Reviews of Beanbender's Shows
From 1996

January 3 Rotodoti
January 10: Gamalataki / ABB-EBB
January 17: Oluyemi Thomas & Lisle Ellis / Snowflake and the Fireballs
January 24 KLiP / Drew Gardener Group
January 31 Myles Boisen's Guitarspeak / Mark Gordon
February 7 ADD Trio / Sludge 2000
February 10 Vinny Golia Large Ensemble
February 14 Disaster Opera Theatre / Pluto
February 21 Joel Harrison Large Ensemble / Ned Rothenberg solo
February 28 Stephano Scodanibbio, Rohan de Saram, Lisle Ellis, Bob Ostertag / Hannes Giger & Erik Fischer / Bass Ensemble
March 6 Buckethead / Kato Hideki
March 13 Gamelan Si Aptos / Tom Heasley
March 20 Chris Brown, computers and friends / Scott Rosenberg Ensemble
March 27 Lisle Ellis "Wake Up Crazy" / Eugene Chadbourne
April 3 Rituel CD release party with Splatter Trio, Bruce Ackley & Mantra Ben-Ya'akova
April 10 Andrew Voigt, Gino Robair, Harold Carr / Francis Wong & Elliot Kavee
April 17 JOB / The Manufacturing of Humidifiers
April 24 Dave Scott & Tony Malaby Quartet / Vinny Golia Quartet
April 27 AMM
May 1 Blowhole / Miss Murgatroid / Kingdom Scum
May 8 Splatter Trio / J.A. Deane /Eric Muhs
May 15 Bertram Turetsky / Steve Horowitz and the Code / Flex Plan Delta
May 22 Lukas Ligeti / Graham Connah Group
May 29 Myles Boisen, Mark Schifferli, John Finkbeiner / Bill Hsu, Geoff Lipman, Dave Slusser
June 5 Nels Cline Trio / Bonnie Barnett Band / Rent Romus
June 12 OPEYE Quintet / Zen Disaster (Muir, Kaiser, DeGruttola, Ligeti)
June 19 Rova Sax Quartet / ABB-EBB
June 23 John Butcher / Melvyn Poore and Martin Blume
June 26 Min Xiao-Fen / Glenn Spearman Double Trio
July 7 The Gordons (Mark Gordon and Deborah Gwynn) / Offramp (Doug Carroll, Tom Nunn, Jim Hearon)
July 14 Dana Reason, Peter Valsamis, Francis Wong & Gino Robair / Damon Smith / Snowflake and the Fireballs
July 21 Oluyemi Thomas, Gino Robair Duet / Positive Knowledge / Matt Sperry with Dana Reason
July 28 Dan Plonsey's large ensemble / Zen Cohen's "Water Story"
August 4 ROOM encounters Phil Gelb / Ralph Carney's Special Parrot
August 11 Matthew Goodheart, Donald Robinson & Garth Powell / Morgan Guberman and Brian Kane
August 18 Leo Smith and Nda-Kulture
August 23 The Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of Marshall Allen
August 25 Bill Horvitz, Steve Adams, & Joe Sabella / Head Cleaner / Moe! & Guests
September 1 Steve Adams, Vinny Golia, Ken Filiano & Billy Mintz / John Schott Trio
September 8 Jackson Krall, Gino Robair, Garth Powell & Donald Robinson / Marco Eneidi, Ashley Adams, Dana Reason & Jackson Krall
September 15 Alex Candelaria Trio / Open stage
September 22 Duets / Bertram Turetzky / Torid Anos
September 29 Henry Kuntz / Pauline Oliveros and the Mills College Contemporary Performance Ensemble
October 6 What We Live / Ron Heglin and Sabine von der Tamm
October 13 Wobbly / Wet Gate / Scott Looney Quartet
October 20 Joel Harrison's 3+3=7, featuring Nels Cline / Myles Boisen and Ed Chang
October 27 Tim Berne & Jon Raskin Quartet, with Elliot Kavee and Michael Formanek.
November 3 Improvisors' pot-luck and jam session
November 10 Fred Lonborg-Holm, Eric Bergkvist, Michael Gendreau / / Ben Goldberg with Francis Wong, Miya Masaoka, Elliot Kavee.
November 17 Actual Size: Bruce Ackley, George Cremaschi & Garth Powell / Splatter Trio 3 - 1 + 3 (with John Shiurba, Carla Kihlstedt, and Steve Adams.
November 24 SF Electric String Trio: Doug Carroll, John Ettinger, Jim Hearon / Scott Rosenberg Quartet with Matt Ingalls, Tom Dambley, Gino Robair
December 1 Pauline Oliveros, India Cooke, and Caroline van Putten / Matt Sperry, Carla Kihlstedt, and Gino Robair
December 8 The ROVA Sax Quartet / Dana Reason & Peter Valsamis
December 15 Scott Walton Group / Graham Connah's NoPorkestra / Phillip Johnston Quintet with Jon Raskin, Dickie Dworkin, Richard Saunders, Graham Connah, Bruce Ackley
December 22 X-mas and Seasonal Music curated by Dave Barrett
December 29 Billy Mintz & Vinny Golia Trio / Touch the Earth Trio

To browse through reviews of concerts in other years:

Or: Return to main Beanbender's page" or to Upcoming Beanbender's concerts".

January 3, 1996

No review, but one picture of Tom Nunn (jpeg, 42K).

January 10, 1996
Gamalataki /

Pleasant surprises at Beanbender's 1/10/96: Gamalataki opened, a young and energetic quartet of guitar, cello, bass and drums, with the drummer playing some clarinet. These guys have come a long way from the early demo tapes they tossed our way. They're trying to assimilate an impressive range of influences, from interacting composed/ improvised structures to energy music to non-idiomatic free improv. There are still rough spots, but they write hip tunes, listen closely, and play hard, and are great fun to watch. The bassist is extremely energetic, the drummer plays the tunes (instead of the beat).

[A picture of Damon Smith (jpeg, 22K).]

The headliner was another young and little-known group, ABB-EBB, two horns plus 4 percussionists. One of the percussionists is Elliot Kavee, one of the busiest improvising drummers in the area, and another is bandmates with John Shiurba and Steve Lew in Eskimo. Their live demo (from the Stork Club) was exuberant but not very thought-provoking energy music; hence we were all surprised when they started with the two horn players on different sides of the hall, in a quiet and introspective duet. The drummers did not join in for awhile, and they turned out to be careful listeners as well, generating delicate textures and intricate and interactive grooves that could stop on a dime. The emphasis was on group improvisation and interaction, and the two horn players turned in some solid melodic rhapsodizing.


January 17, 1996
Oluyemi Thomas & Lisle Ellis /
Snowflake and the Fireballs

Opening were Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet) and Lisle Ellis (bass). Thomas is getting some of the attention he deserves finally, with two new CDs on Music and Arts. The duets were conversational, with Thomas emphasizing the vocal quality of his playing style. Ellis took more of a supporting role than I expected; his playing tends to be less aggressive these days.

The other group on the bill was Snowflake and the Fireballs, a trio of violin, flute, and electric guitar. They may not be virtuoso instrumentalists, but have a refreshing, almost naive approach to their instruments and free improvisation. The first few short pieces showed them at their close-listening, responsive best. Then they were joined by Sheldon Brown on clarinet (who played a fine post-Ornette set in the first month of Beanbender's existence) and Scott Amendola, an immensely talented drummer who wastes too much time these days playing with popular local hipster jazz combos. While they were probably better musicians in the conventional sense than the main trio, I thought they at first had a constricting influence on the freedom of the trio. Amendola's subtle grooves filled too much space, and Brown's clean, fluid lines drew too much attention. But adjustments were made, and the core trio's conceptions seemed to come through later.


January 24:
KLiP /
Drew Gardener Group

This review, and the seven following (assuming that I get to them!) are being written weeks after the fact, so I will limit myself to mentioning some of the memorable moments.

Drummer Drew Gardener was suffering from some stomach flu, and there was concern over whether he would even play. However, once he took the stage, adrenalin must have kicked in because he played a powerful and very musical set. Roberto de Haven, playing alto sax, was also impressive.

KLiP are a trio of drums, keyboards, and (yikes! I've forgotten! Bass or guitar). Garth Powell was impressive as he ran through the audience bouncing an object on a frame drum, finally returning to the stage to bounce it right onto the exposed strings of the mini-piano. Each piece had its own compositional structure, often based on humorous or quirky ideas. The compositions and the orchestration (many unusual instruments and devices being employed) were quite inventive and enjoyable.


January 31:
Myles Boisen's Guitarspeak /
Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is a guy who plays piano and sings absurd songs. His piano style often jumps away from simple fast stride into odd chromatic harmonies and thence to something more bangy and atonal. However, although Gordon enjoys much improvised music, his own work doesn't seem very influenced by Cecil Taylor, for instance; Gordon's flights from tonality being apparently intended for their humor. For some of this crowd of improv listeners, the "normal" parts were perhaps a bit trying. Equal parts of the crowd loved, hated and tolerated the piano. The songs themselves are easier to enjoy, though by the end I wondered if this aesthetic (in which absurdity is seen as an alternative to normality, rather than being an extension or reflection) isn't at least as counter-revolutionary as it is revolutionary. Well, I had fun anyway.

Myles Boisen brought a double-quartet to the stage, and after a relatively long set-up, spent additional time discussing signals, and then had everyone write down a line or two about Winter. The music was then inspired by these lines of poetry. Somehow, the concept worked, or maybe the musicians were just very good. Almost everyone was featured at one time or another. Zen Cohen on cello and voice turned in a long, cohesive and beautiful solo on the first piece. The second piece featured some great textures in which individual statements rose and fell. I hope to hear more of Mr. Boisen's large ensemble conceptions!


February 7:
ADD Trio /
Sludge 2000

Sludge 2000, from Switzerland are two guitarists (acoustic and electric) and drums. The music was loud and full, a single set-long improvisation. Textures changed gradually, at times becoming very delicate as when Pliakis played the highest guitar solo I have ever heard: a single extended note which moved up and down microtonally, almost out of hearing range. Very solid and challenging music.

ADD consists of Steve Arguelles, Christy Doran and Robert Dick. Dick brought almost the entire flute family: piccolo, flute, alto, bass, and a contrabass monster that looked like a man-sized unbent paper-clip. The group played compositions which were occasionally reminiscent of prog rock: complex, tight, and fast. Sadly, the Beanbender's PA wasn't really up to the task of faithfully amplifying Dick's flutes (and perhaps his pre-amp was set too high), for his sound was generally quite distorted. Doran's set of pedals and effects were somewhere between the airport and Beanbender's, arriving moments after the last note of the concert was played, but he still managed to squeeze out some interesting stuff from his guitar. Arguelles is perhaps the most precise (almost finicky) drummer I've ever heard - almost too tight, but impressive in an unexpected way - I liked his concept. Fans of Robert Dick's work (as I am) may have been a little disappointed, but I ended up getting my fix with his wonderful new CD on Leo, Worlds of If.


February 10:
Vinny Golia Large Ensemble

This special event was held in St. John's Church. The room was comfortable, but the acoustics a bit boomy. Nonetheless, Golia's 26-person ensemble made quite an impression, working their way through a half-dozen giant Golia compositions. (Somewhere I have my program with notes, performers' names and composition titles - I'll fill in the informational part of the review and delete this sentence eventually.) It really was quite stunning: an extra-large big band, well-rehearsed, playing complex scores, raising roofs up and down the Pacific Coast. Golia's compositions are thick and often lush; the colors are lavishly employed. Strings, winds, percussion, tuned percussion (tympani, synth, mallets) are layed on in thick strokes. And over the top, some great soloists - most memorably Mike Vlatkovich (trombone) and Steve Adams (alto sax). Occasionally the solos seemed unnecessary - the music was already so thick and full and symphonic that there was hardly room for an individual to make a statement. Also, the room's acoustical properties tended to support Golia's more massive melodic statements, but the more subtle and delicate edges of individual instrumental sounds were sanded away. Perhaps if the intention was for the music to serve the solists the textures would have thinned out more, but my impression is that soloing here is not really the point. What came across most successfully were Golia's contrasting rhythmic conceptions and his sense of large-scale structure: juxtapositions of Ellingtonian big band jazz, massive angular orchestral blocks, Indonesian-esque percussion textures; gradually and abruptly transitioned, sometimes bridged by soloists. The music is hardly radical; it's more closely related to Ellington or Stravinsky than to Cage or Sun Ra, yet there's always something original and very Golian going on. All in all, a very enjoyable and memorable concert.


February 14:
Disaster Opera Theatre /

Pluto was without Myles Boisen, so Dale Sophia came in to play bass, and Ken moved to guitar (the rest of Pluto being Bruce Anderson, guitar; Marc Weinstein and Russ Schoenwetter, drums). A low-key and almost bluesy Pluto. Russ was not as aggressive with vocals or contrasting rhythms, and Ken didn't attempt to fill Boisen's role of noise-guitar; playing much more tonally and simply, so the music was a little less edgey than usual. Still quite enjoyable.

D.O.T. was on this occasion some 35+ musicians attempting to deal with a polyphonic opera with three heterophonic overtures, as usual with no rehearsal. Chaotic, crazy, occasionally conducted (quite ably by Mantra). I could go on at great length about this work, and someday I suppose I will.


February 21:
Joel Harrison Large Ensemble /
Ned Rothenberg solo

No electricity: shut off by PG&E for non-payment by our esteemed landlord. We finally ran extension cords to the pizza place next door, and then supplemented the lamp-light with candles. Very rustic. Also sort of cold, as Ned Rothenberg discovered to his dismay. Perhaps it was the cold, but his solo set seemed a bit perfunctory compared to some of the brilliant work he's made on record. He performed several of his trademark process-oriented improvisations on alto sax and bass clarinet - working with fingers going up and down to a regular pulse, but in irregular quickly-shifting patterns of movement. Sort of like early Phillip Glass, but changing much more quickly. Multiphonics and long-tones brought color to the music, but on this occasion Rothenberg seemed loathe to stick with the most fascinating of the textures, jettisoning them just as quickly as that which was unfascinating. At it's best, the music was kaleidoscopic; at the worst, more like a telephone directory.

I can't remember many details, but I know I liked it... The ensemble was most notable for the presence of Paul McCandless, whose playing seemed as strong as ever. His work on sopranino sax was particularly interesting. Paul Hanson contributed some bassoon-through-harmonizer work. I happen to dislike the sound of solo-winds-through-harmonizers. There was another saxophonist whose name I've forgotten who got in some good solos, and Dred Scott contributed some nice piano work, especially in the ensemble sections. I wish I could say more about this set, but my mind was still reeling from the ordeal of finding electricity, and there was some concern that the single pizza-circuit could go at any time, supporting as it was several amps, lamps, and coffee maker. I'd welcome any comments from anyone else who was there.


February 28:
Stephano Scodanibbio, Rohan de Saram, Lisle Ellis, Bob Ostertag /
Hannes Giger & Erik Fischer /
Bass Ensemble

Giger and Fischer began the concert with a short (20 minute?) set of duets on bass and vibes/percussion respectively. Each of their pieces was constructed around a couple simple and audible ideas. It was clear that a lot of compositional thought had gone into their work, but unclear as to precisely what exactly was written. One piece was called "Frog" for the little devices with which Fischer beat his instruments and with which Giger prepared his bass. Another piece consisted of very rapid clanging by both. This particular gesture figured into Fischer's playing in other pieces, sometimes comically, sometimes as an intensifying element. The two players interacted as two who have played together quite often, who are comfortable with one another's odd musical ideas. Both left room for the other's solo statements, which, in their relative simplicity and lyrical nature (Giger especially) made nice contrasts to the generally fast, frantic, cartoony duet moments. The music had wit, charm, brevity, and was very well received.

The second set consisted of a series of duets, trios and quartets. Scodanibbio and Ostertag began with an improvisation in which Ostertag used samples which evoked the scratchiness of strings, but which I suspect were mainly vocal fragments. Scodanibbio countered by beating rapidly upon his bass with his bow for almost the entire piece. What followed were a number of other interactions which I don't remember clearly, other than to say that they were mostly very quiet (making the buses outside equal partners in the music-making), and that Rohan de Saram played mostly a sort of ethereal music in the upper reaches of the cello's range, sometimes beautiful, sometimes simply lost. A duet of Lisle Ellis and Scodanibbio was perhaps the highlight of this set, generating a bit of heat (it was another night with inadequate heat in the building). Whether due to the cold, or the relative informality of the setting, the evening's two European string stars never really got untracked.

As a third set, Scodanibbio was to have played with the half-dozen young bassists who came early for a master class, but he declined (language barrier? misunderstanding? tired?), so they were on their own, until Mantra showed up to conduct them. Among the players were Damon Smith, Morgan Guberman, Eli, Alex (who was playing 'upright bass for the first time), and two or three others. Mantra got them to leave space for each other, and then encouraged soloists to follow her through a series of gymnastics moves intertwined with moments of great angst and heart-break; very comical, and not un-musical. I and the irreverent ones around me liked this part quite a lot!

To close the concert, Giger and Fischer returned, and played another 15 minutes or so (see paragraph one; I forget which pieces came when). A nice ending to an enjoyable evening!


March 6:
Buckethead /
Kato Hedeki

since no one else has come out with it, i must. the buckethead solo guitar show at beanbender's was the worst improvised music show i've seen in years. totally unfocused and ultimately unlistenable. he had no control over his equipment, and began repeating himself musically after about 10 minutes of music (30 minutes into the performance). the rest of the time was taken up by his friend bantering about guns & roses while buckethead stumbled around the stage trying to figure out while his guitar was buzzing so much. i was ready to ogle at his technique (if nothing else), but that proved nearly impossible due to the excessive delay/ reverb/ distortion/ etc. which totally obscurred whatever he was playing. if only he had plugged his guitar straight into the amp and played the damn thing.


This is pretty much what happened, except that I kind of enjoyed it! At one point when he was bashing his guitar and bass together at an excrutiating volume I felt like leaving, but other than that it was amusing. I've been describing it by comparing it to professional wrestling: the manager bellowing crazily while the brain-damaged (raised-by-wolves?) wrestler alternately cowers and lunges. As music, it was like Shiurba describes it, but as Jarry-esque theatre, it wasn't bad! Way, way over the top. In a way, this performance was very welcome at Beanbender's as a release from the usual seriousness and traditional musicality.

Kato Hideki's opening solo electric bass set was easier to enjoy on a musical level. There was drama in the way he used simple technical gestures to move the music along. Each piece dealt with a fairly small number of parameters and techniques, e.g., one used bowing, and one kept returning to a phrase built on 2 perfect fourths. He used a several second long delay to sample a phrase, and then played over and around that. The looped phrases were asymmetrical enough not to limit the compositional imagination. The only complaint I had was that the bass sound itself was sometimes less than compelling, being somewhat undefined. His last piece incorporated the use of a tin can being banged against the strings. Very effective and weirdly tasteful. Overall, his sense of rhythm was more impressive than his sense of melody - he used the bass best as a percussion instrument.


March 13:
Gamelan Si Aptos /
Tom Heasley /
Raven Neilsen photos

I'm a big fan of Raven Nielsen's. Her photographs somehow capture the spirit of adventure of the best of creative music, simply and elegantly. Some of her work involves multiple layers (live, uncontrolled multiple exposures), other works are sequences of related images. Always there is an awareness of form, of the rhythm of shapes.

Tom Heasley began the concert with a short set of solo tuba improvisations. He works in a melodic tonal idiom for the most part: melodies wander up and down scales, mostly in the upper register. What I liked best about his music was simply the sound of the tuba: the depth (even in the high notes) and the fragility.

Gamelan Si Aptos is a Javanese style gamelan, working with the 5-note scale. Their instruments were designed by Lou Harrison and Bill(?) Colvig. The group played 2 traditional pieces, the others being originals. Some of their music was a little more dreamy than I like to hear from gamelans. Being prejudiced towards the much more intense Balinese style, I found Si Aptos rhythmically flaccid by comparison. However, there was little otherwise to dislike: the pieces were pretty, trancelike, and the sound was good (if perhaps a little small), and I admire the group for its committment to the performance of works by ensemble members. As an encore, the gamelan repeated one of their compositions with Tom Heasley improvising underneath. The results were surprisingly good: it was as if the music had been waiting for a tuba soloist. I hope Si Aptos will collaborate with Heasley and other musicians in the future!


March 20:
Chris Brown, computers and friends /
Scott Rosenberg Ensemble

I was not well and had to leave after the first two piece by Chris Brown. What I heard was very interesting. Chris had musicians stationed in at the midpoints of the four sides of the space: himself in front of the stage, Lisle Ellis in the back, Ben Goldberg and Don Robinson near the door, and Willie Winant and a clarinetist across from them. At each station, a speaker (connected to Brown's computer) emitted "percussion" pulses, each apparently in a different tempo. On the first piece, Brown, Ellis and the clarinetists played melodic fragments which didn't exactly coalesce, but weren't exactly independent either. The music simmered, never cooling, never boiling over. On the second piece, Brown played with three (or just two?) drummers in a much hotter sort of Latin style. Again, the music never settled down. The perfect accompaniment to my fever! It felt like a battle of the Latin snare drum all-stars, all playing one drum, with the audience inside. Quite intense!


March 27:
Lisle Ellis "Wake Up Crazy" /
Eugene Chadbourne

This was the first gig for "Wake Up Crazy," and it wasn't at all bad. They played a few standards, including "Freedom Jazz Dance," and a few things I didn't recognize. I was surprised that the arrangements were relatively conservative: straight rhythm from Lisle and Don Robinson (almost closer to swing than bop), relatively restrained playing from India Cooke and Philip Greenlief's tenor didn't go far beyond early Coltrane. Somehow it added up to omething much nicer than "pleasant," and the group was received enthusiastically by the large crowd.

Eugene played a long set of songs, followed by some rake improv. The songs included a few jazz standards, some Coltrane, and a bunch of Chadbourne including two of my favorites: "I Dreamed I was Young Again" and one that mocks President Clinton (perhaps called "Don't Ask Don't Tell"). I won't say that his playing is getting more conservative; it may not even be less irreverent (maybe it never was irreverent exactly), but I think he's entering a period akin to late Lester Young in which the tone darkened, and a sort of solemnity came in. I liked it a lot. I like Eugene. He's great.


April 3:
Rituel CD release party with Splatter Trio, Bruce Ackley & Mantra Ben-Ya'akova

This was my favorite Rituel show of the 5-6 I've seen. I've always liked their compositions, and on this occasion they were able to flesh them out through the addition of guest artists. On one piece Rituel played a unison melody while Myles Boisen added a scorching guitar solo. On another, guest vocalist Mantra and Rituel singer Molly Carter incited each other to rise into the stratosphere. Bruce Ackley played a wonderful duet with rituel drummer Garth Powell, and then there was the piece where everyone played triangles... and lots of other things happened that I'm forgetting (having waited two months to write this). I'd be interested to hear Rituel expanded again - it became clear to me at this concert that their compositions are really scaled-down symphonies and operas. The SF Opera would be wise to give them a call!


April 10:
Andrew Voigt, Gino Robair, Harold Carr /
Francis Wong & Elliot Kavee

The Voight / Robair / Carr trio once again turned in a set of understated and frequently beautiful music. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but the compositions seemed largely the same as those that they played on their first appearance at Beanbender's a year ago: they're often lines built from sequences which take Voigt and Carr from the tops to the bottoms of their instruments, in a loose heterophony, while Robair is left to re-invent the drum set, adding all sorts of toys to his collection of intentional percussion, shuffling stuff on and off like master guitar puppeteer Fred Frith. Harold Carr was much looser (and more interesting!) than he'd been on the previous occasion, in which he played it quite straight. I'm interested to see whether the music will continue to grow and move outward. Some new pieces would be welcome.


April 17:
The Manufacturing of Humidifiers

JOB (Mark Schifferli, Jai Young Kim and Matt Lebofsky) played an impressive set - good energy, as we say - meaning that they had a sense of humor and were able to allow mistakes to take them places.

The Manufacturing of Humidifiers (Randy Porter, Ward Spangler and me) played some things I liked and some things I didn't understand; I'm still waiting for the tape from Mr. Jai Young Kim! (ahem).


April 24:
Dave Scott & Tony Malaby Quartet /
Vinny Golia Quartet

This was a nice show - the in and out sides of LA jazz - except that in a sense the in side was as out as the out. Tony Malaby doesn't have Vinny Golia's stamina and tone, but what he does have is a great melodic sense, and the willingness to use the weak points on the saxophone to take him out of the standard sound world into an extended realm of fragile and wispy stuff. I also liked Dave's trumpet playing, and of course drummer Billy Mintz.

No bass player showed, but Vinny sounded great, as did Alex Cline (who has an incredible CD out which you should all buy - I forget the title, but one day I'll find it and plug it in here).


April 27:

Practically needless to say, AMM's Berkeley debut at Beanbenders last night was fantastic. Missed their Noe Valley Ministry show of 1994 so I have no basis for comparison, but Keith Rowe is one of the most expressive musicians I've ever seen, attacking his tabled guitar with all manner of items in and around the strings. He uses his hands to subtly manipulate tones like no one I've ever seen before, and created fantastic drones using combinations of tiny fans, e-bow, springs, etc. Fred Frith must have seen AMM as a young lad and said, "ah! This is IT!". Keith Rowe's percussion must be seen to be believed...I think it is safe to say that legions of drummers have been inspired by his shockingly precise, rotational attack. If there was any disappointing angle to the performance it would be the fact that pianist John Tilbury wasn't miked, and plays so softly that at times he was inaudible. Thankfully, the Beanbenders acoustics worked to their advantage, especially during the most intense moments.

But the most bizarre aspect of the 90 or so-minute improvisation was the intrusion of massive bass beats coming from a "dance party" setting up several floors above Beanbenders intermittently throughout the performance. Now and then Prevost would (deliberately?) drown out the wayward beats, but towards the end the intrusion snuffed out AMM completely! This is not as horrendous an incident as one might imagine, as Rowe was using the opportunity to mix in a hip-hop radio program (evidentally Free Radio Berkeley, no less) throughout, placing a tiny earphone/speaker over the guitar pickups. Many smiles were exchanged when the trio realized they had been licked, although for just a few seconds at the climax Tilbury plucked his piano strings in time to the beats. Had they continued for just a few more seconds, we might have seen a truly syncopated AMM for a while!

PC (Peter Conheim)

May 1:
Blowhole /
Miss Murgatroid /
Kingdom Scum

Kingdom Scum started off with a blissfully short set. Not at all like their fairly polished tape (which was a bit Zappa-like both politically and musicially), they were very nice but too K-ish for me (the Olympia label K, that is): 2 guitars playing simple-yet-slightly-quirky riffs in near unison, while a man and a woman took turns singing and playing percussion badly. Cute, perhaps.

Much more interesting were the works of Miss Murgatroid. Though all of her compositions shared a similar sound of accordion-with-intense-feedback, her set was striking. Occasionally adding her voice to the mix (usually relatively low, nearly inaudible, suggesting rather than stating any narrative), she created a music which was both trancey and exotic; simple, and yet quite dense. A strange and somehow pleasurable combination of Eastern European dissonance and odd meter with the West Coast American pre-verbal whine.

Blowhole's set was of interest for the way in which free improvisation fought it out was noise-punk and Braxton-esque abstract-structuralist compositional moves. Some pieces had simple structures, many revolving around pairing off within the quartet, e.g., two un-related duets: one a sort of pulse-track, the other free and lyrical; pairs of people occasionally coming together for five or six quick hits together; a series of overlapping duets. Finally as their last number, Blowhole launched into an actual post-hardcore song, Patrick Barber singing. An interesting and varied set, due to their attention to orchestration and structure. The musicianship was good, though at times the violin was overwhelmed by the guitar. The instrumentation -- Jeph Jerman (drums), Barber (electric bass), Hyla Willis (violin) and Aaron Wintersong (electric guitar) -- wasn't as varied as on their CD Billowing Sheen; also unlike the CD's tracks which are mostly duets and trios, Blowhole stuck with the quartet format throughout their set (although instruments would drop in and out), thus developing more of an identity than comes across on the CD. That identity hinges upon the tensions between noise and structure and between punk and free. Mantra commented at one recent show that the energy of many free-palying bands is almost identical with that of many of the early SF punk bands. That's true, yet one of the differences is whether the musicians are able to make room for delicate sounds or not. Blowhole straddles the line -- a position which is always interesting and often daring, and if I had any criticism or suggestion, it would be that they could do so more effectively by turning the guitar off occasionally and re-incorporating some of the more interesting instrumental sounds found on their recordings.


May 8:
Splatter Trio /
J.A. Deane /
Eric Muhs

i thought i would rave about the splatter trio show at beanbender's. i've seen this group countless times during all of their phases, and i think this was my favorite show. the show was a record release party for their new cd `hi fi junk note' on which they combine real time improvisations with studio manipulation (sampler/tape) of their recordings. in attempt to create this effect in a performance setting they each augmented their instruments with pre-recorded material (each had a one-off cd of his own solos, and a group cd), in addition to this they invited j.a. deane to sample any and everything that happened on stage and play along. i expected the result to be somewhat messy, but was consistently impressed with the textural clarity. there were some amazing moments that seemed inexplicable, for example a terrific duo (or trio?) of prepared guitar which involved no real time guitar playing. the really amazing thing for me was seeing these guys in the process of reassessing how they make music, playing in ways they never thought of before, and that they weren't sure would even work. i spoke with each of them after, and they all seemed a bit unsure of how the thing sounded, which for me was a sure sign that they had pushed themselves beyond the point where they knew quite what was going to happen. that's what it's all about, if you ask me.


i have to agree --- the splatter set was wonderful

i also agree w/ john shiurba --- where yr most unsure abt what yr doing, that's where the magic resides

i have nothing more to add except to say i think dave, gino and miles shld be very proud of themselves --- on wednesday night at beanbender's a full house saw huge risks being taken for the sake of an artistic vision --- that the artists involved did not fall flat on their faces is proof of their courage and commitment --- not to mention their excellence

everyone there was immensely excited and moved --- or they god damn well shld have been!

chris daniels

To which I'll only add that the evening started with a six-minute film (actually 2 three-minute films by Kevin Cunningham and Lars Christian shown side-by-side, first forwards then backwards), accompanied by recorded music by Splatter. The films were collages of found footage and cartoons drawn directly onto the film, and worked well with Splatter music. After the film, J.A. Deane contributed a beautiful solo set (about 25 minutes) of trombone-controlled electronics. It was the first time I'd seen him solo, and I was very impressed - a wide range of textures, moving easily between the realms of mostly-electronics to mostly-trombone, often three or four layers of sound working contrapuntally. Then Eric Muhs did a short solo set which if not as pretty as Deane's had good entertainment and musical value. From the back of the room he built up a multi-layered piece of guitar, drum machine, hinged-neck bass (the neck could flop back or forward, and there was also a long extra stick attached that did something), satellite dish, metal things, torch, and to top it all off, some tubes which didn't function - all of which attracted nearly as much attention from passersby on the street as from within the club.

I too was impressed by Splatter's willingness to experiment - rather than the sort of blazing playing which all three are capable of, they played a restrained but generally spellbinding sort of chamber music, which took a while to fully open up, but which was well worth their patience.


May 15:
Bertram Turetzky /
Steve Horowitz and the Code /
Flex Plan Delta

Turetzky is well-known in classical new music circles for his immense contribution to the technique and literature for the bass. Furthermore, his incorporation of poetry and spoken word to the music, and his insistence on the value of avant garde jazz within the academic world are feats which make him one of the most important figures within the world of intellectual music-making in the latter-half of this century. He is also, it turns out, a man with styrong opinions about basketball, and many other things. He moves easily from offstage onto the stage, anecdotes precede each piece; the entire event from his arrival to departure one enormous performance piece. Musically, his performance was often sublime -- he has a large, warm, beautiful tone; he makes hard music sound easy, and he makes simple music sound great. His enormous sense of himself comes across with more complexities: the time between pieces becomes a time of stress (and even anxiety) rather than relaxation, and I sometimes got the feeling of being pushed to hear a piece a particular way; not being given the space for my own imagination. However, his great warmth and charm are rare and special qualities in a musician, and he left a very powerful and positive impression.

Steve Horowitz's program was divided into three sections with two breaks which weren't brief; the entirety being so long that Flex Plan Dleta elected not to play after. Horowitz One presented a quartet of "chamber music" for clarinet (Laura Carmichael), cello (Matt Brubeck), electric bass (Horowitz) and drums (Dave Revelli). Horowitz Two was a larger band: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, trombone (Tom Yoder) and sax (Dave Barrett). Both ensembles played music which is from Steve's primarily graphic scores. This music can be described as consisting of a small number of compositionally components, with a few twists. 1. Pulse track (i.e., irregular short loud hits by some of the ensemble in unison) plus soloist(s) skittering away on top or between hits. 2. "hocket" section. Everyone plays single-note and short phrases, attempting to play in the gaps left by others. 3. odd-groove. Usually just rhythm section, playing odd or unmetered but regular pulse, broken by irregular accents, atonal, large leaps. Similar to (2), but with regular pulse (which may not be actually apparent to the listener). 4. Fast skittery stuff, usually relatively soft. 5. unaccompanied (or lightly accompanied) solos. Usually fairly short. 6. block orchestration. The piece is broken into sections. In each section, you are either playing or not, creating different sub-groupings over the course of the piece. Thus, instrumentation (and often texture) changes at these block boundaries. The music created tends to be blocky; though there are occasional angular, unpredictable melodies, Horowit'z music tends to be anti-melodic. The result is a low-key, yet varied music, which is never too chilly. Most impressive in this performance was the drumming of Dave Revelli -- light, quick, and strong.

Horowitz Three is The Code ensemble: guitar, bass, drums, reeds (Nick Phelps) and vocals/performance art (Sten Rudstrom). Sten's performance dominates the music of this ensemble, and brilliant and inventive as he is, I found this segment of the evening rather tiring. Whereas Horowitz One was a set of very concise, almost minature pieces, each piece on the Code set seemed about twice as long as necessary. The addition of Jhos Cepachchoinn on gaida (Bulgarian bagpipes) added some color at the end of this overly long set.

June 5:
Nels Cline Trio /
Bonnie Barnett Band /
Rent Romus

One of our most satisfying concerts! Each of the three bands contributed a distinctive vision of creative music, and the result was almost like a single three-movement work in that a hidden thread seemed to tie the evening together.

Rent Romus's group played four or five pieces, by Romus, fellow saxophonist Alex Weiss, and Danish pianist Jonas Muller. They started with a Romus piece about Albert Ayler, and the music captured some of Ayler's strength and sound, while also relating to the sound of a Mingus quintet. Mingus partly because of the way George Cremaschi's bass pushed the ensemble (he contributed some fine solos too), but also for the tight horn arrangements - Romus frequently playing alto and curved soprano simultaneously, along with Weiss's tenor. For a quintet, they had the sound of a small big band at times. Both Romus and Weiss contributed some great over-the-top solos, and pianist Muller was an impressive, unique voice, just coming over the edge of jazz into something else. Perhaps the most unusual arrangement was Muller's take on a traditional Danish folk song: corny, polka-esque at moments, hyper, and then about one second of jazz. I could listen to a lot more music like that!

As always, Barnett's band played a set of intelligent, interactive, free improvisation. They are as close to the non-idiomatic "European-style" of free improv as an group on the West Coast, but there are always subversive elements: Barnett's reading of postcards, Donald Barthelme poems (including a great poem about the slaughter of a long long list of musicians, seemingly by a single bad-tempered person), and Richard Woods' deconstruction of the saxophone, Eb clarinet and little instruments. Surely it means something that he never uses a neck-strap on his saxophone? His playing is fitful, fast and quiet, like a bebopper whose mind has been shuffled. Hannes Giger and Jim Connoly both played bass, complimenting one another well, sometimes working together, other times working obliquely - never getting in one another's way. On drums, Spirit added bursts of percussion; propelling soloists, answering Bonnie with shouts, as always one of the most supportive of free drummers: knowing how to use quiet to preserve and enhance the mood.

The Nels Cline Trio (with Woody Aplanalp, bass; Michael Preussner (sp?), drums) was fantastic as always. I had never been quite so aware of what a great drummer Preussner is: agile, fast and seemingly effortless ride cymbal work on Cline's "jazz" pieces; paring down to little more than a piece of metal on the snare for another piece, always solid. The set was varied: jazz, noise, strummy-drones, and a beautiful ballady-thing to end. The large (for Beanbender's) crowd managed to convince the trio to play an encore: a complex piece of no nameable genre - but it's difficult to put anything they do into a catgory. This group is certainly one of the most interesting groups of this period, at the edges of creative music.


June 12:
OPEYE Quintet /
Zen Disaster (Muir, Kaiser, DeGruttola, Ligeti)

As regular Beanbender's attendees know, I like OPEYE a lot. I don't know exactly why: it has something to do with those ridiculous masks, Henry Kuntz sawing pitchlessly on the tiniest violin, Brian Godchaux's ability to play the viola like he can and can't play simultaneously, John Kuntz's mandolin and ukelele frailings, and the giant abstract painting Ben Lindgren paints and hangs behind the group (perhaps at some concert he'd paint during the concert?). And I like the way Henry holds up masks to the audience (as a shaman? magician? professor?) only to be followed by John holding up a can of Bush's Baked Beans. As always, there was off-kilter gamelan playing, trombone mutterings, a costume change or two (who are these creatures anyway?), extended-technique tenor sax, banging on toy drums, bowl gongs, musette (?) blares and extended (perhaps a tad too extended?) explorations of a single slightly-off-pentatonic-blues bass line. Of course, various demons were conjured up, but no one present seemed the worse for the encounter. Another successful trip out of the known and sensible worlds!

Zen Disaster started off great: there first piece was a sort of polyrhythmic free-Beefheart-esque thing. But when the strings tried for something quieter and more extended on subsequent pieces, Lukas Ligeti operated as a contrary force, e.g., disrupting Danielle DeGruttola's lyrical cello with sporadic heavy bass drum thumps. Perhaps this was what the quartet (or just Ligeti?) intended, but I experienced the rest of the set as drums vs. strings. One piece featured unaccompanied solos by each member of the quartet finishing off with some very loud stuff, and at least that worked okay (nice work from both Chris Muir and Henry Kaiser on guitar), but I was left feeling unsatisfied and weary of the tension by the end of the set. Much more satisfyingly whole were the bits that I heard of Kaiser/DeGruttola/Ashley (?) at the Chapel of the Chimes on June 24.


June 19:
Rova Sax Quartet /

Given how much I love the Rova Sax Quartet, I think I'm entitled to say that I found this set a little disappointing. They played two pieces by Lindsay Cooper which were especially uninteresting, in that they didn't really utilize the strengths of Rova. I believe they played two pieces by Steve Adams (I missed one announcement), and these I liked better; there was some opportunity for improvisation, and the textures were more interesting. Least successful were the moments in which the quartet played music most akin to jazz - on this evening they sounded a bit stiff and uninspired. There was relatively little improvisation - but I've heard them do less and still sound incredibly spontaneous. This just wasn't a magic night.

ABB-EBB was an almost entirely different ensemble than expected. Brian Kane (the only holdover), Matt Ingalls, and Scott Rosenberg on clarients and saxophones; Morgan Guberman and [someone I've forgotten] on small percussion. The set was largely interesting: original compositions by Kane and Ingalls which dealt with schemes for playing together and apart, tiny solos (almost anti-solos), and very sparse textures. The quintet surrounded the audience, making the music seem even more open and without center. My favorite piece was one by Ingalls in which all played a single repeated note together at times and slightly out of phase at other times, with little interludes in between. Least interesting was the final piece: a Braxton composition played in near-unison by the three horns, consisting of long notes of indeterminate length. They played slightly out of tune, with imprecise attacks, and now and then someone was a half-step off from the others (intentionally?). By and large the playing was good - rough, low-key solos from the horns, and some great bobbing and weaving and singing by Guberman on an array of little bells and junk. I'd love to see him play a solo set!


June 23:
John Butcher /
Melvyn Poore & Martin Blume

Basically, this was a fantastic show. It was also a good demonstration of the difference between European and American improvisation. Peter Stubley (who maintains the European Free Improvisation home page) was in town, and Peter, and the three musicians and several of Beanbender's crew talked a bit about this difference: the need that many Europeans felt to create their own creative music, apart from American free-jazz descended music.

In the first set, Poore and Blume played three duets, each primarily quiet, delicate and definitely un-jazzlike. Poore's tuba technique is phenomenal. Most striking were moments when he would stand and swing the tuba around while he played. Bill Hsu remarked that some of the sounds he made while moving the tuba reminded him of electronic music - both the sounds themselves (high, steamy wisps tinged with breath) - and their movement around the room. (Indeed, both Poore and Butcher remarked that their esthetic had been very influenced by early Stockhausen pieces, and of course Poore is an electronic musician himself - though on this concert he only played un-electronic tuba.) Poore also used a baritone sax mouthpiece and I think I saw a bassoon reed go by for a single sound at one point. Blume's playing was very sensitive, supportive and controlled; he never really let loose in this context.

Butcher's solo set was amazing. Though bothered by a bad back (which left him stiff and unable to use his leg to mute the saxophones), he played three long improvisations (15-20 minutes each; tenor, soprano, and tenor) which were even more inventive technically than what I've heard him do on record. I was impressed by his concentration and discipline: he frequently works with very soft sounds, and with volatile techniques which are difficult to keep under control for long. I was also impressed by how his music proceeded along with each textural section morphing into the next - e.g., key clicks, keys plus breath, breath becoming tone, flutter-tonguing transforming the tone back into something percussive leading back to key clicks - by no means the kind of cataloguing of sounds which lesser textural players often produce.

The third set consisted of two trio improvisations (and then a third as an encore). While all three have played together in different contexts, they'd never played as a trio before. Judging from this set, it would be a fine working group. The music was often quite interactive. One of the interesting aspects of this music is how percussive it all becomes (and how un-melodic in the traditional sense), with Poore and Blume utilizing techniques which sculpt noise into chunks of various shapes and sizes. Poore was especially adept at integrating the tuba into Butcher's sound world (the baritone sax mouthpiece helped), again using the tuba to spread the sounds around the room. All in all, a very satisfying concert, and very well-attended and well-received too.


June 26:
Min Xio-Fen /
Glenn Spearman Double Trio

Another fine and varied show! Who else would book a solo pipa player to open for Glenn Spearman's double trio free jazz barrage? How do these Beanbender's folks do it, and find time to write reviews of their own shows and pat themselves on their backs? it is quite marvelous, I am sure.

Min Xiao-Fen is an incredible virtuoso, kind of the Jimmy Page of the Chinese pipa music world perhaps. The pieces she performed were fairly long and all quite showy, full of fast flamenco-ish trills, really loud and really soft parts, with simple melodies contrasted by utterly over-the-top variations. If there are musicians much better at this than Min Xiao-Fen, I would be very surprised! As an encore, she sang "Come Sunday" quite beautifully and simply, with Mike Wildizeski providing guitar accompaniment.

The Double Trio seemed to be in fine form - Glenn was powerful and volcanic, using a vocabularly which included some of late-Coltrane upper register cries but was also very much his own. Also impressive were Chris Brown and Lisle Ellis (it's great to hear a bass player who doesn't try to play as loud as the sax and drums! It's too bad that more bass players don't appreciate Lisle's restraint and understanding of the role of the bass in thi music!). Larry Ochs got some good solos in too; I especially like his sopranino work these days. The drums (Don Robinson and Willie Winant) were only featured briefly, but they sounded great too. And... well, that's everybody, isn't it? My only reservation about this performance was that the heads seemed under-rehearsed - other than Glenn (the presumed composer), the others seemed a bit tentative.


July 7:
The Gordons (Mark Gordon and Deborah Gwynn) /
Offramp (Doug Carroll, Tom Nunn, Jim Hearon)

The Gordons appeared earlier at Beanbender's (January 31, 1996) as Mark Gordon and friends. This performance, with the inimatable Deborah Gwynn, was the Real Thing: The Gordons, in all their non-dubious glory.

The Gordons sing songs of love gone awry in a language which has gone very much more awry. frequently Gordon and Gwynn are singing about totally different things at the same time (or in rapid alternation). The music is relatively complex (though this time Gordon didn't quite reach into his Cecil Taylor bag). What impressed me most, in the end, was the sure knowledge The Gordons have of theatre: the tiny gestures, head movements, especially by Gwynn, which contain a great depth of something else way beneath the surface comedy. That "something else" is not necessarily apart from what more typical Beanbneder's groups reach for and rarely grasp. But I don't know what it's called, so don't ask me. Oh, alright. It's called "soul."

Offramp, according to young Damon Smith, are "the best band you've ever had at Beanbender's." Well, they were up there with the best. Doug Carroll was especially impressive on this occasion. I've seen him take a supportive role more often than not, and I've always been impressed by his ear for making an unexpected entrance, or an unexpected sound that works perfectly (unexpectedly) with whatever's happening. With Offramp, however, he was cast more in the role of leader, and he responded with some truly thunderous playing: strong assertive, and yet intimately connected to the group sound and dynamic. Hearon added a layer of super-fast high-end violin sound, and also contributed some of the tastiest keyboard sampler playing I've heard. Nunn provided the rhythmic layer, reminding me of a deft tabla player both in his speed and intricacy, and in his way of obscuring the beat from the non-cognescenti, of whom I was one (maybe there wasn't a beat. Didn't need to have one.) The music had everything freely improvised music should have: lots of color, drama (especially in the dynamic realm), virtuosic playing from all three - no weak links, bits of humor (especially in Carroll's between-songs patter), a synesthesia of percussion and melody (i.e., percussion-as-melody, and melodic instruments providing percussion), and it had other things too. A great show!


July 14:
Dana Reason, Peter Valsamis, Francis Wong & Gino Robair /
Damon Smith /
Snowflake and the Fireballs

Would you believe another very wonderful show? How many is this in a row? What's the world record for this kind of thing? Perhaps the century-long run of Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap" in London. Well, Beanbender's is definitely in second place, then.

Damon Smith, that nervy young man with a bass, he up and played a real nice solo piece that actually had a form which he wrote down hisself, yessir! It had in it virtually everything you might want to see someone do with a bass. Smith has a good, strong sound, and didn't hardly need no amplification neither, which to this reporter's enquiring mind is like a breath of fresh air, especially given how loudly this same young man has been heard to play in other contexts. But we shall leave those aside, and instead heap a superlative or two upon that self-same human being, who, on this occasion, outdid many a bass player who one might name. In short, his composition had direction, and the sound of the instrument itself would appear to be a driving force: that bass was playing Damon Smith, and when matters is like that you just got to take a pull on a cold Blenheim's and pat yourself on the back for having been down to Beanbender's yet another time, 'cause those folks'll serve up a regular stew of music if you don't keep your weather eye open and focussed upon them!

Snowflake and the Fireballs (Evelyn Mann, flute; Nancy Clarke, violin; and Dave the Guitarist, guitar (whose name I think is actually Levison) were what I would call, "severe yet entirely unforbidding." That is, their music was quite abstract generally (to the point that Levison's jazz-rooted figures lost almost all of their context and returned to being simple music), and in Clarke's case, it was quite abstract very specifically. Her musically sense would seem to be related to sound, silence, and dynamics: she had a great sense around entrances and exits. Her playing, however, is rooted primarily in physical gesture: entirely non-melodic in the traditional sense, rather, it is a collection of scrapings and wipings. Mann's playing was a trifle more idiomatic, but I don't think I'm exactly familiar with the idiom. She is clearly a virtuosic player, familiar with most of the new music flute techniques, and yet she is able to peck out simple sing-song phrases as though she'd just discovered music itself. I couldn't tell if she was playing with intense control or an equally intense lack of control: the intonation was everywhere outside the standard chromatic intervals, and the tone varied with every sound. It was like a truck barrelling down the highway with every part breaking down over and over again, without slowing in the slightest. A very small silver truck, perhaps. I have added her to my list of flutists who shouldn't (necessarily) find another instrument to play (putting my list at two). David's playing, as I hinted, is most rooted in jazz (especially compared to the others), but somehow this element only serves to heighten the originality of the music; I think I'd be less interested were he to be replaced by a more Derek Bailey-ish player. A very fine band!

Dana Reason's group (they billed it as collaborative, but she provided the loose compositions which kept things rolling, and which moved the ensmeble through a wide variety of textures and relationships) followed after another short solo by the unflappable Smith, while the parking-ticketed-Robair loaded in his equipment. Robair and Peter Valsamis locked together into thicket of reconstructed percussion, e.g., Robair taking legs from his floor tom and using that instrument as a mridangam, while Valsamis played the inside of the piano. Highlights of the set were an arpegiating piece which got faster and faster like an insane music box, and a solo piece by reason which had minimalist repetive structural procedures. I also liked a piece which reminded me of the Blue Notes (Chris MacGregor et al) in that the ensemble may or may not all have been together on a tonal, hymn-like piece. I may have imagined the whole thing, because before I knew it it was gone. I liked that too.


July 21:
Oluyemi Thomas, Gino Robair Duet /
Positive Knowledge /
Matt Sperry with Dana Reason

Matt Sperry opened with a couple improvisations for solo bass, then added Dana Reason on piano for another one. Matt's playing incorporates many non-standard techniques, all with the sort of grace one sees in Fred Frith's guitar-with-impliments work. He has a very good ear for subtleties of pitch. A very enjoyable set.

Oluyemi Thomas and Gino Robair were celebrating the release of their Rastascan CD, Unity in Multiplicity, recorded live at Beanbender's on August 2, 1995. Listening to the CD, I'm surprised at what a coherent evening that was (I'm not sure if it's at all edited) - how well one section flows to meet the next. The primary shaping tool is Thomas's instrument changes: from C Melody sax to bass clarinet to soprano - with bells, rattles, ratchet, and other miscellaneous percussion in between. This year's performance (next year's CD?) contained no surprises for listeners familiar with the work of both of the musicians, but it was solid in its way, with the kind of logic of a series of framed pictures, as Thomas moved among his instruments. Each section was perhaps 5-10 minutes long. Thomas tends to work by developing small sound motives; making repetitions on the small and medium-small scale. Otherwise, there's little in common with music of the pre-free schools of jazz. Oftentimes during instrument changes, he will make a few semaphore-esque dance moves; pointing with an arm and a leg. These gestures are in some sense mirros of the sonic gestures: repeated, and varied simply (e.g., first facing the audience, then away from the audience. For that matter, his colorful costume also reflects his pleasure in bright patterns of colors.

I enjoyed Positive Knowledge's set as well; the change of context brought out even more colors from Oluyemi's horns.


July 28:
Dan Plonsey's large ensemble /
Zen Cohen's "Water Story"

Dan Plonsey's large ensemble consisted of: John Schott, Graham Connah, Gino Robair, Steve Lew, Dave Barrett, Carla Kihlstedt, Jenny Scheinman, Laura Carmichael and Plonsey. Listening to the tape, I am led to believe that at least some members of the audience had fun. The music is somewhat unpolished, raw and maybe incomplete. And perhaps too eclectic in a sense: I question whether the more abstract pieces worked well among the multi-idiomatic pieces, which included sections which seemed influenced by a (sometimes too cliched) vision of middle-eastern (Turkish?) music, African (Nigerian?), and something else - maybe Thai? Also, several of the pieces immediately sequed into trio and quartet improvisations. though these were enjoyable, what was Plonsey (me) saying through this particular juxtaposition? Was it simply a case of giving the musicians (all known for their improv abilities) something to do? Perhaps the effect of the compositions was somewhat neutralized by these improvisations; they do seem superfluous on tape. Perhaps they would have worked better inside the music, or perhaps they ought to be jettisoned entirely. The pieces were most successful in and of themselves; I think the only possible improvement would be too attach a huge parade to them and have a giant marching band playing instead. This music is indeed strangely familiar, and also just a bit odd: it doesn't come from anywhere in the real world, except maybe from El Cerrito, California.

Zen Cohen's ensemble consisted of: Scott Rosenberg, Marco Eneidi, Garth Powell, Morgan Guberman, Ron Heglin, Dan Plonsey and Bob Marsh. I was playing offstage most of the time, so I didn't see it all. The piece began with Zen reading a story of hers about a ship captain's daughter who hid at the bottom of her father's ship, unknown to the crew, listening to the songs of whales. One day the crew is washed overboard, and the woman emerges, but she is blind. She hears the sound of the ocean.

Then there was a long group improvisation, complete with two dancers whose work I was very unimpressed by in rehearsal. Originally, Zen hoped to include a painter to work live with the ensemble, but due to a schedule conflict, the painter was represented by several pre-painted paintings - which I didn't find too impressive, but maybe you had to be there when they were being painted.

I will only say that I was disappointed that Zen chose not to work more as composer and director in this piece. Left to their own, everyone stood on stage in an arc and performed an improvisation like many many improvisations. (I, a whale, felt that being onstage would lead to a too-abstract reading of the piece, so I, a whale, stayed off. Originally there was some talk about people identifying with elements of the story, but perhaps it was a bit too vague). It wasn't bad music in any sense, but because of my expectations (I repeatedly referred to the work as an opera, to Zen's annoyance), I didn't find it fulfilling, or entirely worthy of the mythic nature of the the Water Story itself.


August 4:
ROOM encounters Phil Gelb /
Ralph Carney's Special Parrot

Chris Brown wrote the music for this encounter. As in his last appearance as a composer at Beanbender's, he used a computer to play percussive pulse tracks for the different musicians to follow. I believe that he utilized several different tempi, articulated on synthesized (or poorly-sampled) percussion as various idiomatic (Latin?) rhythmic patterns. However, it was difficult for me to tell which musician was responding to the "claves," which to the "tambourine," etc., but I think Chris intended his structures mostly to regulate the cplexity in some sense. One highly percussive and very very fast. The most interesting composition was one in which Gelb, Winant and then Larry Ochs each played a long duet with themselves via Brown's real-time manipulation and looping of the music. Gelb was especially interesting in this context (his shakuhachi was a bit overwhelmed by the volume and speed of the other pieces).

Special Parrot's set had some nice moments, and was a good contrast to Room/Gelb. Their approach was to set up grooves which would gradually metamorphise, leaving Carney space to blow trombone, alto sax, Tibetan trumpet (?), sing, etc. over the top. Len Paterson and Ellie Schonwetter on guitar and bass respectively did good work in keeping the grooves from getting stale, and a percussionist injected occasional color with gongs and bowls.


August 11:
Matthew Goodheart, Donald Robinson & Garth Powell /
Morgan Guberman and Brian Kane

I was very impressed by Kane and Guberman's performance. Kane played alto sax, clarinet, and a bunch of toys, cheap electronic instruments and fake-trumpet noisemakers, while Guberman played bass, percussion and sang a little. Frequently they allowed the texture to become very thin, and Kane would work with very subtle edges of sound for long stretches after Guberman would drop out sonically, still present as he rocked gently back on his heels. I could have stood to hear the more exhuberent side of this duo - Guberman limited his singing to a very short segment, and Kane rarely ventured into the louder side of any of his instruments - but they can save that for next time. This one was a quiet, almost-magical, strange little set of tiny noises struggling to come out.

Goodheart and Co. reached into the other end of the sonic spectrum, with equally fascinating results. I can't easily describe what they did, but I liked it! Goodheart used the piano as tuned percussion for the most part, sometimes sounding a bit like Tyner, sometimes like Taylor, but mostly just working very musically, as one third of a very interesting triangle. Garth Powell is always fun to watch for his efficient, precise gestures, and for his ability to pull out surprises and occasionally employ humor. While Donald Robinson is most often seen in more traditional (e.g., drums, bass, horn) contexts, he had no trouble working as a more melodic voice in this unusual trio. I hope to see this group again!


August 18:
Wadada Leo Smith and Nda-Kulture

Wadada Leo Smith and Nda-Kulture presented a very varied couple sets, featuring compositions by Wadada along with fully or largely improvised pieces. Eugene Chadbourne joined the group for a couple improvs in the first set, and played with imagination and much more seriousness than his detractors give him for. It had been many years since Smith and Chadbourne had played together, but it became clear that a real connection still exists.

I wish I knew the titles of the compositions that were played... A couple that particularly caught my ear had elements of New Orleans Brass Band, South(?) Indian melodic structure, and the sort of loose interpretation that I associate with the Art Ensemble of Chicago - or the loose unisons in Indian music, or even Ornette/Don Cherry.

An especially nice performance of "Special Rider" (I think - I hope I've not forgotten) was a highlight of the second set; Smith's singing voice beautiful and understated, the accompaniment on Mbira and Glenn Horiuchi's shamisen (A Japanese fretless string instrument) somehow taking pitches from out of nowhere and making them sound like they belonged in a traditional blues.

Smith's trumpet playing was fresh and brassy, blazing twisted paths into the upper register again and again. His style is very extroverted; a lead trumpet tone applied to a post-Dolphy melodic sense. Also impressive was the tuba playing of William Roper - he provided a flexible, moving bottom to the ensemble, and in one solo, brought the music down to a very low and quiet groan. Glenn Horiuchi on piano cut loose only briefly for a solo which featured virtuosic use of his feet and the piano lid, and Gino Robair contributed some of his typically excellent support: he never goes the obvious direction if he can find a thornier and more impassible shortcut!


August 23:
The Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of Marshall Allen

Sun Ra, in my universe, was the most important, most beautiful, most brilliant musician of the twentieth century. There is no replacing his role with the Arkestra. Better to consider the Arkestra after Sun Ra as a different entity, with an identity of its own.

The soundcheck was so hot and tight that I feared the band might blow the audience out the doors! However, well over 200 bodies showed up to absorb some of the sound, and under Marshall Allen's direction the Arkestra put on a more expansive show than the soundcheck. I find myself unable to review this show properly: the great strengths as well as the weaknesses of the Arkestra are immediately apparent to even the most casual listener. Michael Ray is still the most fabulous lead trumpet player alive, and Allen's alto reaches well into the realm of the impossible. Beyond these two, there is some strong and occasionally brilliant playing to be had from second alto Noel Scott, guitarist Bruce Edwards, drummer Samarai Celestial, and second trumpet Kwami Hadi. Tyrone Hill is still the loudest and brassiest trombonist I've ever heard. Basically, it's a surprisingly energetic - almost ferocious - big band. One of the few left that's really been there - and being Sun Ra's band, been well beyond. But perhaps there's been a sort of return to Planet Earth following the death of Ra, John Gilmore and June Tyson. The costumes seem a little unnecessary now... Still...

It was a fantastic concert and an incredible event in Beanbender's history. Being in the presence of the Sun Ra Arkestra is still to be in the presence of Myth.


August 25:
Bill Horvitz, Steve Adams, & Joe Sabella /
Head Cleaner /
Moe! & Guests

A very fine show by any standards you could possibly name. Bill Horvitz, Steve Adams, & Joe Sabella were all in fine form - I found myself especially impressed by Sabella's drumming. Very much it's own thing, yet responsive to subtle changes in the music. Truly a trio; a three-way music-making, although structurally the forms often had "solos" by Adams and then Horvitz. Not as much use of the perfect-fifth pedal from Horvitz to my mild disappointment, but still quite enjoyable.

Head Cleaner turned out a nice 15-minute set of electronics, utilizing spacey keyboard (sorry, this is months later; can't remember details, but I liked it).

Moe enlisted the aid of various musicians and noise-hounds from all over, including Ron Anderson, Brian Hall, Nancy Clarke, me, and about ten others. There were several loosely structured pieces, all tied together with a roll of plastic caution tape, which bound the musicians and their instruments together with the audience and the pillars. Foam peanuts, baseball cards and other junk were scattered upon audience and players like holy water and then the musical performance began, with a couple small groupings. Most of the music was pretty fine; a bit of a ballad snuck in somehow. Again Moe turned in a virtuosic post-apocalyptic-gamelan solo bravura performance - about 15 minutes of drumming on several clusters of sheets, tubes, and metallic debris; would this work on record without Moe himself present, darting around lightning fast? As much a dance performance as a musical one. In the last piece of the evening, Moe shaped a huge crescendo over perhaps 10 or 20 minutes, culminating in flickering lights, the requisite destructin of three televisions, and the ignition of four fireworks which filled the room with smoke. At least two individuals were heard to declare that this was the finest evening in Beanbender's history. I, who stayed until 1:30AM picking up peanuts, cards and television fragments was almost in agreement.


September 1:
Steve Adams, Vinny Golia, Ken Filiano & Billy Mintz /
John Schott Trio, with Trevor Dunn and Donald Robinson.

An evening of "what is jazz?" activity. The John Schott Trio opened with a set which suggested many musical ideas at different depths: a sort of kaleidiscopic vision of the Jazz Guitar trio. My attention didn't exactly wander so much as I felt it being frequently diverted from one aspect of musical possibility to another: I kept getting ideas, which, when I followed them toward a conclusion inevitably led me away from the music itself: the music-login was in some sense a dream logic. From the beginning: Schoot made a strong and clear solo statement over several minutes, then turned it over to Dunn - who unpredictably backed away from making the obvious response, almost marking time with some double-stopped sevenths... and from there, it was like a trio fractured - which I found much more interesting than the trio whole. Later, however, hearing Ken filiano's almost guitarishly nimble bass playing, I wondered how the evening would have gone had the two bass players been switched: Filiano to answer Schottt's melodic side; Dunn to provide a strong and deep foundation to contrast with the solos of Adams and Golia. More cohesive, perhaps, but that's not necessarily what we desire. Back to Schott: I noticed that while Schott and Dunn have a long playing history, some of the brand-new connections between Robinson and both of the others were what set off the best sparks; the music kept on moving and moving.

Adams and Filiano joked that this quartet has been together for ten years with four gigs. I hope they get some more. They do have a CD worth seeking out (on Nine Winds). On this occasion, my attention was mostly kept by Filiano and the phenomenon of Billy Mintz, even during the reeds' solos. Steve Adams is very fortunate to get to play with Mintz and Sabella on successive weeks; they're two of the finest Jazz drummers around. Filiano is one of the best bassists: a clean high sound, a lot of different notes, and occasional bits of low obsessive inventiveness. The compositions by Filiano and Adams showed the influence of Golia - or maybe some were by Golia, I'm not certain.


September 8:
Jackson Krall, Gino Robair, Garth Powell & Donald Robinson /
Marco Eneidi, Ashley Adams, Dana Reason & Jackson Krall

The drum quartet was more two drum duets, in a sense. Garth and Gino take drums as just the beginning of percussion and performance: inspired by such drummers as Han Bennink, they expand their set through the addition of toys and junk. Their solos are often at least as much about theatre as music, though there's always a virtuosity to whatever they do. This was most explicitly clear during a solo by Garth in which he came running around from behind his set with a collection of baking pans(?), juggling and clattering like mad. Later on Gino was tossing clutter onto Gath's frame drum as part of a duet. In a sense, they are concerned as much or more with the distillation of technique as with the expansion: the gestures of grabbing, hitting, throwing are present in a sort of pure form among the tiny toys. The actual sound - while presumably one of the inspirations in choosing material - becomes almost the first element one could jettison from their music. The physical material, and the gestures, the agility - these are the materials of their music. Music likewise distilled to movement: which might be ultimately the movement of a child or an animal, or a cloud passing the sun soundlessly. In this set, so strongly presented was the Garth-Gino aesthetic that Jackson Krall and Donald Robinson's "straight" drum solos seemed almost the strange ones. Robinson took quite along solo, more (I think) from an attempt to likewise transcend the language of drumming, but from the inside. Krall's playing was conversely almost perfunctory, as if realizing that he was speaking a whole other language. An interesting set with lots of nice bits, and an actual structure (a few pre-determined unison elements worked well), but ultimately the two approaches to playing drums were not reconciled into a clear whole.


September 15:
Alex Candelaria Trio, with Jon Evans and Elliot Kavee /
Open stage (Ron Heglin, Damon Smith, Scott Looney; David Rhoades, David Freihofner; Nancy clarke, Bob Fuller; Dan Plonsey, Steve Mays, Kattt; All)

I liked the Alex Candelaria Trio okay - though I got the sense that the trio, and Alex in particular - are going through a transitional state. Some of the compositions reminded me strongly of Nels Cline: heavy strumming of chords related by drone notes, and then sections of relatively straightforward jazz-guitar. Most successful still (to my ears) were those pieces and sections in which Candelaria kept to a relatively low voulme and lurched along with his unique, light-liquid approach to the instrument.

About a dozen folks showed up to play. We played five ten-minute sets of duos and trios; on the last set almost everyone participated. Each segment was interesting. Heglin-Smith-Looney set the dynamic tone for the evening with a relatively quiet, close-listening responsive performance; utilizing drones with occasional punctuation. The piece came to its end in a skateboarder's rumble from outside. Very nice! Davids Rhoades and Freihofner (sax and piano) skirted along the edge of tonal Eastern European folk music, occasionally one or the other lettig loose over the top briefly. The sax work was somewhat untutored or maybe just edgey, but I liked the simplicity of their interaction. Bob Fuller and Nancy Clarke played a duet of quiet, relatively short abstract gestures, Clarke responding seemingly to Fuller's phrase-shapes rather than to rhythm or harmony: I never know what she'll actually do. A hesitant but engaging and interesting duet. Steve Mays and I have played off and on for years, more "off" in recent times. Adding Kattt on voice complicated things for me - I need to apply much attention to work with Steve, who tends to stay in his own world rather than reaching out to others.


September 22:
Duets /
Bertram Turetzky /
Torid Anos: Beth Lissick, Gino Robair, John Shiurba, and Dan Plonsey.

Since both Bert and Torid Anos had told friends that they were starting around 9, we decided to arrange some impromptu duets between the various bassists present (six students of Turetzky were there) and the others. I played a duet with Turetzky to start things off. I have to say that I have rarely played alto clarinet so well - and Turetzky is a great player: a wonderful ear for pitch and timbral variation. A very enjoyable musical experience for me! George Cremaschi played a percussive bass/drum duet with Tom Scandura (recruited from the audience five minutes before) which was very live and fresh-sounding, like a bunch of wood and rubber objects bouncing around in a crate.

Turetzky did his usual show, with lots of engaging and humorous talk between pieces. His anecdotes serve to bring the composers whose work he plays to life, alongside their compositions. As always, his playing was elegant and superb: no wasted motions or showmanship in the playing itself; he makes even relatively obscure music seem to have a point - though I couldn't always remember much of the actual compositions long after.

I like Torid Anos! Beth tells some very good stories, and we respond to them as best we can. I prefer to go for very direct obvious correspondancies in this situation; I think I wouldn't if Shiurba and Gino were less abstract. The band has a roomy feel: the music could (and does) go any which way, occasionally into pseudo-stylistic takeoff.


September 29:
Henry Kuntz /
Pauline Oliveros and the Mills College Contemporary Performance Ensemble

Though I have heard Henry play a bit, and although I respect his musicianship greatly, I was actually quite surprised by the incredibly choerent and personal solo tenor set he pulled off. I would go so far as to say that it rivalled (if not exceeding) work by any solo saxophonist at Beanbender's - and that would include Evan Parker and John Butcher - in its inventiveness and in clarity of shape. He began by introducing a couple of what Braxton would call language elements: a repeated note, very high long notes, low growled(?) notes, etc. As the thirty-minute piece went on, he would return to earlier elements, then introduce new ones, one at a time mostly (thus, the form was additive, something like: A AB ABC ABCD..., but not exactly; it was more organic). He took frequent breaths, during which he would often take the saxophone out of his mouth for a second or two - and these silences, as the piece accumulated, became some of the most personal moments: the time when his aloneness under a too-bright light was most apparent (as Steve Mays pointed out). A remarkable and inspiring performance!

Pauline Oliveros's set was no less remarkable. Two pieces for large ensemble (the second being "For Valerie Solanis and Marilyn Monroe: in Recognition of their Desperation") were performed by the Mills College Contemporary Performance Ensemble, and between the two was sandwiched a great little fifteen(?)-minute improvisation by Oliveros (accordion), India Cooke (violin) and Caroline van Putten (voice, frame drum). One friend arrived just in time for the trio, and stood by the door, her mouth agape. "Could you tell her that that was fucking amazing?" she asked me. The three women started with a few quick rough flourishes before settling into a work in which tones were passed freely among them in a profoundly collaborative improvisation in which one or another would lead for a few moments only. The similar timbres of voice, violin and accordion allowed the musicians to play with great congruency much of the time. Oliveros's large pieces had a different sensuality than that of the trio, but there were many beautiful sounds and silences. During rehearsal one player asked Oliveros if there were enough silences, and she answered "There can never be enough silence." As in Henry's work, the silences in performance were the most expressive and exquisite moments. The pieces were played in very low lighting, and both featured somewhat isolated musical events from each performer, not moving according to any obvious dramtic rhythm, and yet having a sort of life-shape. A very satisfying and gentle sort of music, reminiscent of some of the work of John Cage, yet with a tranquility that seemed more deliberate: more human, more personanlity (the performers got to play many of their richest sounds and gestures), less about the nature of parameter space.


October 6:
What We Live - Lisle Ellis, Larry "Lawrence" Ochs, and Donald Robinson /
Ron Heglin and Sabine von der Tamm

Ron and Sabine babble in invented languages (and a bit of German and English), sometimes a bit like Kurt Schwitters - definitely coming out of the world of Dada nonsensicle-sense (and nonsensicle-nonsense). I could picture an abstract version of shadow-puppet play going on with them. We at the food table were happy.

A beautiful set by What We Live! Mostly balladic, with great playing by Lisle Ellis throughout. Ochs was also at the top of his form, some amazing sopranino segments flowed in a burbling way, and on tenor I heard a few little echos of Shepp, but mostly a great sense for how to work within the ensemble, eschewing the pyrotechnics in favor of a long line of differentiated but connecting sound-elements: high, low, loud, soft, gruff, sweet.


October 13:
Wobbly /
Wet Gate: Peter Conheim, Steven Dye, and Owen O'Toole /
Scott Looney Quartet, w/ Aaron Bennett and Dan Plonsey, saxophones; Richard Saunders, bass.

Wobbly, entirely unknown to me, was on this occasion a single person named Jon who made great little tape loops and sometimes added live piano on top. The piano style is hard to describe. So are the tape loops. I liked it a lot! I give Wobbly seven-hundred stars! He has CDs; you can hear for yourself.

About 118 people paid good money to see Wetgate. Wetgate is like a celebration of projectionists. You see the three projectionists projecting from onstage onto the back of a screen between you and them. Each one had a dozen or more film loops, and they spent almost as much time changing loops as showing them. They also processed the sound tracks, mostly (exclusively?) by changing speed and adding delay. Many of their loops seemed to come from industrial and commercial films. I liked them a lot too. I liked seeing them working to project. The actual images were pretty mundane, but sometimes they superimposed them, or reflected them onto walls. The flimsiness of film itself as a medium was also close to the surface of the performance, what with the difficulties experienced and the occasional breakage. They can come back again!

Scott Looney is relatively new in town. We didn't do a great job with the tunes, but the imprvs were good - the addition of tiny toy instruments worked well, I thought.

Another varied evening! How nice for us, isn't it?


October 20:
Joel Harrison's 3+3=7, featuring Nels Cline. CD release party! Also featuring John Schott and the Percussionists Three /
Myles Boisen and Ed Chang

Myles and Ed Chang did some nice high-wire stuff; two guitars, guitar & clarinet, and then another two guitars and another guitar & clarinet. Perhaps the second pair of improvs were a little too close to the first two for maximum impact, but the playing was on the hot side, and no one complained.

Joel's 3+3=7 was really on - the best I've heard them. Perhaps because for some reason the percussion section finally gelled and rose to the level where they could meet the guitarists as equals rather than as accompanists. Also, the pieces were well-played - tight, but with space for some excellent playing by all the percussionists and by John and Nels - Joel seems happy to keep to backgrounds in playing, his presence is felt as composer/conducter/arranger primarily. Nels played an especially great solo at the end of a new tune by Russ (?), one of the drummers - the sort of solo that puts him in a class with the best rock guitarists (let alone improv and jazz). All in all, a happy evening of music.


October 27:
Tim Berne & Jon Raskin Quartet, With Elliot Kavee, drums; and Michael Formanek, bass. Two sets.

Tim Berne was in town co-leading a quartet with Jon Raskin, Michael Formanek and Elliot Kavee, Vince. It's what one might expect from the Bloodcount records. Excellent performances, though Berne stays snugly in certain spaces these days and there's less of an element of surprise and exploration.


My favorite three parts of the two sets were (in order): that I almost managed to seat Larry Ochs, Marc Weinstein and myself consecutively (Marc put his coat down, but stood behind it). An incredibly exciting prospect for fans of hair. Then there was a very nice piece by Jon in which Elliot played a lot of cello and a little drums - the timbres mixed so well together, and for once in the evening the music really pulled away from the usual Berne/Raskin post-bop realms into a magical musical area, but perhaps universal: that realm of sound for the sake of sound, outside of notions of melody, harmony, etc. And lastly I liked the ending of one piece in which Raskin stopped for a moment, everyone else stopped - and there was silence for maybe 10 seconds before the piece really ended. Okay you had to be there - this was a really good silence. Larry Ochs said, "It's what Tim calls a 'train wreck.' It was a great ending - but they just don't realize it yet." did I mention that immediately before the ending someone skateboarded by - like a high-pitched roll of thunder. Listen for it on the Music & Arts recording of this night, which we hope will happen...


November 3:
Improvisors' pot-luck and jam session

Well, for various reasons we couldn't put a show together, so we put on an under-publicized pot-luck/jam-session. The food was very good, and the music spotty. We will do this again sometime soon!


November 10:
Fred Lonborg-Holm, Eric Bergkvist, Michael Gendreau /
Ben Goldberg with Francis Wong, Elliot Kavee.

I missed the first set, but fortunately we have a review from the friend of a friend who was present. I will note that these guys play challenging music, with a high-level of ultra-fast interaction, and I've always liked them a lot. -Dan The first [Fred Lonborg-Holm, Eric Bergkvist, Michael Gendreau] was, um,.......

have you ever heard someone play a violin or cello for the first time? If you put too much pressure on the bow, you can't move it very quickly or strongly, and the sound that comes out is the screech of the bow hairs against the metal of the strings. It's very VERY similar to fingernails on a chalkboard -- some people can handle it, i can't. The first act was a trio led by a cellist who did this ON PURPOSE, screeching and scrawling his way through pieces, and also using stuff like cheese graters and bits of metal against the strings, a la Fred Frith. I barely made it through this one.

The second set was a jazz improv trio, much mellower, much better sounding. ahhhh.

I'm really getting into this kind of music, for whatever reason. There's a pervasive flow to it that tickles the mind on a different level than structured music does (oh great, now i'm sounding like some cult member). On the oher hand, i do prefer the pieces that have some composed parts (just so i know the musicians know what they're doing). And after listening to wacko stuff for a couple hours, it's always nice to return to NORMAL music on the radio.

-Craig Matsumoto

I did catch the last half of the Ben Goldberg set (Miya Masaoka couldn't make it due to illness), and it was very very nice. When I came in the music was practically at a standstill: Goldberg and Wong were sitting on the edge of the stage; Goldberg would play a note or two now and then, while Wong tapped absently on his saxophone keys. Kavee made occasional soft sounds, mostly on his cello (I wish he'd play more cello!), and the audience was completely still. The moment was entirely of deep quiet; time practically had to stop. It was an intimate moment as happens when with a single good friend, and conversation reaches a lull, but without awkwardness. You sit there, maybe sipping wine, just enjoying the non-happening static universe, and the feeling of life slowly ebbing away is somehow comforting...

Eventually the trio brought the music up, and came to a most satisfying conclusion. Recommended.


November 17:
Actual Size: Bruce Ackley, George Cremaschi & Garth Powell /
Splatter Trio - 1 + 3, with John Shiurba, Carla Kihlstedt and Steve Adams.

Myles couldn't make it, so Splatter sent out the call to three friends. My favorite part of their set however, was the opening duet between Dave Barrett and Gino Robair. Barrett played alto, roaming the stage like a zoo cat, and Robair played soft agile swift brush things. Carla Kihlstedt added a great little Bartok-ian violin solo when she joined the group, and then she and Steve Adams closed the set with a satisfying and non-complex bit of call and response.

Bruce Ackley wrote a bunch of great little tunes for his trio - which was a special treat for me, as he rarely (ever?) writes for Rova. His compositions capture exactly the sort of twisted, odd-shaped post-bop lines that he's been favoring in his improvisations in recent years. Garth Powell and George Cremaschi are making a case for themselves as the Sly & Robbie of the local improv scene: Powell contributed a great mallet solo that lifted one piece to an unexpected conclusion, and Cremaschi played a solo which reminded me of Jimmy Page (and he wasn't even using the bow!) for its flourishes of hammer-ons and pull-offs. I'll be very interested to see how the trio develops, as Ackley's post-bop tunes are stretched to fit his trio esthetic, which (Ackley says) is influenced by the mid-60's work of Albert Ayler and Paul Bley. Currently, the sound reminds me more of a Steve Lacy group, both for Ackley's measured lines and Powell's steady hi-hat, but I'm not complaining! Check your local TV listings for these guys.


November 24:
SF Electric String Trio: Doug Carroll, John Ettinger, Jim Hearon /
Scott Rosenberg Quartet CD Release, with Matt Ingalls, Tom Dambley, Gino Robair.

Rosenberg's intriguing CD release party had quite a different flavor. Guberman was absent because of tendonitis, and was replaced by a trumpet player (or was it cornet? I forget). The feel of the group reminded me a lot of the more abstract Leo Smith New Dalta Akhri groups, all the subtle quiet tensions and AACM-ish use of space. Rosenberg's extended circular-breathing solo was especially absorbing; to me it seemed to owe more to Scelsi than to Evan Parker or Roscoe Mitchell.

Opening for the Rosenberg quartet was the San Francisco Electric String Trio, showing much greater range than when I've seen them in the past. The two electric violins stake out very different timbral territory: John Ettinger's amplified acoustic has severely attenuated high frequencies to emphasize its woody quality, and Jim Hearon's electric violin usually goes through deftly controlled effects, sounding like anything but an acoustic violin. One piece invoked for me the cartoon ghosts of the String Trio of New York, killed because they were so boring of the in real life, playing a pale swinging ditty sitting on gravestones :-). Most of the set was similarly witty and colorful, an interesting mix of traditional and textural playing.


Yikes, it's 6 weeks later! I remember less of this concert than I would like. The String Trio is almost too unified - I suppose I prefer Doug carroll in situations where he stands out a bit more texturally (e.g., Rotodoti and Offramp). But they're still a very good bunch o' strings and I don't recall a single complaint.

Scott's quartet usually has Morgan Guberman on bass instead of Tom Dambly (trumpet), so the music was radically different in texture - all high end melody instruments twittering and twirling together. Rosenberg is an ambitious composer, and I found myself wishing he had more instruments to work with here. Some of the pieces had clear, concise structures which nonetheless eluded precise definition on first hearing: lines of different lengths repeating, solos with meldoic accompaniment, etc. Rosenberg's tenor sound is distinctively honky and rich, sometimes I had a sort of synesthic experience of eating a carnitas burrito while watching Bill Moyers interview a basketball-playing scholar, perhaps Bill Bradley in his younger days (an impression which was only strengthened by Rosenberg's brilliant red shorts outfit).


December 1:
Pauline Oliveros, India Cooke, and Caroline van Putten /
Matt Sperry, Carla Kihlstedt, and Gino Robair

I declare that the Circle Trio (Pauline Oliveros, India Cooke, and Caroline van Putten) are really improvising out there on the line, on a high wire. Oliveros in particular: relying on no gimmicks, no fancy footwork - even spotting us a few scrabbily runs around the keyboard which didn't seem to offer any toeholds whatsoever - yet making fascinating, one-of-a-kind pure music, the way they used to do it when they did it phrase by phrase (so often these days it's just 50 minutes or so of attitude). India Cooke was also very impressively musical: her finesse and control over the violin, and the rapidity with which she saw meaning in the most inpenetrable of Oliveros's scribbles. Many people commented to me about how much they liked Van Putten's voice. Though I suspect that her range isn't huge (intervallically and maybe even emotionally), part of her genius lies in knowing precisely when to be silent, or to be very quiet - these were the times I focused upon her. With a minimum of actual sound, reservedly opening outward to the other two, she hinted at a huge body of spiritual tradition song. When Pauline Oliveros taught at Mills College, she stressed that as musicians we could pay attention to changing our focus from the global to the microscopic, and that is what this trio did: at times the music bloomed in grand gestures, while at other times thousands of irreducible details were presented at once. As a coda to their set, India Cooke introduced a sort of Memphis bluesy thing, and with no hesitation Oliveros was right there with understated but entirely idiomatic keyboard punctuation, and the room resonated in a simple delight. Pardon me for getting poetic and even sentimental on y'all, but this was one joyful little set! Its intimate, small-scale facade hid great quantities of feeling and thought.

I liked the Sperry Trio set too, but unlike the Circle trio, they weren't dealing with history; they were making things up. To put it another way, the music didn't have the same deep resonance. What it did have was a powerfully interactive and unusual frontline in which bass and violin moved together as partners through the set, often imitative or complimentary; while the drums provided counterpoint rather than rhythm. Music spilled out across the stage. Two thumbs up!


December 8:
The ROVA Sax Quartet /
Dana Reason & Peter Valsamis.

Of Dana and Peter's set, what I remember best is the final piece in which they operated together upon the inside of the piano, making some of the most un-pianistic yet profound music in recent memory. My brain went into a sort of stall; it couldn't quite grasp what it was hearing. I think I may have been transported to some very distant place that was perhaps in mourning. The string sounds were bells and thunder. It went on and on. I think I was dreaming while all this happened, because when I woke up there was a piano in the center of a room, and everyone was gathered around it like they were preparing to bury it. And there may have been horses and camels, yes, surely there were. And people doing things with bronze impliments. Did I mention that I was entranced? The other pieces were good too, but a bit more nebulous - partly due to Peter's ability to integrate the percussion into the piano somehow, and Dana's use of the piano as tuned percussion... Lotsa flow and good give-and-take in that duo!

Rova surprised me by playing a couple improvised pieces, along with a couple by Steve Adams (I think?). The improvisations were great great great! I suppose there really is a reason to play regularly with people for about 20 years. The improvised pieces had just as much form and substance as the pieces Rova write for themselves - which are already head-and-shoulders better than almost all the pieces anyone else writes for them - and which I often like quite a bit, but I may have liked these best of all, because though they didn't get to do fast unison stuff, they got to breathe quite a bit more, and the "solos" grew right out of the ensembles and accompaniments. Also, for whatever reason, everyone was really on, making very individual and striking statements whenever they came to the foreground, and there were no false leads or missteps; it was a relaxed, organic saxophone garden experience. I'm still a fan! I even would collect Rova trading cards if anyone wants to make a set or two.


December 15:
Scott Walton Group /
Graham Connah's NoPorkestra /
Phillip Johnston Quintet with Jon Raskin, saxes; Dickie Dworkin, drums; Richard Saunders, bass; Graham Connah, piano. Special Guest: Bruce Ackley.

I have to get the names of the guys in Scott Walton's Quartet, and also the quartet name is forgotten... I'm left with a memory of highly interactive improvisation, clarinet, trumpet, guitar and bass, structures loose enough to accomodate the oddest of hats, and a style much less jazzy than contemporary classical - except for the sudden guitar/bass blues that happened. Very strong playing from everybody, and a great sense of ensemble possibilities: shapes evolved which resembled Gaudi constructions. Or even Dr. Seuss, maybe. We will have them back!

Graham Connah's NoPorkestra (Ben Goldberg and Beth Custer, clarinets; Eric Crystal(sp?), Dan PLonsey, Sheldon Brown, Rob Sudduth, Steve Adams, saxophones; Joe Karten, trumpet; Marty Wehner, trombone; Carla Kihlstedt, bass; Jewlia Eisenberg, vocals; Trevor Dunn, bass; Elliot Kavee, drums; Graham Connah, piano) is a big group with a big sound, and Graham writes long pieces with lots of notes which fly by before you can play them, so you compensate by playing a wavery and moany solo or maybe a duet with Steve Adams which you consciously base on one of the Arkestral sax duets. I like Graham's music a lot, and being inside it makes it even more pleasurable and mysterious. One piece which worked well was very fast, with the rhythm section entirely off doing their own thing, we couldn't really hear or see Ben for cues, and then the end is much slower and there's lots of counterpoint and parts that kinda interlock like a puzzle, and it was even more puzzling how we played it and it worked so well in such unexpected ways.

It was a massive set constructed of perhaps six large pieces. All the soloists were arrayed like mountaineers on distant mountains: almost two small to see, but injecting bits of contrasting color. I must return here with more detail, because this music and the thought processes behind it all (which are obviously quite complex and conflicted) deserve great and intricate scrutiny. Offhand, I would venture to say that Mr. Connah has something of the cartoon composer in him (as in Raymond Scott) alongside - and often superseding - Duke Ellington and Sun Ra. The music has episodes which aren't so much comic as definitive and brick-ish. The musicians race about like some ancient civilization becoming modern at breakneck speed while a giant passes them instructions periodically (I'm referring to a half-remembered science fiction story). Or perhaps it's like a bunch of runaway trains, or clowns working the midnight-shift in an automobile factory.

I didn't care so much for Phillip Johnston's smooth sound at first - but then I did, at least a bit more. It's not so much jazzy as swingy. It's as if they never invented bebop but went straight from swing to something not too far removed from it, but quirky. I fancied that I was in an old and revered hotel that hadn't been used for decades. It was interesting, and I liked Johntson's patter: it was soft like rain. Actually, it was like an actor I couldn't place. Or maybe like Lippy the Lion? Some cartoon actor. Also, rain isn't so much soft as wet, and I liked the patter better than rain. Oh, you say that the rain is outside? Okay, yeah, well, then that was what this was, nearly as exactly as I can make it out to be. And everyone sounded good, like they'd had some brandy out of crystal snifters just before each note.


December 22:
X-mas and Seasonal Music curated by Dave Barrett

A very very successful event, thanks to the wide variety and high quality of musicians who were enticed into performing! Dave Barrett and Myles Boisen started things off with a version of "Silent Night." They were followed (in roughly this order) by the Ashley Adams Trio (Phillip Greenlief, Adams, and Michel Dumonceau), Karolyn Van Putten, Tom and James(?), Joan Gatten & Elliot Bey, Arnie Passman, Henry Kaiser, Doug Carroll, The Manufacturing of Humidifiers, Claude Palmer, and Mantra's Voice Orchestra. And others I've forgotten... Pretty much everything was great. Van Putten sang a medley of beautiful Christmas spirituals, accompanying herself on a Chinese relative of the koto. Tom and James(?) did a fairly free improvisation on piano and violin which had occasional bits of Christmas music interspersed with cynical growls, e.g., "It's wrist-slitting time of year again!" Arnie Passman read a Hanukkah poem which had references to Sun Ra, Kaiser talked about the history of the celebration of Christmas and then read "The Night Before Christmas," accompanying himself (and distracting himself) on acoustic guitar. Claude Palmer buried Xmas music into a solo oud improvisation, and The Manufacturing of Humidifiers played a version of "O Hanukkah" on sax, saz, and percussion. acoustic guitar. Last but not least, Mantra presented a dada version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in which a small chorus provided a running commentary of gestures and ooh's and ahh's during that hoary song.

A very fun and varied evening!


December 29:
Billy Mintz & Vinny Golia Trio /
Touch the Earth Trio

Touch the Earth (Damon Smith, bass; Jacob Lindsay, clarinet & bass clarinet; Michel Dumonceau, drums) presented several compositions (original and by Steve Lacy and Johnny Dyani). Though both Smith and Lindsay still have a ways to go before reaching virtuoso status on their instruments, the trio worked very well as a unit, presenting coherent and original readings of music. Genrally speaking, the group is inspired by the record "Touch the Earth" (Leo Smith on FMP?), but the style is as indebted to 60s U.S. free jazz as documented on ESP. The course is impressionistic and abstract (except for those moments playing Lacy's head), without major landmarks or recourse to the well-worn soft-loud-soft formula, the group establishes a general texture for each piece, with Lindsay's entrances and exits the only major events. Enjoyable music!

This is the second two-horn trio performance by Vinny Golia at Beanbender's (the other being April 24, 1996). Without the bass and guitar of his standard quintet, the compositions are suddenly much more fragmentary. Also, one of Golia's standard gambits - cuing a series of longtones for himself and the other horn player during bass or guitar solos - is no longer possible. In short, the music loses a dimension, and on this particular evening it also lost a portion of my attention - except during Golia's last two baritone solos, which were quite strong.


To browse through reviews of concerts in other years:

Or: Return to main Beanbender's page" or to Upcoming Beanbender's concerts".