Thursday, February 26, 2009

The best Product name, ever.

As seen on a crushed can, Harrison and 5th St., SF CA, 7:00 AM, 2/26/09:



Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mills Music Festival 2009, Opening Night Concert

During her introductory speech, Mills College President Janet L. Holmgren disputed the notion that academically produced music is inherently dry. Sitting here, watching the rain pour down upon Oakland, and reminiscing about the sounds I heard last night from Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, Terry Riley, and Joan Jeanrenaud, I have to agree with her contention.
Oliveros started the concert off, playing the first notes within the renovated, restored, and vastly improved Littlefield Concert Hall. Her piece Sound.Light.Migrations was delightfully spacey and minimal. Her characteristic accordion playing was enhanced by something called "expanded instrument system" which she controlled by use of her laptop. Sounds within the piece ranged from pointillist single notes to fast clusters, all of them ringing around the acoustically amazing space of the hall. Towards the end, she brought the listener back to earth by using beautiful, sonorous chords, a kind of soft earth landing from the outer reaches of space. Sound.Light.Migrations also featured visuals by Tony Martin, a genuine pioneer in the field of light show art. His work was often as minimal as the sounds, with a large screen that remained mostly black, while white and green squiggles undulated on the margins, sometimes leaving blurred trails in their wake.
Next up on the program was Roscoe Mitchell's piece 8/8/88, composed for and performed by pianist Joseph Kubera. 8/8/88 was filled with dense, spiky chords, often played in advanced time signatures. Roscoe's Jazz background could be heard within the rooted left hand bass lines, which at times had an almost Ragtime feel. The melodies in the piece were rich and fascinating, often blue-colored on Disaster Amnesiac's closed eye lids.
After a brief intermission, Terry Riley took the stage to a rapturous applause, and proceeded to play his brand new work, For Margaret. Riley's use of Raga technique within solo keyboard playing has been a work in progress for four decades, and it still sounds fresh, innovative, and real. Beginning with a more Western melodic motif, he slowly segued into a very Indian modal approach, achieving his always meditative and tranced-out Minimalist. Mid-way through the piece he added vocal chant a la his mentor Pandit Pran Nath; Riley's approach radiates pure LOVE, and his use of vocals gave a real air of sanctification to the work. The piece ended the way it began, with simple melodic motifs. Standing ovations ensued.
Last up was former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. She played two works, Vermont Rules and Strange Toys. Both pieces utilized looped cello phrases, over which Jeanrenaud played various techniques, ranging from purely Classical in sound to Avant-Garde, Jazz, and Rock. Her control of the cello is breathtaking; she makes the instrument sing, weep, squeal, any sound she wants is there for her to use. It's not enough to say she's just a virtuoso, though. Her sheer musicality and inventiveness are key within her compositions, and take them, and the listener, higher than mere displays of technique ever could.
The Mills Music Festival 2009's slogan reads "Giving Free Play to the Imagination". All of the opening night's featured composers/artists made this statement come alive on the stage and within the ears and minds of the listeners. There was nothing dry about this concert at all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Predator Vision/Sun Araw-Split LP

Although it's been passe for well over a year now, I still love myspace. Yes, it makes my Mac seize up something terrible, but at work I use a PC, and "hang out" there often during the work day. Mind you, I'm not doing the same thing all those REALLY COOL people at Facebook are doing, updating each other with minute by minute twittering about how "Suzy just figured out that the toaster burned my toast", and other inanities. Oh, no. I'm trolling for bands. See, in my opinion you just have to love myspace for it's band links. Choose just one group you like, then surf through all of their friends, and presto! you're sure to find a least a few more which can satisfy that eternal craving for some bitchin new sounds that you just won't be able to live without. Added satisfaction comes from the friend updates bar, in which bands often post regarding their upcoming shows and releases. I try and be supportive of bands that I like to listen to, and chances are, if you post about your new release, CD/LP or otherwise, you'll promptly be receiving a money order from Disaster Amnesiac.
No Not Fun Records in LA received just such a money order a few weeks ago, and promptly shipped out the split LP by Predator Vision and Sun Araw, two great, and as far as can be ascertained, current Psych groups.
Of the two, Predator Vision is the more "standard", using two guitars and drums to play spaced-out, raw, and sprawling instrumentals. Their side of the album is divided into three distinct pieces. Drummer Etienne Duguay gets a big sound from his ride cymbal-heavy pattern playing, accenting with tom tom rolls in a manner akin to Jaki Leibezeit's Can approach. His playing is well-paced for the trancy effect that Predator Vision seems to want to achieve. Guitarists Matt Mondanile and Ben Daly weave in and out of each others' lines, with one sometimes soloing while the other plays simple, repetitive riffs. The effect is generally hypnotic. One gets a sense that these guys spend a lot of time jamming, and probably listening to other peoples' jams, to boot. The last jam on their side is notable for the way in which it begins to resemble Lou Reed and Sterling Morrisons' most mind-melded tandem riffage. Seeing as this was recorded in NYC, it stands to reason, I guess. I just wish the fidelity on the recording was better, but for a hand-held tape job, it's not bad.
Sun Araw, a project lead by Cameron Stallones, is a bit more overtly experimental. On the side-long track Hey Mandala, Stallones uses heavily processed samples, guitar, organ, and percussion to produce a heavy, ambient wall of sounds. It's all echoes and crashes, a sort of subdued, funky Industrial, in that it doesn't pound, but more quivers and throbs. Guest musician Phil French provides nice Cosey Fanni Tutti-styled trumpet warbling. His primitive playing style fits in nicely with the doomy ambience of the piece. Occasionally, voices rise to the top of the mix. They never sing, but instead make ecstatic exclamations. Hey Mandala is really well recorded, and although no engineer is listed, whoever it is deserves real credit for their work. This is music that can provide real, lasting listening pleasure for the Psych fan.
This split LP is beautifully packaged, with a cover reminiscent more of Les Baxter or some other Exotica than the more brutal aesthetics of most basement Psych being produced these days.
It's finds like this LP and these bands that keep myspace worthwhile. Facebook folks can keep their polls and questionnaires. Disaster Amnesiac will be over at their uncool cousin's house, digging new great sounds and STILL supporting the underground.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

David Winogrond-Pictures at an Existentialism

What do you do when you've played drums in the bands of two very important underground guitarists/band leaders? In the case of David Winogrond, you bravely strike it out on your own and begin an entirely new aspect of your career. Pictures at an Existentialism is the opening salvo in David's next drumming phase, that phase being one of a distinct instrumental/Jazz approach.
Released in 2007 on the L.A.-based Wondercap Records, Pictures is an imaginatively conceived and remarkably played recording, full of great, interactive playing and improvising. For much of the album, Winogrond leads a primarily bass-less trio of drums, woodwinds, sparse electronics, and piano through highly charged, intuitive group interaction. The listener is treated to the sounds of musicians really playing together. As the trio tunes wind their way through several different modes per song, the simpatico between pianist Arlan Schierbaum and Winogrond becomes very clear. Closer listening reveals piano and drums conversing and riffing off of each other for seconds, sometimes even minutes on end. In music this is no mean feat; on tunes like Swans Reflecting Elephants and Dusk in Amber, David and Arlan pull it off wonderfully many times over. Schierbaum's playing is generally cool and melodic, despite hinting at a more Avant-Garde influence. To my ears his style echoes the cooler, post-Free European aspects as much as the generally grittier American approach to Jazz piano playing. His sparse use of electronic coloration also provides the occasional surprise within the primarily acoustic setting. Winogrond's drumming on the trio tunes is all free flow. This is not to say he bashes around the kit, for he does not. David uses the drum kit melodically, providing an important voice for the tunes, by way of the drums. His brush playing is particularly great, an advancement of the free-brush techniques pioneered by Paul Motian in the classic bands of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Reedsman Jack Chandler plays with both emotion and control throughout. Echoes of Dewey Redman and Jan Garbarek can be heard in his playing, but when he drops a few delightfully unexpected verses of great Charlie Parker tunes such as Salt Peanuts into Hard Night in Reseda II (Allegro), you know he's got deep grounding in the Jazz tradition.
Speaking of tradition, David's choice of including a hard charging, revved-up version of the Big Band classic Sing, Sing, Sing adds further proof of the fact that he's a legitimate Jazz artist. This great Louis Prima tune is given great, rockin' treatment, with bass added by Bruce Wagner. Winogrond gets the classic Gene Krupa cowbell and tom tom riffs down perfectly as the band plays by turns subtle and raunchy around him.
Closing out the record are two more great pieces, Sunset Blvd. Blues and Imhotep. The former, dedicated to "all the lost souls in Hollywood, past and present," features guest trombonist John "Rabbit" Ritchie, who does some Jimmy Knepper styled 'bone bleating. The tune divides nicely into several different episodes, conjuring up visions of various characters who have or may still wander the streets of Hollywoodland. The latter would be a treat even for those without an ear of Jazz, as it features not one, but two Rock greats, Davie Allan on guitar and DJ Bonebrake on vibes. Anything that Allan plays on is going to have some weight, and Imhotep is no exception. After a brief piano/vibes duet, the tune launches into Punk/Funk/Fusion territory that would match anything offered up by Shannon Jackson or Sonny Sharrock. Aside from being just downright intriguing to hear Allan within a Jazz context, his sound is kick-ass, of course. DJ's vibes match him. Both men are skilled, obviously, and their addition on Imhotep makes for compelling listening.
In terms of production and engineering, Pictures at an Existentialism features a dry, close-mic'd sound. It's air has the feel of 1970's ECM recordings, with plenty of legato and spacey echo. Winogrond benefits in particular from this method, as all of his drum and cymbal strokes are clearly defined within the mix. It is, after all, his record.
Pictures at an Existentialism is a great start to what should be an exciting career transition for David Winogrond. The man has ambition to go along with his prodigious musical talent. As he continues into his fifth decade of drumming, he continues to inspire and amaze. Jazz stations such as KCSM in San Mateo still do weekly charts, and if there is justice left in this world, Pictures would appear there.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tomata lives?

Over the New Year's break I was sick in bed for about 36 of the 48 hours I had off. When not tossing in a sweat-covered sleep, I watched a lot of cable TV. During the great Anthony Bourdain No Reservations marathon on the Travel Channel, I watched, several times, and with increasing wonder each time, an info-mercial for some miracle product that soaks up liquid with extreme efficiency. The fascination for me came from how much the pitch man looked like Tomata Du Plenty. I mean, the man is a dead ringer for the late Screamer. I like to think that the irony of it would not be lost on Tomata. That is all for today.