SF Offside Spark Series

This month, Alex Pinto and I are presenting four shows in four different venues in the Bay Area. It’s all part of the SF Offside Spark Series, a little taster before our three-night festival in May.

SF Offside logoThe series kicks off this Thursday, March 7, at the Red Poppy Art House with saxophonist Marcus Stephens’ Markstep Trio and drummer Eric Garland’s Hodge Podge Ensemble. Check out my recent interviews with both Stephens and Garland on the SF Offside site. I’ve been having a lot of fun with those and will continue to do features on each of the composers we present this month as part of this series.

On Friday, March 15, at Cafe Royale, we present reed master Aram Shelton’s brand new Golden Age quartet. Included in that program is Shelton’s Kodachrome Music, a suite inspired by the sparse, enchanting landscape of southern Utah.

Then on Saturday, March 23, at the Revolution Cafe, we’re having the Spark Series Jazz Jam. This show opens with the Sonny Sharrock Experience, a new collaborative project featuring saxophonist David Boyce that grew out of last year’s festival. After the first set, we’ll open things up to our many talented friends in the jazz community. The Rev show is also a fundraiser for SF Offside, so a $5-10 donation in the tip jar is greatly appreciated.

The series closes with a show on Wednesday, March 27, at Awaken Cafe in Oakland, which will be our first East Bay show (and certainly not our last!). We’ll be presenting two guitar trios—Roger Kim’s First Day and the Alex Pinto Trio.

Click on the links above or just visit SF Offside for more details on each show. You can also get the full line-up of musicians in the Spark Series here.

I hope to see some of you there!

SF Offside Presents: Secret Sidewalk and the Alex Pinto Trio with David Boyce

Last Friday’s show with Klaxon Mutant Allstars and These Are Our Hours was a great success. We had a packed house and, of course, fantastic music. Thanks to everyone who came out to support, and to both ensembles for bringing it.

This Saturday, November 17, we’ve got another Offside show.

Secret Sidewalk are returning to Viracocha to bring their genre-bending sound, combining electronic music and experimental jazz. To give you taste of their music, here’s their set from the third night of Offside, courtesy of Bay Taper. Can’t wait to hear them perform live again! 

Opening the show will be the Alex Pinto Trio with special guest David Boyce on sax. They will be performing Sonny Sharrock’s seminal album, Ask the Ages. Here’s a track from that album to whet your appetite. 

Coincidentally, November 17 is also the one-year anniversary of the incredible Kneebody show at Viracocha, the first collaboration between me and Alex, which ultimately led to us founding SF Offside together. That was also Alex’s first time playing at Viracocha, so it’s a real pleasure to get to present his trio again, one year later on the dot.

I’m really excited about Saturday’s show. We’re expecting another packed house for this one, so come early, especially if you want to get a seat!

Doors open at 8pm and the show will start sometime around 8:30pm.

Offside 2×5: Klaxon Mutant Allstars & These Are Our Hours

Earlier this year I embarked on a major adventure with Alex Pinto—SF Offside—a three-night festival showcasing some of the best from the local jazz/creative music scene. While we are already working hard toward next year’s festival, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of this year’s incredible experience. In particular, I wanted to bring together the two quintets that debuted at the festival into one night of awesomeness called Offside 2×5.

These Are Our Hours is one of many projects led by composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist Aram Shelton, and includes members of the Oakland Active Orchestra. Alex and I had originally invited OAO to close out the first night of the festival, but given the significant size of that collective, the logistics didn’t work out. We kept talking with Aram about possibilities, however, which ultimately resulted in him putting together this quintet to perform all new compositions, specially written for the festival. And thus was born These Are Our Hours.

TAOH making their debut at SF Offside 2012
Photo by Roger Kim

In addition to Shelton on alto sax, TAOH features one of my current favorites, the very talented Mark Clifford on vibes, highlighted to great effect in Shelton’s arrangements, as well as Theo Padouvas on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Sam Ospovat or Shaun Lowecki on drums—a crew of young and talented players. Since their debut at Offside in May, they’ve been building a strong body of work playing a monthly at Bar 355 in Oakland. One Tuesday recently, I got to see them play the Uptown in Oakland with Alex Pinto’s trio opening, part of the ongoing Active Music Series. That was a great evening of music with a surprisingly full house for a Tuesday night, so I’m excited to hear TAOH play again, particularly at Viracocha, where the sound is so good. They will be playing the first set of the evening.

Meanwhile, check out this nice article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Shelton, whose Chicago quartet recently performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Klaxon Mutant Allstars is an intergalactic confederacy of Bay Area players—trumpeter Henry Hung, saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, keyboard player Colin Hogan, bassist George-Ban Weiss, and drummer Eric Garland—that emerged from the Amnesia Wednesday night jazz jam. While all five write for the ensemble, Hung and Garland do the bulk of the composing. The story of how KMA came to play the third night of Offside is not a whole lot different from the TAOH story. I was talking with George Ban-Weiss about Atomic Roger, his trio with Eric Garland and guitarist extraordinaire Mike Abraham (these three also play together in violinist Mads Tolling’s Grammy Award-winning quartet). Abraham, who took over the Wednesday night jam when Mitch Marcus moved to NY, has since moved to LA, so logistically it didn’t work out for them to play the festival.

KMA playing at Viracocha on the last night of Offside
Photo by Hernando Buitrago

George told me about a new group he, Garland (who now leads the Wednesday jam), and some others had formed, but at that point they did not yet have a name. I knew all the players involved and was already really impressed with Garland as a composer, not to mention bad-ass drummer. So, we invited the group to play at SF Offside, they promptly came up with a name for themselves, then performed an appropriately stellar (or interstellar?) set on the last night of the festival.

We were very lucky to have Bay Taper in attendance that night, so the entire evening was documented. Craig from Wedge Radio also covered the show on his blog.

For a little taste of what’s to come in November, listen to this Bay Taper recording of Klaxon playing a delightful Hung composition called “Jamie Moyer” (Wedge Radio explains the joke for those of us that don’t get sports references). The group also recently spent some time in the studio, so their debut recording will be released some time in the new year.

I’m very excited to be presenting these two quintets in one show. While different stylistically, both have mastered that fine balancing act between structure, melody, and rhythm on the one hand, and openness, improvisation, and inventiveness on the other. The music is accessible while also full of surprises. So, please, save the date!

Offside 2×5: KLAXON MUTANT ALLSTARS & THESE ARE OUR HOURS          Friday November 9th at Viracocha. Doors at 8pm, show at 8:30pm.

It’s going to be a night of ridiculously good, fresh new music.

Klanging the Farben

Life does not wait to be written about. And books, sadly, don’t read themselves. I returned to work this week and have been a little overwhelmed with the amount of reading I have to stay on top of. I had started writing a blog post about all the incredible shows I saw last weekend and then just didn’t have time during the week to return to it.

Since then, I’ve seen so much more music that I want to write about. I just can’t keep up with myself. The weather has also been gloriously sunny, so it has been truly delightful to be back in my beloved SF.

I have a little bit of time today before heading out to Switchboard Music, an eight-hour festival of eclectic, inventive, genre-bending music featuring some of the Bay Area’s most interesting composers and musicians. I really should be reading Marx, but what the fuck!

Last weekend was a big one, as far as performances go. Since the jetlag wore off, I’ve been packing in as much as possible.

Friday night I went to see Beats Antique at the Fillmore. In the space of just a few years, this Oakland trio has gone from underground sensation in the local electronic music scene to a band of national and international popularity. The music is a tantalizing blend of breaks, hip-hop, dubstep, and glitch layered with Middle and Near Eastern riffs, and contemporary circus music. The sound is part digitally produced and sampled, part acoustic instrumentation.

After many months on the road, the trio returned to the bay for a sold-out performance at San Francisco’s celebrated Fillmore Theater, a “dream come true” for the band, according to David Satori.

Opening the show was The Real Vocal String Quartet, an innovative all-female string quartet that incorporates pop/folk singing to great effect with traditional chamber music. They also provided the string section for several Beats Antique numbers throughout the evening.

The second support act was a young man calling himself The Tailor who wriggled and writhed around onstage in a skinny pair of stripy low-riders and a wife-beater, singing and playing a looping guitar over mostly electronic prerecorded tracks he pulled up on his computer. The music had a danceable groove and was a good choice given the tastes of the audience, though several times I thought he would have been better able to play to the large crowd had he had some musicians accompanying him. There are lots of musicians who play multiple parts when they create and record their own music, but when playing out they get other musicians to take on these parts for a richer live experience. The Tailor could do with that kind of support onstage, especially at such a big venue like the Fillmore.

Beats Antique put on a great show accompanied by RVSQ on strings, as mentioned, Dan Cantrell on accordion, and a horn section that included Sylvain Carton on baritone sax and Peter Jacques on clarinet and trumpet.

A major factor contributing to Beats Antique’s meteoric rise is, no doubt, Zoe Jakes’ sultry tribal belly-dancing, which she performs throughout their shows when she’s not banging on a big drum and grimacing like a rockstar. On Friday, Jakes brought a bunch of friends with her to perform, so the crowd got to see some great dancing that ventured beyond tribal style. At one point, a hot guest dance troupe came out to perform a mixture of belly and hip-hop. Let me tell you, these ladies could shimmy and grind like nobody’s business.

Saturday night I managed to squeeze in two performances, Schick Machine by the Paul Dresher Ensemble, which was definitely the highlight of the weekend, and jazz guitarist Alex Pinto at my favorite local haunt, The Revolution Café.

Schick Machine is a collaboration between Paul Dresher, a well-known local composer and inventor of some of the wildest instruments you’ve ever seen or heard, Daniel Schmidt, another inventor and builder of musical instruments, Matt Heckert, maker of kinetic sculptures, and writer/director Rinde Eckert. The one-man show is performed by Steven Schick, a master percussionist with an astounding ability to extract every texture of sound from objects, be they simple household objects, sparser inventions born of an idiosyncratic mind, or wildly inventive creations that are both visually stunning and rich with sound possibilities.

Schick moves around from station to station in his subterranean (I imagine) sound laboratory that looks almost like the whirring, spinning, grinding internal workings of a giant piano organ. At times he conducts a kind of locomotive symphony between the different parts of the huge machine, at other times he plays a single instrument tenderly and slow, and the playing becomes a kind of meditative dance.

Renowned writer/director Rinde Eckert is known both for the physicality and musicality of his theatrical work and has collaborated with the Paul Dresher Ensemble on projects in the past.

In Schick Machine, an unseen voice introduces the character Lazlo Klangfarben (“klangfarbe” means “timbre” in German), an eccentric and solitary genius whose obsessive creative machinations have brought forth into existence the “Schick Machine,” an innovation that can reconcile the past and future. Lazlo is unsure whether the time is right to unleash his creation on the world, whether humanity is truly ready for such a powerful invention. Lazlo’s own sense of belonging in the world outside of his laboratory is also in question. We learn that connection and intimacy are problematic, that his wife has already left him.

Eckert’s philosophical ponderings through the character of Lazlo punctuate Schick’s virtuosic playing, and add the kind of intellectual depth and emotional poignancy these wild inventions demand. His words capture beautifully the emotional resonance Schick extracts from each instrument and the narrative provides a frame for Schick’s sonic explorations.

After Schick Machine, we headed over to the Rev for Alex Pinto’s CD release party. As always, the tiny venue was packed to the gills. Pinto is an accomplished young jazz guitarist who blends Hindustani classical music with contemporary jazz and indie rock. In addition to his original jazz compositions, he also does a number of very sweet interpretations of some Radiohead songs. He just released his debut album, Inner State. Definitely one to watch out for!

Sunday night it was time for a contemporary dance performance to balance out all the music. The Contact Improv Research Forum, which organizes the annual West Coast Contact Improv Festival, had a curated show at CounterPulse and Sunday was its last night. One of the biggest challenges for improv-based dance performance is to create something that does not look like a contact jam with lights and costumes, especially because the audience at these shows tends to be mostly other CI dancers who probably don’t want to pay three times as much to see what they could see at a regular jam.

This challenge is all the greater when the performance is conceptually heavy, as was the case with the first performance, Kristen Greco’s The Red Door. The piece was inspired by Jung’s Red Book, though I’m not sure if knowing this contributed anything to my appreciation of the dancing. One of the performers, Antonio Alemanno, switched roles between dancer and musician and even did a kind of contact dance with his upright bass, which I enjoyed. There were also some nice solos, most notably, from the Santa Cruz-based dancer Daniel Bear Davis, whom I just love to watch.

The second performance that evening, Sense Object, is a work-in-progress by Miriam Wolodarski with juggler/dancer Zack Bernstein, who often dances with Scott Wells and Dancers. I loved the names of the three scenes: “1. The polite dinner guest always speaks with restraint. 2. Another person is a foreign country. 3. Say something! Can’t you see I’m hiding?” It was a whimsical dance theatre piece that had me laughing out loud several times. A favorite moment was Wolodarski’s contact dance on and with a huge ladder. I look forward to seeing how this piece develops.

While I’ve seen a bunch more performances since then (it’s been a whole week, for God’s sake!), I will write about them later. The Switchboard Music Festival starts in a few minutes and I want to post this before I leave the house for that. More reviews coming soon!!