Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lewis Jordan's Music at Large/Addleds-CNMAT, Berkeley, 2/24/12

Disaster Amnesiac met up with pals Joe Noble and Andrew Joron at the venerable CNMAT house, near the UC Berkeley campus, for what turned out to be a study in contrast.
Opening act Addleds play a heavily extended technique-focused discrete music. They reminded me a lot of Stockhausen's pieces for electronics. The fact that they did this, with all acoustic instrumentation, is pretty impressive.

Above: Addleds in action. Quiet interactive sounds.

Up next, Lewis Jordan's music at Large set up and proceeded to blow the roof of the CNMAT. Made up of powerful S.F. Bay improvisers, this band plays a fiery post-Free improvisational Jazz of an incredibly high caliber. Drummer Marshall Tramell was amazing, as were violin maestro India Cooke, guitarist Karl Evangelista, and band leader Jordan. One hour of pure sonic/emotional bliss!

Above: Music at Large, tearing large holes in the fabric of perception. Go and see this band!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks Vol. 1, The Mosque, Richmond, VA 5/25/77

In Disaster Amnesiac's opinion, there is probably no more a contentious or contested world than that of the Grateful Dead. Deadheads argue like crazy over the merits and finer points of whichever favorite aspect of the band is theirs. I've already glanced at a few chat room debates in regards to this most recent release from Grateful Dead Enterprises, and, needless to say, opinions range far and wide, from the approving to the disgusted. I consider myself more of a Grateful Dead fan than a Deadhead, if that makes any sense, and, as such, would like to venture to "describe and enthuse" about this release, which I consider to be quite a good document of a band at its zenith point.
Disaster Amnesiac feels that 1977 was the Dead's zenith point mostly because, judging by the ample recorded evidence of their live shows from that year, the band had refined their sound, as a collective improvising group, and as individuals, to an incredibly sharp point. I, like many people my age, was first turned on to this advanced psychedelic approach by the classic 5/8/77 tape that began circulating in the 1980's (THANK YOU, Marty York of Richmond, VA). According to the liner notes for Dave's Picks 1, the master tapes to that epic show in Ithica are missing, but, the Richmond show that is documented here is a great example of said refinements.
Take for example head honcho Jerry Garcia. One can hear so many great examples to prove why he was such a respected guitarist and composer. I have read in Blair Jackson's very cool book about the Grateful Dead's gear how at this point both Jerry and Bob Weir had begun to experiment in earnest with different effect pedals for their sounds. In Garcia's case, it is abundantly clear. His sounds range from sharp, cutting tones to rounded, Leslie'd ones, and everything in between. A lot of people like to diss his tones (Google Iron Prostate), but, in Disaster Amnesiac's opinion, he was a masterful, tone-centered guitarist. One gets the sense that he put a lot of thought into that aspect of his playing. Of course, there is also Jerry Garcia the lead guitarist. Obviously the man loved to noodle, playing in, out, around, and down the grooves that the rest of his cohorts laid down. At the Mosque show, his lead playing is spot on, often reminding this listener of the alto sax playfulness of Ornette Coleman or the precision banjo runs of any number of Jerry's old-time heroes, all the while showing a clarity of focus and a dizzying precision of attack. Jerry pretty much owns the show, which comes as no surprise, but, the force of that ownership is impressive, and for this fan, a joy to hear.
As for Bob Weir, he had also made great breakthroughs in his playing by 1977, and they too are on full display on Dave's Picks 1. Whenever I listen to the Grateful Dead, I am always struck by how shrewd Weir's guitar playing approach is. It seems as if he decided early on in the Dead's career that he was never going to be able to compete with Garcia's full-throttle, maximalist style, and instead developed a highly refined, percussive, minimal sound as a complement to it. Bob's stabbing, scraping rhythm guitar sound, made up of rich, angular chords and odd accents, can often be pushed to the back of the listener's consciousness; when it hits, In some ways, Weir's sound is a lot more unique than Garcia's. Disaster Amnesiac just thinks that it's a bit more subtle in its approach. Needless to say, Bob's playing at the Richmond show display all of the aspects just mentioned, with the added fire of their being performed in a live setting, romping through their fiery paces.
In many ways, Phil Lesh is perhaps more of a traditional lead guitar player than Weir. He never seemed to want to relegate his instrument's position in the band to one of mere support. His early education in music theory imbued the Dead's melodic sound with hints of counterpoint and later styles of compositional approach, up to and including Jazz and Minimalism. I can recall reading a quote from Garcia that ran along the lines of "if Phil is having a good show, so am I" or some such sentiment. His playing at the Mosque is full of his typical 1977 sound, from spacious, floating statements to low, rumbling charges. Much like Jerry's leads on the disc, his "leads" are precise and present as he turns the songs' structures inside and out, giving the band a buoyant bass low end, along with his characteristic treble-ey plucking and spots of pure space.
The Grateful Dead's tandem drum team of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart was perhaps the brightest, most dominant factor in making 1977 such a banner year for the band. If 1976 was the year in which the two drummers worked on re-syncing their styles to fit the band's evolution, 1977, from all of the live recordings that I have heard, was the year in which the fruits of the previous year's labor were in full bloom. Disaster Amnesiac would opine that the best example of this can be found during the long instrumental transition between Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain on the 5/8/77 recording. That said, their drumming on the Mosque show is equally brilliant. Hart and Kreutzmann sound seriously locked, or, as Hart has phrased it, entrained, particularly during their buzzing interplay on Cassidy. Despite both of them playing pretty big-sized kits, they at no time play over each other or the tunes. There is a bounce and crackle to their playing. They sound tightly and loosely bound pretty much all at the same time, Hart going nuts on his cowbell and tom fills, Kreutzmann locking the whole thing down with his sublime beats and masterful sense of pacing. The fires of their 1968-69 partnership sound as if they had been seriously re-stoked in 1977, but tempered with many more years' experience and chops. There is a spinning lightness to the quality of their playing that marks it as highly evolved.
1970's-era pianist Keith Godchaux has often seemed somewhat of a dark horse presence to Disaster Amnesiac. Having never had the chance of seeing him play in a live setting, I only have recordings as a reference. It's my understanding that he could be rather subdued, and often the tapes give him less than ideal representation. It must have been tough for a guy who liked to play the grand piano to compete with the loud electrical din the rest of the band was cooking up. Close attention reveals a player who could keep up with the rest of the band's modes and changes. His lovely, baroque sounding  playing on Scarlet Begonias and his honkey tonkin' approach on the the more rockin' tunes of the set show this fact. Still, Keith was more a quiet fire in the midst of the larger inferno of the Dead's live blaze.
Most Grateful Dead detractors like to zero in on the vocals of the band. It's often understandable, as, they can often be off-key, and, in the opinions of some, rather dopey and "hippy dippy". The 1977 iteration of the band belies the latter opinions, and, in the case of the former fact, often proves it wrong. On Dave's Picks 1, Jerry's voice sounds strong and assertive of its better qualities, and Weir's even more so. Bob's Blues voice is emergent here, while Jerry's love of the ballad vocal approach comes to fore, especially on the dark, moving Peggy O. Even within the ranks of the Dead faithful, vocalist Donna Godchaux has been the focus of some derision. Along with her singing band mates, Donna sounds in fine form at the Mosque show, staying in key (supposedly always a problem for her in the Dead's live show), thereby gracing the songs with her lovely, Memphis-trained voice.
The Grateful Dead's music was always a gestalt, in theory a sublime whole made up of many parts, all conversing or battling within the framework of their tune-based improvisations. Again, much like other documents of their 1977 high point, Dave's Picks 1 shows the band deep within the throws of this concept, hitting musical peaks and staying on them for extended lengths, playing their asses off in a collective setting, all the while sounding as though they are strongly, sublimely  attuned to the overall feel of each tune or improvisational mode. Third set magic such as the easy transition from The Other One to Wharf Rat and back again, or the drum tight rhythmic change embedded with the blazing Around and Around provide glimpses of a band with all pistons firing, fully aware of and in control of their power.
Disaster Amnesiac just now tabbed over to another window, open to a forum on, and, not surprisingly, the first post I read was characterized by a disgruntled listener, opining that the show documented on Dave's Picks 1 was lackluster at best. I think it's a fine document of a fine band within one of their finest periods. 1977 Dead is hard to beat, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Electric Chair Repair, Echolocation; Vitus, Oakland, CA 2/11/12

Disaster Amnesiac made it to Oakland's newest Rock bar, Vitus, at Jack London Square, to catch Chuck Dukowski's long-running band, up from L.A. Brian  Lucas met up with me there.

Openers Echolocation play an appealing, somewhat Desert Rock, reverb-ey instrumental music. Their sound is loose, with a great, all over the place drummer. Fine, trippy jams from these guys. I look forward to hearing them again.

Above: Echolocation space
Below: Electric Chair Repair dig in

Middle band Electric Chair Repair play a lock-step, rhythmically precise, instrumental Rock. Their music is heavy, bass-driven, and driving. A bit more of a machine-tooled, U.S. heartland aesthetic to their sound. Quite enjoyable, and rocking.

It was interesting to note that both of these Oakland bands feature front lines of Telecaster guitar and Rickenbaker bass. That said, their respective sounds were divergent enough to make for a fine opening portion of the show.

Up next, the mighty Chuck Dukowski and his band. Although billed as a sextet, this quartet, made up of Chuck, his wife on vocals, his son on guitar, and a drummer, play a heavily emotional, rhythmically shambolic freak-out Psych Rock. Although nowhere near as tidy or tight as the previous two bands, their raw, explosive set owned the evening.

 Above: CD6 lay waste the Vitus Bar

It was great to hear Chuck and his son Milo, as they played their inter-twined counterpoint, along with singer Lora Norton's unabashed wailing.
Thanks for Chuck and his band for bringing some L.A. Freak Out Energy up to Oakland. I hadn't seen them since 2003. Hopefully they'll come up this way again, with Saccharine Trust in tow!

Above: "....MY WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Iron Maiden-The Final Frontier, Sony, 2010

Disaster Amnesiac has not paid much attention to Iron Maiden since, oh, 1983 or so. Up to that point, I had listened to them, my Catholic sensibilities permanently disturbed by the overtly apocalyptic tones of Number of the Beast. They were one of the required bands for aspiring young rockers to name check. For me, though, the onset of puberty necessitated a switch in listening habits, my choices running to the more Punk Rock side of the spectrum. The insanity of on-rushing teenage-dom was much better served by the more feral sounds of groups like Black Flag or the Ramones. All that said, I recently borrowed Maiden's 2010 offering, The Final Frontier, from the venerable Oakland Public Library. Unlike thirty years ago, their sounds seem much more fitting to my current state, in this current time.
Unlike original Maiden vocalist Paul D'iAnno, who featured a gritty, street punk/any punter style, Bruce Dickinson's operatically wailing approach goes way beyond the abilities of mere mortals. Bruce goes for it, hitting high notes that place him with the likes of Freddie Mercury or Ian Gillan.For the post-Punk generation, this style is generally mocked or, even worse, aped with irony, but, hell, let's hear you try it! I mean, he can do it, and his band mates allow for it,so why not? His aging seems to have not effected his wide-ranging abilities, and, although his higher notes sometimes give a slight air of campy-ness, Disaster Amnesiac would venture to guess that the skidillions of Maiden fans stuffing themselves into stadiums world wide would agree with Bruce's band mates. His vocal flights would probably fall flat within a dingy club in Des Moines or Birmingham, but, upon the grand scale in which Iron Maiden operates, it seems entirely fitting. In 2012, I also find a lot to like within his lyrics. Lyrics these days seem to generally fall into the categories of "meaningful" or decadent. Both styles generally suck. The cool thing about Dickinson's writing is its fantasy-based, dystopian slant. He paints pictures of weary, broken types, toiling at the edges of societies. As opposed to similar stories written by more realist, earth-bound lyricists, Bruce's settings are usually more Sci-Fi, but, still, his characters are imbued with and challenged by the real, human, crushed character of cold reality. At age 41, with not much to show for it in my society except for the ability "to say yes with the eyes closed" (thank you, Jack Brewer), this blogger finds a lot to like Dickinson's writing style.
It goes without saying that Heavy Metal's main point of focus is the six string electric guitar. Iron Maiden have had three guitar players for several years now. As with Bruce Dickinson's style, it's a "go big or go home" type of proposition. The triple fronted guitar attack which the band uses allows for a lot twin leads, while one designated six-stringer keeps up the chord chugging so vital to Metal tunes' movement. Disaster Amnesiac also hears a lot of the earlier Metal influences, e.g. Wishbone Ash, UFO, Deep Purple. That's not to say that Iron Maiden's guitar sound is not its own. With its higher-pitched arpeggios, and said twin-lead riffing, the band's sound is remarkably singular. The fact is, one can hear their historical antecedents, filtered through the original NWBHM lense and finished with Maiden's high strung, tightly wound, now-refined Metal attack. There are occasional nods to other established forms (bluesy slide guitar, "Grunge"), but for the most part, the band's guitarists stay within the Maiden template. It's one from which they are given a lot to work with.
Powerful drumming is just as essential to Metal as is the characteristic guitar sound, and long-time Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain puts in a characteristically stellar performance on The Final Frontier. His style within the band is a kind of melding of the more physically powerful aspects of Jazz Fusion drumming with the blatantly over the top pummeling necessary in Metal. A band with the kind of ambitious song writing such as Maiden needs a precise, meticulous player on the skins, and McBrain has always embodied those adjectives. I can remember marveling, along with another drummer pal in middle school, at how much chops were on display from the Iron Maiden drum seat after McBrain's addition to the band. Thirty-odd years on, Nicko stills amazes the listener with both his virtuosity and his ability to kick some seriously simple, but fat, beats. His skills are not diminished.
McBrain's rhythm section partner, bassist Steve Harris, has always been the heart of Iron Maiden. His charging, loping, lead bass style (under a Lemmy Kilmister influence?), along with the drums, has been the nerve center of the signature Iron Maiden sound. Not content sit sit back and groove in a traditional electric bass style, Harris has always been front and center within the tunes, charging along and laying waste to mere complacency in playing. Needless to say, The Final Frontier features Harris heavily, Maiden being so much his band in so many ways. This lead bass playing is also so very much in the pocket with the drums, so out front, and so damn good. As with all of the other members of the group, Harris shows powerful restraint when the tunes call for it, but this development is definitely paired with his metallic propensity  to kick out the jams. 
Since Dickinson's debut with the band on The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden's tunes have been unapologetic in their epic scope, and those contained within The Final Frontier continue that trend. As always, the tunes generally commence with a foreboding feel, prefacing characters in some strife, anguish, or turmoil, before ramping up into stomping action, narrations of battles physical or mental or both, before concluding, usually with tragic ends for their subjects and triumphal statements from their players. This being Heavy Metal, what else would you expect? Happy endings? Not likely. Maiden keep it Metal that way. A middle-aged, balding (sideline) Metal fan of the appellation Disaster Amnesiac has listened, and, possibly much more so than he did those distant years ago, has felt it. Perhaps Metal is better suited for old farts like me, if for nothing more than to provide a little realistic perspective. Cold, hard realities sound so damn good in Maiden's nimble fingered hands.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Clarinet Thing, Old First Church, San Francisco, CA 2/3/12

Thanks to KALX and their ticket giveaway, Mr. and Mrs. Amnesiac had the immense pleasure of attending Clarinet Thing's 21st Anniversary Performance at the lovely Old First Church in the Polk Gulch section of San Francisco.
This all-clarinet quartet, made up of Sheldon Brown, Beth Custer, Ben Goldberg, and Harvey Wainapel, all of whom are incredible players, played pieces of Jimmy Giuffre, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie, along with their own compositions. It was instructive and delightful to listen to their Chamber Jazz versions. The all-woodwind approach reminded Disaster Amnesiac of the harmonic subtleties that the best Jazz compositions feature.
Above: Ben Goldberg wails on the contralto "paperclip" clarinet

Naturally, this being Jazz, all four members took solo turns, and all members played them exceedingly well. I felt happy to live in an area with so many talented musicians.
Above: Beth Custer describes the clarinet family
Above: Reeds swingin'!