For the Ides of March, we present this take from the Mensa Cats.

March of Ives

This cartoon was created by J.B. (Jason Berry) of Vacuum Tree Head, who also shares Ides of March by John Cale and Terry Riley, from the album Church of Anthrax (1971).

And finally, we share this classic from the band Ides of March.

For a special treat, we recommend playing both tracks at the same time. 😺 🎶

Vacuum Tree Head and More at All Tomorrow’s After Parties 2016

No sooner was I back from New York than I found myself preparing for another series of performances, this time in various groups for NextNow Present’s All Tomorrows After Parties 2016 at Berkeley Arts in the town of the same name. The three-day long festival was both a musical showcase for the community and a benefit for homeless action and support in the Bay Area. This article focuses on the first evening which featured a performance by Vacuum Tree Head.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Polly Moller]

The band is ever evolving, with a changing cast of musicians joining Jason Berry and Mike de la Cuesta. On this night the band included Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Justin Markovits on drums, Richard Corny on guitar, Galen Stagner on bass, and Jason Bellenkes and Joshua Marshall on horns. From just the images alone, one can tell this is a new incarnation of the band, with a well-dressed frontline coincidentally featuring “Nord red”; and a funkier, jazzier sound anchored by a tight rhythm section. You can hear our entire set in this video.

While the funky finale EMS Deluxe might be the most memorable of the set, each song was played well and had something unique to offer. This was my favorite rendition of Nubdug to date. The “Mystic Chord” and Gnostic Charms medley was our most abstract, featuring synth, a Waterphone and complex tones evolving into a driving rhythmic finish. And Hegemony Cricket opened things up with a bang. The set was well received by the audience; and I think everyone in the band that night was very happy with the performance. We hope to play together again as a unit in the not-too-distant future, so please look for updates here on CatSynth and elsewhere.

Vacuum Tree Head closed out an evening that was primary focused on music with words, although like us the first set was entirely instrumental. Joshua Allen and Rob Pumpelly combined forces in a frenetic duo.

Pumpelly / Allen Duo

Joshua Allen brought his virtuosic saxophone techniques to the performance; and between the two of them the energy never let up for the entire duration of the set. Their set reminded me a bit of the Coltrane album Interstellar Space.

Next up was Cartoon Justice, a noise-jazz project featuring Mika Pontecorvo on guitar, flute, and electronics, Kersti Abrams on winds, Mark Pino on Drums, and Elijah Pontecorvo on bass. They were joined by Meg Pontecorvo who read some of her science fiction writings.

Cartoon Justice

The music moved though a variety of sounds, but had a “space” vibe that complemented that texts. The concept brings to mind Sun Ra, though the sound was more reminiscent of Musica Elettronica Viva, a 1970s Italian improvising group that sometimes featured the likes of Steve Lacy and Frederic Rzewski. Of course, their sound is their own, particularly with Mark Pino’s unique drum style, Eli Pontecorvo’s bass bringing a bit of a rock/metal sound to the mix, Mika Pontecorvo’s electronic manipulations, and Meg Pontecorvo’s words.

Cartoon Justice was followed by Poetics of Narrative, a trio with guitar, electronics, and voice. I spied experimental writer Andrew Joron on theremin.

Poetics of Narrative

This group was fun and I liked there sound. It ranged from more noisy moments to playful songs with complex lyrics and melancholy melodies. In addition to the theremin, the performance featured accordion and other instruments among the ever-present small electronics. The combination of elements was reminiscent of the Tone Dogs and other avant-prog groups of that era. And the costuming and theatrics were a welcome addition.

Poetics of Narrative

I regret not being able to see the set by Oa, the duo of my friends Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg. But I know that their unique mix of electronic processing and poetry fit into the evening’s theme while taking the concept of music and words in a very different direction from the previous sets.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening of music, and in some ways I am still glowing from our Vacuum Tree Head set. We had a good and appreciative audience, and raised some good funds for the causes. We are grateful to have participated, and in particular would like to thank Mika Pontecorvo, Eli Pontecorvo and Mark Pino for all their help with both our set and the entire event.

NextNow Presents All Tomorrows’ After Parties 2016 (with Vacuum Tree Head and CDP Trio)



[Artwork by J.B.]

Well, it’s finally here, the big show at Berkeley Arts, Next Now Presents All Tomorrows’ After Parties. I will be performing tonight with Vacuum Tree Head at 9:30PM, and tomorrow with my new CDP Trio at 7:00, preceded by the Lingua Incognita Session at 5PM. If you are in the Bay Area, please join us either or both nights for this great event. Details are below.


NextNow’s All Tomorrows’ After-Parties 2016

June 3rd-4th-5th 2016 Berkeley Ca

PURPOSE
A spring celebration of the creative music community in the Bay Area and beyond. Coming together
to support worthy grass roots non-profit organizations, this Spring our proceeds will benefit the
Homeless Action Center http://homelessactioncenter.org
SF Coalition On Homelessness http://www.cohsf.org

DATES
JUNE 3,4,5 (Friday Evening, All-day Saturday and Sunday)

LOCATION
Berkeley Arts Festival Space, 2133 University Ave, Berkeley CA

ADMISSION
$12 for one day, $20 for all three days.

ARTISTS

Friday June 3rd
07:00 PM Pompelly/Allen Duo
08:00 PM Cartoon Justice w/Authors Meg Pontecorvo&David Gill
08:30 PM Poetics of Narrative
09:00 PM Oa
09:30 PM Vacuum Tree Head

Saturday June 4th
02:00 PM SHIVA X
02:30 PM Trois Chapeaux w/Jorge Bachmann
03:00 PM Jack Hertz
03:30 PM T.D. Skatchit
04:00 PM Reconnaissance Fly
05:00 PM Lingua Incognita Session
06:00 PM Matti Bye Ensemble (Sweden)
06:30 PM Jeffrey Alexander Trio
07:00 PM CDP
07:30 PM Lau Nau (Finland)
08:00 PM v’Maa w/kinetic video sculpture
08:30 PM Bill Wolter Project
09:00 PM Ear Spray
09:30 PM Tri-Cornered Tent Show

Sunday June 5th
02:00 PM Alphastare
02:30 PM Denny Joints
03:00 PM zBug
03:30 PM Will Alexander
04:00 PM United Separatists
05:00 PM Colin Dyer
05:30 PM Mark Clifford Project
06:00 PM John Shiurba/Philip Greenlief Duo
06:30 PM Cosmists
07:00 PM Jordan Glenn
07:30 PM R Duck, Wayne Jackson, Doug Lynner
08:00 PM Amy Reed
09:00 PM Ebolabuddha

Mensa Cat Monday: All Tomorrows’ After Parties 2016

Next Now Presents’ All Tomorrows’ After Parties is a three-day festival of music happening in Berkeley on Friday June 3 through Sunday June 5. Here is our video for the event, courtesy of Jason Berry (J.B.) of Vacuum Tree Head.

Voice credits:
Jason Berry…………Male Mensa Cat, Announcer
Amanda Chaudhary…….Female Mensa Cat, Trump Duck

I will be performing Friday night at 9:30PM as part of Vacuum Tree Head. We have a great new lineup and sound, and I am really excited about the direction of the band.

I am also playing in two additional sets on Saturday June 4. At 5PM, I will be with Mika Pontecorvo and others in Lingua Incognita Project, and at 7PM I will debut one of my new bands, Census Designated Place (CDP) with guest Rent Romus. All three sets I am playing in will be funky!

Please join us, not just for these sets for the rest of the performances as well. It’s going to be some great music for a great cause (all proceeds go to benefit local homeless action projects in the Bay Area).