Vinny Golia Large Ensemble

To mark the composer, multi-instrumentalist and band-leader Vinny Golia’s 70th year, over 70 musicians gathered together for the largest of Vinny Golia Large Ensembles. The event took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, California.

Vinny Golia large ensemble
[Photo by Charles Smith]

The ensemble was arranged into sections based on instrument group, e.g., percussion, guitars, winds, brass, electronics. I was in the “piano” group rather than the electronics, since I had opted to read standard notation rather than graphical scores. None the less, I brought a tiny setup to this “yuge” ensemble: a Roland “Boutique” JP-08 and a Moog Mother-32.

Mother 32 and Roland JP-08

The two-hour long performance consisted of 25 or so pieces composed by Golia, a mixture of standard notation, graphics and instructions. He conducted the ensemble quite closely, selecting pieces, encouraging sections to emerge, and singling out folks for solos. Musically, the sound has a film-score-like quality. Given the length and duration, there was the hazard of the ensemble degenerating into a loud morass of free improvisation. Golia’s conducting – which he was quite meticulous about with us during rehearsal – and the various solos punctuating the sound helped prevent that from happening.

Golia himself performed during the set, using his trademark array of reed instruments, including the multiple saxophones and the visually striking contralto clarinet.

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[Photo by Charles Smith]

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Not surprisingly, the woodwinds were featured prominently. But he also made extensive use of the guitars – something I was able to experience up close given my position behind them.

Overall, it was quite an experience to be part of and to hear this ensemble, which brought together so many familiar faces from the Bay Area new-music scene, and some new artists I had never met.

Here is the official list of musicians from the program. It includes some who were not there, and unfortunately misses a couple who were.

Composer, Director:
Vinny Golia

Saxophones:
Aaron Bennet, Beth Schenck, Collette McCaslin, Dan Plonsey, David Slusser, Henry Juntz, Isaac Narell, John Vaughn, Jon Raskin, Joseph Nobel, Josh Allen, Joshua Marshall, Kersti Abrams, Phillip Greenlief, Rent Romus, Steve Adams, Tom Weeks.

Woodwinds:
Frances Rodriguez, Jaroba, Michelle Hardy, Phillip Gelb, Rachel Condry, Tom Bickley

Brass:
Ben Zucker, George Moore, Heikki Koskinen, Ron Heglin

Drums & Percussion:
Aaron Levin, Donald Robinson, Jason Levis, Jordon Glenn, Mark Pino, Tim DeCillis, Vijay Anderson, William Winant

Strings and Basses:
Henry Kaiser, Kelley Kipperman, Matt Small, Neal Trembath, Steve Horowitz, Gabby Fluke-Mogul, Tara Flandreau, Shanna Sordahl

Guitars:
Alex Yeung, Amy Reed, Aaron-Rodni Rodriguez, Bill Wolter, John Finkbeiner, Leland Vendermeulen, Myles Boisen, Peter Whitehead, Robin Walsh, Roger Kim, Ross Hammond

Other Instruments:
Amanda Chaudhary, Andrew Jamieson, Andrew Joron, Bryan Day, Cheryl Leonard, David Samas, Derek Drudge, Gregory Scharpen, Jake Rodriguez, Philip Everett, Scott Looney, Soo-yeon Lyoh, Tania Chen, Thomas Dimuzio.

Outsound New Music Summit: Deconstruction Orchestra and Rakin-Parker/Pearce Duo

We continue our reports from the Outsound New Music Summit with the concert on Friday, August 1. This evening featured two very contrasting sets, both in composition and volume.

The first set featured the duo of Teddy Rakin-Parker and Daniel Pearce. They performed new works by composer Renee Baker that were commissioned for the Outsound Summit.

Rakin-Parker/Pearce Duo

Baker’s compositions “use a wide range of graphics and cued micro-improvisations as a means to denote the various developmental stages of our planet’s evolution.” Musically, the result was a mixture of subtle sounds, often low in volume, with occasional bursts of energy and percussive elements. The latter worked particularly well for this duo, with the cello becoming a percussion instrument alongside the drums.

If the initial set was subtle and focused on details, the second set was the complete opposite. Joshua Allen’s Deconstruction Orchestra was a loud event with no fewer than 22 instrumentalists on stage.

Joshua Allen's Deconstruction Orchestra

The ensemble performed The Structure of Sound and Space, an original deconstructivist-inspired suite of cell structure game compositions. Allen conducted the group through gestures and a series of instructions on sheets of paper. The piece and the ensemble were described in advance as being “cathartic”. That characteristic was hard to discern, but they certainly were loud. It seemed that most of the ensemble was playing at the same time, creating a very thick, intense and sometimes chaotic texture; though there were points where subgroups performed and there were several solos by ensemble members. It was certainly a spectacle that had to be experienced live.

The full ensemble featured Aaron Bennett, Sam Flores, Vinny Golia, John Ingle, Matt Ingalls, Josh Marshall, Dave Slusser, Rent Romus, Cory Wright, Peter Bonos, CJ Borosque, Matt Gaspari, Ron Heglin, Jeff Hobbs, George Moore, Matt Streich, John Finkbeiner, Henry Kaiser, Lisa Mezzacappa, Timothy Orr, and William Winant.

Overall, this was a somewhat shorter program than the other nights, but it packed quite a punch.

Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy

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.

The Edge of Dark: Lords of Outland, Vinny Golia and Mutual Aid Project

About a week ago I attended The Edge of Dark, a special Saturday-night performance in Outsound’s SIMM Series. This performance featured a live recording session of the Lords of Outland with special guest Vinny Golia, and an opening set by the Mutual Aid Project Trio.

On the Edge of Dark was a “series of new works inspired by the writings of Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series of books, Philip K. Dick’s ranting and H.P. Lovecraft’s darkest fears.” It was interesting to mix free jazz with allusions to classic science fiction (and I have actually read all six books in the Dune cycle). In addition to Vinny Golia on saxophones and other wind instruments, the performance featured CJ Borosque on no-input pedals and trumpet, Philip Everett on drums, Ray Schaeffer on electric bass, and Rent Romus on saxophones, voice and electronics.

The music itself moved back and forth between driving modern jazz rhythms and sections of atonal and arhythmic free movement, with very fast runs on the wind instruments supported by analog noise and strong drumming. The ensemble was very tight, and could stop on a single accented note together after various long runs and meanderings. Within the framework of the science-fiction inspired pieces, the music also did seem to have a narrative and dramatic feel to it.

Boroque’s electronics featured whistles and other longer slow-moving high-pitched tones that matched the saxophones quite well, where both the acoustic and electronic elements seemed to blend into a single horn trio. Another notable moment was a “double double-saxophone,” where both Romus and Golia each played two saxophones simultaneously.

As a bonus the third movement “Night Nova Into Dune” references Lovecraft’s Cats of Ulthar. (It is CatSynth, after all.) Indeed, in that particular piece, there was a section towards the end where the more intense ensemble music cut out briefly and a series of emotive horn and vocal squeaks and moans filled in the void.

This was a live recording session, so I would expect to see a version of it out sometime in the not-so-distant future.

The Lords of Outland were preceded by Mutual Aid Project Trio, a trio consisting of Trammel (drums), Tracy Hui (guitar/objects) and Nick Obando (tenor/alto saxophone). The set opened very quietly, with just tongue noises on the saxophone, moving flutter tonguing and whistle tones. Hui joined in with threaded metal bowls on top of his guitar. The overall effect was very computer-music like, even though no computers were involved, with the sound moving between very inharmonic metallic and major arpeggios. Gradually, the music moved to loud tonal notes on the saxophone and free sound picking on the guitar, and eventually the drums as well. There was a moment which reminded me a a lot of a version of Summertime from one an Elvin Jones CD that I have in my regular rotation (enough to mention it here). The music eventually become more active, moving into a more rhythmic jazz fell, even frenetic. Then back into a quiet section with just cymbals and saxophone.

The middle of the set featured a Haitian chant “for all families to come together”, a positive and supportive sentiment, particular for a country that has been through so much tragedy this year.

Outsound Music Summit: Part 2

This is the second part of my report on the Outsound Music Summit, focusing on the first two concerts. For those who missed it, the first part described the Touch the Gear Expo on the Sunday before the formal concerts began.

The first concert, which was titled “Free Improvisation | Free Composition” began the way I often begin my own performances these days: with the ringing of a prayer bowl. This signified the start of Sacred Unit, the duo of Alicia Mangan on saxophones and the percussionist Spirit. Overall, this set consisted of free improvisation that blended avant-gard and more idiomatic jazz techniques with other folk and world traditions. I did find myself paying most attention to Spirit’s drumming and use of other elements for percussion, including his body and voice.


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The Rova Saxophone Quartet performed a new, set-length performance piece created especially for the Summit titled The Contours of the Glass Head. This is one of those pieces where it is difficult to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins. The group describes it as “the intersection of improvisation and composition, using improvisational games and strategies.” The members of the quartet demonstrated their powerful technical and musical skills as an ensemble and as four very strong players working together. At times one could focus on an individual solo or line from one performer, while at others the timbres and harmonies of the four saxophones seemed to act as one. As with some of the electronic performances the following night, there were sections of long drawn-out notes, and some very quiet subtle moments, which were interrupted by flurries of fast notes and punctuated phrases. Even if it was largely improvised, one could follow an imaged narrative to go along with the music.

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but notice the rather large wind instruments on the right side of the stage:


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In this photo, we see a bass saxophone, a tubax, and a contrabass flute. These were all instruments used by Vinny Golia in the final set of the evening. Golia performed solo and group Compositions for Woodwinds together with Thollem Mcdonas (piano), Damon Smith (bass), Rent Romus (saxophone, electronics), Garth Powell (percussion), and Noah Philips (guitar).


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The lively and energetic performances centered on free jazz , with free improvisation and interaction among the performers, but showcasing the unique aspects of each musician and instrument. In addition to Golia’s virtuosic performance wind instruments large and small, I also noticed prepared piano sounds from Mcdonas, and hard driving guitar and percussion from Philips and Powel, respectively, and Smith’s ever present and versatile bass.


The second program, “Industrial Soundscapes”, opened with Ferrara Brain Pan’s Form of Things Unknown. Long droning oscillators served as the foundation, on top of which he layered various shakers, bowls and other sounds, processed electronically. Ferrara Brain Pan is also an accomplished wind player, and incorporated bass clarinet into the set, which complemented the low-frequency oscillators. Sometimes they matched precisely, while other moments were as a counterpoint. Perhaps more than any of the other sets, this one matched my own current style of electronic music performance.


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Guitarist Peter Kolovos was introduced as having “surgical precision”. And it was an apt description. The staccato articulation of the guitar as well as the frequent changes of effects were very precise. There was never a moment where the sound was not changing, and changing quickly. At times it was quite loud and the effects quite heavy, but his dextrous performance was great to watch.

Conure focused on analog and digital noise, with lots of distortion, feedback, delays and lo-fi effects. There were sections of steady-state noise, but what most stood out were the moments with interesting transitions and glitches. I realized that Conure and I had crossed paths at an Outsound event last year.

Hans Fjellestad presented Slimspor Cosmonau, a short video with improvised electronic sound accompaniment. I actually wasn’t sure whether or not the music was scored out precisely to match the film, but I was assured by the artist that was entirely improvised, which is possible if one is intimately familiar with the visual material. The film appears as a computer screen, with controls around a central video area depicting lunar and astronomical images as well as biological and anatomical scenes.


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Late in the piece, I recognized a distinctive squeak that I thought might be a Metasonix effects box, and inspecting his setup after the performance confirmed that he did have one of these infamous boxes. Indeed, Fjellestad’s performance featured an eclectic mix of analog instruments – fitting for creator of the 2004 documentary MOOG.

Thomas Dimuzio concluded the program with his complex electronics and timbrally rich and evolving soundscape. Dimuzio uses a variety of technologies, including live sampling and looping, feedback and modulated effects. The piece started quite simply with a relatively harmonic chord, and the overall effect was very calm but also metallic. Then a swell, and metal resonances. The overall motion of the set was very slow, a strong contrast to Kolovos’ set earlier in the evening. This is not to say that there weren’t discrete textures and details within the music, but it was more like the details one would focus on while examining a natural scene, or perhaps the industrial urban landscapes where I enjoy walking. With it’s gradual place and close, this was an apt conclusion to the “industrial soundscapes” evening.