SIMM Series: Hay/Honda/Kuehne trio and Forward Energy

Today we look at a recent show in Outsound Presents’ SIMM Series that featured two different but energetic ensemble performances. Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy was back for a CD release performance. And they were preceded by a trio of Emily Hay on flute+vocals, Motoko Honda on piano, and New-York-based Valerie Keuhne on cello.


[Emily Hay and Valerie Kuenhe]

Before the show, I went up to the piano to take a closer look at the array of gear arranged on top, including a Korg Kaoss Pad and 4ms Noise Swash. These were used by Motoko Honda during the set, though she mostly used it to control audio from the other performers.

The set opened with cabaret-style piano (no electronic effects yet), joined by flute trills and melodies. Keuhne’s cello complemented Hay’s flute, but then grew more intense and frantic, eventually reaching high-energy “bow-wrecking” levels. Hay switched from flute to vocals that nonetheless retained a flute-like quality. The rhythm of the voice and piano were set strongly against the cello.

Keuhne started the second piece, again with fast bowing, harmonics and percussive effects. Her performance was forceful and featured rich tones. The piano and flute came in more subtly, with processing by the Kaoss Pad. It was easier to hear the electronics with the flutter technique on the flute and percussive vocal effects, with a variety delays, pitch bends and harmonizations. While controlling the effects, Honda continued her vigorous piano performance, using the inside of the instrument in addition to the keys.

Hay opened the next piece with flute mouthpiece and electronic effects. Here I think the 4ms pedal was being used, particularly on the buzzing effect of the low drone from the cello. The overall texture became quite noisy, but the vocals and scraping effects from the cello came through. The final section featured the full ensemble, and particularly forceful piano performance by Honda that included shaking the instrument. The ending was a little quieter from all, but nonetheless still vigorous.

After a short break between sets, Forward Energy took the stage in a performance celebrating the release of their new CD The Awakening. The group featured Jim Ryan on voice and saxophone, Rent Romus on saxophones, CJ Borosque on trumpet, Scott Looney on piano, Eric Marshall on bass, and Timothy Orr on drums.

The set started off immediately with a burst of energy. After this opening fanfare, the music relaxed into a fast jazz rhythm with repeating atonal patterns. The horns (Ryan, Borosque, Romus) took turns with solos separated by ensemble improvisation sections. There were passages where the three horns played together as a single instrument; and Rent Romus’ solo had a more soulful and deep quality compared to the overall frantic and anxious quality of the piece. Scott Looney’s piano solo switched back and forth between rhythmic chords and fast runs that I couldn’t possibly play myself. The bass solo by Marshall was accompanied by scraping metallic percussion and prepared piano, including drumsticks and metal percussion on the strings.

The rhythm section opened the next piece, with resonances in the piano and slow percussion tones. This eerie mixture was set against slow trumpet. Then all at once the ensemble started playing loud and fast. Then a sudden silence followed by prepared piano. It kept going back and forth this way, soft versus angry. I found myself particularly noticing the various gongs that Looney was using inside the piano to both visual and aural effect

The final piece was where the reeds pulled out their virtuosic techniques. Rent Romus played double saxophone (similar to a few nights earlier at the Music of Invention concert), and Jim Ryan launched into his poetry (one friend on Twitter referred to this as “Jim going bore poet”) with lines ranging from “Naked on the plane of full being” to “Did you ever see an elf die?” I can with all honesty that I have never actually seen an elf die. It was delightfully weird, and I think some of the lines took the other musicians by surprise. The prepared piano accompaniment was noisier and scratchier than in the previous piece, which gave the overall background a more staccato and pointed texture.

Overall, the performance did live up to the name of ensemble, and it was clear that everyone, especially Jim Ryan, had a great time with it.

Matthew Sperry Festival: Tag Team Trio Shift

Last Thursday I attended and performed in the Tag Team Trio Shift at the Luggage Store Gallery. This event was part of the Eighth Annual Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, a festival held every year in honor of local composer and bassist Matthew Sperry since his tragic death in 2003.

The event featured a large cast of characters from the Bay Area new music scene, improvising three at a time, with John Shiurba acting as referee.


[John Shiurba as referee, with Gino Robair entering a trio.]

Each of us was given a name card. At any given moment, three musicians would be performing. Anyone could hand in their card at any time and replace one of the three current musicians. Thus, there was an ever changing set of trios. For the most part, musicians entered and exited individually, but in the second half of the program we could submit three cards at once as a planned trio. The music ranged from trios of synthesizers and electronic noise, to purely vocal trios, to free-jazz improvisation (saxophones and bass), and all combinations in between.


[Tom Nunn on skatch box and Tom Duff with Bleep Labs Thingamagoop.]


[Vocal trio of Agnes Szelag, Aurora Josephson, and Myles Boisen.]

There were many strategies one could use for deciding when to hand in his or her card and replace someone. For me, I timed my card to coincide with others with whom I wanted to play, or moments where I thought my sounds would work well with the texture.

One could also be competitive and “cut” someone else’s improvisation (as one might do in a traditional jazz-improvisation setting). I can’t say that anyone did that, but there were certainly some playful back-and-forths with people replacing each other.

I brought the trusty Kaos Pad as well as my iPhone, with the BeBot app and a looping/playing app that I used for the Pmocatat ensemble. The latter (which featured variable-speed sounds of Luna and my Indian instruments) got some attention from the other musicians. Scott Looney, who was sitting next to me, and an interesting new instrument that used Reactable icons on a surface with a keyboard, to create a sort of “electronic prepared piano”:


[Scott Looney’s new control surface (photo by catsynth).]

There were some fun moments. One of Philip Greenlief’s improvisations involved his attempting to balance his saxophone in the palm of his hand, constantly moving and shifting in order to keep it from falling. He was clearly hoping for someone to replace him quickly, but we actually let him keep going for quite a while.


[Philip Greenlief’s balancing act.]

The sounds from busy Market Street outside contributed to the music at various times – indeed, the street should have gotten its own card.

Among the attendees were Matthew Sperry’s wife and daughter, who appropriately closed out the second set with the sound of shaking keys fading out.

The full roster of participating musicians included: Myles Boisen, Amar Chaudhary, Matt Davignon, Tom Duff, Tom Djll, Phil Gelb, Lance Grabmiller, Philip Greenlief, Ron Heglin, Jacob Felix Heule, Ma++ Ingalls, Travis Johns, Aurora Josephson, Scott Looney, Bob Marsh, Lisa Mezzacappa, David Michalak, Polly Moller, Kjell Nordeson, Tom Nunn, Dan Plonsey, Garth Powell, Jon Raskin, Gino Robair, Tom Scandura, Damon Smith, Moe! Staiano, Agnes Szelag.

[Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs in this article are from Michael Zelner. You can see a full set of photos from the performance at his flickr page.]

Last Saturday at 1510 8th Street

A quick review of a pair of performance at 1510 8th Street in the Oakland last Saturday. Yes, I’m a bit slow on posting these. Hence, the “quick” part. Plus, I didn’t bring a camera…

…which is unfortunate, because the first performance was quite visual. It featured improvised music and movement by saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and dancer Karen Fox. Greenlief’s performances are often full of motion, but the combination with Fox was something quite different, indeed her improvised movement was quite fun and provocative.

The second set was the “Kristian Aspelin Quartet” featuring (not surprisingly), Kristian Aspelin on Guitar, Damon Smith on bass and electronics, Scott Looney on piano and electronics, and Weasel Walter on drums. Although both Looney and Smith had laptop-based electronics, I probably would not characterize this performance as “electronic music.” But that’s not a criticism, I do like to hear more acoustic sets. The main word I would use to describe this set is loud, indeed one of the louder I have heard at 1510. Of course, these are were plenty of quieter moments, where I was able to hear Looney’s prepared-piano work (I would love to do more prepared piano myself). There were moments when all four members seemed to match the sound of the piano, or one of the other instruments, all bells, or all harmonics. And then there were more the loud moments.