The Port of Life – Jean John (RTV SLO, 2016)


The Port of Life
Jean John
RTV SLO (2016)

The Port of Life is the new CD by Jean John (born Zan Tetickovic), Slovenian born composer and drummer, which has already won Album of the Year from Slovenia’s major music publication, JazzEtna.

Somehow this record makes me think of another concept album, Herbie Hancock’s 1969 The Prisoner. It’s got big washes of brass, waves of modal piano, cinematic strings. It recounts the immigrant’s experience, Jean John’s own, having moved to New York City in 2011 – and the worldwide immigration crisis at large. It is expansive, dramatic, and understated.

You can hear flashes of McCoy Tyner’s large ensemble work, Count Basie’s surging songs from the ’50s (as in an album like Atomic Basie), lots of Mingus, with the complex time shifts and juxtapositions of old and new. John has a great command of music history. Even the classical undertones are considered, bringing to mind, for one, Schubert.

There is a sound clip midway from President Obama saying how we are all immigrants and this should be repeated often and frequently. We can all relate to this, even in our own present lives, if it’s something as simple as moving to a neighborhood very different from the one where we grew up. The Port of Life reflects on and reflects this, with a perspective and a sound which is universal.

John is a silent drummer, I could almost say. If you listen carefully, you can hear the complexity and subtlety of his rolls and dynamics, but he uses his set almost as a conductor for this largely orchestral work which, for all that is, through and through, from beginning to end, saturated with and representative of the best of classic jazz.

Yoko Miwa Trio – Thelonious Monkfish – 9/2/16

Yoko 9:2

Yoko plays with the sound of September tonight, sultry, but cool, bouncy, with a touch of shade. Scott Goulding shimmers with sun riding the cymbals; tonight’s bassist, Keala Kaumeheiwa, resonates deep and smoothly, and tunefully, to open.

She continues with a Latin number, almost romantic as a ballroom waltz, with minor ninths to give it a contemporary feel. The percussion is wonderful. Kaumeheiwa holds it largely in his steady bass, with some bass drum from Goulding, and more cymbals. Yoko works in some octaves with the sonority of bells, somehow in that gesture making it more festive and Latin.

As usual, Yoko is a wonderful listener, weaving what Kaumeheiwa and Goulding do into how she approaches the keyboard, so the rhythm section at times becomes foreground. She has an uncanny sense of this, foreground and background, like an Asian landscape painting.

Her third song, her own, “Fadeless Flower”, is slow, pristine, and gentle, in swinging waltz time. Speed picks up as the song moves along, and she solos, with intricate finger work, blocking with her right hand, with melody lines in the left, shaking things up and reversing them. Then the speed modulates again, getting a little slower, but the song getting more splendorous and exuberant, to cool down once again.

“Girl Talk” is bluesy, as down and dirty as a clean, structured player gets. The next tune has an intriguing, almost rock beat, with a repeated, descending funky bass riff that breaks open like a pop song. The improvisation is abstract and advanced. Lots of quick chord clusters, stops and starts, as the beat goes on with bass and drums. Lighting variations and trills as the song climaxes, then deep, soul felt washes, almost reminiscent of Janis Joplin in 1970. It’s “Dear Prudence”! The song John Lennon wrote with The Beatles, in India, for Mia Farrow’s sister.

Yoko has this power to surprise you, transforming popular songs so you almost don’t recognize them, yet still distilling the essence to what they really are, so when you find out, it all makes sense. The other thing that’s really nice about her is her vast palette, stopping on a dime to turn the styles of the songs she plays. There is also her overarching sense of architecture, so everything fits together, a grand palace with many rooms.

Yoko Miwa -Thelonious Monkfish – 8/5/16

Yoko Thelonious Monkfish August

Yoko’s sets at Thelonious Monkfish are very lively. She’s sensitive to environment, so it’s a different scene to the calming sounds she sends out at her Sunday brunch at Ryles in Inman Square. She’s also sensitive to lineup variation, so tonight’s set, with bassist Sean Farias has different textures to the last one I saw, with The Fringe’s John Lockwood.

Opening with a Sonny Clarke number, “Something Special”, she rides Farias’ long, varnished tones like a tightrope. She’s balancing and moving at the same time. The song is spicy and percussive. She shifts radically to a soft but intense Latin number. She’s limber and spiritual here, pensive, then bursting out with kaleidoscopes of chords up and down the keyboard.

She sandwiches a John Lennon song, “Love” (from his solo 1970 Plastic Ono Band) with two numbers with a hard bop feel, and follows with an original, “Lantern Light.” This is classic Yoko, the yearning, the melancholy sadness, the grandeur and the fireworks displays of arpeggios, for all that continuously listening to her trio, drum and bass, and gently responding.

Yoko started work on a new album in July, with six albums behind her. The progression shows a musician becoming bolder and bolder with each new release. Sometimes jazzier, but also more rocking. She plays a lot of Beatles songs. “It’s funny, my name is Yoko and I play lots of John Lennon songs,” she says. She said there’d be more on the next record, but was coy about which ones. I suggested “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the 1966 acid drenched number from Revolver with lines from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. She smiled. Who knows?

Yoko is radiant and intelligent, with a light sense of humor, and dazzling focus. I have been listening to her for five years. She has never let me down.

TRIchrO – Lilypad -Cambridge – 7/10/16

Eriko Lilypad


The first number I hear is a waltz, steady, with bright tones from Eriko Mercure on piano, alternating with straight-out funk from Dave Mercure on electric bass, and Mark Fairweather, on drums, switching between heavy thuds, and soft cymbal sweeps. The tone lightens, with Eriko doing soft swing. The tempo keeps changing. It can get elegant and romantic, with the focus on Eriko, her gentle glissandi, sharp chord blocks, contemplative flights up and down the registers. Then there are bluesy aftertastes.

The next number is “Gravity”. It is very geometrical. Circles and squares and jagged lines. Tension builds, and it is a rolling modal workout. Then again it is delicate, ornate, just like Chopin. Eriko plays alone, and she’s everywhere, back to the blues, segueing into Beethoven-like sonata, as the bass breaks in again, likewise alone, but rocking with harmonics and overtones. Fairweather takes his solo, with complex Latin infusions, but solid and syncopated and swinging. The three come together again with fitful bursts and sparks, one flame shooting out of another like a Roman candle. The end is sweet and grand.

There is a serene, serious logic to this music. It’s almost like you are hearing Eriko’s thought work, as if she were writing an essay, stuck on knotty quandaries, working around them into exuberant solutions. It is always stopping and starting, moving from one place to another, and back, with a solid foundation.

She is also playful, like a child playing with blocks, building imaginary villages. Her sources are many, and you are struck by myriad, haunting and enchanting, scenes as you stroll through them. But she keeps playing, rearranging the blocks, so it is always a changing village you are in even within one song.

TRIchrO has stop-on-a-dime rhythms, aromatic warmth, stride and swing, rushes of good energy. Their final number, “Friends From Afar”, is one such rush, where Eriko has the crystal effervescence of Cedar Walton, building one chord on top on another, with a racing pace. You never know where the trio will take you, but you always know where you are.

Yoko Miwa Trio – Thelonious Monkfish – Cambridge – 7/1

Monkfish (Yoko)

John Lockwood guests on bass tonight, who is a veteran of staple Boston trio The Fringe. He really anchors this session tonight. Steady, heavy, spiraling the trio sound, which is light and lively tonight. Scott Goulding, on drums, has a crispy swing.

Monfish (Lockwood)

Yoko introduces the group after the first number, “The Touch of Your Lips”, a Bill Evans song, her “favorite, favorite.” The crowd is loud in the restaurant, with much chatter, but the audience is with her. You can tell by the whoop when she says, “My name is Yoko Miwa.”

Monkfish (Goulding)

You never hear the same Yoko Miwa twice. Her tone shifts with her moods, and with your moods. She has a real feel for the blues, which she stomps loud and brash, but she gets morbidly personal, and you listen, often, to her stories with the patience of a lover.

Tonight she is extroverted, outgoing, blithely competing with the audience chatter, enjoying a kind of chatter of her own, with Lockwood and Goulding, on bass and drums. She also has dialogues with herself, exploring the various registers of the keyboard, with the independent hand action she is known for, the left hand throwing fourths and fifths, scattering them like confetti, as her right twists and turns out corkscrew melodies.

Yoko is at her best when she is opening up in the middle of a solo, exploring the deeps of her most personal emotions, bluesy as muddy waters, cutting open diapasons and sonorities as though she were cutting the pulp out of a pineapple, smoothing it all over, like she had just put new sheets on a new bed. She takes you on journeys, down exotic rivers, but she always makes sure you have a nice hotel where you can sleep.

Noisy Summer Night – Make Out Point – 6/18

Make Out Point (Joanna Boools)

Joanna Boools

“Hi am, hi am Joannna Boools, Joanna Boools, I’m going to start right now…” Her voice echoes over a drum track. Soprano tweets like bird chirps, something like a machine gun underwater in the background.

This is the voice of a woman, strong and mellifluous. The whole experience and event has the quality of a voice. Now the sample is a keyboard, sounding like a harpsichord, the very low notes repeated.

She plays in a dingy basement, but the sonorities are grand. You could be at an opera house. Spectral, ghostly, haunting liquid chimes. This feels so good. She embraces you with a soft wall of tubular metal, you are somewhere and nowhere. You just like being here.

Make Out Point (painting)

The tone changes. Funky metallic beats. Subdued, sinister shouts. The funky beats get spacey with repetition, hovering and circling around your mind. Could be a flying saucer, spinning like a hovercraft above a sea.

Make Out Point (applause)

Joanna has fractured soul. It blends and splits with the music. The echoes on the computer and of her own voice swirl. They mix with the shuffling beats, and the rhythms carry the voices, which carry the rhythms, which sand down your own spirit till you can only receive, and accept what she has to offer, which is spiritual, raw, and unendingly sweet.

Make Out Point (Channels)

The Channels

Ian is on bass guitar. He hits hard. The beat is some weird funk, spacey but not out of control. On drums, Nick is playful and rollicking and rolling, bowed like the wood of the hull of a boat. Wes is eking out sharp sparks from his electric guitar. This has a no wave feel, coming out of the same strains where we found GToss, but the rhythms are simpler, and the tunes more melodic.

Wes says Sonic Youth but this is different. More driving. Experimental, yes, but with metal grooves, and dips and dives. Nick’s drumming is very subtle, sometimes hitting very lightly. But it’s cast like wrought iron, and ornate.

Make Out Point (wall)

Each musician contributes equally, one of the nice things about this band. What bass does works with what guitar does, rounded out and capitulated by the drums.

Wes gets some really cool liquid, elastic twangs by holding the notes way up by the bell. He works with these, and it sounds almost like a synthesizer.

The Channels is a classic band, they have a classic feel, the classic feel of a band always reaching out into the future, into the feel of their youth, so you can imagine groups doing stuff like this way back in the sixties, maybe Red Crayola. This is Red Crayola wrung with early eighties New York, but perfectly molded to the basement they are now playing in, the millennial Make Out Point.

Make Out Point (Silk Purse)

Silk Purse

Silk Purse is a NYC band, with members of The Sightings. The first thing you notice is the bassist, Richard, who is choogling (if that’s a word), or that’s what it sounds like; repeated patterns of deep dark woody booms.

Mark is singer and guitarist. His short bursts of shouts sound like electric dog barks. On synth and electronics, Justin echoes these effects, and it’s a wall of noise, with classic metal rhythms.

Mark has played with Aaron Dilloway of Wolf Eyes, and you can hear the latter’s vermin-ridden sound in this band, but this is a straight rock band, very noisy, but still with polish and control.

Make Out Point (duct)

It’s exciting. The rhythms go places. The songs are short, and there’s always a new adventure. Mark has a series of pedals in the floor, and there’s as much action on these as on the strings.

Silk purse is shatters and fragments, soldered together into stained glass panels from a church of the devil. The queer, squeaky, eerie light shines, and you hover around the infernal lips of the goat-footed beast, but you flutter away back like a butterfly, in the beams piercing the glass, or out the window into the light of the new summer.


Brendan Murray, Steve Norton, Michael Rosenstein & Arkm Foam – Somerville, 6/12


Brendan Murray

Microdots in color. Murray’s music puts you in a mellow trance. Very pleasant. Sonic frames getting larger, within other frames, dissipating in the distance, disappearing, reconfigured bold in the foreground, orbits within orbits of a solar system.


Steve Norton

Steve Norton is divided between the celeste on his right hand, and the electronics on his left. Then he just leaves the knobs buzzing and picks up his bass clarinet, with his signature liquid notes, somehow reminiscent of Eric Dolphy but more classical, like Luciano Berio’s Sequenza, perhaps. He uses harmonics, splitting his reed into two concurrent notes.

There is humor, aggression, but it is as mild as tea. Chromatic arpeggios, rumbling held bass notes.

Muffled recordings of serious voices from a radio, sped up and slowed down. Somehow this is disturbing. But it’s funny. It becomes abstract. Almost just like the timbre of the alto saxophone he is about to pick up.

It is very disconcerting, the way the sax loops and hops, dives with the distorted voice recording in the background. If you listen to him carefully, the sax is very inventive, bright, spirited, spritely and free. But the strange, low voice is a disruption. Then things become strange, strangely pleasant, with his tinkling on the celeste, diatonic, echoing, like a Night Gallery soundtrack.

Steve picks up the contra-alto sax. The lines he plays are mellow and playful. They swing, like Barney Bigard from Ellington. This is the nicest part. It makes you feel calm now, just classic jazz, bent into an avant-garde mold.


Michael Rosenstein & Arkm Foam

The mood, tense, immediately dissipates as Michael’s gears hum and click. They rotate, like a lawnmower engine. It’s just like my grandfather’s three-acre estate in Connecticut, where I used to ride with him on his sit-on tractor. Foam is liquid, bubbling, and scraping. This is a duet now, sonorous as church bells. Amazing how electro-noise can put you in the mind of nature, especially with Foam, who loves nature, working with it, living with it, a nature boy.

Then there is more tension, tension of a night forest, with owls on the prey. Everything is dark, except where moonlight strikes a stray branch.

It’s a boiling cauldron of emotion, though still quite quiet. Glimpses of calm, but no sense of clear direction. We wait. Blurred, scattershot memories. Harder still to believe we are in a different place now. It’s a road stretching into the sun. It goes on forever.

Life in the sun: there are dogs barking, there is a farm, chickens clucking. The sun sets. All is quiet. The wind blowing the beams of the barn, the creaking, the sounds of passing autos. They take you to the quick and the raw, the headaches and the knots in the flesh, the whole body frazzled; then healed, whole again as the leaves blow in the dark.

Two musicians, sitting still behind boards of electronics, white space with a gray floor, scattered speakers, snare drum, antique keyboard against which a bass clarinet rests. We have been nowhere but inside. But it takes us outside.

Sissy Spacek, Eatin’, Dour – Deep Thoughts -6/8

Sissy Spacek

Sissy Spacek

Sissy Spacek was John Wiese, master and monster of noise, who’s played with Merzbow, and avant jazz sax great Evan Parker. He’s got a duo now, with drums, and a beard, and he plays guitar. It’s just one straight shot of noise, with double screams, rolling drums, and guitar scratched to blood. Then it ends.

Sissy Spacek has done all kinds of things in the past, encompassed on a four disc retrospective a few years ago, so you never know what it’s is going to do, or how long it will play. Wiese is actually an electronic virtuoso, so the key tonight was surprise. Just a blast in your face, and stop. You could say fourteen-year-old kids could do this, and maybe they could; but maybe that’s the point.



The first thing you think about this quartet, with the funky intro, is Red Hot Chili Peppers. The singer’s got those loose, lanky moves, swaying about in front of the stage, but this is another kind of metal as it moves on. Short bursts of barely controlled noise, relentless.

Then the melodies develop. Dark, minor things, but still with abrupt stops, lightning drums and guitar riffs, caveman vocals, dark and husky. The cumulative effect is the wash of a tidal wave on a California beach, leaving the surfboards and babes in bikinis with a primal stretch of sand.



Dour starts with a tom rolling over off the stage. They introduce themselves: “Thank you. We’re Spinal Tap.” And they are: this isn’t hair metal from the ’80s, this is classic metal, with a clean, contemporary steel edge.

They vary their tempos, from rumble to race, bass, guitar, and drum. The bassist, tall blonde with short hair, screams in short bursts. The music is largely instrumental. It’s about the juxtaposition of rough textures, the crisscrossing and crashing as the guitarist loops chords like a Blue Angel jet, and the drums gather steam and stop in turn.

This is a metal crowd, lots of black, guy with a shaved head, no moshing, just serious absorption of the hypnotic trance the trio induces with their glacially shifting patterns. This is the venting of rage. You’ve got to vent, and Dour does.

Nate Aronow Nextet – Ryles – 6/3/16


The Nextet is a snap perfect jazz rock fusion unit, actually a sextet, with electric guitar and bass, sax, drums, trumpet, and Aronow on electric piano. The sounds come straight out of the ’70s, the height of fusion, but with Latin and R & B flavors, and the music is completely contemporary and fresh.

There are geometric patterns to the band’s interplay, like shifting circles that break and turn into squares and stars and rectangles, laid one on another in a shimmering architecture.

“Ode to the Bicycle” is a title that says it all, the physical, fun exhilaration, the rhythm of the pedals as they ride into a mellow breeze. Aronow raps the lyrics, and it’s funky, with sax punctuations evoking Maceo Parker. The guitarist outlines the tune with octave intervals, and the trumpet puts on the brakes to end the song, like someone pushing the horn on a car.

The next number is soft Latin, with sax dropped for flute. We see why it’s called “Nextet” now. We’re always on the edge of our seats, elbows on the table, anticipating what comes next.

Aronow’s keyboard style is understated. He favors lower and upper ranges, a gentle charm, simple, subtle syncopation, warm, sticky melodies. This is a band of cohesion and flare. It feels good, it’s complex, but you always get what’s going on with an easy ear, open to the mutating patterns and effervescent color changes.

Monday In May – Cale Israel – Cambridge, 5/23

Cale Israel Blue

On a tinny, upright piano in the new, tony, Out of the Blue Too Gallery, Cale has the classic sound of the early 1970s’ singer songwriters – natural, pastel progressions, righteous, meaningful vocals, communication with the audience, humor. You may think Laura Nyro, Billy Joel, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, with jazzy undertones. He varies his tone, with a lilting touch of stride, soft, buttery funk, syrupy romance. He’s lively, upbeat, and outgoing, intimate and warm. He’s done crazy electro-pop in smoky basements in the past, hippy experiments (sometimes naked), he’s always moving, always has charm, he’s always at once familiar and unexpected. People sit on the blue-striped tiled carpet, watching the blue and yellow patterns cross on the screen behind him, this is a nice night.