Reviews of Beanbender's Shows
From 1995

March 1 OPEYE Quintet / Nels Cline Trio
March 8 Andrew Voigt Trio / Senator Buchanan
March 15 ``Big Music, Little Musicians'' and The Manufacturing of Humidifiers
March 22 Gregg Bendian, Willie Winant, & Lukas Ligeti
March 29 Sheldon Brown Trio / Snorkel
April 05 Alex Candelaria Trio / Bill Horvitz & Steve Adams & Joseph Sabella Trio
April 12 Philip Greenlief / Carl Stone + Otomo Yoshihide / Splatter Trio
April 19 Rotodoti / Pluto
April 26 The Code / Chamber League in a Polyphonic World
May 03 Rituel / Trance (Mason Jones, Elden, Annabel Lee)
May 10 Joel Harrison 3+3=7 / Richie West Quartet
May 17 The Enormous Ensemble / Dan Plonsey's Disaster Opera Theatre
May 24 What We Live (Ellis, Ochs, Robinson) / Glenn Spearman Trio
May 31 Rova Sax Quartet / Yoshida
June 3 Fred Frith solo guitar
June 7 Phil Gelb, Miya Masaoka, Scott Walton, Gino Robair / same plus Steve Adams, Dan Plonsey, & Francis Wong
June 14 Anna Homler & Beth Custer
June 21 Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton Trio
June 28 LaDonna Smith with Gino Robair & Doug Carroll / Graham Connah Band
July 5 Bonnie Barnett Band / Bruce Anderson's Brutality
July 12 Matthew Goodheart Quartet (with Eneidi, Michael Silverman, Don Robinson) / Alex Candelaria, Rob Armus, Victor DeBoo, Joe Williamson
July 19 Rova Sax Quartet / ``Another Curiosity Piece''
July 26 Steve Norton & Curt Newton, with Steve Adams, Ben Opie, Dan Plonsey & Gino Robair
August 2 Oluyemi Thomas & Gino Robair / Witches and Devils (Shiurba, Chris Daniels, Tom Scandura)
August 9 The Molecules / Marco Eneidi Quartet (with Ellis, Robinson, Spirit)
August 16: The Manufacturing of Humidifiers / Thread
August 23: Ellery Eskelin, Ben Goldberg, Trevor Dunn, Elliot Kavee, & Graham Connah
August 30: Richie West & David Kwan / Emily Hay, Michael Whitmore, and Brad Dutz
September 6: Bob Ostertag solo and with Members of Mr. Bungle
September 13: Vinny Golia Quintet
September 20: Crawl Unit / Better Hose and Garters / Moe!
September 27: Rova / Splatter Trio / Rova + Splatter
October 4 Gregg Bendian's ``Interzone'' (with Golia, Alex Cline, others) / Doug Carroll's ``Chaotica Impropera'' (with Lynn Tousey, Kattt, Ron Heglin, Fred Salvallon, Tom Nunn, Jim Hearon, Andrew Voigt, Ed Hermann, Jason Gibbs.
October 11 Elizabeth La Mantia's ``Ridin' the Color Train' (with Beth Custer, Kash Killion)
October 18 Ralph Carney's ``Special Parrot'' / Laptop (Dave Slusser and Len Paterson)
October 25: Fracture / Christopher Mahoney
November 1: John Schott & Dan Plonsey Overlapping Large Ensembles
November 8: Jeff Kaiser's Mahacuisinarte/Hermann Buehler and Lisa Moskow
November 15: OPEYE Quintet/Jack Wright and Andreas Stehle
November 22 Pre-Thanksgiving Jam and Party
November 29 Punishment Cookies: Anna Homler, Kira Vollman, and Kaoru / Scot Gresham-Lancaster's Hot Flaming Skull (with Perkis, Bischoff, Chris Brown, Joe Catalano, Dave Ziegler)
December 7: Caffeine Trio: Ken Vandermark, Jim Baker, Steve Hunt
December 13 Glenn Spearman, Raphe Malik, Marco Eneidi, Jon Raskin, Chris Brown, Lisle Ellis, Don Robinson / Jason Gibbs & Carri Barclay
December 20 Graham Connah Large Ensemble (with Steve Adams, Trevor Dunn, Ben Goldberg, Birdsong, Elliot Kavee, Sheldon Brown, Rob Sudduth, Marty Wehner, Carla Kihlstedt) / Next Trio with Dave Slusser
December 27: Caroline Kraabel / Chris Kelsey, Bill Horvitz & Joe Sabella

To browse through reviews of concerts in other years:

March 1, 1995
OPEYE / Nels Cline Trio

This version of OPEYE consists of regular members Henry Kuntz, John Kuntz, and Brian Godcheaux, with Esten and Ben Lindgren. Ben hung two large abstract paintings over the stage, and OPEYE appeared in colorful masks and costumes. They played wild music, in which connections between individuals and between moments were never obvious. Instruments employed included several wood and metal gamelan instruments, balaphone, violin, mandolin, other exotic string instruments, tenor sax, bass, trombone, various unknown wind instruments, etc. The music was extremely colorful and playful, and often virtuosic. Players came into the foreground, then receded, rather than taking solos or accompanying. OPEYE were magical, and utterly perfect as the inaugaral band for Beanbender's.

The Nels Cline Trio played a set which can only be termed mind-blowing. I had not heard Cline in this context before. The arrangements were often multi-sectioned, with dramatic contrasts from section to section: repeated-eighth-note loud drones would suddenly give way to extremely quiet, fast, intricate winding lines. Some pieces were more single-minded, building slowly and inexorably to an extended climax. Cline's ear for extended harmonies takes him well beyond the limits of what we might call jazz, but his melodic style has some clear connections to the jazz guitar tradition. Some playing and some compositions reminded me of the John McLaughlin of ``Extrapolation,'' just prior to Mahvishnu. Cline's use of effects was graceful and extreme. The music was powerful, vast, but also frequently amazingly delicate. Nels Cline will be known as a guitar god in very short order. As it was, there was a sizable crowd present who seemed pretty fanatically devoted to Cline's music.


Opeye came out with masks on and played a sort of world music jazz. To some extent it was the kind of scary mishmash one might expect, but at the same time, a lot of it worked. Kuntz himself is still a strong player. Made Chinese reeds sound like Evan Parker, and his (all too sparse) blowing was mighty nice. I feel kinda odd reviewing a band that played at a space I co-host, so I'll leave it at that.

Nels Cline Trio reminded someone of Blood Ulmer, but it lacked his blues and harmolodic sensibilities, so I didn't hear that. Perhaps a more cerebral (or jazzy) Casper Brotzman Massacre-type trio. Impressive bass player. Loud.

There were 56 paying customers, so I figure it was a successful first night. We didn't sell many pecan rolls or cups of coffee, though.

Finally, the room is a big success. Great acoustics and plenty of space for almost anything- people parked their bicycles in 2 different places, most people didn't even get over to see the bank vault.


March 8, 1995
Andrew Voigt Trio / Senator Buchanan

The Andrew Voigt Trio quickly discovered that it's possible to play very quietly in the Berkeley Store Gallery. While the compositions were played at moderate levels, the improvisations frequently descended into extremely quiet realms. The audience was silent and attentive, and the effect was of a sort of suspension. Gino Robair's function was apparently to inject noise (quiet noise) and humor into the music. He rarely played jazz-drums, though the compositions often swung in the traditional sense of the word. Throughout, Robair and Voigt functioned as melodic partners, while the bass kept time. The music was very enjoyable, with frequent small surprises, and imaginative orchestrational effects (especially from Robair).

Senator Buchanan consisted of Russ Schoenwetter (drums and vocals), Joe Mahoney (guitar) and Charles Owens (bass). They suffered from some acoustical problems - Owens being barely audible much of the time, and perhaps this kept them from finding and maintaining their usual crazy grooves. Schoenwetter came up with some funny and surreal lyrics, though, and the music was often inventive. My favorite song was about remembering back to when we used to be apes, and when the first ape met the second ape, and when they first fought, and what those first apes could remember which maybe we've forgotten. Another song was mostly a plaintive request from an ex-employee to his former employer for a meeting: ``Pencil me in! Pencil me in!''


March 15, 1995
Beanbender's and the Demented kids

The last Beanbender's show was the incredible "Big Music, Little Musicians" with Manufacturing of Humidifiers.

There must have been something like 30 kids there. When I arrived it was a bit of a zoo, with various amateurs and pros hefting video cameras, and the largest crowd we've had yet. But the kids were pretty together, mostly thanks to the efforts of Maestro Randy Porter.

As an an ensemble, the kids played Sun Ra's "Planet Earth" and various other numbers, including Peter Gunn theme, which Randy tried to take off the playlist, but was overruled by the kids.

With the Man of Hum (I know they prefer Man of Hu, but...) they played some wonderful compositions by the kids, with the composer featured on stage with the band. In particular, a second year clarinet student's work hovered in that odd space between children's music and Ornette's finest, given credibility by a seasoned sax effort from Dan Plonsey.

Randy also treated us to the Oakland school system's answer to Cobra, in which he used an overhead projector to put up a transparency divided by type of sound (ranging from "blips and blops" to "glissando" to "snore"). Then he used a stack of cut up transparent instrument names (such as "basses" or "brass") and he'd place an instrument group on a sound- and they'd make it- whether it involved their instrument or not.

The music was very convicing and as brilliant as it was silly. There were many highlights for me, not the least of which was watching Gino try to keep time for a demented orchestra during Peter Gunn. I arrived late for setup and grumpy from work. I left relaxed and happy. What more could I ask?


March 22, 1995
Gregg Bendian, Willie Winant, & Lukas Ligeti

I had feared that this show would be chaos: one drum solo is bad enough - three drum solos simultaneously without a band to eventually come back in might be hell. Instead, it was an incredibly musical event. The concert began with a Bendian solo piece, dedicated to the late Ed Blackwell. Bendian plays with incredible precision, with very little showmanship. The lack of show bothered one friend of mine, but I found the music totally compelling and intensely propulsive.

After the solo piece, Winant and Ligeti joined Bendian onstage, Bendian sitting in the middle. The three played a beautiful improvisation which rose and fell like slow breathing. Bendian operated as a sort of scheduler, organizing the rapid ideas thrown out by the other two into some sort of cohesive whole, often by focussing on only one or two elements of his set. As the evening progressed, I became aware of how both Bendian and Winant have incredibly subtle and sophisticated orchestrational understandings of their sets: they could work with very minimal sounds to make music which ebbed and flowed dramatically. Both also had the patience to move the music along with symphonic imagination: knowing when to add a cymbal to the texture, or when to change the tempo. Ligeti added an energy which was a little quicker and younger, helping keep the music from settling into anything predictable. The music had a lucidity of both sound and thought.

The second set began with Winant and Bendian making small, delicate sounds with their cymbals. Ligeti entered, a little clumsily perhaps, and a complex musical struggle ensued. While Ligeti had played with taste and understatement in the first set, he seemed to want to lead the music in a very different direction than the others wanted to go in the second set, frequently choosing to contrast rather than complement. He trampled over the quiet cymbals with heavy bass drum and hi-hat kicks. After a bit of give and take (Bendian wouldn't budge, but Winant - playing brilliantly - found some avenues between the other two), the trio settled down into a musical representation of two friends going for a walk in the woods with a rotweiler puppy. The musical tension between Ligeti's polyrhythmic rock-drumming and Bendian's unswerving compositional purpose was at times amusing, and at times unnerving. The piece took on an arch form, with Winant rejoining Bendian to bring it to a soft, beautiful, shimmering conclusion, with Winant coaxing an other-worldly ringing from his cymbals. Just after the last cymbal note had been struck, as Bendian was rising to put his sticks away, Ligeti launched into a solo, which was okay or appalling or ridiculous or embarrassing, depending upon who you want to believe. It soon became apparent that neither of the others had any intention of coming back in, though at one point Ligeti slowed down to single bass drum kicks and beckoned with his head. Winant looked amused, Bendian either resigned or annoyed. It was somewhat painful to watch, but there had been so much great music before, with the prior musical conflicts appearing in such clarity as to make exciting symphonic drama, that ultimately Ligeti's solo was like a tacked-on Professional Wrestling ending which has no credence. In real life Bendian would have pulled Ligeti's drum carpet off the stage while Ligeti played on, oblivious to the end.


March 29, 1995
Snorkel and Sheldon Brown Trio

We're told this is the Sheldon Brown Trio's first gig, and it's quite a fine one. Brown plays mostly freebop-ish melodic clarinet and more hard-edged tenor. He's backed by Rick Myers, a guitarist somewhat in the Bill Frisell vein but more linear, and a sensitive and responsive drummer. I thought the ballads occasionally crossed the line into "diffuse" and went on a little long, but much of the set was well-executed post-Ornette free jazz, and the more upbeat pieces were spirited and exciting.

Snorkel is Ben Goldberg cln, John Schott gtr, Trevor Dunn b and Scott Amendola dr. They milk a similar territory as the opening band, but Goldberg and Schott are of course much stronger frontmen. The sound was a bit off, the clarinet being buried occasionally by the guitar and Amendola's Motian-esque cymbal work, but this is another typically entrancing Snorkel set.

Dinner at Beanbender's: south Indian potato crepe with assorted garnishes.

Bill, your music and food reviewer

April 05, 1995
Alex Candelaria Trio / Bill Horvitz & Steve Adams & Joseph Sabella Trio

I was impressed by Alex's use of dynamics, especially at the low end of the spectrum. Alex uses his whole body when he plays, kinda lurching the notes out of the guitar, as though the amplifier couldn't quite get get the sound out without that extra effort.


April 12, 1995
Philip Greenlief / Carl Stone + Otomo Yoshihide / Splatter Trio

Philip Greenlief and Trevor Dunn played some beautiful duets as the opening band. Greenlief arrived a couple minutes late, having been the first to come upon the scene of an automobile accident on his way to the club. Greenlief and Dunn proceeded to set a somber and contemplative tone which Stone/Yoshihide/Splatter un-studiously disrupted.

My attention was focussed primarily upon Yoshihide, who is the showiest player of turntables (and guitars) I've ever seen! Working with a pair of rented turntables, Yoshihide did ground the needle into records, and tipped the turntables so that the needles bounced across the records, in addition to more classical turntable techniques. He also bent records across his face until they snapped, and played his guitar with records (both whole and fragmented). He took a great guitar-jack solo too.

Carl Stone's role was to provide a musical counterpart to Yoshihide's noise, and he did this very well, with the minimum of show - Entwistle to Yoshihide's Townshend. Stone worked with computer-controlled electronic sounds; writing almost two months later I've forgotten much about his setup. One highlight came when he did a segment with a woman who sang along to Chinese(?) pop music karaoke discs. During the soundcheck, Stone raised and lowered the pitch every few seconds, and she followed along perfectly, but I heard him promise that he wouldn't do this during the performance. Her performance was made almost eery by the fact that we hardly ever heard the accompaniment (she had headphones): she appeared to be singing along to an imaginary band; perhaps picking them out of the amazing noise being made by Yoshihide.

The addition of The Splatter Trio for a third set turned the music into a three-ring polyphonic circus. It was wonderful. I won't even try to describe the multi-layered noise out of which bits of tunes kept poking!


April 19, 1995
Rotodoti / Pluto

I was reminded how much I like Rotodoti. They are pretty wild! This time Tom had a new instrument that is suspended on balloons that rest in flower pots. My friend Arthur speculated that it was to isolate the metal base of the instrument from stage vibration. It did allow him to strike the sheet metal base of the instrument to great effect. The other great effect was, of course, the drama resulting from watching someone strike and move a metal object suspended on such an unstable base- would the balloons break? Would the flower pots tip over?

As for Pluto, they were fun, but I miss their horns. Myles was exceptional, I thought, particularly his bluesy, long solo during the second to last piece.


Rotodoti played a great set! The music moved from the abstract to the nearly referential, until the last two songs almost seemed like songs! At one point, a crazy march emerged, and there were some vocals by Ron which had just the right amount of meaninglessness to be meaningful. These guys are so elastic in their understanding of music; they can do anything!


April 26, 1995
The Code / Chamber League in a Polyphonic World

The Code is bassist Steve Horowitz's brainchild. They have just produced their second CD for Ponk Records. The music seems to have become secondary to the lyrics and antics of singer/performance artist Sten (I forget last name). I didn't like this year's edition of The Code as much as last year's, but of course I'm entirely biased (having made a brief appearance on the first CD). Still, fans of Zappa, David Byrne, and atonal funk fusion will find much to enjoy I am certain.

Polyphony Night was my brainchild. Unfortunately, I couldn't gather enough musicians to do it right... but the results (judging from a tape made by Chamber League leader Clyde Yasuhara) were pretty interesting anyway.

The set consisted of the Chamber League (about 15 musicians) playing 20th Century music by some of the less well-known composers (e.g., Revueltes, Cowell, Antheil) along with lesser-known works by better-known composers (e.g., Ligeti and Hindemith). While they played, other musicians off-stage (including Philip Greenlief, Richard Saunders, an unidentified Italian trombonist, Tom Yoder, and myself) improvised individually and collectively. Crawling With Tarts contributed a hand-made 78 which was played on a not-entirely-functional record player which howled a lot.


May 3, 1995
Rituel / Trance

I'm writing this over a year later. This was the show that almost got Beanbender's shut down. During Rituel's set, RAMON came in to tell us that it was very loud upstairs and that we were disrupting a seminar in "power marketing." Ramon came back several times with various threats, including billing us several hundred dollars, and pulling the plug. Rituel was in fact quite loud, and I will admit that the presence of Ramon made it difficult to enjoy their set. Finally, someone accidentally knocked over a lamp just behind where Ramon was standing, and somehow this defused the situation: Ramon offered to help sweep up the glass, and the set ended soon thereafter. We worked out a compromise with our upstairs neighbors/landlords, and haven't had problems since.

Trance was nice - loud, non-showy, but quite enjoyable ambient music. Mason Jones played a very droney guitar, Annabel Lee played droney but occasionally melodic violin, and I forget what Elden did. A good set for dreaming.


May 10, 1995
Joel Harrison 3+3=7 / Richie West Ensemble

From Cadence Magazine, July 1995, p. 75

Beanbender's presented drummer Rich West leading a quartet (Graham Connah, p; Elliot Kavee, ``baby'' bass; Alex Candelaria, g) for a set of sort of modern chamber music. The prevailing mood was solemn, but it left a very faint impression. Guitarist Joel Harrison had more success leading 3+3=7, with two other guitarists (John Schott, Nels Cline), drummers Gino Robair and Elliot Kavee plus percussionist Glen Cronkhite, for a set of joyous noise. The set started with a lovely collective improvisation that reminded me of spacier moments in jams by the Grateful Dead, but without any song around it. The contrasts in guitar sounds, which included Harrison and Cline going at their instruments with a variety of objects, combined with the total percussion attack to bring life to Harrison's skeletal compositions for the rest of the set...

Stuart Kremsky

There was much anticipation of this concert. 3+3 means 3 guitars and 3 drummers, where the 3 guitars = Joel, John Schott and Nels Cline. As always, eveyone played great, I liked the compositions, but perhaps the all-star cast would have done better given 3 or 6 or 7 concerts in which to stretch out! The opening improv which Kremsky mentions (above) was made necessary by the landlord, who had rented out the room above for a class (on ``power advertizing,'' I believe). We had to promise that the music would not be loud until 10 PM, and so rather than wait for 15 minutes (they went on at 9:45), Joel et al promised to play softly to begin with. The results were indeed quite beautiful.

The Richie West Quartet was quite amazing. West's compositions are what they call deceptively simple. Whether by design or due to lack of rehearsal, the performances had a sort of rough quality - the band one by one hooking up to the melody. One broken-octave theme appeared first in the hands of cellist Elliot Kavee, and later re-appeared in the piano (Graham Connah). The quartet moved in all directions at once, in little lurches and bounces. West's drumming incorporates all the elements of jazz drumming, but deconstructed and re-ordered in some non-functional way (e.g., swing rhythm on the ride cymbal is used as a piece of a solo statement, but not ever to accompany a soloist). The whole thing was entirely straight-faced: nothing obviously humorous. I had to keep asking myself why I liked it so much, and I kept wondering when the music would begin. Very crazy, and very enjoyable.


May 17, 1995
The Enormous Ensemble / Disaster Opera Theatre

From Cadence Magazine, July 1995, p. 75

The following week, Beanbender's presented The Enormous Ensemble, an a cappella trio (Mantra Ben-Ya'akova, Susan Volkan, Eula Wyatt) singing perfectly gorgeous Eastern European melodies (real or made up? who can say), plus Dan Plonsey's Disaster Opera Theatre, ``avant-garde'' Punch and Judy with music. I loved the singing...

Stuart Kremsky

Oh gosh, another concert of mine at the performance space I book, and I have to review it too! The bittersweet inequities of musical life threaten to overwhelm me. And yet, I take refuge in reading the likes of ``The Sorrows of Young Werther,'' for there I learn that the rabble, though rabble they be, are still fit for one such as I, such a noble soul indeed, so artistically-tempered and elegant. Fit, I say, to write their own damn reviews if they would only do so, and risk hurting my gentle feelings of course, so best they remain quiet, damn their hides!

The Enormous Ensemble consists of founding member Susan Volkan, Mantra Ben-Ya'akova, and Eula Janeen Wyatt. Surely it isn't just that I am married to one of these fabulous ladies that I find their music so entrancing! Stuart Kremsky (see above) asked Seth Katz whether their music is all real Balkan music. Seth found this amusing. ``Of course not!'' It is a measure of their profound artistic success that in fact all the music is entirely genuine, as were Mantra's translations (at least loosely so, she assures me). They sing of men who throw apples at young sleeping girls, girls who reprimand their brothers for making advances upon them, and young men who surprise their village by successfully bringing back a goose. Or something like that. They have beautiful voices, they wear outrageous costumes (not exactly traditional, but highly appropriate), and Mantra says funny things in an accent that gradually seems to transform over the course of a minute from Bulgarian to Swedish.

Disaster Opera Theatre did two operas: a long puppet opera, and then a shorter opera which had no particular title, and which has since been caniballized for other performances. The three creatures in the puppet opera are a pig, a preying mantis and an octopus, played by the members of The Enormous Ensemble. They fight incessantly, pausing only to recite poems and to recount their meetings with Satan. It's kind of funny, I think, but I did write it. Also, there was musical accompaniment (entirely notated, mostly in a sort of free tonality) performed by Virginia Morgan, Becky Bryant, Tom Yoder and Dan Plonsey on viola, violin, trombone and bass clarinet respectively. An early version of the libretto is actually available as an html file.

The second opera allowed for musical improvisation by Mic Gendreau, John Schott and Dan Plonsey, while the members of The Enormous Ensemble pulled little speeches from out of a toaster and read/sang them. It was great! Or maybe not. I couldn't tell at all. You guys really have to start coming to these things, and when you do come, you have to stay to the bitter end!


May 24, 1995
What We Live / Glenn Spearman Trio

Too bad I didn't take notes; I'm writing this over 13 months later. I remember that neither group played more than 40 minutes, and that the Glenn Spearman trio was actually a duo, but that's about it. I remember thinking at the time that the music was nice, but fairly unmemorable, and it's good to know that I was right inasmuch as I remember nothing whatsoever about it. Other than that they didn't play long. And that Glenn played some piano in addition to tenor. Now you can buy a CD of What We Live (Lisle Ellis, Larry Ochs, Don Robinson) on DIW.


May 31, 1995
Rova Sax Quartet / Yoshida

Great attendance. Rova played so well that Phil Gelb (who was in the audience) stood up at the end and said `You bay area guys have it made!' The highlight was probably the last piece, for Schostakovich, by Steve Adams. Also enjoyable were passages from the Frith commission. Then Tasuya Yoshida played a set from left field. I just described it to Myra like this: Imagine a prog fan with some fascinating brain damage and strong skills with drums, synth, guitar the same time. And a slide show of Asian stone idols.

Now I have to say that I mean that in the nicest way. We were all bowled over by this guy's originality. Interestingly, while it's easy to spot similar influences in his work with the Ruins, his set didn't sound much like the frenetic paced music the Ruins play.


June 3, 1995
Fred Frith solo guitar

The Bay Area was treated to an incredible solo concert by Fred Frith on Saturday at Beanbenders. The turnout was good and the audience was receptive. Fred played only one guitar (the Gibson with an additional pickup over the nut), no homemades and no violin. He attacked the instrument with all eight fingers as well as his usual assortment of sticks, strings, metal, food, and even several t-shirts. One thing that really struck me last night is that while I've heard many guitarists (myself included) attack the instrument with all kinds of stuff from chainsaws to featherdusters, none has done it as musically as Frith. Each little trick he pulls from his hat is explored for it's musical value and not just used to make a weird sound.


First solo show by guitar madman-Henry Cow-Art Bear-Naked City- Fred Frith in the Bay Area in 10 years occurred tonight at Beanbender's, a fabulous new venue located in a former bank in downtown Berkeley. Packed house in total rapture as Frith played 2 tremendous sets using his customary variety of creative devices for "treated" guitar playing (tins, beans, chains, twine, ribbons, etc.), each one rising far above mere gimmickry, complemented by a fairly standard series of effects pedals and electronics.

Extremely compelling concept of licking finger and wiping it across the top of hollow-body guitar, eliciting very distinct notes. Use of a violin bow directly above pickups made the instrument literally have a conversation with itself, high notes "talking" to low notes. Frith elevates guitar playing into a truly theatrical, physical act, getting his whole body into it...his gestures, facial expressions, wiping motions... all contribute equally along with actual contact with the instrument. Some incredibly noisy, almost Merzbow-esque blasts, some near-trance E-bow- driven drone, and use of what appeared to be tiny, hand-held microcassette players over the pickups (playing all manner of music and voice!).

A mind-bogglingly great show. I think every local music player I know was in the audience. Too bad there weren't more kids there...I bet they would have made mommy and daddy buy them a guitar the very next day.

-Peter Conheim

the Fred Frith concert was totally amazing at Beanbenders last week, one of the highlights of the 2 week stay i had out in that area (along with Rova, Chris Brown solo, the Pan Asian jazz festival, Glenn Spearman Orchestra, Lisle Ellis Trio and getting to play with all the great players i was fortunate to play with).

About no other guitarists being as musical with their extended techniques like frith....well there is no doubt that fred is a master (and a real nice guy i found out) but in the ba area there is a brilliant guitarist in that style, MYles BOisen - an incredibly versatile and outstanding musician. Getting to play with him was a great joy last week.

Phil Gelb

June 7, 1995
Phil Gelb, Miya Masaoka, Scott Walton, Gino Robair / and plus Steve Adams, Dan Plonsey, & Francis Wong

I thought the show at Beanbender's was wonderful!! The first set (Gelb/Robair/Masaoaka/Walton) was especially great: due to the lower volume level, all the nuances of each player's contribution were audible and the depth of the overall sound was astonishing. Although there were moments of the second set (as above + Plonsey/Adams/Wong) that were great, some really fine duets, etc, I couldn't always hear the koto and the shakahachi. Regardless, it was great to hear something quite different than what I'm used to here in the Bay Area.


June 14, 1995
Anna Homler & Beth Custer

This was a beautiful show. I had not heard Anna Homler's music before (excepting the day before at the Hotel Utah), and I was very impressed by her ability to create evocative music with great simplicity and personality. Anna was formerly a visual and performance artist. She began singing some time in the 80s (I think) while her head was encased in bread (if you have to ask why a person would want to have their head in bread, then quite possibly you are not the ideal audience we had envisioned for Beanbender's events!). Anna brought a tableful of toys, gadgets, kitchen timers, frozen peas, pans, thimbles and other odd sound-making devices. Beth Custer arrived with a clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, zither, red baseball horn, electronic processing unit, miscelleneous percussion stuff and I forget what else. They produced an evening-full of often theatrical music in which each piece was different in sound, texture and gesture. There were unifying sounds, though: both women favor a middle-Eastern sort of modality, in which the music has a tonal center but with subtle microtonal inflections. Anna sang in an invented language which reminded some listeners of Japanese, others of some Scandanavian or Eastern European tongue. Some songs had tape accompaniment, some Beth accompanied - though it was often the case that each was accompanying the other. Anna also gave Beth space for solos, which were pieces in their own right.

Anna told a couple stories, but for the most part the story-telling was left to the sounds, which often evoked specific images in my head, the nature of which generally had to do with the wistfulness and the magic of everyday life, and the finding of a dreamy solitude within. The many kitchen implements, Anna pouring peas into a pan very very slowly while Beth played an understated solo, Anna giving thimbles to members of the audience to waggle on their fingers in some sort of secret greeting... I came to feel that I was in the presence of a particularly feminine mysticism, in which time is totally elastic, and the music languid and occasionally playful. Though there certainly are men who know how to play with elegance and restraint it's not common in this community. (In fact, it's incredibly rare. I don't think I know any of them, but probably they exist, right?) Also, there were particular colors which went along with the music: mostly blues and purples and greens. In fact, the final song had "Blue Flame Blue" in the refrain, and a background (on tape, prepared by Homler) which evoked the orchestration used in those Twilight Zone episodes about love potions.

After the show, there was much talk, and the possibility of a women's creative music festival in the fall was discussed. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact Beth Custer.


June 21, 1995
Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton Trio

Capsule summary: They were great, incredible, fantastic!

Long form: They played two sets, each a litle under an hour, and a 10 (?) minute encore. Each set featured unaccompanied solos by Parker and Guy, Lytton got a solo in the second set. Parker's solos were on soprano. There is so much detail in their music, and it all goes by so fast, that it's hard for me to report on details... Perhaps when I hear the tape. All three played amazing, intricate solos, which matched or exceeded what I have heard of them on record. Parker's tenor playing was very strong, inspiring the loudest and densest playing from Lytton. I heard more of a Coltrane influence (in the sound, not the shape) than I had ever noticed before.

The second set was a little surpising, in that there were actual compositional moves made. The last(?) piece was given a form in advance: they ended it with five brief codas, separated by short silences. Guy told me that they had tried a similar form (based on Haiku) recording for Bob Rusch, and that having any form at all was a new thing for them. The first piece on the second half also had some formal suggestions (but I forget exactly what these were).

The crowd was very good - about 175 paid, maybe 220 total. This is about the most we can have comfortably. People were very enthusiastic. Maya said that she thought that the trio was in "top form," and Guy said felt good about the performance, and that they were happy to have had two sets - in many of their festival appearances they only get one set.

I'm glad we have the concert on tape; I only wish we could have also taped some of the conversation after! Guy talked a bbit with my wife about how his performance is influenced by working with dancers, and how he endeavors to make the bass "very small." Parker and Lytton were also both very genial, a lot of fun to talk to, and very inspiring.

For those interested in equipment: Evan Parker plays a King Super 20 tenor (having switched from Selmer a few years ago), usually with La Voz medium reeds, a hard-rubber Berg Larson mouthpiece (130/1, which is very open; good for playing loud, good for a richer sound, but requiring more energy to play). However, a key fell off(!), and Larry Ochs ran out to get his old Selmer. Paul Lytton was playing Gino Robair's drums (and Gino's toys too, I believe?), and Guy had a borrowed amp.


I enjoyed both sets very much, but had a different take on it than Dan. As I remember, they opened the first piece of the second set with short statements, all together, separated by silences. Sort of like the "one-breath phrases-separated-by-one-breath-pauses" exercise. This quickly worked itself into the best piece of the night, IMO. It was fiery and driving yet their interaction was so sensitive there was never any heaviness to drag it into the "macho" sort of arena. "A lot of soft landings tonight," as Chris Brown said at one point. The first set was more like a warmup, I felt, except for Barry Guy's playing, which was ON all night from the first minute. A very extroverted player, and a master of the volume pedal. Lytton sounded like Lytton to me, even though he was using Gino's kit for a "sounding board." He had the words "FORSICHT--GLAS" on his metal toy-case to ward off the airport baggage-handlers. I must say that I felt Lytton's use of the "toys" (that's really a deprecating term) was absolutely fluid and never sounded separate from his kit-playing.

Evan Parker himself was quite "conservative," IMO, in his tenor-playing, perhaps because it wasn't his instrument he was using, or maybe the old Selmer was too moldy-figgy to be brought into the "Post-Ayler conjunction!" His remark in the recently-posted interview that he's interested in getting several melodic lines going at once was borne out in his soprano solos--lighting-fast, light, shimmering. Evanescant, if you'll pardon the pun.

Thanks to Dan, Seth, Maya, Gino, and everybody I don't know of who was helpful in bringing these giants to the Bay Area!

tom dill

I think the first set was probably a little irregular since Parker was pretty much confined to his soprano once his tenor broke. I found it fascinating to watch Guy & Lytton decide how to enter once Parker had begun circular breathing leaving little if any unfilled space for the other players.

Listening to recordings of Barry Guy could not have prepared me to expect such a level of musicianship. His skill and especially his imagination and expressiveness were nearly superhuman. I did not talk to a single person after the concert who didn't say something along the lines of "that bass player was unbelievable..."


Other Capsule Reviews

Wow! -Derk Richardson, music critic

A doozy!!! -Michele Flannery, KPFA Music Director

June 28, 1995
LaDonna Smith with Gino Robair & Doug Carroll / Graham Connah Band

Another wonderful concert at Beanbender's last night. LaDonna was magnificent, much more lyrical than I expected. What comes off as a bit grating on recordings seems more playful in a live context. Her trio with Gino Robair and Doug Carroll was a lot of fun too, especially liked Gino's piano "playing"- which looked kind of like those scenes in "Silkwood" where they're standing there working with radioactive material and their hands are hidden from view inside the container. Guess you had to be there shiurba

July 19, 1995
Rova Sax Quartet / ``Another Curiosity Piece''

``Another Curiosity Piece'' is the name of a new CD by Dan Plonsey, John Hinds, Peter Hinds, and Mantra Ben-Ya'akova (on 2 tracks). John and Peter decided not to play at this CD release party, so the band consisted of Dan and Mantra with Gino Robair (drums) and Tom Yoder (trombone).

Rova played three compositions, by Tim Berne, Fred Ho, and Jon Raskin. All three were major works (read: long, multi-sectioned, complex, interesting, well-worth hearing). The Berne sounded almost like what someone in Rova would have written: changing saxophones, solos over one voice accompaniment, splitting the quartet into pairs playing different melodies together. The beginning featured Raskin slap-tonguing a very fast bass line (improvised partly or entirely?) while Adams slowly built up a solo. Each member of the group got a solo as the textures and colors changed. Fred Ho's piece was my favorite piece upon first listening. Unlike the Berne and the Raskin, Ho had a few basic ideas which permeated the piece in various forms, giving the whole a feeling of unity (as opposed to being a collection of intersting but not obviously related sections as in Berne's work). He used some simple patternwork throughout, e.g., four notes repeating: ABAC,ABAC... Evocative of machinery. At several points, a pattern would quickly accelerate. Occasional references to pop-funk music appeared, but in disguise - odd dissonant harmonies very high up, for instance. Very urban. Raskin's piece wandered quite a bit, but the latter half was beautiful, featuring fast liquid unisons by Raskin and Adams, with counterpoint by Ochs and Ackley. The piece ended with a beautiful chorale in which each played changed notes on a different beat in sequence. Great performance of these difficult and imaginative works!


Wow. I'm speechless. Rova and The Curiosity Piece were both GREAT!

Rova reminded me a bit of John Zorn. They can both be really loud and intense, and then in the same piece shift to being more subtle. I don't know who said this, I think it's a quote from someone, but when an instrument seems to "speak", you can't get any better than that. This was the case with both groups.

I didn't have any $ tonight, so I hope I can still buy some CDs.

Here's a funny little thing: a friend of mine, who listens to metal and punk, once told me I'm too young to like jazz. Huh?

Dr. Mobius

July 26, 1995
Steve Norton & Curt Newton, with Steve Adams, Ben Opie, Dan Plonsey & Gino Robair

Wednesday night at Beanbender's started with three sax/drum duets by Steve Norton and Curt Newton. The stripped-down Debris tunes work very well as springboards for Steve's inventive and aggressive solos, and Curt "plays the tune" as well as any drummer I've heard (for another superb example of this, check out the cassette of his duets with Ken Vandermark). A witty rendition of a Monk tune with Steve on baritone ended that part of the set, and the Yellow Curry Sax Quartet took the stage (Dan Plonsey, Ben Opie, Steve Norton, Steve Adams; ummm, the PONA saxophone quartet? I tried all night and couldn't come up with a funny acronym.) There was an exhilarating opening composition by Plonsey, an ear-splitting overtone duet with Plonsey and Opie, and that's just the beginning of an extended gripping set. The quartet with Curt and Gino rounded out the evening with a set of free improvisations. There were many magic transitions, and who can forget right after the first busy section ends with everyone dropping out leaving Gino doing a little jungle beat, Ben Opie blows digeridoo noises with one end of the rubber hose under his foot, craning his neck to stretch the hose, and Steve worrying Opie's foot with his growling baritone.


August 02, 1995
Oluyemi Thomas & Gino Robair / Witches and Devils (Shiurba, Chris Daniels, Tom Scandura)

I didn't get around to reviewing this when it happened, but basically Oluyemi played up quite a storm! Gino was mostly very supportive - perhaps a little too supportive; he could have taken the lead more often, but how can I complain about this most wonderful drummer? Anyway, within a couple weeks you should be able to buy a CD of this set, on Rastascan records. This is the first live at Beanbender's CD to emerge, so we hope you will buy many copies.

Witches and Devils played a very powerful and interesting set: using extremes of volume and density, but quite varied and quite composed. Their music (on this occasion) owed as much or more to post-war composers (e.g., Varese, Stockhausen, Cage), as to Albert Ayler.


August 9, 1995
The Molecules / Marco Eneidi Quartet (with Ellis, Robinson, Spirit)

The Molecules are a great thrashy loud trash/rock/jazz/noise band. Their songs are short and composed of atonal and/or clustery rhythmic cells. The young Japanese bass player is fantastic, and last I heard forbidden to re-enter this country.


August 16, 1995
The Manufacturing of Humidifiers / Thread

Thread is a trio which consists of Charles Sharp on baritone sax, clarinet, and something like Henry Threadgill's hubcapaphone, along with a bass player and drummer whose names I'll try to remember to insert later. Young beatniks, says Mantra, I don't know why; but their attention is turned to stretching jazz outwards while remaining true to its working traditions... And the miscellaneous percussion (they also had a "borrowed" marimba) added a very nice flavor to their music. I was reminded of Air at times (not just the hubcapophone).

I play in The Manufacturing of Humidifiers. From the stage, all looked well. My friend Carol was present with her 4-year-old son, and they were in one of Seth's comfy canvas chairs, either asleep or nearly so, dreaming their way through our set. I liked that. I sang a bit, and talked about drummers. Randy Porter played his new saz, and I played alto clarinet. Then he started playing clarinet. It's not always easy playing clarinet duets with Randy, because I end up trying to emulate his particular willfully clumsy sound. It's like meeting a bear in the woods and donning a bear suit as your defense. Ward played a fair amount of vibraphone in addition to drum set. His vibes have a very different improvisational angle than his set - much more like classical new music. So we lurched about, indulging ourselves for over an hour(?), moving among the things that we do. I got in an a cappella tenor solo which was kinda constructivist, and with which I was pleased.


August 23, 1995
Ellery Eskelin, Ben Goldberg, Trevor Dunn, Elliot Kavee, & Graham Connah

The press showed up for this one: The Express, The Oakland Tribune, and Stu Kremsky from Cadence. It was a good show in many respects. Both Ellery and Ben are from the school of horn players who attempt to make each solo with a unique voice: one is post-Coltrane, the next is squeaky and maniacal, the next is very very soft, etc. Anthony Braxton, of course, is most noted for this approach. The other method is to develop a single style which is very deep and very recognizable, and to play very long solos. Coltrane, Ornette, Ayler, and many of the post-60s free players are in this camp. (What are the implications of this choice? Obvious practical differences: if your style isn't sufficiently interesting, the Coltrane method may not be for you: you'll come across as monochromatic, unimaginative and pig-headed. On the other hand, the multi-language approach can be constricting in a different way - and come across as overly cerebral.)

Structurally speaking, the concert was more in the tradition than I'd expected, given Goldberg and Eskelin's wonderful deconstructive approaches to jazz on CD (Goldberg et al Junk Genius and Eskelin's Jazz Trash). Most of the pieces followed the head-solos-head framework. This allowed us to consider the musicians in the context of the jazz lineage - and they came off well, if not spectacularly. The tunes themselves (all by Ben) were in the spirit of Monk and Herbie Nichols: zeroing in on tiny repeated riffs for a bit, then introducing an element of high contrast. They were good platforms for the multi-colored solos.

The rhythm section of Dunn and Kavee served the music well, for the most part. I was very impressed with Dunn's playing on this occasion. Kavee was interesting as always, often using figures which rapidly sped up or slowed down. Occasionally I wished that he bring his volume and/or density down a notch or too, especially behind everyone but Eskelin. Had Kavee dropped out now and then (particularly behind Dunn and Goldberg), the music would have breathed a bit more.


August 30, 1995
Richie West & David Kwan / Emily Hay, Michael Whitmore, and Brad Dutz

Richie West (drums) and David Kwan (samples and processing of West's drums) played one long improvisation. According to my notes, the music was "Dub-Adrian Sherwood-echoes + filters + delay. Microphonie (1 or 2? the one witht the tam tam) Stockhausen, Alvin Curran + Elvin Jones on a quiet night, plus samples of music and voices. Sharp rim shots echo, log drum, slide whistle, voices from variable speed turntable; frozen-keyed toy xylophone, bent bells, sliding finger extensions, Xenakis (Bohor I on a quiet night), magnified surface noise granules." The set ended with West performing a grimly determined pressing of each of his drums, then pressing the air just above the drums, and finally tapping his fingers on his knee while Kwan faded a blues-ish record out. All in all, quite magical and full of tiny audio drama. I do love short delay echo (of the approximate length found on all dub recordings), and there was plenty of that. West and Kwan worked well together; West responding in a most composerly way to the sonic situations created by Kwan.

The Hay/Whitmore/Dutz trio was in a playful mood throughout their set, chatting with each other and the audience, threatening to "play some jazz." Their music too was on the understated side. Dutz provided simple and clear rhythms which provided an open canvas for the other two. Whitmore ran a few intricate bits of guitar by, and set up some great ostinatos with the help of an 8-second delay unit. He's a master of using the tone controls on his acoustic guitar for effect, and he's also great with knobs. Hay sang and played... uh... I've not got a good adjective here... Really, it was a group music, for which afterwords Hay asked, "That wasn't too normal, was it?" And it almost was, except that it's a very twisted normal. Not virtuosic, not simple in a new age sort of way, not something one wants to damn with a word so lame as "pleasant," yet it was a music which was pleasing. Good late-night music. My ears felt good and I was happy.


September 6, 1995
Bob Ostertag solo and with Members of Mr. Bungle

Ostertag began the concert with a relatively short (perhaps 30 minute) solo set, in which he utilized material from ``queer riots'' in San Francisco. He manipulated samples with two midi-batons, giving the performance more drama than the typical electronics set (which remind me of nothing so much as a day in the office, which is perhaps why so little of this music has appeared at Beanbender's to date). Standing facing the audience, arms raised, expression relatively blank but with wide eyes, I felt as though we were the orchestra. Given the nature of the material - the ebb and flow of a riot - the piece had quite an emotional impact in this presentation. At first many of the sounds were distant and filtered, and it was difficult to be certain that they were even human in origin. Gradually the texture heated up to something close to an inferno, and still a sense of other-worldliness prevailed. Ostertag's interactive manipulations were subtle. He occasionally looped a segment, raised and lowered the pitch, or drew a sound out in length. The music was interesting enough, its progression organic and dramtic, that I didn't find myself wondering much about how it was constructed.

After a break, Ostertag played a beautiful solo improvisation, utilizing samples of the great experimental vocalist Phil Minton. He moved leisurely through a collection of different textures, many of which were barely recognizable as vocal; some sounding like dripping water through a long pipe, others being more percussive.

Finally, Tre Spruance (guitar and weird old synth), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Danny Heifitz (drums) of Mr. Bungle joined Ostertag for a set. Beanbender's has been plagued by a landlord who occasionally books events upstairs, necessitating lower volume levels until 10 PM. Starting around 9:30, the quartet worked in lower levels for a while, and (consequently?) produced some very sensitive interactive music. Heifitz showed an ability to make a lot of music with a very few sparse gestures, working with the individual drums and cymbals with great subtlety, while still (sometimes) maintaining a beat. Each member of the quartet left plenty of space for the other three; no one needed to show off. When the set ended, many of the audience vociferously asked for an encore, but Ostertag was tired. A very successful evening!


September 13, 1995
Vinny Golia Quintet

I'm always surprised by how much I enjoy Golia's music, and yet how little I can say about it. Perhaps its the constantly shifting textures, the elusive heads, the expressions on the face of (drummer) Billy Mintz... On this occasion, Golia played clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and sopranino sax and english horn. He was joined by Mike Vlatkovitch (trombone), the amazing Nels Cline (guitar), Bill Douglass (bass and wooden flutes), and Mintz, drums. Everyone added two or three great solos apiece, and the ensemble playing was well-balanced and just off enough. After a long first set, Scott Amendola and Philip Greenlief (old friends of Golia's) played a brief duet set and then joined the quintet for another hour of music. Having another horn on the melodies added more flesh to the music, and Amendola's drums made sensitive polyrhythmic additions to the skeleton.


September 20, 1995
Crawl Unit / Better Hose and Garters / Moe!

Crawl Unit turns out to be a gangly guy named Joe who makes music in what looks like a physics lab gone awry. His music was accompanied by green videos of Kansas wheat, alfalfa, and rope. I liked it, especially the musical brick.

I've seen Better Hose and Garters perhaps a half-dozen times, and they've always combined the amusing, the annoying, the cute, and the excrutiating like no other ``band'' I know. This was perhaps one of their less-successful outings: a bank robbery that I would have liked better had it happened sooner and had it been much more concise. Alas, there were apparently some delays in waiting for the tapes of shooting to start. Various staff and audience members were tied up and made to dance. Some people seemed a little annoyed, most rather bemused. By the time the police came it was nearly too late.

Moe was totally great! He set up junk metal all over the stage, painted himself with glow-in-the-dark paint, and performed four or five pieces of junk-percussion. He played both ends of a vaccuum cleaner tube, banging them on televisions, cymbals, junk, the floor, the audience. He ran around the room banging out simple rhythms with two telephones. He banged out a guitar solo reminiscent of Fred Frith in table-top mode (albeit a little more single-minded). He pounded away on a large steel drum while a cowering assistant flung chinaware onto the drum to be bashed to pieces (the china, not the assistant). Alcohol was poured onto the drum, and Moe lit and then battered it to pieces. The smashing of three televisions with a sledge-hammer was an almost-anti-climactic end - but something was needed to give the set a definite closing, and the audience loved it. Moe has very good percussion chops, never wavering as he moved rapidly among his ``instruments.'' The rhythms were catchy without being exactly intricate; it was a set more in the tribal genre. And afterwords - Cat-in-the-Hat-like - he and his friends zoomed around cleaning everything up! A pleasant evening's entertainment, once again.


September 27, 1995
Rova/Splatter Trio/Rova + Splatter

One short set each, then a set together. They can really, really play. What can I say?

For the record, Rova played a very pretty Steve Adams piece called ``The Farillons'' (sp?), and then a longer more episodic Larry Ochs composition called ``Planetary,'' which was dedicated to Sun Ra (and whose influence (the Discipline series of compositions?) I detected in the chunky counterpoint of the opening episode). Ochs' piece gave each member of the group an unaccompanied solo, in which all acquitted themselves quite well, making four highly contrasting statements.

Splatter's set was more free-form, though they played at least two tunes, one of which was very cartoonish and very much appreciated by this reviewer. (Splatter, for thos who don't know, equals Dave Barrett, saxes; Myles Boisen, double-necked guitar-bass; Gino robair, percussion).

The collaborative set consisted of four versions of a Rova-designed hand-signal piece and one free improvisation. Both groups have employed hand signals extensively in the past, and apparently it just keeps developing in complexity. In addition to allowing ``instant composition'' by all participants, it reveals to the audience something of the dynamics of free improvisation's conflict of wills and competitiveness (as a separate but entirely entwined strand in the business of music-making). Steve Adams and Gino Robair were particularly aggressive in their cuing, Adams seemingly overriding other cues on occasion, and Robair choosing the most difficult, disruptive and funny cues. Some of the symbols were decipherable, e.g., raised closed fist = ``my solo''; incomplete forward pass = ``I'm interrupting the texture with a solo, but when I stop playing it will resume where it left off''; a hand followed by a finger = ``my solo which others may join, one at a time''; and there with signals for ``imitate me very closely,'' ``play with more intensity,'' ``just Rova plays,'' etc. But I still don't know what tapping-the-bottom of the shoe means, let alone making a tight grin and touching the right corner of the mouth (Adams looked particularly diabolical making the latter cue). Needless to say, this kind of music can be very amusing, and as it provides shape (however arbitrary and multi-headed it may be), it's a nice alrternative to everyone blowing their heads off. However, as it happens, the one entirely free improvisation by the septet was very musical, leading me to wonder whether the signals are necessary when the musicians are sensitive and musicianship is of such high caliber. The weakness to signal-pieces is that they tend to be highly episodic (many short unrelated episodes strung together), there's much control on the medium scale (i.e., 10-30 seconds) but large and micro controls are still not possible.


October 25, 1995
Fracture / Christopher Mahoney

The Fracture set at Beanbender's (10/25/95) was a memorable recent event. The band is 99 Hooker sax, Ron Kukan gtr, Carl Stanley b and Jim Nelson dr. We like to think of them as Bay area's answer to Last Exit, but they have more of a sense of humor and a more eclectic outlook. The band started with an aggressive slab-of-noise attack with the full quartet, then broke into a series of duets ranging from tasteful guitar stylings to saxophone aggravations. 99 Hooker milks a whole range of extended sax tricks, and often plays with a saxophone in his bell these days (I actually the warmer sound when he's miked conventionally). Half way through the set, he was joined by Philadelphian tenor veteran Elliot Levine, who was in town to play in Cecil Taylor's Large Ensemble. On his last visit, Levine proved himself to be a powerful presence with great ideas, intelligence and very quick ears, and the duets with Hooker had all the poise and excitement that I've come to expect. Then Levine played with the full band in an energetic improvisation to conclude the set.


November 1, 1995
John Schott & Dan Plonsey Overlapping Large Ensembles

Oh well, another show of mine I must review... But who better to do so? Who more critical, and with access to the tapes?

What John and I are trying to do is to write music for improvising musicians who also happen to be excellent readers and performers of "new music" (a.k.a. contemporary classical, or avant-garde). This particular concert presented four pieces which were much more written than improvised. The concert started with my piece Bootless Ragpicker, a long melody (about 15 minutes), which was played in octaves by Steve Adams (bari sax), Laura Carmichael (clarinet), and myself (alto sax). I played the melody as written. Steve was to play more-or-less what was there, but occasionally repeat a phrase a few times while I went on. Laura was to choose future phrases and repeat them until I caught up. My concept was of "blurring the line," or coloring it, here and there. Ideally, other performers would make longer loops both before and after the appearance of the material. The point here was to present melody in linear time (the straight melody) as well as circular time (loops), and also in intermediate stages (Steve and Laura). The thickened melody is accompanied by a bass and guitar. The guitar plays loops; some of the bass part is linear, some loops. The melody is mostly tonal, and has the characteristic of often falling into a harmonic alternation between two chords a whole step apart. At times the alternation is regular, at other times highly irregular in length. (The alternation is another circular element of the piece). Meanwhile, a string trio plays a shorter (5 minute) melody twice, the first time with 3 flats, the second time with two sharps (that is, the melody is not transposed: the first time it's in D locrian mode, the second time in D ionian (major) mode). This generally corresponds to the two primary key centers of the melody, though more often than not the two melodies are in different keys. The string melody is harmonized in a sort of Balkan style: drone notes and tonal dissonances abound. This tightly harmonized melody contrasts with the sax melody, which has only the thickness of it's own echoes and pre-echoes (which I have elsewhere termed Delayed Counterpoint). In rehearsal the strings sounded great by themselves and with just the alto and bass. In concert, with everything else happening (there's also a singer and a freely improvising trombone!), the musical connection was more tenuous, and I think both melodies suffered as players concentrated on being heard and didn't play with the same effortless playfulness that had characterized the rehearsal (the one rehearsal, I might add, at which it was impossible to have everyone present!). On top of everything else, a singer (Mantra Ben-Ya'akova) sang/recited from the Bootless Ragpicker text. This story is actually a transformation (containing loop-variations, i.e., paragraphs, phrases and words may appear several times, slightly altered in each occurrance) of an earlier story, Insufferable Fur, which recounts Rick Ames' relocation from the ``simple'' country life to the ``complex'' city, and the dissatisfaction and disillusion that comes about (kind of like that book by Balzac, what's-it-called?). Underestimating how long the piece would last (there are also two short (1-2 minutes) segments of collective improvisation), Mantra finished the text early, and added some vocal improvisation (which members of the audience told me they liked best) built around the recurring theme of: "Do you want to die?"

All in all, I was probably as confounded with the overload of this piece as was (seemingly) the majority of the audience. Perhaps a studio version -- or a much more extensively rehearsed version! -- would allow us to answer the question which I must ask myself about this piece: ``So... what the fuck is this thing?''

Next, two pieces by John Schott were performed, Diglossia and Davening. The first, which we had rehearsed, came off very well. Schott used a 12-tone row as the basis for the melodic material, and in a sense the piece has the form of an hommage to some of his favorite serial composers: a section evoking (and quoting) Schoenberg was immediately preceded by one remeniscent of Webern. The juxtaposition of styles worked very well. Improvised and written solos often bridged transitions. The title refers to the two languages of written music and improvisation, and the composition works out several scenarios in which the two languages complement each other and also come into conflict. In this sense, the composition is much more sophisticated than the stereotypical creative music goal of simply blurring the lines between composition and improvisation. Yes, it is all music, but the two approaches can take one off to very different worlds. Highlights are a section where four different groups simultaneously play four very different sorts of music (some written, some improvised, some both), rising to an Ivesian climax of near-chaos, and a beautiful (mostly written?) violin solo by Carla Kihlstedt, which is essentially interrupted by the body of the piece.

Davening we had played before, a couple months back at the Stork Club, with Scott Amendola. On this occasion, Willie Winant sat in in Scott's place. The Stork version was longer, more unfettered, and of higher energy, but the piece still went well. The composition techniques include the use of boxed material which is to be repeated with variation, brief improvised fragments within written passages, and somewhere around the golden mean point, the entire piece is interpolated into itself in a collapsed form, Schott and Ben Goldberg racing through it at breakneck speed while everyone else plays fragments from here and there in the piece. Melodically, the piece is based on Jewish prayer (Davening), which happens to coincide with the opening phrase of Coltrane's Ascension, and there is a strong spiritual and energetic presence to Schott's music, and a seriousness, which is all too rare in much new music.

The concert concluded with a short simple piece of mine (untitled, but using the text of Insufferable Fur and hence referred to by that name). The piece consists of four two-bar phrases. Each phrase is played four times, and the piece repeats several times. It's a Satie-esque sort of chorale at first, but gradually players introduce regular undulations in pitch, which get progressively wider until the original harmony is unrecognizable and the piece is one giant regularly undulating mass. Over this music, Mantra read the aforementioned story.


November 8, 1995
Jeff Kaiser's Mahacuisinarte/Hermann Buehler and Lisa Moskow

Moscow and Buehler played sarod (an Indian string instrument) and clarinet respectively, running through a fair number of short pieces by Moscow. A promising scenario, but the result was a little disappointing, for any number of reasons. Buehler's clarinet technique is okay, but he suffered by comparison to Ben Goldberg, who we'd heard just a few days earlier, and also by comparison with himself on sax. The modal compositions seemed to hamstring him (though he was uncomplaining, and seemed to be enjoying himself). The compositions themselves were pleasant but not particularly challenging to Western ears (or Eastern, I suspect), and the readings didn't allow either performer the space to stretch out.

From LA, Jeff Kaiser is one of those nuts who starts a concert wearing a coat with doll parts attached, a shriner's cap, distributing doll parts and other little prizes to the audience before launching into a Christian hymn sung through a megaphone, accompanying himself on pump organ. This is the kind of performance I tend to go for. Following a hymn or two, he picked up the trumpet and launched into a long free jazz sort of composition, with occasional unison trumpet/sax lines and punctuations, which mostly functioned to keep the orchestration varying over its course. Joining Kaiser were fellow-LA-ers Richard Wood (alto sax, clarinet and toys), Jim Connoly (bass) and Rich West (drums). Wood is an interesting player whose style I can't pin down past saying that perhaps he's listened to Marshall Allen, Danny Davis and other Arkestra players on occasion. He's got Allen's sense of theatricality and the sense of accepting and encouraging the squeaks and flutters of the instrument rather than mastering them. The set closed with more songs by Kaiser. All in all, by balancing humor and creative playing the group presented a very fun and musical set!


November 15, 1995
OPEYE Quintet/Jack Wright and Andreas Stehle

Working again as a quintet, OPEYE brought their multi-cultural madness back to Beanbender's for the first time since our very first concert. This time around they worked with set lists which specified different combinations of individuals and instruments. While this method did allow for a few wonderful moments (most memorable being Henry Kuntz sawing away on a tiny "violin" while Brian Godchaux played the real thing), the group's varied instrumentation perhaps obviates the need for orchestration, inasmuch as the instruments are so distinctive that one can easily assemble any sort of duet, trio, quartet in one's head. When they are all playing, the five-ness of the group almost expands to infinity, but one can just barely keep track of it all, and it's very pleasurable work. I was reminded of some of the best work of Mauricio Kagel, in OPEYE's use of exotic sounds, being a quintet, and the transcendency of normal "musical" logic.

Jack Wright is a unique musician and person. When he pulls into town, he sets up as many musical meetings -- concerts, jam sessions, discussions, whatever -- as possible. He loves to play, and equally he loves to think about music, and to share thoughts and feelings about music, art and politics. I get the feeling that for Jack, more than any musician I know, music is a social art in which dialogue is the central paradigm. What this means with respect to this review is that the concert is seen as but the tip of the iceberg. The concert is a representation of what Jack is currently exploring, and serves to open dialog with the local community. This should always be the case, and I suppose that in some sense it is, so now you probably want to know about the music.

Wright and Stehle played a couple sax duets before Stehle switched to didgeridoo. Both saxophonists work near Evan Parker territory, utilizing a wide technical range to produce music which is much more textural than melodic/harmonic. Their music was exciting and dramatic, but a little impersonal perhaps -- sometimes I felt that both players were approaching the performance too structurally, with too many ideas and not enough willingness to just let some things happen (most particularly space). When Stehle switched to didgeridoo, it was hard to hear the music as other than sax solo with drone accompaniment (perhaps because I have little interest left in the music of the didgeridoo in the context of this music), and here Wright was able to stretch out of structure and some amazing music happened, especially as Wright slowed down a bit.

Next, trumpeter/Mutootator artist Tom Djll joined the pair for a couple pieces. The Mutootator is some crazy hybrid homemade electronic instrument which processes whatever it hears and also creates low fi sounds of its own. All sorts of new musical possibilities opened up and most of what actually happened was very enjoyable, as the mutootator (and Djll himself) introduced an element of randomness and fuzz. Perhaps this portion of the set was emotionally a bit more diffused than the peak moments of the duets.

After the two sets, most of the audience left and then the two groups played a third set incorporating all of the performers. For the most part it was an eight-person free-for-all, but the way in which people were not listening to one another (or at least not responding imitatively) made for a beautifully rich texture of plucking, pounding, scraping and honking that went on for maybe 25 minutes without being boring, macho or ridiculous. Perhaps it was the cup of mint tea talking, but I sat in the front row and felt very soothed by the cacophony.


December 7, 1995
Caffeine Trio, featuring KenVandermark, Steve Hunt, Jim Baker

The Caffeine (Ken Vandermark/Jim Baker/Steve Hunt) show at Beanbender's was, if I do say so myself, a great success. The crowd was modest (just over 60), but enthusiastic, and the music was top knotch.


The music was indeed wonderful. Thanks for the presentation. Bring 'em back. Loved those Arp Odysey/Tenor Sax duets. Vandermark is indeed a great player- 'Trane tone down low on tenor, John Carter's graininess on clarinet. Check him out. I was too embarrassed to ask Ken if he was thinking about "Oleo", 'cause I thought that I heard a very twisted interpretation of it throughout one of his pieces. Could have been recent exposure and a lack of sleep which contributed to this perception, or else the Rollins/Cherry/Grimes/? version on "On the Outside" really does contain it all...

Eric L.

i'll second the thumbs up for caffeine at beanbender's. they covered a lot of territory very convincingly. i heard a little more of coltrane in vandermark's playing than i've noticed on the cds, but mostly his playing was really original. lisle ellis sounded great with the group.


I liked the second set very much (and the first wasn't so bad either!). The trio alternated between extremely loud pieces (Ken on tenor) and relatively quiet (Ken on clarinet or bass clarinet). The second set began with perhaps the loudest piece, in which Jim played the Arp, mirroring Ken's multi-voiced tenor blasts. I too was reminded of Coltrane at times, but more of Sanders and Brotzman: Ken was mostly working in a realm in which harsh multiphonics mixed with powerful shrills and rapid knotted low-register lines. Perhaps the most beautiful piece was the last one in which Lisle Ellis' arco bass sounded so comfortable next to Ken's bass clarinet -- neither giving a millimeter in differences in intonation, producing some wonderful untempered chords.


December 20, 1995
Graham Connah Large Ensemble (with Steve Adams, Trevor Dunn, Ben Goldberg, Birdsong, Elliot Kavee, Sheldon Brown, Rob Sudduth, Marty Wehner, Carla Kihlstedt) / Next Trio with Dave Slusser

A much-belated review... I wanted to put in writing somewhere that Graham Connah writes great tunes and makes creative, intricate arrangements. He's also the king of between-song patter. Everyone in his band can really play; on this occasion I especially noticed Rob Sudduth who has a great tone and a subtle approach.

The Next Trio were pretty good too!


December 27, 1995
Caroline Kraabel /
Chris Kelsey, Bill Horvitz, & Joe Sabella

Caroline Kraabel, co-founder of the late lamented legendary Honkies, was in town to give two interesting solo performances. Not all the theatrics worked (but a surprising amount did, and very well); what I enjoyed most was her playing on alto and baritone sax. She could really project on the baritone, and managed a slew of delicious scraping metallic split tones and multiphonics. And there was the piece where she slap-tongued and popped until my mouth started cramping just thinking about it...

All this was mixed in with some terse and pithy relationship humor, stage blood, and a large piece of newspaper. She claimed to be very sick with the flu; I wonder what she's like healthy.


Here are two pictures of Caroline about to break through a screen of newspaper at the beginning of the night:

  1. before... (jpeg, 37K)
  2. during... (jpeg, 31K)

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