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

Murray

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.

Norton

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.

Foam

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.

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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.

Eatin'

Eatin’

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

Dour

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

Aronow

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.

New Fire: Guerilla Toss, Eraser Stargazer

Eraser Stargazer

Eraser Stargazer

DFA (2015)

“Eraser Stargazer”…. “Cinnamon chocolate”… Guerilla Toss’s new album, Eraser Stargazer, twists and turns in spicy sweet directions. The beat keeps happening. Arian’s guitar patterns stick in your mind, sharp pieces of broken green glass, which Kassie skips around with her tart, sassy singing, elastic as she coos, then does dark things with her throat. Peter keeps giving the music a hard edge, with the beating but listening drums he’s known for, and everything’s knit together like a three-dimensional artwork with intricately crossed strings. The Toss has always gone deep into inventive interplay. This is the album that perfects it, looming with the spirits the band has left behind, but striking into new veins, showing that rock has a future.

Guerilla Toss – Eraser Stargazer – DFA Records, 2015

Eraser Stargazer

Eraser Stargazer is the rhythm of the waves glowing in the caves, cold in the middle of the night. Kassie’s vocals sound like they’ve been slowed down to 16 RPM, so it’s pretty creepy at first, like you wonder if it’s really her singing. But she dominates the album, and it’s catchy and eerie and weird. It’s the sound of Arian’s guitar that makes you want to listen to it again and again. It’s got a slick slant to it, kind of funky. The more you listen, the more you notice Peter’s drumming, structured like architectural blocks, building new ways of looking into the music. Guerilla Toss keeps toughing out disruptions, locations and lineups, but it keeps succeeding at what it was expected to do – refine inventions in the rock of the future.

TriCRHO – Lilypad – Cambridge, 4/24

Trichro

TriCHRO is a trio of piano, drums, and electric bass. Pianist, Eriko Yamaki Mercure, has a broad palette, touching on blues, Latin, classical, with subtle buildups and surprise stops.

Bassist Dave Mercure announces the songs, the second for the Red Sox, the third for the late Prince, “Lullaby”. The music has a way of staying in the tradition, while still getting connected with the present world. Yamaki Mercure takes you through the streets of a city, some shadowy and out of the way, some with bright lights.

“Nine 0’Clock Hit” is the next song. Mark Fairweather starts with some funky snare banging, then switches back and forth into swing mode. The use of electric bass is nice. Mercure’s note bending and flash stops give the flow an elastic quality, so the many elements of the music coalesce and come apart again.

“Augmented Third” is presented as the adult version of a Japanese children’s song. It has the feel of a Broadway tune as Yamaki Mercure begins, then darkens to an almost modal blues. Bass and piano dialogue in relaxed tones. Yamaki Mercure reaches up the keyboard for some flourishes suggesting stride.

The great thing about this band is the solid structures, the patterns that evolve and develop into complementing solos, always relating to each other but always differing.

Bong Wish, Prone, TRIM – Wicked Mess – Cambridge, 4/23

Bong Wish

Bong Wish

This music has a strange Euro-country feel, with the twanging bass and the ethereal vocals from Sarah and Mariam. There’s a sinister, syrupy sweet tone to the songs. “So relax, enjoy the ride…” Mariam led Boston group Fat Creeps with Gracie Jackson. Bong Wish still has the classic jangly Boston sound, but the colors are lava lamp colors, glowing around on the walls of the room.

Prone

Prone

You can see the cat under the Christmas tree when you see this guy’s lights on his knobs and gear. The music is washes of waves, many colored, disturbing, turbulent, turning the life of another world.

Trim

TRIM

This drum/synth duo uses a whole new language. It is always rhythmic and percussive. It often has the synthetic feel of another, similar duo, Lightning Bolt. The sounds start out cold and alienating, like you’re in some unfamiliar land, but they become warm with the repetitions. Victoria, on synth, comes out in the audience to operate the beats with a round metal disc handheld device. All very mysterious, this music takes you in different directions.

King Ade (poem)

ColsonKing Ade

Which song was I singing?
It’s just the grand piano
Stirring in the dark
Underground
Tunnel as long as a city
Just the music
I sing his song
It’s just my lips
Moving to the melody
Can I imagine Mandela?
His music mind?
The music of the jails
Water swooshing in pails
With stale white bread
This is how we make music

Adegoke Steve Colson’s Glorious Tones For

Colson Tones For coverWhere do we look for the hot new jazz? It can come from out of the blue, like the alto sax of New York’s Darius Jones. It can be international, with graceful Asian players imported to the cities of American jazz. It can come from players who were hot all along, from the ’60s and ’70s. Players might disappear after they have made their major statements. There are also unique cases where a veteran can pull a rabbit out of a hat, and he equals, or even transcends, his whole career.

Adegoke Steve Colson (Adegoke means king) is an unsung master. He joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), the most powerful organization in jazz, in the early 1970s in Chicago, after graduating from Northwestern. Singer Iqua Colson, his wife, was the first woman member of the organization.

Colson is a team player. On the records I have played, which I acquired when I interviewed him six years ago, he approaches the unit as a whole, quietly, but geometrically and fluidly, stepping about the spirals of the brass and reeds, shifting the nature of the percussion and bass lines. Tones For, his new release, for solo grand piano, is a departure.

Part of his legacy is in major civil rights. In 1971, he occupied the Bursar’s office at Northwestern, a year after the Kent State massacre. There were just under a hundred black students at the university at the time, and he and six friends planned the occupation of the building, Colson and his friend Andre going into the underground tunnels and mapping them out so that, when the National Guard came, the doors were chained.

Every black student participated, and Colson and four other black students had chains around them when they came out. The operation had massive ramifications, changing the nature of Black studies in North American universities.

Typical of Colson, he never mentions this, unless you press him. But Tones For is a tribute to his mothers and fathers in Black liberation history. “Sister Moses” is Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad heroine, and the only woman known to have led American troops in war. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are also part of the picture and tribute. The CD folds open with notes on each song, tracing the significance of the heroes’ and heroine’s contributions the cause of Black freedom.

Tones For is quirky, deep, emotional, and passionate, strange for something so formal and disciplined. On one level, this is a modest offering: a mature, solo statement on the history of human rights. But that’s huge by its nature. As the theme crosses the ages, do the strains of influence, and the touches of style. You can hear the dark pastels of Muhal Richard Abrams, (AACM founder), the stride of Fats Waller, and the flourishes of Teddy Wilson. With its expansive progression and development, it belies its sectioning in songs, becoming unfettered and exploratory.

The work is in two volumes. Right away when Iqua sent me the CD, and I was looking at the notes and list of titles, I knew this was an instant masterpiece, and the music creates twisting moods and thoughts, like you’re in the torchlight of the underground tunnels themselves.

Only Adegoke has been there. He is a civil rights hero, the platinum of American achievement. Colson has illustrious associations, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Reggie Workman, and also Art Ensemble of Chicago members. So many of the records he has appeared on with them have escaped radar. This one shouldn’t fall through the cracks. It should put him in the jazz canon forever, like his associates.