Big Buck Hunter – Neverland – August 20

BIg Buck Hunter


Big Buck Hunter

What’s the point in being really good if no one ever heard of you? I’m at Neverland, and Big Buck Hunter is playing with six people watching them. They’ve got an eighties, early alternative feel, with pokes of punk and hardcore. Sometimes it’s three-chord rock, then the guitarist, Kurt Egghart, bends notes and does interesting things with the strings. Some of the songs have a pogo dance feel, others are quirky and heavy.

Now there are more people. They’re listening, but they’re staying still. Now one girl is swaying her shoulders and tapping her foot. The music gets brighter and more inviting, sharp flashes, like The Who. This number definitely has a sixties psych feel, with the bluesy spirals of chords that rise above themselves, taking the song into the ether.

The next song has a vague feel of the past, but it’s very original, rambling and rolling and rollicking. The drummer, Peter Crowley, whips his heads like a team of horses. The bassist, Molly Dee, with short hair and black sleeveless dress, keeps a playful, melodic set of pistons in action for the drive.

Their last number is slow, something like The Grateful Dead’s “The Other One”. A tug of a country feel on a a dark and strange theme. The darkness and strangeness take over, and it’s a wall of shoe-gazer haze.

Will Mayo – Washington Street Arts Center, Somerville – August 17



Mayo’s stuff, on electronics, has the feel of oncoming traffic. Whether it’s an ice cream truck, or a fire engine, you don’t know, but slowly it fills up your ears, and you’re in a different place. It’s characterized by patterns, vaguely rhythmic, but glacially slow rhythms. You’re never sure what he’s doing in the moment; you just hear the phenomena. The tones are typically warm, like warm colors, with a bedrock of noise – fire over ash in a fireplace. This is static music. It really stays in one place, with the illusion of motion. Things build to crescendos, but then you’re in the same place again. It’s sort of the sonic equivalent of a camera increasing the focus of the zoom lens, so the piece has more volume as it develops, but it’s really the same whole that it was in the beginning. He raises questions of the nature of time. How do things progress and evolve around us? What is change? In a way, it’s like techno, with the patterns that build and intensify, then abate, so there’s the illusion of greater and greater magnitude, but it’s essentially vibrant repetition.

Flandrew Fleisenberg solo, Forbes Graham quartet – Salon 234, Cambridge – August 15


Flandrew Fleisenberg

Flandrew gets a zen, meditative sound out of a stick and an improvised, metal cymbal – some stand base, it looks like, turned upside down. He has been getting sounds like this, out of pots and pans, and even windows, for the past ten years or so since he lived in Boston, before he moved to Philadelphia. Now it’s a soup tureen, with water in it. And some kind of thick, blue metal coil, on top of a tom, from which he gets rolls and crashes. And wacky cartoon noises. He places objects on a snare, and strikes mellifluous sounds out of bells.

His performance has the haunting feel of a medieval cathedral village, the quaint streets with clopping horses. Slowly he works in his signature funk and quirkiness, the arch gesticulations, the vocal ejaculations. The Doppler effect of rhythm and rattling coming in and out of focus. He shakes around a gelatin bowl with balls in it.

The sections of his show dance and flip back on each other, the jerkiness of the ride become a symphony of syncopation. He alternately weirds you out, and gives you a spiritual experience.

Salon quartet

Quartet (Josh Jefferson, Eric Zinman, Forbes Graham, John Voigt)

Forbes Graham has a way of taking the lead in ensembles, by wrapping his trumpet around the other players. His compositions are graphic, or conceptual. Josh Jefferson plays alto sax. He jars and spars with Forbes, as Eric Zinman and John Voigt hasten and chasten, respectively, the flow, on drums and bass.

A little into the performance, Forbes and Eric start to duet, into which Josh charges with curved soprano, John eking long, bending, metallic sounds out of the bass. The piece is brief, with the momentum of the inertia carrying on into the silence after.

“Moroccan Sufi music…” as the next piece is described, Forbes getting a desert sound out of his mute. Voigt’s bass has a barely constrained undertow to it, a heavy tone that just whispers to the surface.

Eric starts with a triangle next, the piece with the probing, interrogative feel of abstract jazz. Forbes’ notes are liquid and mellifluous, drawn out like silk, with butterfly flutters. He starts a melodic solo, with the feel of Art Farmer. John resolves the brightness with dark strokes.

The next piece has a noise/sound art feel, as if played on electronics. The players go each in his own direction, on paths which somehow crisscross as they extend down the line. The group has this ability to travel on journeys of fancy, but somehow find its way home.

Zinman moves to piano for the final numbers, which are sharp, and vibrate with pleasure. Josh plays two saxes at once. Voigt plays a walking bass line, giving a bluesy swing to Forbes’ funky catcalls, which develop into something more complex. This stuff brings us back to the late ’50s onset of modern jazz. This is another thing the group does, jockey through the eras of free improv history, somehow landing here and there without getting stuck.

ACLU Benefit, Wes Kaplan – The Whitehaus – August 13

Noah II
ACLU Benefit

Noah has a voice like a nightingale, with the twang of a country crooner, like Hank Williams. His songs are wistful and wry, about awkward love and social situations. “Everyone will die,” he instructs us to sing. “Even Bruce Springsteen and Tina Fay – and your first date.” What do you know, it works, the singalong, the haunting chant of her chorus.
Noah I
“When I went to make breakfast, the pan was still warm from the last time you used it,” he sings, his voice warbling and reaching a tremolo. This is what characterizes him: the beautiful style with which he treats the ugly details of life.

“William Malone” is the story of a drunken poet “whose heart’s too full.” No one wants to hear his tale, the events of which get strange – well, he’s peeing out of a car… Noah believes in him, though. “They just want to touch your soul,” he sings. “Let go.” Just another part of nature, something, and someone, to put in harmony with us.
Wes Kaplan
Wes Kaplan

Wes has an almost British sound, late Beatles, or Harry Nilssen, with jangly, windmill sounds on his Fender, and slow modal changes. His voice is deep and cavernous, echoey. There is tension and drama in his music, with twists and turns in the dark melody. Then again, it’s just like a young boy, singing on his way home from school.

Jesse Collins – Cafe Fixe – August 12

Jesse Collins

When I first saw Jesse’s trio Funny Money a few years ago I said these guys would be big, though I assured him they’d never make any money. The group is abandoned by now, but Jesse has taken a new direction. Tonight, at Cafe Fixe, he uses two reel-to-reels, a harmonica, and a trumpet. The sounds are more muted than Funny Money’s, which could be quite wild. Jesse’s solo approach is calm and exploratory. He favors percussive sounds, with thuds and trickles and taps.

He sips his tea… On the floor, which I didn’t notice, a soprano saxophone, which he picks up. Slow humming as he vibrates the reed. Squeaky honks, almost with a harmonica quality. He’s muting the sax with what looks like a plastic coffee cup. There’s a plaintive feel, seagulls calling among beach refuse. Beautiful, long slow bell, Roscoe Mitchell style skronk but mellower. Clicking, as from a spinning pistol cartridge, summer cicada calls.

A small white ball ricochets in a black plastic woofer, vibrating to the harmonics on the sax. Microcosmic symphony of vibration. Laboratory whistles. Jesse’s work is multidimensional, as big as you want it to be.

The finale takes the soprano into uncharted territory. Free but somehow consonant baroque tangles of overtones, with a fruit-syrupy, viscous timbre. It evolves like a ritual chant, with a crescendo of ascending intervals. Then the cries of a lament.

When She Plays Piano

When She Plays Piano

Yoko 1
She always makes me work,
Sifting through memories
Of meeting her in the tea room
With my questions and recorder

The chords are sharp,
Like she’s stabbing you in the neck
Sometimes, with a lavender bolt
And you just feel her beauty

The Japanese beauty,
Where people are just part of nature
Which exists on a grander scale
As the morning sun scales the mountains

And people are just notes,
Black and white keys,
Something Yoko touches
When she plays piano

Los Condenados – Deep Thoughts – July 26

Pensado Deep Thoughts
Three personalities, that change within themselves, within the performance… Chris Strunk, the drummer, is the new member. Walter Wright is not here tonight. Andrea Pensado plays a witchy, screaming computer based music. Jules Vasylenko plays a bamboo sax, and bursts out alternately with burlesque and drama. Strunk plays a thudding, slow motion machine gun rock drums. The music goes into raw emotional turf, which is not unpleasant. It influences thought, the jolts and buzzes putting the brain into a music of its own. It is intellectual music, but it’s not about analyzing the structure. There is structure, but it’s very clear – simple, elegant modern architecture.

Vasylenko’s bamboo sax really sounds like bamboo. It’s amazing. It has the feel of shoots and sap. It gives the show a kind of warped romantic quality, the vision of bamboo thickets in the East overlaying the industrial drums, and Pensado’s supernatural electrical storms.

There is nuance, pause, and subtlety here. For all its frenetic noise, they know how to use small doses of space, and what to leave out, with the art of and agile child spitting out watermelon seeds.

The Epicureans, Howie Stelzer, KBD (Toledo) – Washington Street Arts Center, Somerville – July 24

Ryan McGuire

The Epicureans


The Epucureans have come back, minus a drummer. Ricardo Donoso has gone off to enjoy the fruits of the electronic circuit, leaving alto saxist Dave Gross and upright bassist Ryan McGuire to create a more inviting music. The lion sleeps tonight… The Epicureans were always a string trio, with Gross using the sax as the string substitute that Adolphe Sax meant it for, and McGuire with a deep wood tone. These two get the most out of extended technique, but they are always civilized, however savage the sound effects. The tension is invisible. Great shifts of approach occur within the switch of a second, but the whole stays organic, with changes transpiring like corn slowly maturing in a summer field. Soon, the stalks are sky high and you’re in a different place, a different altitude in a different state.

 Dave Gross Wash Arts

Their technical prowess is great. McGuire does amazing things with his bow, and Gross has his own bag of tricks, as often as not turning his axe into a kazoo or jaw harp. Yes, there is humor in this work, but it is the earthy seams in a fine silk cloth.

 Howie Stelzer

Howie Stelzer


Where many of the younger electronic artists just throw slabs of intensity at you, Howie Stelzer creates a slowly unfolding, undulating landscape. With cassette tapes that have been damaged or manipulated as his base, his “noise” has a sonorous quality. It is an ethereal atmosphere that expands, with rogue currents, and soft undertows. He has not lost anything over the past few years, when he performed out more regularly. He has matured, with more spirit, and more sway.




KBD, from Toledo, Ohio, is a trio that mixes electronic and acoustic, with drums, a table guitar, and some kind of pocket trumpet to complement the circuit boards. The sound rides an even keel, billowing and rippling with flutter and flow. It is peaceful music, with a slow burn tension that rises but never boils over. A film of a stationary, gutted building in suffused pink light is behind the musicians, and this reflects the tone of the music, it’s empty, echoing quality where nuance and innuendo are everything. With electronic bell sounds, there is a touch of the exotic, with the feel of a river into which many streams flow. You get the sense that the influence is going to change the course radically, but it’s the same river flowing, growing with storms and such, but with a strong primal sense of being, a river that has been there for ages and will keep its shape as the vegetation and life around it give into the accidents of nature.






Faun and a Pan Flute, Magicicada, Guerilla Toss, Lovely Little Girls – Great Scott – June 27


Faun and a Pan Flute (Atlanta)

High drama tension wires on brass, strings, and marimba. This has a jazzy feel, with good dynamics, and varied. Mysterious at times, with modal touches, it can leap back into symphonic band territory – just for a spell, then into the austere realm of European free, or classic fusion.

Touchstones seem many, though nothing conspicuous enough to make you think “this sounds like…” It’s kept in a good mix, with abrupt but smooth changes, and tight interplay.



Magicicada (Atlanta)

Magicicada evokes the sounds of electrical storms rather than cicadas on a summer night. The lineup is deceptive. Guitar and cello plus singer and drums, but what you hear is a wall of noise. It’s scary and creepy. Stiff growls, intermittent and jolting, swatches of sandpaper synthesizer. Is there development? It travels like a tornado, busting up whatever structure evolves in the meantime.

Rhythms start to develop as the set progresses. They are like stuff dragged by large vehicles on the street. Then they get spacey. Wind blowing through hallways of empty mansions. Ends with a bang and a whimper.


Guerilla Toss

G Toss has cleaned up their act. Their music is sparkling where it used to be muddy. Peter drives the band with heavy funk from his drums. Kassie is as happy as a schoolgirl on the playground, bouncing up and down when she sings. The rhythms shoot up like fireworks, brushing up again each other, pushing each other out of the way. Their songs have real melodies now, though they’re obstacle courses, like they used to be. They were always an eclectic band, with heavy no wave precedents, but their elements are purer now, and effusive.

The band’s art has always been to cover their L7 music school tracks with punk attitude, but there’s a oneness to them now. I would call them psych punk. They can push dreamy, hot colored chords out of their axes, but always with a jagged edge. They’re not students anymore.


Lovely Little Girls (Chicago)

Contortionist , no wave style music, with dirty, funky horns, and stop start action. Energized, inspired traffic jam. They can get operatic, or wax classic musical, like West Side Story. Different dimensions at work here, say, the rolling, hard hitting drums that back the arch, theatrical singing on one song, with structured, syncopated guitar patterns. The horns border on jazz, with charcoal harmonies, but this is effect, as they support the vocals, which are central, and are more lush and even.