Thursday, November 8, 2018

SF Bay Area New Releases Roundup!

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to go through myriad changes these days. Disaster Amnesiac has noticed towns such as Palo Alto and Walnut Creek morph into strange little Beverly Hills imitations. San Francisco proper? Forget about it! Even gritty old Oakland is turning into a bit of tourist showcase. The list goes on and on, as do the observations and commiserations of long time residents. That said, the music somehow remains, thankfully. Of late, I've received some sweet musical libations from a handful of local creative musicians. Here are my thoughts!

Voicehandler-light from another light; Humbler Records, 2018
It's been a few years since Disaster Amnesiac has heard from Voicehandler, and I'm glad to hear them back on record. light from another light features a few changes, with Jacob Felix Heule switching to a full drum kit and Danishta Rivero seemingly putting away the text-based vocals from their 2015 release for a looser style. The former's performance is damn great. Jacob explores the kit with an ear towards the vocal sounds, always sounding focused on and in sync with Danishta's voice. This voice is, as stated, much looser, pushed a bit further back into the mix. This production pairs really well with her glitch-ey, pinpoint electronics; it's almost as if they are intended to sound like one fused instrument. The engineering on the three tracks of light from another light must also be mentioned for its sumptuous treatment of Heule's kit. A top notch recording in both performance and sound capture. Will we really have to wait another three years for new recordings from this great duo and their active, elevated Experimental Music visions?

Nathan Corder-Hardcore Boring Electronic Music; self-released via Bandcamp, 2018
The vibe that Disaster Amnesiac gets from Nathan Corder's Hardcore Boring Electronic Music is one of hardened Minimalism. It's nowhere listed from what sound sources these tones spring, but they certainly are allowed to ring out unimpeded and seemingly unprocessed. Tones emerge and float into the ears before they morph, at their own paces, into new ones. Opener I could go to the movies has eerie notes that wrap around a beautiful high note drone. Centerpiece What comes through the door brings the Hardcore element. Its squealing high tones get pretty piercing at times. Give yourself some space from the speakers as you listen, though, and they become lovely bolts of lightning within a room. This one builds into a heavy crescendo before slipping away a bit more quietly. Strata brings back the contemplative drone for a few minutes before launching into some mysterious chords that bring about lovely overtones and foggy visions. Nathan Corder does SF Bay Area Minimalism right, by Riley!

Sheldon Brown Group-Blood of the Air; Edgetone Records 2018
Here we have long time Bay Area woodwinds player Sheldon Brown and a cracking great group paying tribute to the words and voice of poet Philip Lamantia. Blood of the Air features Brown's incredibly astute writing; seriously, following these charts' sounds is a thrilling instrumental experience. Paired with the great vocal interpretations of Lamantia's written words by singer Lorin Benedict, the sounds on this disc swing, shout, rock and just really kick ass. The rest of the group, trumpeter Darren Johnston, guitarists Dave McNab and John Finkbeiner, pianist Jonathan Alford, bassist Mike Wilcox, drummers Vijay Anderson and Alan Hall, and theremin player Andrew Joron provide ample talents to make the music on Air fly out in very effective ways. This here is whip smart music played by top flight musicians, and if the international Jazz Community ignores it, it really is neither. Seek out Philip Lamantia's richly Surrealist poetry as a add on for this shining star of a record.

Spirit/Joshua Allen/Henry Kaiser/Joshua Marshall-In The Realm Of; Fractal Music 2018
Last up we have a disc of sublime quartet music from more SF Bay Area heavy hitters. In The Realm Of features tenor saxophone players Joshua Allen and Joshua Marshall mixing it up with the rhythm section of Spirit and Henry Kaiser. Over multiple listens, Disaster Amnesiac has imagined myself watching sublime hieroglyphics or subtle zen brush artwork being done. The music on this CD is downright delicate at times. It's as if the four of them are in a room, passing conversations around and around, with each member adding or commenting upon what's being said. For a strong dose of the sounds of everything right and good about current improvisational music techniques and aesthetics, one will want to find a copy of In The Realm Of. This group's sound is one of listening and playing together in the deepest of ways.

The San Francisco Bay Area is filled to the brim with music and music scenes, way more than one person could ever really find and take note of. The above four recordings represent some of the best that Disaster Amnesiac has been able to find this year. What's going on in your region?

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hamelmal Abate-Yenie New b/w Zelesegna digital single; self released 2018

Along with Youth Chairs, Los Angeles drummer David Winogrond is a member of Hamelmal Abate's group.This latter has released a very dynamic digital single, Yenie New b/w Zelesgna, and, thankfully, shared it with Disaster Amnesiac.
The A side features a sharp, horn-driven arrangement and Winogrond's characteristic tight ride-cymbal lead playing. Flying atop the music is Abate's great alto singing, full of Ethiopian trills and sweet melodic effect. Yenie New is an energetic and driving rocker of a tune that brings to mind the Los Angeles Punk Rock of the late 1970's and early 1980's for Disaster Amnesiac. It has that same pairing of concision and frantic drive.
B side Zelesegna features a more traditional Ethiopian sound, possibly familiar to listeners of any of the Ethiopiques series. The vocals feel a lot more introspective within the slower waltzing pace of the song as violin and keyboard sounds frame Hamelmal's vocal. As I'm writing this, the sun is rising outside my window, and it fits perfectly with the tone of Zelesegna. That said, the track could probably work for the day's end, too. It has that kind of pensive drama.
If she hasn't brought David and her band north of Los Angeles already, it's my hope that Hamelmal Abate does so soon. Disaster Amnesiac would love to see and hear them at Ashkenaz in Berkeley or some similar venue! Get 'em in the van, David!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Various Artists-Switched-On Eugene; Numero Group Records #198, 2018

Towards the end of Douglas McGowan's great liner notes for Switched-On Eugene, Peter Nothnagle, one of its featured artists, is quoted thus: "...I think that if there's one key thing that has inspired me in life, it is uncovering that which is hidden...". These words can truly be the maxim for Numero Group, a label that has been finding all sorts of hidden gems and putting them out for the interested public for several years now.
Earlier this year, when Disaster Amnesiac read about Switched-On Eugene's immanent release, I felt pretty excited and confident that it would be highly worth checking out. I have long had a fascination with the release's time frame of mid-to late 1980's synthesizer music! Of course, this feeling has been proven to be correct.
Over the course of fourteen tracks, the listener is treated to a beautifully detailed overview of Eugene, Oregon's Electronic Music Collective, founded in 1984 by six of the musicians featured. The synthesizer-generated music featured on this release is all wonderful and diverse, linked loosely by a common focus on Post-Psychedelic and New Age aesthetics; that said, all of them are uniquely realized and are clear examples of the individual vision of their respective creators.
Eugene kicks off with David Stout's The Seven Rays. This track features Stout's dramatic incantation about crystals and numerology, backed by great marching drum pulses and a mixture of billowing and bleeping tones from his synthesizers. What a great, definitive opening statement for this release! From and artist with the excellent nom de plume of Phyllyp Vernacular, track two, The Clinging, has a bit more driving pulse, classic machine sounds pushing big keyboard chords towards a slow fade. One can really feel one's self within a blissfully digital realm here. A very meditative piece for Prophet 5 Synth, Shimmer, comes next. Peter Thomas's largo approach features a lovely mixture of longer, longing tones and wistful commentary from the higher notes. It really does indeed shimmer within the perceptions. It seems like a definitive statement of New Age Music from that time frame. Other Playgrounds, from Peter Kardas, proves to be quite a good transition from its predecessor on Eugene, as it continues with the longing feelings in some ways. His Jon Anderson-inspired vocals hover above a drones generated from a delay pedal before fading out. The peripatetic (at least during that time frame) Kim Carter and his lively, almost Beatles-ey Energy wanders in next. Driven by a jumpy drum machine beat, this song is really catchy in a Pop sense. Sadly, its insightful lyrics are probably a bit too deep for mass consumption. This one has been bouncing around in Disaster Amnesiac's brain for days. The more rhythmic sensibilities continue with Great Moves, by Nathan Griffith. It gets to the heart of the machines as robotic poly voices mix and mingle within its moves. Moves veers almost into Punk Rock territory, not so much in overt show, but in its harder edged surfaces. Joel Horwitz joins the action with a very cool fusion of drums and synthesizers for Finale From "A Walk Down Serenity Lane". A track that can by its nature be considered Electro-Acoustic, it was produced to be promotional music for a drug rehab clinic. Joel mentions that it was not used as intended. Its tripartite form runs the gamut from harrowing to uplifting and has some really fine, loose drum set action. What was Serenity Lane thinking? Perhaps the term of Techno-Primitive can best be used to describe Michael Chocholak's Skomorokhi. Sparse washes of sound and a incessant, tapping beat frame vocal samples of the track's title. Its atmospheres are quite mysterious and perhaps a bit dark, and provide fascinating contrast to the dreamier cuts that precede it. Every story needs an element of tragedy, and Derryl Parsons may well fit that role on Switched-On Eugene. After reading about his jaw being broken in a street altercation and his somewhat early passing, Disaster Amnesiac certainly has sensed so.  The icy synths of Floating Landscape (including Chase Scene), Derryl's contribution to the the disc, pulse along gaily and belie the sorrow which the man apparently embodied. Chase Scene is particularly cool with its Minimalist stuttering and water atmosphere. Dance Pacific, by Portland OR native Scott Blair is very aptly titled. He managed to coax bamboo Gamelan sounds from his Yamaha CX5M, along with bright chimes and longer, supporting tones atop them. Really gorgeous tones here. Heather Perkins brings The Eugene Electronic Music Collective to a pretty much Punk Rock place with Burning Through. Her slurred recitation about not being cool and remaining her own person in the face of social pressures has a really sharp edge. The spare electronic percussion bed upon which her lyrics rest is perfect for this type of street level ranting. It's a testament to the broad mindedness of the organization, hinted at from a quote in the liner notes, that they allowed this declamation sit side by side with the more Aquarian sentiments generally expressed. More drum set and electronics fusions emerge with Self-Regulation (II). A trippy blend of bent guitar (?) notes, up beat traps drumming and electronic washes from Carl Juarez, it carries on with the harder sounds. A blending of Punk Rock with Psychedelic in the fine tradition of the German groups of the early 1970's. The next couple of tracks, The Ride and Patterns, by Talve and Suse Millemann respectively, seem to show a return towards more upbeat, vocal-oriented Pop sensibilities. The former has a quite catchy chorus that Disaster Amnesiac has been humming a lot, delivered from Talve's clear soprano. The latter, a bit more subdued, has Suse singing in a rougher alto. Both are finely crafted and inspiring, really nice pieces of 1980's styled song writing. I've really enjoyed these ones during early morning commutes from Richmond CA to Concord CA along Highway 4, a somewhat rural stretch surrounded by ranches. They lend themselves to early morning contemplation. Switched-On Eugene concludes with the very placid New Snow by Peter Northagle. It is a sumptuous piece of smooth tones that floats the listener gently away patient waves of synthesized chords. Along with Shimmer, Nothagle's piece may be the most classically New Age of this set, and it's a fine ending statement.
Additionally of note about Switched-On Eugene are the lovely cartoon graphics by the late Paul Ollswang, numerous reproductions of Eugene Electronic Music Collective tape covers and show flyers, and wonderfully candid photos of most of the artists represented. Numero Group clearly put a ton of effort into this beautiful package. No surprise there, of course. They are stunningly meticulous about all of their output.
Switched-On Eugene would surely appeal to both long time fans of Electronic Music or curious new comers to this fascinating, wide ranging genre. Disaster Amnesiac has been loving this very intimate glimpse into this hidden, hermetic scene and its admirable d.i.y. aesthetics. Most of these artists are still around, doing cool stuff in the world. Throw 'em a couple bucks and some listening time!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Panic!-photo book; Ryebread Rodeo Press, 2018

It took a day, maybe two, for Disaster Amnesiac to splurge on Ryebread Rodeo's great new hardbound book, Panic!, upon hearing of its release. Being a huge fan of Black Flag and pretty much anything SST and Greg Ginn related, there really wasn't much choice for me. Kinda HAD to have it. I figure that's the case for many out there, and they'll surely enjoy the photos of Hermosa Beach based Punk Rock group Panic!, a few months before they'd morph into being Black Flag. Robo looking half naked and totally feral, Keith holding onto a can of cheap beer for dear life, Chuck looking every bit the philosophy professor gone Col. Kurz, Greg with his piercing stare and lanky frame. The four of them rehearsing in their padded cell (I've marveled at how clean it looks!) and goofing off inside of what I think is the fabled Church, posing dangerously, while being double exposed, on Aviation Blvd., sitting in Keith's car (there's that brewski again, too). Also of note are the rough, naturalistic backgrounds that show Los Angeles in 1978. One can almost feel the grit and smell the exhaust coming off of the contact sheets.
The most instructive takeaway for Disaster Amnesiac, though, has been the repro'd contract with Bomp! Records. After reading it, I was struck by the "in perpetuity" clause mentioned. Is it painting with too broad a brush to suggest that this clause in some sense was the seed for the underground, do it yourself ethos which Black Flag would pioneer?
Dig: Disaster Amnesiac has been trying to imagine the conversation between Ginn and...who? His inner voice? Dukowski? Regis? In which, he saw that some other entity would own his vision for ever. For me, it's fascinating to ponder this, and the final decision to jettison the Bomp! plan and go completely independent. It seems likely that, had Panic! been signed to Bomp!, they would have put out a few 7 inches, maybe a 12 inch, and withered upon the vine of their boutique aesthetic. As we all know, Black Flag took over their own destiny (or, at least made a bold attempt to do so), got that first single out, and proceeded to carve out a tour circuit that is still extant into the 21st Century. Granted, this is pretty speculative statement, but it seems logical from where I sit. From a historical perspective, the contract is really the most compelling piece in the Panic! book for me.
Anyone interested in SST Records, or Black Flag, or Los Angeles, will likely spend a ton of time with it, should they grasp a copy of Panic! It does not feel as seminal a description of them as, say, Enter Naomi, but they most definitely expose some heretofore obscured views of the very important cultural achievement that they represent.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

United Slaves-United Slaves Live in Paris; Muteant Sounds digital release, 2018

The releases are coming fast and furious from Muteant Sounds, so much so that Disaster Amnesiac is having a bit of trouble keeping up with them! It certainly is a pleasure to attempt to do so, of course, especially when releases such as United Slaves Live in Paris, from the quartet known as United Slaves, comes forth through the 'net.
Consisting of one continuous forty minute blast of heady improvisation, Live in Paris hits several different musical zones as it evolves. It starts out with a few minutes of droning, burbling electronics from Julien Palomo's ARP 2600. Upon hearing this initial passage, I was thinking that the entire set would be a meditation of a mellower sort, but as Michel Kristof on guitar, Yann Geoffriaud on drums, and Vinne Pasternostro on sax join in, it became clear that this set would be leading to a lot more wildly energetic areas. The quartet dives into some seriously thickened sonic interaction, with every voice adding their piece to the collective maelstrom that is conjured. Things settle down for a bit before Geoffriaud's rolling tom tom patterns guide Pasternostro, Kristof, and Palomo back up and out into Stooges level trance energy displays. It's within the mid-to late set times that the full force of United Slaves reveals itself, and it's a powerful improvisational force at that. Disaster Amnesiac has been swooning at the precision polyrhythms of Geoffriaud as it combines with Kristof's equally on point guitar stun attack and Pasternostro's spiritually uplifting tenor wailing. Palomo colors within and beyond his compatriots' collective matrix, sending whirling spirals this way and that.
All throughout Live in Paris, I hear many influences as play: Experimental Lab Music, Free Improvisation, Jazz in all its guises, Heavy Metal. Within the Slaves' hands they are all grasped and wrung into a very effective set of their unique sonic head cleaning praxis.
I couldn't care less what sounds others are listening to, but, if Disaster Amnesiac had to present an example of fiery, freely improvised music to a non-clued in listener, I'd seriously consider United Slaves Live in Paris as that example. It's raw, real, and very, all very exciting. Head on over to Muteant Sounds, and tell 'em I sent you.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Frank Wilke/Wayne Rex-Cobra Venom-Muteant Sounds, 2018; Digital release

Why do you listen to music? Kind of rhetorical, yes, but while Disaster Amnesiac has been listening to Cobra Venom, Frank Wilke and Wayne Rex's 2018 release, the question has been on my mind. Ask me why, and I'll likely respond with my personal answer: to feel some sublime emotion or insight. Some people listen for other reasons, and that's fine, but the above stated is generally mine. I state this because I really thrilling upon the intimate interchanges from trumpeter/trombonist Wilke and drummer Rex that comprise the entirety of this release.
There is not a ton of showing off or grandstanding. Instead this duo sound as if they're having a deeply detailed conversation with their respective instruments, chatting back and forth with subtle details given great consideration as they converse. Tracks such as opener Cobra Venom, with its slow unfolding tom rolls and longer trumpet tones, the quickly paced Gold Flakes in Bed and Everyday Thermidor, and 83 Dogs and its inventive, swinging percussion (shades of Baby Dodds!) show two musicians who are formidably in sync with each others' playing.
Cobra Venom is the kind of improvisation recording that does not deliver fantastical displays of macho, but instead reaches out and invites the listener in to its deep focus and reflection. A great release of un-fussy, contemplative instrumental give and take from two musicians who seem to be making music for all of the right reasons, at least as far as this listener is concerned. Plenty of sublime within this fine release from Muteant Sounds.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sonny Simmons with Barbara Donald-Reincarnation; Arhoolie Records #551, 2015

A friend of Disaster Amnesiac who is somewhat in the know regarding American Master Jazz Musician Sonny Simmons has recently told me that Mr. Simmons is in pretty bad shape, unable to move his arms apparently. Thankfully, Sonny has a permanent roof over his head during this ordeal, but, man, it feels tragic to hear this news. Thankfully for astute Jazz listeners, there are discs such as Reincarnation, an absolute smoker of a live recording that captures the Man, rippin' and runnin' during a prime period of his playing life. I recently grabbed a copy at Arhoolie Records' home base in El Cerrito, and its sounds have been bouncing me into the kind of delights that one gets from seriously great Jazz.
Reincarnation starts off with American Jungle Theme, in which the quartet, featuring Simmons' former spouse Barbara Donald on trumpet, his son Zarak Simmons on drums, pianist Travis Shook, and bass player Court Crawford. The tune's opening theme, a crisp, Bop-ish line, sends Sonny off into an incredible extended solo to start. His complete control of the alto sax is on full display as he crisply rips through it, pushed by the intensity of Zarak's polyrhythms and Shook's modal comping on the piano. Donald answers with her own, somewhat shorter but equally intense passages on trumpet, with her son Zarak shifting the rhythms just ever so slightly, enough to provide great contrast while keep the overall energetic feel the same. His time spent studying with Elvin Jones and Tony Williams really clearly shows, but when the group gets down to piano/bass/drums interplay before restating the head, his individuality is readily apparent.
The title track, up next, is familiar to Disaster Amnesiac from 1994's Ancient Ritual (still got the cassette!) and fascinating in this live set, as Shook rounds out the sound during the head, filling out the theme before Sonny takes another turn, one which is full of fast runs, all colored by his deep knowledge of Blues and Jazz. He may be the last living connection to Charlie Parker, seriously, save perhaps Bobby Bradford and surely not many others. Listen and study and learn my friends. Sonny Simmons kicks the REAL. Crawford plays great, melting notes within the rhythmic matrix here. Barbara Donald kicks in next with a flying trumpet solo, right out of Sonny's statements. It mirrors his solo with its fast and high energies, keeping things going as Zarak continues to romp with Shook. Crawford does a great solo of pizzicato high notes before handing it off to the piano, whence this tight rhythm sections mixes solidly, all three members bouncing ideas off of each other before Donald and Sonny trade 8's and everyone goes back to the head.
Sonny shows his strong familiarity with standards on Body and Soul. He starts off sweet before branching out into more of that great alto sax abstraction, stretching out from the tune's changes as the piano/bass/drums section plays it cool behind him.  Shook follows with a pretty solo, during which Zarak pops and swings with his great brush technique. This relatively short number is rounded out by a quick statement from Court before the alto flares back in for the tune's head is stated again.
Barbara Donald comes back to the fold for Ancient Ritual, another hard swinging odyssey on Reincarnation. This track gets all kind of heavy trance moves from the thick, tight playing of the rhythm section as Sonny plays an extended solo. He moves from mid to low to high registers and just speaks for bar after bar of warm, sublime ruminations on his axe. Zarak chugs and rolls underneath all of the action of his fathers playing; it's quite audible that they're in serious sync. Wherever father goes, son follows, and vice versa. Piano and bass emerge from within the tom tom maelstrom always present but wisely laying down more simple tapestries for the alto and drums to emerge from. Again we find Barbara starting right on key in continuation of Sonny's solo. Her playing is punctuated by some dramatically sparse moments that are pushed by more great tom tom rolling from Zarak. The notes wave into the winds of the band and then burble out the perfect time, making way for Crawford's higher register bass notes. Zarak steps up with some playing that reminds Disaster Amnesiac of Art Blakey at his most tribal or Tony Williams at his loosest, with melodies flying from his drums. Oh how the room of Barb's BBQ in Olympia WA must have reverberated that evening! The quintet plays the head with a brief coda, lead again by Zarak to its conclusion. The slight applause at here is kind of heartbreaking to me. Did this audience realize the magic that they were privy to?
The CD closes with a lovely version of Over the Rainbow. Donald plays around with the melody in really sweet ways. Her solo has almost brought tears to this listener's eyes, what with its emotional depth. The emotions shown: sadness, elation, optimism, sorry.....they're all in it. Travis lays into some lovely melodic piano playing, notable also for its insights into the harmony of this old tune as well. It sounds very much as if he's familiar with it at a deep level, a level he brings out. The trumpet returns, as if especially inspired, going to high notes and trills above the brushing latticework of the drums. There's a point on this track wherein it feels as though they could play into infinity, but soon they restate the head with even more of that Blues-ey sadness at parting, and stop. Over the Rainbow has always been a song that expresses such depth of longing, and these four musicians bring that with incredible depth.
As stated, Sonny Simmons is, apparently, in pretty rough shape. Disaster Amnesiac hopes that he is receiving physical comfort for his ailment. Thank you, Sonny Simmons, for sharing your vision with the music loving public. And thank you, Ahroolie, for making Reincarnation available to us. This here is the GOOD STUFF, and we're lucky to have it. Dig.