Hardly Strictly Personal 2017 Day 3: CDP and More

We finally catch up on the remaining show report in our backlog: the Hardly Strictly Personal 2017 Festival that took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley about two months ago. We will be presenting it out of order, with Day 3 first. This day featured my band CDP (Census Designated Place) among many other artists.

We had our full four-member lineup for this event, including myself, Tom Djll on synthesizers, Joshua Marshall on saxophones, and Mark Pino on drums. We played three tunes with extended improvisation sections. The energy on stage was great, and the music just seemed to flow. This was the band and style of performance I always wanted. You can here a bit in these two videos, featuring our tunes White Wine and North Berkeley BART.

CDP Playing White Wine at Finnish Kaleva Hall from CatSynth on Vimeo.

CDP "Playing North Berkeley BART" at Finnish Kaleva Hall from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Mark and I form the rhythm section, where I lay down vamps over his solid drums. The interplay of Tom and Josh on melody and open solos wasn’t planned per se, but adds a lot to the sound of the group. We got a great reception from the audience, and definitely looked forward to our future shows.

The evening opened with Alphastare performing a solo electronic set.

There were a lot of interesting timbres that I liked, some quite thick and noisy, that were woven into a narrative.

We were on second, and then followed by United Separatists, featuring Drew Wheeler on guitar and Timothy Orr on drums.

The instrumentation can sometimes be treacherous in an experimental-music setting, but I like what I’ve heard from this duo whenever I have heard them. There is phrasing, punctuation and space that gives it a captivating feel. Sometimes Orr’s drums are the melodic instrument and Wheeler’s guitar is the percussion. This photo of Wheeler framed by Moog Theremini (not mine) and a water phone was a fun coincidence.

Next up was ebolabuddha with their unique combination of black metal and improvised literary readings.

In addition to the musicians on stage, including Eli Pontecorvo on bass, Mark Pino on drums, Plague, Tom Weeks, Lorenzo Arreguin and Steve Jong, there always a wide selection of books scattered about. Members of the band read from them at various points, but the audience is encouraged to participate as well.

An ebolabuddha performance is always an intense experience but it was even more so in the Finnish Hall with its delightfully bizarre acoustics and the friendly audience. Here is Mark having a quintessential “ebolabuddha moment.”

They were followed by Double-A Posture Palace , a trio featuring Andrew Barnes Jamieson on keyboard and voice, Joshua Marshall returning on saxophones, and Aaron Levin on drums.

It was a quieter set (especially in comparison to what preceded it), but the gentle piano sounds in the opening belied the extremely clever and snarky nature of what was unfolding, as Jamieson sang an ode to performing experimental music that simultaneously celebrated it and pointed out some of the musical shortcomings that many of us discuss only privately. It was truly funny and ingenious, and I congratulate all three members of the set on this performance.

The final set of the evening, and of the festival as a whole, featured the latest incarnation of Instagon is an ever changing set of musicians, never the same. For this version, project creator Lob was joined by Rent Romus on saxophone, Hannah Glass on violin, Leland Vandermuelen on guitar, and Mark Pino on drums – Mark once again demonstrating why I refer to him as the “hardest working man in the new music scene.”

Overall the third day of the festival went well and showcased a variety of music. I am glad that CDP played early so I could relax and enjoy the sense of accomplishment while listening to the subsequent sets. The festival is a fundraiser for EarthJustice and the Homeless Action Center, both fine causes that many of us stage are proud to support. I would also like to give a special thanks to Mika Pontecorvo for organizing the event, and to Eli Pontecorvo, Kersti Abrams, Rent Romus and others who worked hard to make it happen.

The Amy X-Perience at the Jewish Community Center, Berkeley

As we are in the middle of Passover, it seems like a good time to look back at a Jewish-themed show in which I participated earlier this year. The Amy X-Perience brought together a mix of artists in solo, duo and ensemble sets at the Jewish Community Center in Berkeley, California. The evening was curated by our friend and collaborator Amy X Neuburg.

The night began with a piece by Neuburg featuring electronics and potato chips. Yes, potato chips. Small vending-machine-sized bags were distributed to the audience, who were instructed to on cue open the bags and start chewing the (edible) contents loudly, as Neuburg manipulated the sounds and added additional musical layers.

Amy X Neuburg

I was up next. Regular readers have likely already heard part of my solo set from this show – I posted the performance of piece White Wine in this article a couple of weeks ago. I also performed a live version of my piece Donershtik (Yiddish for “Thursday”), which you can see below.

Amanda Chaudhary performing "Donershtik" at JCC East Bay from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I was quite happy with how both solo pieces came out, but the real treat was having Amy join me in a duo of my piece North Berkeley BART, humorously appropriate for the location that evening.

North Berkeley BART w/ Amy X Neuburg – JCC from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I have always been impressed with Amy’s musicianship, discipline and ability to learn songs quickly, and very much appreciated her joining me. We also performed an avant-garde rendition of the American standard All of Me later in the evening.

Amanda Chaudhary and Amy X Neuburg

Between the two of us, there was quite an impressive collection of musical electronics on stage.

My solo set was followed by Alex Kelley, a veritable one-man band on cello and electronics.

Alex Kelley

His music blended jazz, klezmer and rock influences with experimental sounds. His cello acted not only as a melodic instrument, but also as the rhythm section, with Kelley striking it like a drum at times, and recording bass lines into a live looper and then riffing on top of that. His performance was both tight and humorous and a lot of fun to watch. You can hear a little bit in this video:

Next up was Solstice: A Female Vocal Ensemble. Sadly, several members of the group were unfortunately absent that evening due to illness, but that didn’t stop the remaining trio from delivering a strong performance.

Solstice’s repertoire spans a variety of styles and languages, and their set that evening included pieces from several places. I was quite impressed with their ability so sing in so many languages.

The second half of the program brought together the various artists in different combinations. I already mentioned my duo rendition of All of Me with Amy X Neuburg. She also performed show tunes with Alex Kelley, and joined Solstice for a virtuosic rendition of an Eastern European song. And finally, all of us joined together for a rousing rendition of Mein Herr from Cabaret. It was a fun and fitting conclusion to the evening.

Second half brought many voices in many languages and showtunes #AmyXNeuburg

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All of the performances were well received by the enthusiastic full house. Thank you to Amy X Neuburg for inviting all of us to participate in this event, and to the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay for hosting! Please visit their website to find out about the many performances and other cultural programs hosted by the JCC.

James Chance and the Contortions at the Knockout, San Francisco

James Chance and the Contortions made a rare appearance in San Francisco, and we at CatSynth were on hand at The Knockout to see it. For those who are not familiar with James Chance, he was an icon in the New York post-punk and “No Wave” scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Perhaps more than most in that scene, he incorporated jazz and funk, not merely as decorative elements but foundational to the music as a whole. His music has been described as “combining the freeform playing of Ornette Coleman with the solid funk rhythm of James Brown, though filtered through a punk rock lens” [Wikipedia].

At around midnight, he took the stage with his trademark pompadour and saxophone blaring.

From the start it was a high-energy experience, especially up front near the stage where we were. The rhythm section was solid, whether playing a bouncy ska-like rhythm or the funk rhythm and details that so characterize and separate the band from others in its original scene. Every so often, Chance would break out into fancy footwork reminiscent of James Brown in between vocals that were simultaneous playful and aggressive. And the rhythm remained tight even when the horns went on long free runs, occasionally cutting out for a voice solo and keyboard hit, and then coming back in on the beat. It has been said that Chance hold his bands to a high standard of tightness and musicianship and it shows.

Another fun aspect of the set was the interplay between James Chance and Mac Gollehon on trumpet and keyboard. In additional to some classic horn-section hooks to complement the funk rhythms, Gollehon used a dynamic-filter effect on his trumpet that worked extremely well in context, turning the horn into a rhythm-section instrument playing riffs that in more conventional bands are covered by guitar.

It was a sold-out show with an enthusiastic crowd packing the small space of the Knockout, and it spans a wide age-range from those who may have seen James Chance in the 1970s and 1980s to younger people likely seeing him for the first time. And having a great time of it. We certainly did. And I draw some inspiration from the mix of funk and jazz with punk and avant-garde elements. We at CatSynth wish them well on the remainder of this west coast tour.

SFJAZZ Honors Zakir Hussain

Just before departing for NAMM back in January, we had the opportunity to attend the SFJAZZ Gala honoring Zakih Hussain with a lifetime achievement award.

One of the unexpected guests of the evening was a torrential rain that peaked just as we were arriving. This video from our Instagram gives a small taste.

Crazy rain for #sfjazzgala ☔️

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But inside it was warm, the drinks were flowing, the music was as expected. We had seats in the bleachers which provided an excellent view of the stage. And the backs of the musicians, including the maestro himself.

You can see a much better view of Zakir Hussain performing with saxophonist John Handy is the Instagram photo from SFJAZZ.

It was a sweet and delightfully simple jam, which capped an evening of performances featuring the SFJazz Collective, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Joshua Redman, guitarist Bill Frisell, vocalist Mary Stallings, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana.

The award presentation itself was preceded by a tribute video made by Hussain’s daughters, which highlighted his genius as a musician and rhythmic master as well as his good humor and down-to-earth nature as a person. This was also apparent in his remarks upon accepting the award. (The same could not be said for the verbose and pretentious introduction by Mickey Hart.)

After the presentation, it was time to party, with more music and dancing filling the hall.

We didn’t stay too late because I was off to NAMM the next morning, but I am glad to have braved the storm to celebrate a great musician.

NAMM 2017: Mike Garson Plays Synthogy Ivory II

Mike Garson is a legendary keyboardist. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with David Bowie – indeed that is how we primarily know him. But he is quite the performer in his own right, combining avant-garde and jazz together into a very rhythmic style of playing. He was performing today at NAMM on Ivory II, the flagship virtual piano from Synthogy. You can see a segment of his performance in this video.

The performance, which lasted over 30 minutes, featured a variety of styles and ranged from improvisations to familiar tunes. It is quite virtuosic, but not for its own sake as the fast runs and driving low-note chords serve the music well. Towards the end he played in a heavy style that I like to call “avant stride.”

I was quite happy to get such a good visual and sonic spot to see him; and aftwords had a chance to think him for his music and inspiration to my own playing.

Herbie Hancock: Possibilities

Healing after a major medical procedure leaves one with quite a bit of time for reading. This was the case for me in July and August. Today we look at the first of a few books I completed during that time.

Herbie HancockPossibilities is Herbie Hancock’s autobiography released in late 2014, not long after I saw him accept his lifetime achievement award at the SFJAZZ gala. Like the gala event, the book attempts to weave together the earlier (and in my opinion best) work with his continuing to be vital and creative artist. It didn’t change my over all assessment of his music – I revere what he did in the 1970s with The Headhunters and Mwandishi as close to musical perfection, but shrug at what most of what he did in the 1980s through the end of the century (with notable exceptions like Rockit).

Throughout the book, Hancock and his co-writer Lisa Dickey weave together personal life with several different aspects of music – the music itself, the engineering, the business, and relationships. It is the mixture of all of these that makes for an interesting read, especially when placed in the context of the music. Hancock’s Buddhist practice permeates the entire story. One sees how it was a beneficial force for him personality and also affected his music, particularly with the open structure of Mwandishi and then in Head Hunters and Thrust. One of the fun anecdotes here was the naming of Actual Proof, and a discussion of how the piece got its confounding rhythm. The language is detailed enough that it gives me insight into the musical process – but not so overly technical that non-musicians should be able to get something from it as well.

He also goes into great detail about his dive into music technology through synthesizers; and his collaborations with engineers to push the instruments. I of course knew the story of the Fender Rhodes entering his music via Miles Davis; and the use of the Arp Odyssey in Head Hunters. I didn’t realize just how much he was involved in customizing the instruments for his live performances, taking advantage of his own electrical-engineering background and numerous long-time collaborations. I was particularly intrigued by the story of the vocoder (a Sennheiser VSM201) and prototype “keytar” featured in Sunlight. I also have seen that some of these sounds and elements are used by critics against him as “selling out” or some such thing. Such criticisms have long bothered me because it dismisses is best work, and the work I most love. Hancock himself seems unbothered by that and focuses on his need to explore new musical styles, ideas, and technologies – like Buddhism, this a theme that keeps recurring throughout the book. After delving into deep technical and musical detail about one song or one performance, he then simply moves on to the next.

The personal details are of course part of the story, but sometimes difficult to read. There is tragedy in his family. And he struggled at various times with drugs – the candid story about his being a closeted crack user in the 1990s was unexpected. But it is primarily the music and “story of the music” where my attention settled, and where I got the most from the book. It has in a way added to my enjoyment of the music.

Happy 83rd Birthday Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter, one of our musical heroes, turns 83 today. Please join us in wishing him a Happy Birthday!

Wayne Shorter
[By Tom Beetz @ http://home.hetnet.nl/~tbeetz/index.html (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

He is still going strong, composing and performing regularly. I had the chance to see him perform last year at SFJAZZ with his quartet. This was only his most recent musical incarnation, quite different from what he had done before with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s and then with his own band Weather Report in the 1970s. Weather Report is sometimes under appreciated, but their early work is great and something that deserves its own article. Most recently, I have been listening to the album Algeria which includes members of the quartet I heard last year.

Wayne Shorter Algeria

Although I’ve known and appreciated his work for years, it is only the past couple of years that it has become a stronger influence and part of the regular rotation of music at CatSynth HQ. And we hope there is still more to come.

Amanda Chaudhary Solo Set at Second Act, San Francisco

We pick up our reports from the epic musical month that was June.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act

On June 15, I performed a brand new solo set at Second Act in San Francisco, part of a monthly evening of experimental electronic music. It was a bringing together of my more experimental electronic work with the jazz and funk direction my music. The modular and Moog Theremini were featured heavily, but so were the Moog Sub Phatty as my “left hand” bass, and of course the Nord Stage, aka “The Big Red Keyboard”. I also used a Casio SK-1 extensively. You can hear the entire set in this video.

Amanda at Second Act June 2016 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I thought it went quite well musically. I like how the funk bass worked with the Sub Phatty and Phonogene on the modular. The venue was full, and I got an enthusiastic response from the audience. I don’t think they were expecting this level of jazz and funk, but seemed to really appreciate it. I will definitely continue working in this direction in future solo sets.


The concert began with a noise set by Passions Nouveau, who performed with synthesizers and sundry electronics.

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The set unfolded as a single continuous soundscape, with noise pads and drones, but occasional loud swells and complex details.

I was followed by bran(…)pos. It had been a few years since I shared a bill with him, but has excited to hear what he had come up with recently. As per his pervious appearances, he performed inside a tent onto which a mixture of live and processed video was projected.

20160615-IMG_0429

And once again the performance centered around the use of his face and voice visually and sonically. But the instrumental accompaniment was a new direction, mixing sounds from the turn of the 20th century with pitched synthesizers and beats. It was a very polished and complex sound overall, bringing a tightness to his unique style of performance and presentation.

Overall, it was a great performance, and I was happy to be a part of it. Performing at Second Act is always a great time, and I would like extend my thanks to the folks who continue to make this venue and series work for the musical community.

Esperanza Spalding: Emily D+Evolution at Mezzanine, San Francisco

Bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding is currently on tour presenting her new album Emily’s D+Evolution, and we were there to see her when she performed at the Mezzanine in San Francisco.

Esperanza Spalding

With the rhythm section laying down a driving pattern, Spalding emerged into a cloud of fog, immediately launching into one of her complex syncopated never-quite-resolving melodies. Her colorful costume with glasses and crown seemed a bit baffling at first, but it made sense in the context of the album’s “protagonist” Emily D, a fanciful alter ego. The songs weave together a non-linear narrative, but each work well individually. Many had her characteristic fast runs of notes running in counterpoint to the rhythm section; but perhaps the ones that spoke to me most strongly were the ballads like Unconditional Love and Judas. In some ways, the ballads are just slowed down and more mellifluous interpretations of her fast style.

Theatrical elements played an important part of the performance, and not only stage presence, lighting and sets. The supporting singers had roles as soloists and characters in various songs. And one in particular featured a unique element for a live jazz+rock show: puppets. A small puppet stage was rolled out for one song, with one puppet a miniature Esperanza Spalding / Emily D and the other a male character who appeared to be a figure of authority.

Books were a recurring theme, in the piece with the puppet show and as live props throughout. A bookshelf sat behind the singers, and at one point early in the set Spalding hoists one into the air.

Esperanza Spalding and book

The energy level never let up, even for the slowest, quietest songs in the performance. It thus flew by quickly. It was a sensory whirlwind, but as a jazz geek I found myself most focused on her bass playing and the rhythms and harmonies from the group as a whole.

Both levels of Mezzanine (yes, the club does match its name) were packed, which added to the dizzying effect of the performance’s theater. And one could tell most of the audience must have been as pleased to be there as we were.

This was the first of three big shows we saw over the course of a single week, and was a great start. We hope to bring reviews from the other two shortly.

Wayne Shorter Quartet at SFJAZZ

Last month I had the privilege of seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the SFJAZZ Center.

Wayne Shorter Quartet at SFJAZZ

Over the years, many of his compositions have become standards in the jazz world, and he has had a long and illustrious career with Art Blakey, Miles Davis Quintet, Weather Report, and more. In each case he has reinvented and reinvigorated his music, most recently with an all acoustic quartet featuring Danilo Pérez (piano), Brian Blade (drums), and John Patitucci on bass. It was this band that we saw on this occasion.

This band took a very original approach to Shorter’s compositions, some of which were very recent (there was a suggestion some the material was even new for the show). What made it most interesting was how subtle and sparse the music was, rarely did we hear a head or chord pattern in its entirety. The music was nonetheless extremely intricate and tight. There weren’t defined roles of a rhythm section and solo instrument in a traditional sense, but everyone took on every role, including Brian Blade’s drums. Especially when Wayne Shorter was playing, it affects the whole tenor of the proceedings (no pun intended). He would only play a few notes and then pause for a time, but those few were enough to take command of the direction of the song. But each musician had a role that transcended their instrument. Blade’s drumming could be at times quite forceful and his use of vocalizations quite curious, but these were moments of punctuation and in between he was very metric and even quiet at times with just enough hint of time to keep things moving. Danilo Pérez was a force of nature on the piano, and his pouring through reams of sheet music as he played was a reminder that these were fully formed compositions and not simply free improvisations.

The complexity and subtlety made it challenging even for seasoned fans to pick out the individual tunes. But we are pretty sure we heard an extended workout on Sanctuary (best known version appears on the B side of Bitches Brew); Aung San Suu Kyi (timely given the elections in Myanmar); and we thought that encore was an acoustic and distilled version of Joyrider. It was a perhaps funkier and more accessible way to send the audience off for the evening.