Reconnaissance Fly in January, with Luke Westbrook, Grex and Greenlief/Dykstra/Perkis

Today we look back at two Reconnaissance Fly performances in early January. The first was a return to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, and the second was at Revolution Cafe in West Oakland. By coincidence, we shared the bill on both nights with guitarist Luke Westbrook who was visiting from New York.

This was Reconnaissance Fly’s third gig at Luna’s – we like playing there and not just because it shares my cat’s name. But the stage was once again a bit cozy for a band of our size, even more so now that we have a fifth member, Chris Broderick on reeds (saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet). This was our first public performance with the new quintet lineup. So it was a bit of puzzle trying to get the bass, drums, keyboard and bass flute on the stage, and still find room for the people who play them. But somehow we managed.

[Photo by Tom Djll]

Our set went well – at least, I was pretty happy with it. Our opening graphical score improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong went off without a hitch. As Neat As Wax is becoming our most consistently well-played song, as it is not too difficult and it is quite lyrical and rhythmic. Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse Iz Crede Nza are our most difficult, but also the most energetic and got a great response from the small but enthusiastic audience when we hit the final notes.

After striking the stage, it was time to relax with beer and guacamole and other treats and enjoy the next sets. Luke Westbrook took the stage for a solo guitar performance.

He has a very intense stage presence and a virtuosic technique, but the music itself has a certain ease to it. It began with gentle arpeggios that had a consistency even as they were constantly changing. These evolved into more defined repeated phrases over time that were occasionally punctuated by the occasional chromatic tone or blues-like bend. Later on, the music become more distorted with noisier and more percussive elements. There was a passage of single repeated tones that provided an increasingly anxious vibe before settling down again.

Westbrook was followed by Philip Greenlief and Jorrit Dykstra on saxophones with Tim Perkis on electronics. On the things I look for in electro-acoustic combos is how well the electronic and acoustic parts blend. In the case of this trio, they blended quite seamlessly from the start with long tones of subtly different intonation. The music soon became more animated, with syncopated saxophone rhythms set against low gurgly electronic sounds.

There were many humorous moments with matching squeaks and bleats, and richly textured moments with multiphonics against electronic pads. Perhaps the most amazing moment of the entire set was a long virtuoso noise solo by Dykstra. It is hard to describe in text, but it was one of the most impressive saxophone performances I have heard in a while. The later sections of the performance featured more percussive saxophone sounds, key clicks and striking of the metal hardware set against contrasting electronics with vocal and wah-wah effects.

Revolution Cafe is located deep in West Oakland, not far from the rebuilt I-880 freeway, which makes for an interesting exterior environment. The interior is something altogether different, with every surface adorned with vintage and eclectic artifacts. There were street and highway signs, political posters (from old Oakland Mayoral elections to the most recent Jean Quan recall announcements), vintage keyboard instruments, strange dolls and even a shrine of sorts of Frank Zappa. I spent quite a bit of time just photographing the space before even considering the music.

[Click images to enlarge]

The show was actually the latest incarnation of Karl Evanglista’s Light A Fire series. I had performed in this series last year with solo electronics. This even opened with another solo guitar set by Luke Westbrook.

Westbook’s performance was actually quite different from the one he did two night’s earlier. While his technique was on display both nights, this one was more virtuosic and more diverse in terms of material and sound. This performance was mesmerizing. I had a sense of warmer colors as he played, though that may have been a kinesthetic combination of the cafe’s ambience and Westbrook’s harmonies.

Next up was Grex, the duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, voice and flute. Their music covered quite a bit of range, some more song-like with voice, keyboard and guitar, some closer to free-jazz with fast-moving improvised lines. One memorable moment featured featured a mellow guitar solo – Evangelista is quite a versatile guitarist – that morphed into in a driving loop pattern with distortion that produced its own harmony.

[Click image to enlarge]

I believe at least some of the material was from Grex’s recently release CD. You can follow the link above to find out more info.

Finally, it was our turn to take the stage. I had toyed with the idea of using the Cafe’s B3 for An Empty Rectangle, but in the end decided it would have been a lot of effort, especially with a stage that seemed to be even smaller than Luna’s Cafe We had a lot of fun and played with a lot of energy that matched the intensity of Revolution Cafe’s decor. It didn’t feel as tight or accurate as we would want for a Reconnaissance Fly set, but it did have the humor that has become part of our band’s character.

Additionally, the visuals of the space and the presence of the old keyboard instruments did inspire me to consider a future solo performance or installation there. I don’t have much more to say about that yet given everything else that is going on this season, but something to consider for later…

ReCardiacsFly and Tim Smith Benefit at Cafe Du Nord

With the launch of our ReCardiacsFly YouTube channel, it seems like a good time to look back at our ReCardiacsFly performance at Cafe Du Nord, part of a benefit concert for Tim Smith, leader and founder of the UK band Cardiacs that took place in May.

In this video, you can see Polly channeling Tim Smith, along with Chris Broderick and Marc Laspina getting into their respective rolls:

[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

The keyboard and marimba parts didn’t come out so strongly in the videos, but you can hear a bit of my attempt to get the original sounds in “Hello Mister Sparrow.”:

[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

We did receive a great audience reception, undoubtedly some from Cardiacs fans who were familiar with the songs and performance style but perhaps from people hearing for the first time as well and taken in by the intensity of the performance.

We did get a little worried early in the evening as attendance was sparse. But by the time we got on stage and looked out, there was a full and enthusiastic house – when you see and feel something like that, it always makes it easier to get through a set, even something as complex and intense as Cardiacs covers.

Over all, it was a great experience, and we hope to perform again sometime soon!

ReCardiacsFly consisted of members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) together with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane. Although we were the unofficially dubbed “tribute band” for the evening for our accurate musical renditions and costumes and makeup, all the bands performed Cardiacs covers, each in their own way.

Amy X Neuburg opened the evening with arrangements infused with her trademark “avant cabaret” style. In a humorous gesture, she invited the audience to “sing along” to Tim Smith’s often difficult-to-follow lyrics.

Before Weiner Kids came on stage, there was an arrangement that I described on twitter as a “cool riff with four on the floor bass drum and household metal items. Very danceable by #Cardiacs standards.” Even in the midst of a prog-and-punk-rock night, I am still drawn to my particular musical roots.

Weiner Kids (with Jordan Glenn, Cory Wright, Aram Shelton) performed an arrangement for percussion and saxophones that made the often odd rhythms and meters of Cardiacs music very transparent. This is both the fun part and the biggest challenge of playing this music.

Grex, a duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, performed purely instrumental arrangements. The interpretations were much freer, and in particular gave Karl the opportunity to apply his virtuosic guitar style to the music.

Inner Ear Brigade (featuring frequent collaborator Bill Wolter with Chris Lauf, Stevo Wright, Ivor Holloway, Melody Ferris, and David Shaff) also performed their own meticulous arrangements with their own personal stamp – their music tends is often itself an intense and energetic blend of jazz, experimental and art-rock influences. It was sometimes hard to tell where the Cardiacs’ influence ended and Inner Ear Brigade’s own style began, which I think made this performance all the more successful.

[Inner Ear Brigade.]

The concert concluded with Dominque Leone and his ensemble for the evening performing an “epic” arrangement of a Cardiacs song, building up towards a final climax that seemed almost religious in nature, with a full chorus of voices and loud frenetic keyboard and guitar (from Leone and Ava Mendoza) – this is one song that you can tell is the final song of the evening even before it ends!

So what is next? We are certainly hoping to do more performances as ReCardiacsFly, and welcome suggestions for Bay Area venues and programs that would be appropriate. And we would like to send “Healing wishes from everyone to Tim Smith and love and respect to all past, present, and future members and fans of Cardiacs.”