This evening we at CatSynth would like to pay tribute to one of our musical heroes who is still alive and well and still swinging, Ornette Coleman. Known for his avant-garde jazz and free improvisation explorations, I am particularly taken with his funk/disco inflused 1979 album Of Human Feelings. As a tribute for his 85th birthday, here is that album.
Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.
They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.
Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.
As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.
Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.
Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).
Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.
Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.
Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique Leone, Jacob Felix Heule, Jason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.
Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.
The 2013 2013 Outsound New Music Summit concluded last Saturday with an evening of energetic jazz composition and improvisation, including the world premier of two large-scale works.
The concert opened with a set by Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland. Romus was joined by guest artists L.A. Jenkins on guitar and Hasan Razzaq on saxophone, along with regulars CJ Borosque on trumpet and electronics, Philip Everett on drums and Ray Scheaffer on bass.
The Lords of Outland performed The Proceedings of Dr. Ke, a suite of original compositions inspired by the essays of experimental psychologist Dr. Charles Ponce on what he termed “Blade Runner Psychology.” The music was high-energy and frenetic, as I have come to expect from this group, but punctuated by unison hits and silences. There were also spaces for each of the ensemble members to come to the front, in particular Jenkis and Razzag, as well as Romus on double-saxophone. One piece in particular centered around CJ Borosque on electronic effects pedals, with an extensive the rest of the group joining in with sounds that matched the noise elements from the electronics.
Lords of Outland was followed Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large. On this occasion, the ensemble included India Cooke on violin, Karl Evangelista on guitar, John-Carlos Perea on electric bass, and Jimmy Biala on drums/percussion.
The piece, composed by Jordan, was anchored by text relating to his experiences as an only child. The music was a mixture of scored and improvised material, and ranged from more luscious harmonic sections to fast virtuosic runs by Evangelista, Jordan and India Cooke. It was punctuated by quieter moments where the narrative text (read by Jordan) came to the front. Although there was improvisation mixed in, the music maintained a somewhat melancholy sound throughout. One of the more memorable elements came near the end, with a series of repeated “false cadences” with very idiomatic chords. After each repeat it built up more and added more improvised elements, eventually leading to a completely different section of more atonal sounds, before returning back to the harmonic cadence one more time.
The final set featured Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack and the world premier of Bruckmann’s …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, a 2012 CMA New Jazz Works commission. This large-scale piece was inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, specifically three of his novels V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Bruckmann took cues from the many song and song-like elements in these novels, and his composition traverses just about every jazz idiom imaginable along with a variety of other song styles from the early and mid 20th century. Often these style quotes were quite humorous, especially when they took listeners by surprise.
The music never stayed in one place for very long, but there were a couple of extended sections, including a fun one that featured trombonist Jeb Bishop displaying his talent in both traditional and extended techniques. Guest trumpeter Darren Johnston was featured in sections as well. Rounding out the ensemble were Jen Clare Paulson on viola, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Anton Hatwich on string bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. The group made what was undoubtedly a very complex piece sound rhythmically and timbrally tight.
It was a musically impressive show, but also a very well-attended one with a packed house and possibly one of the highest attendance records for a Summit program. Now it time like to look forward to next year’s festival.
The concerts of the 2013 Outsound Music Summit opened with an evening of acoustic ensembles that combined improvisation and composition, each to quite different effect.
The evening opened with a performance by Opera Wolf, a trio featuring Crystal Pascucci on cello, Joshua Marshall on saxophone, and Robert Lopez on drums. They performed four pieces: one composed by each member of the group, and a free improvisation.
One structural quality that carried over all four pieces was the use of strongly punctuated phrasing. The initial opening sounds with harmonics and sparse arrhythmic hits was separate by a delineated silence before switching texture completely to growls and intricate cello runs, and then again into more melodious bowed phrases accompanied by the sounds of metal on a drum head. This punctuation continued into the second piece as well, which began quite noisily with scratching and unusual harmonics, but after a pause changed suddenly into jazzy runs followed by vocal effects and whistle tones. Other interesting sonic moments included Marshall cooing and purring with his saxophone against long bowed towns on the cello by Pascucci, and an extended run by all three members with scraping, tapping and clicking sounds.
Next up was KREation, an ensemble led by Kevin Robinson. KREation features a varying lineup, and this evening was somewhat different from the previous time I had encountered them. Along with Robinson, there was Christin Hablewitz, John Schwerbel and Tony Gennaro.
Their performance was a single continuous flow of music, starting with a modal and quite serene recorder duet of Robinson and Hablewitz. This gave way to percussion and prepared piano, and then to more fast runs on sax and piano accompanied by loud key clicks on the bass clarinet. The more melodious feel gave way to darker and more tense textures, but then got quite jazzy and rhythmic, especially when John Schwerbel switched over to a Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano (yes, it is one of my favorite instruments).
The textures and energy levels came in and out over the course of the performance like waves. There were some intricate counterpoints, including between recorder and saxophone, some pretty piano runs, and sections that moved between slower dramatic tones and bursts of fast motion.
The final performance of the evening featured Wiener Kids, a trio of Jordon Glenn, Aram Shelton and Cory Wright. Ostensibly, the group is a drummer with two masters of reed instruments, but on this occasion all three members also employed a wide selection of percussion.
This was a bit different from the previous Wiener Kids performances I have heard, which usually took place at clubs along side avant-rock bands. A couple of the pieces did employ the same sparse but rhythmically complex and driving sound I recalled, but there was also more detail and variety. The performance started with a somewhat humorous ensemble sound, like an odd-meter march. But it soon morphed into a solid four-beat funky rhythm with Wright on baritone saxophone acting as the all-important bass. The group came back to this funk idiom throughout their performance, and I thought it was their strongest element. They also employed complex polyrhythms and extended techniques as well as long melodic runs – one piece in particular featured a virtuosic saxophone solo by Wright.
The set ended with back-to-back songs starting with a more jazz rhythmic sound combining sax and drums, then moving into a second piece that was more percussion oriented, with polyrhythms and a focus on metallic percussion that gave the music a gamelan-like quality. Then it was back to the driving funkier 4/4 sound up to the finish.
In all, it was a strong start to this year’s Summit concerts, with dynamic performances. And it is quite a contrast to what comes next.
Today we look at the recent premiere of Current Events by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble and a new quartet from Dan Plonsey. Both groups performed on April 28 at Berkeley Arts.
We have featured recordings by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble (JCDE) a few times on The World of Wonder radio show and podcast, but this was an opportunity to see them perform a live improvisation to short experimental films. Joining Dubowsky for this performance were Hall Goff on trombone, Erika Johnson on percussion and Rufus Olivier III on bassoon.
Current Events is structured around five short films concerning recent events or contemporary topics. The first film featured TV footage and simulations of Air France Flight 447 that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. The second featured a variety of video sources concerning both the technical aspects and controversy about drone warfare. Through both of these sections the music was relatively pointed, with short and often inharmonic notes from all members of the ensemble. While this was the natural state for the percussion, is particularly noticeable for the trombone and bassoon. Dubowsky was mostly on acoustic piano during these films, but did switch over to the synth for some longer extended sounds.
The next film featured “futurist cities”, 20th century utopian designs for cities of the future that are long in the past. This was my favorite of the films, primarily because of the material – I am a sucker for past visions of the future and lament that fact that our time does not always live up to their ideals, at least in terms of design. Musically, this was a transition piece with more long tones leading into the final two films which focused on nature. The first was about the polar regions, including the melting ice caps. But it also featured penguins (and who doesn’t love penguins?).
The music for this piece did veer into some of the cliches of high sounds and noisy drones that often accompany images of ice and snow, but there were also parts that were simply musical improvisation. The final piece on the desert was more inviting, partly because of the warm environment it portrayed but also the variety of musical elements compared to the polar piece. In all, the suite as performed was a particularly fun live set combining music and visuals, and I thought it was well done and well prepared.
The second set featured the debut performance of Dan Plonsey’s new quartet with Steve Lew on bass, John Hanes on drums and John Shiurba on guitar.
Between generous amounts of verbal banter – much of it around the relative difficultly and quality of the numerically titled pieces – the band delivered the type of jazz that still celebrates driving rhythms and strong harmonies alongside complex lines. I particularly liked the final “jam/funk” piece. It was just different enough to be original, but had the familiar qualities that makes funky pieces so addictive.
Personally, I could have done with less of the banter. It did get a bit repetitive, especially when members of the audience started chiming in. Even Plonsey himself, a voluble individual, suggested that they could have gotten to more music if there was less of it.
While Plonsey’s big band is fun, too, I do like the spare and focused nature of the quartet and hope they continue to perform in the future.
The final concert of the 2012 Outsound Music Summit was Fire and Energy, a night of “improvised-jazz-inspired-music.” Labeling a new-music concert as jazz can often be treacherous, with some people all-too-quick to join arguments about what does and does not qualify as “jazz.” But in the case if this evening’s artists, who all had long established histories in the world of improvised free-jazz, there should be no argument.
The concert opened with a solo set by Jack Wright, a long-time veteran and leader of the Bay Area improvised music scene. His performance began on soprano saxophone with discrete notes and short phrases filled with overtone, microtones, percussive sounds. The were some moments that were quite subtle, with long notes that had deliberate microtonal variations or timbral variations on a single pitch- I found this to be quite expressive. There were other more melodic sections that made reminded me of old popular jazz recordings from the 1930s. Wright communicated a lot of emotion in his improvisations, with some parts sounding quite plaintive, almost a lamentation, while others were bright and happy. The first have of his set ended with some exceptionally high notes.
[Jack Wright. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]
Wright then switched to alto saxophone. There was something about this piece that just seemed “jazzier” – it’s difficult to pinpoint any one thing, but perhaps it is just the nature and expectations of the alto sax. This piece was also a bit louder and aggressive, with numerous scoops, bends, growls and noises. He employed extended effects with the bell to change the dynamics and timbre of the instrument (including at one point playing with the instrument pointed into his knee), and used key clicks, buzzing and voiced tones.
The next set featured Dave Bryant, first performing solo on acoustic piano and then in a trio with drummer Dax Compise and bassist Bryan Clark. Bryant is best known for his work as a member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime TIme group, and as an expert and teacher of Harmolodic Theory. His solo piano work was an impressive virtuosic display, with a barrage of fast moving chords up and down the keyboard that nonetheless were quite expressive. It felt like the music was constantly moving towards something, a bit frantically. Then all at once the energy was released as if in a sigh. He spent a fair amount of time in the often under-appreciated lower registers of the instrument, and kept the velocity of the performance going. The big loud low chords were followed by softer high chords in a moment that was reminiscent of late Romantic piano music. As he continued, he was joined on stage by Comprise and Clark, and in an instant the solo turned into an acoustic jazz trio.
[Dave Bryant Trio. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]
After a short section, Bryant switch to electric keyboard and the character of music changed considerably. It became softer and dreamier, with the bass setting the tone and pace. But there was still forward motion to the performance, and more of Bryant’s virtuosic high-speed chord work that at times seemed superhuman. The pace slowed down again, with a distinctly blues-like line and then pentatonic glissandi. After another reset, a new harmony and rhythm emerged with Bryant leading the group into heavy, almost final-sounding cadences. In between, there were bass and drum solos and more frenetic work, but the cadences remained as the framework. It all came to a sudden by definite stop.
The following set featured Vinny Golia with his sextet, including Gavin Templeton on alto sax, Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Alex Noice on guitar, Jon Armstrong on electric bass, and Andrew Lessman on drums. Of all the performances on this evening, this one most embodied the concert title “Fire and Energy.” There was an intensity to the full ensemble in both fast runs, hits, and the driving rhythm that underpinned the set-spanning piece. It began rather quietly, with Golia on pray bowls. Soon, the other members of the group entered with long drone sounds, along with soft symbols, trumpet noise and a chime harmony. Golia always has a collection of saxophones and other wind instruments at his disposal, and he switched to a smaller instrument that looked like a soprano sax but with a bent neck, which he played together with Rosenboom on trumpet. The music gradually became more animated and evolved in a unison rhythm and eventually into a rather funky groove. I can easily get absorbed into music like this.
[Vinny Golia Sextet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]
The rhythm continued for a while, with various interruptions, including some solos – Rosenboom in particular tore it up during his trumpet solo. Then there was a sudden change in rhythm and texture, led by Templeton on alto sax. Rather then the unified driving rhythm, the ensemble played a complex intricate orchestration that still retained a rhythmic structure. There were more extended effects and sounds, such as squeaking and percussive effects, and Noice used a Kaoss Pad with his guitar. Golia switched to bass clarinet for a slower section of music that included a short four-part “chorale”. The ensemble quieted down and the prayer bowls returned, before everyone joined in for a final segment to close the set.
The final set of the evening and of the Summit as a whole was also the largest in terms of personnel. Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra is a project that brings together a large number of improvising musicians, and on this night the group swelled in number to include several musicians from the previous sets, including Vinny Golia and Dax Comprise, as well as regulars from Outsound. Festival director Rent Romus was able to temporarily remove his directors hat and play saxophones in the ensemble. Other players that evening included Ross Hammond, Randy McKean, Keith Kelly, John Vaughn, Cory Wright, Ken Kawamura, Tom Djll, CJ Borosque, Murray Campbell, Keith Cary, Mike Turgeon, Bill Noertker and Gerry Pineda.
[Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]
The first piece began with unison trumpets, soon joined by viola. The texture was very sparse, but they were soon joined by Hammond on guitar and the other instruments followed in a crescendo made of small bits of sound. There was a brief sax-and-flute duo, and playing inside the piano strings by Passarell. The next piece began with the rhythm section (piano, electric bass and drums) in a fast sparse motion, followed by a huge cloud of sound from the entire ensemble. The music became more rhythmic for a bit and then everyone hit one big chord.
For the next couple of pieces, vocalist Loren Benedict joined the group. After an intro with ponderous piano and then a funky rhythm, Benedict launched into an impressive stream of fast highly rhythmic scat singing. The other musicians joined in the rhythm with him. Rent Romus also had a particularly crazy double-sax solo in this piece.
One of the last pieces was softer and did not have as intense a rhythm. The guitar and viola were rather bluesy and were joined by Tom Djll with extended-technique trumpet noises. Hammond’s hard-driving guitar and minor chords combined with the others made this the ensemble’s “Miles Davis Moment” (with apologies to Raskin and Haryman from the Sonic Poetry Night). Benedict came back and joined the group for a big finale.
This was once again a long concert, but it went by rather fast given the energy and vitality of the music. It was a very strong final concert in what was a particular strong Outsound Music Summit this year.
This is a vintage late-1970s Yamaha electric organ that I played at a jam session yesterday evening. I am not sure of the exact model, but I think is a B40 from 1977.
Organs can be a bit of a challenge to play if one is trained on piano and synthesizer. Basically, I just try to find a few settings that work and stick with them. Nonetheless, it was a good session, with talented drummers including one out-of-town visitor. The only harmonic instruments were organ and bass guitar, so essentially we were just a giant rhythm section. And we were able to get some interesting rhythms, including a 6/4 version of John Coltraine’s Equinox, and an extended minor blues that moved freely among different rhythmic styles and pulses while maintaining a beat.
On Saturday, I went a couple of very different performances in various neighborhoods of Brooklyn, ranging from poetry reading and performance art to experimental jazz and pop. At Central Booking in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, I saw a performance by the Sk Orchestra, which uses Casio SK-1 sampling keyboards as their main instrument. The SK-1 is a very playable instrument for low-fi real-time sampling and lends itself well to live performance. On this evening, the orchestra was more of “chamber ensemble”, with two SK-1 performers plus a third performer playing an old-style hand-cranked telephone. The SK-1s were used for live sampling in a “call-and-response” style, with one player sampling a phrase in his own voice, and the other providing a sampled response. The back-and-forth of samples at different rates of attack and pitches got increasingly confrontational as the performance went on, even approaching “fake violence” as the players hid behind a screen from which screaming sounds could be heard.
The performance was actually part of a release party for the book Antibodies, a collaboration of the interdisciplinary artist and musician Brandstifter and the word-and-sound artist Dirk huelsTrunk. The art book was based on found text and images from German medical textbooks. The authors performed a live reading from the book, reading lines once in German, once in English and the sung in both languages simultaneously. The performances featured a wide variety of musical and theatrical styles, from popular to more subdued to noisy/avant garde.
At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, I saw a show featuring the Toronto-based band Do Make Say Think. Their music combined rock and pop with jazz and experimental elements, moving seamlessly from a driving rock rhythm to a rhythmless section of extended delay lines and analog-synthesizer drones to an acoustic chorale of trumpets and saxophone. They were able to blend the timbres of the core instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard) with the large horn section and their rather impressive array of electronics – each performer appeared to have a large collection of dedicated pedals. The overall show had a lot of energy and seemed to move forwarded from one song to another without stopping (hence the joke towards the end of the set that they were “now going to play their second song), and resonated with the full but not claustrophobic audience.
Beforehand, a subset of Do Make Say Think performed as Happiness Project, an intriguing set based on recordings made by bassist and lead Charles Spearin of his neighbors. He was intrigued by the prosody of the spoken words, with their wide variety of intonations, rhythms and phrases, and created several musical pieces that followed five of the neighbors’ recordings. We heard an old Jamaican woman’s voice followed by closely by saxophone’ Spearin’s daughter’s complaints interpreted by a violin against a minor-key jam; a very moving speech by a woman who was deaf until the age of 30, and her melodic description of what is was like to hear for the first time; a rather amusing repeated phrase from a six-year old girl as funky brass hits against a latin rhythm; and a duo of a bass and the words of a old Caribbean man. I have certainly seen musical performances before that attempt to capture the pitches and rhythms of speech closely, though this project worked quite well, and was certainly memorable. And it gives me something to think about for future pieces…
Well, we have one more influential musician to remember before the year ends. The great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson passed away on December 23:
Called the “Maharajah of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson is considered to have been one of the greatest piano players in the history of jazz. He played to audiences worldwide in a career lasting more than 60 years.
While Stockhausen (whom we remembered on his death two weeks ago) was an inspiration for his composition, electronic innovations, and ideas about music, Peterson was all about performance and technique, and joy of playing jazz at a high level. As a young jazz pianist, I used Oscar Peterson's piano solos as practice. In particular, I remember playing the minor bluesy Roundalay, which was my successful audition piece for All State Jazz in New York. Certainly, I could never even attempt to match the actual solos at full speed.
You can get a sense of the real thing from this video:
We close with these comments from the CBC:
Renowned for his speed and virtuosity as a pianist, Peterson ? who was born in Montreal and later made Toronto his home ? made hundreds of recordings in his career, even after a stroke in 1993 disabled his left hand…
…”The world has lost the world's greatest jazz player,” Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga and Peterson's friend, told CBC News on Monday afternoon.
UPDATE: You can read his obituary from Mississauga.
Tonight's podcast features some live internet improvisation using NINJAM, a system that allows people to share live audio in real time and thus jam together over the internet. To overcome network latency that has stymied most systems for online collaboration, NINJAM actually adds delay so that everyone's audio conforms to a particular meter and tempo, i.e., everyone's down beats are in sync though they may be a measure or two off from one another. This leads to either simple “groove” jams on one or two chords and a steady beat (think of the 70s jazz classic Chameleon), or freeform improvisation.
The particular sessions used in this remix were from June 15 and 17 featuring several performers live at the Digital Media Factory in Santa Cruz California as part of the MFA Exhibition for the Digital Art and New Media (DANM) program at UC Santa Cruz. Though I am not a student, one of my best friends is, and so I had the opportunity to perform in several of the jams with local musicians as well as others over the internet.
Out of several hours of material, I made a 30-minute “remix” of several of the jams. The feel ranges from free-form to driving funk/jazz rhythms to a relaxed fusion/lounge feel (this happened when most of the musicians turned out to be keyboard players) and more.
All recorded mixes from the NINJAM AutoSong Archive, which are the sources for this track, are released under the Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike Creative Commons License v2.5..
Collaborators on the various jams include synthany, mvollrath, dbkick, tbfx, Funkify, leftyf, Oubien_ke, ekinox, hotdog, and chazz. (Sorry if I missed anyone).
Synthany is Synthia Payne and friends at the DANM exhibition, where I played as well. For my parts, I used E-MU Emulator X2 on my PC laptop, doing keyboard/piano, rhythms (using TwistaLoop), and even some bass when it was needed.
As always, comments are welcome. I'm not sure my brief discription really did justice to the topic or this particular example of online music collaboration, so feel free to ask more about it, or research the topic for yourself. In the meantime, enjoy.