from Wadada Leo Smith to SIXES


Saw Wadada Leo Smith give a little talk earlier tonight as part of the Improv:21 series. He explained how his graphic scores were to be interpreted -- each performer is to independently prepare an extensive amount of material based on the nearly limitless number of associations able to be derived from the score (this seemed impossibly daunting to me as he described it, and he went on to point out that most musicians are lazy when it comes to preparing for a piece like this). He explained how his music places great importance on non-development and the independence of the musicians so that an idea can be presented as it is without being obscured by elaborations or responses. Musicians are to perform their material independently of the other musicians playing, only listening to them peripherally. He said the primary concern of his music is to make people (musicians and listeners) forget the world for a while and fully concentrate on the musical universe being created at that moment. Funny remarks about west African artists throwing ceremonial stools in the bushes to let ants eat them (so they had an excuse to make new ones), etc. as well as a few (too) short solo trumpet performances demonstrating how he improvises on a single idea, how he plays his graphic scores, etc. Interesting talk, nice music and presented in a great intimate setting. Wish I would've been to some of the earlier talks. I'll definitely return in the future (Ostertag, Winant, etc.).


Last night I heard Le Quan Ninh and Frederic Blondy at the Community Music Center. Two new venues for me in two days. I'm glad that there actually are a few places for improvised music in SF (in addition to the LSG and Musician's Union). Too bad they don't get much use. sfSoundGroup opened with a few great pieces. An improvisation started things off. A “half-baked” graphic score by Matt Ingalls turned out really well. Then two Wadada Leo Smith pieces. The scored pieces allowed for a lot of improvisation, so the all of them were strongly stamped with the group's sound. Lots of fast skittering around and playing the I somehow associate more with composed new music. Forceful bass playing from George Cremaschi sounded really good, especially the opening explosion to the first improvisation. Later in that piece, he broke his A string with a violent blow. John Ingle always impresses me with his ability to play extremely quietly on the alto sax with no breath noise. I think it stands out because it's always applied very well. Really quiet tones on the threshold of perception, rising up at the right times. The first Smith piece was really great, and the second featured a smokin energy free jazz trio section with tenor sax, drums and piano. It was really funny to be seeing sfSound treading this territory, but it sounded great. I wish I would see more of these musicians playing in different settings, especially the cellist, who does really interesting things and whom I've never seen outside of sfSound. Blondy and Ninh took the stage next, Blondy on prepared grand piano and Ninh on a sideways-turned bass drum which primarily served as a surface to scrape with cymbals and such. Really “abstract” sound-based music played with great intensity. Even though I had a pretty good idea of what Ninh was doing, it was hard to believe some of the incredible sounds he was getting out of his simple set-up. It often sounded like noisy buzzing electronics and it was pretty loud too. Pine cones were rubbed on the drum to great screeching effect, etc. The techniques really aren't that important. It sounded great.


Saturday at the Stork Club. Slow Children opened at the usual Stork Club start time of 10-10:30. I was expecting to hear more pop elements based on their published description, but it was mostly free improv. Koto, drums and electronics (processed guitar, vocals, etc.). It sounded pretty good for the most part, especially the koto. I would've liked to have heard them in a more intimate setting, without the PA. The sound turned out a bit weird for the music they were making.

Late Severa Wires played, but I didn't hear much of them.

Mute Socialite was really good. Instrumental math rock sort of stuff with guitar, bass and two drum sets. Hard rockin and interestingly complex in a way that still flowed very well. The Ex definitely comes to mind.

Ettrick went on to a much-diminished crowd and an increasingly anxious bartender at about 1:30am. The furious set was condensed to the bartender-ordered 10 minutes.


Marana Jocund opened the 21 Grand show. A guitar a drum duo featuring Rob of the Flying Luttenbachers on drums (he plays guitar in the FLs) and his Mirthkon bandmate, Wally, on guitar. High energy improvisations. I saw them play a somewhat lackluster show in December and this set was a great improvement (Rob said he had mono back then!). They certainly have the instrumental ability and this set was played with enough intensity and taste that it came together very well. Cellular Chaos was next, featuring Weasel Walter on guitar with Damon Smith on ergo bass and Willy Winant and Mark Smith both on drum sets. Free no wave... really noisy guitar work like the Flying Luttenbachers freed from rhythm and notes, and strangely combined with rock and roll jumping around antics. The dual drumming was probably the best part. Both guys were going at it with significant fury. Mark was holding down more of a shifting rock beat while Willy played primarily free rhythms and timbral stuff to accompany that. The group as a whole seemed to understand what to do significantly better than at their first show a couple months ago. It really sounded great. Flaming Horse played last.


Lindsay/Looney/Smith opened the show at 1510 with a Jimmy Giuffre tribute (more or less in instrumentation only). A solid set. Highlights included Lindsay's furious Ab clarinet playing on one piece, and a well-timed motorcycle revving up right as a contrabass clarinet piece wrapped up. Greenlief/Kaiser/Walter were next. Kaiser played really relaxed, stretched-out guitar lines over Walter's fast-moving and frantic percussion. Greenlief found his place by mimicking Kaiser's playing with his sax, and engaging it in a fairly matched dialog. One of the more extreme instances was some spit gurgling while sustaining a note, mimicking a distorted guitar chord. This approach worked quite well and really brought the trio together.

I headed over to G3 next, where the noise show was postponed until midnight due to a double booking. Tullan Velte started out the noise portion with some great cathode ray based noise. Crunchy drone. First time hearing him, and it was great. The final rock band from the previous show went on next, introducing themselves by saying, “You look like you're all here to see techno! Well, we're a ROCK band,” then launching into some Sublime-style white man reggae with heavy wah pedal (ab)use. They wrapped up the set with a pretty solid version of “Red House” (dead-on guitar intro). They were actually pretty impressive for a bunch of kids, especially the apparently 12-year-old drummer. Crazy freak show next door at Ireland 32. Easy listening with close disharmonious backing vocals, congas, tenor sax solos, etc. The most godawful of all noise heard that evening. Cornucopia took back the night for the noise crew. This sounded good too, but I don't remember much. A lot like Tully, I think. Scott Arford played some bass heavy laptop stuff which often didn't sound too good through G3's PA. Certain bass tones just turned to slime. Later in the set he hit on a two-note bass alternation that reminded me of a great industrial bassline. Then some more really interesting sounds and it was all over. Sixes played a great set to a much reduced audience. I was sick and on the way out the door when he started, and I had to turn around to hear the rest of it. More diversity of sounds than I'm used to from someone who is usually more into heavy drone/wall of noise stuff. Again, the set was marred slightly by weird sound at the venue, but it was definitely an interesting one. Nice to hear him branching out a little, and worth sticking around for.



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