Solo Contra

Solo Contra by John McCowen.
Bandcamp Link: Solo Contra

I happen to think the Contra Bass Clarinet is the king of all instruments. An octave below the Bass Clarinet, it is one of the lowest instruments in the semi-normal range of orchestral instruments. Though, not a particularly common instrument.

Also, there is a style of metal Contra Bass Clarinets where the tube is bent into an oval. It looks totally steam punk and its mechanisms are ridiculously complicated.

In any case, this is an album of pieces for solo contra bass clarinet.

In these pieces, Mr McCowen treats the instrument more like a didgeridoo than using the typical methods. Which is to say, he is manipulating long tones using breath, embouchure, and the shape of his vocal cavity. He creates overtones, plays up harmonics, and in general messes with the pre-conceptions of what a serious orchestral instrument should sound like.

It’s pretty great! Well, if, like me, your idea of a good time is harmonically complex drones, it’s pretty great. I suppose, for some people, it might sound like the SF Bay Foghorns. But, who doesn’t love to listen to the foghorns around the bay?

I have long lusted after the calla lilies which grow profusely in our neighborhood. But, it seemed silly to spend money on something that grows everywhere. Finally, last summer, I broke down, picked up some Calla tubers which had come loose in a neighbor’s front yard and brought them home. I planted them in dirt and, amazingly, they have flowered in their first year. Just, FYI, it can be a little hard to tell Calla tubers from small dog or cat poop, which also seem to reproduce profusely in our neighborhood yards and on our sidewalks.

#JohnMcCowen #SoloContra #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Zantedeschiaaethiopica #CallaLily


Universalists by Yonatan Gat.
Bandcamp Link: Universalists

When this album started, I wasn’t sure if I had put on the right thing!

It first reminded me of something Socalled might put together with samples and live music.

It seems like what they’ve done on this album is to take elements and samples from different sorts of folk music, from Klezmer to the indigenous people of North America, and used it to inform the tracks.

Listening more, it really reminded me of what the band Can was doing with their Ethnological Forgery Series. Well, if Can was a 21st Century eclectic surf guitar band. In any case, many of the collage elements do remind me of the sort of high jinks Holger Czukay got up to on his 1990s albums like Der Often ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.

In fact, they find some of the very specific guitar sounds and techniques that Michael Karoli used on those albums for a couple of the shorter, more collage-ey tracks.

I don’t know if this is an intentional tribute to Czukay and Can or if it is a sort of convergent evolution.

In any case, a great new album from a great band.

#YonatanGat #Universalists #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack


Conquistador by Dylan Carlson.
Bandcamp Link: Conquistador

Dylan Carlson is the main guy behind the heavy drone band Earth.

This is his first solo album in a while (he also sometimes records under the name Dr Carlson Albion). Atmospheric, scorched earth, desert maladies for your post-apocalyptic listening pleasure.

My main complaint with Conquistador is it ends far too soon. Any of these songs seem like the sort of late night studio exploration that could go on for hours, yet the album is only a half an hour long. Please, Sir, I want some more.

FYI: He’s touring this summer and will be playing solo August 09 at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco and on Oct 12 he will be back in SF performing “Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” with Earth. Bring ear protection.

#DylanCarlson #Conquistador #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #MatilijaPoppies #RomneyaCoulteri

Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun

Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun by Ben LaMar Gay.
Bandcamp Link: Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun

I mentioned I had seen Jaimie Branch in duo with Ben LaMar Gay last year. They played some pretty out there stuff, mostly synth and processed horns.

So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Mr LaMar Gay’s solo album.

Even not knowing what to expect, I was surprised.

It’s sort of an esoteric pop record with elements from, well, everywhere. Some Jazz, some Electronic, some Bowie, some Funk.

To a certain extent the record it reminds me most of is Bowie’s Low. Well, if Bowie were a deep voiced African-American man. There’s a feel of eclectic experimentation which seems similar to what Bowie and Eno were trying to accomplish, especially on Low and Heroes.

The album feels like something that LaMar Gay has been working on as a passion project in his spare time for a long time, piecing it together track by track in his garage.

It’s funny, moving, and, despite occasional dissonance, pretty easy to listen to. After listening through the first time, I immediately restarted it at the beginning to give it a second chance to sink in. It’s that kind of record.

I recently noticed this Beach Sage (Salvia africana-lutea) bush on the VA campus. It’s a pretty unassuming Salvia until it starts flowering, and then these incredibly bizarre looking long nosed brown flowers pop out.

#BenLaMarGay #DowntownCastlesCanNeverBlocktheSun #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Salviaafricanalutea

Rummage Out

Rummage Out by Matt Piet & His Disorganization.
Label Link: Rummage Out

Piano, two horns (trumpet and sax), and drums. kinda my ideal group composition. Free but not overly “out” improvised music.

Piet sprints with Cecil Taylor-ish in energy at times, but Mazzarella and Berman pull him back with soaring and intersecting lines of melody and harmony. Daisy rumbles beneath, a broken scree for the others to scramble across.

Live, without a net.

#MattPiet #JoshBerman #NickMazzarella #TimDaisy #RummageOut #MattPietAndHisDisorganization


Ladilikan by Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet.
Bandcamp Link: Ladilikan

Trio de Kali is vocalist Hawa Diabaté, balafon player Fodé Lassana Diabaté, and bass n’gobi player Mamadou Kouyaté from Mali, Africa. They were brought together with the American string quartet The Kronos Quartet by Ethnomusicologist Lucy Durán. The arrangements of the songs for the groups were written by American musician Jacob Garchik.

Garchik and the Kronos Quartet make the wise choice of leaving the Trio da Kali in the driver’s seat for most of the tunes, working the quartet into the edges, adding harmony and textures to the pieces. I think, also, Garchik makes a wise move by sourcing his arrangement ideas from American musics whose roots lie in African traditions. Gospel and the blues, with a smattering of 20th Century Classical, primarily Copland.

The musical inspiration for the series of tunes came when a song Hawa Diabaté spontaneously sang to welcome David Harrington to a gathering reminded him of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

Music that is simultaneously uplifting and enjoyable. A wonderful album.

#KronosQuartet #TrioDaKali #Ladilikan #JacobGarchik #todayscommutesoundtrack #Aloepolyphylla

Money Jungle

Money Jungle by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach.

Recorded in 1962, Duke Ellington was 62 years old; Charles Mingus, 40; and Max Roach, 37. Swing was barely a memory, Bebop fading, and Rock & Roll on the rise.

Three titans of their own musics get together and attempt to reach some sort of consensus.

Ellington, the polite pugilist, dominates the sessions, both in terms of the number of compositions on the album, and dictates most of the idioms and rhythms at play.

Mingus and Roach try to stretch the forms and idioms, but usually end up coming back to the Duke’s terms in the end.

I don’t know if it is a great album, the three never quite gel, but it is fascinating to listen to them try. And also great to hear them play these compositions in such an unadorned setting, without a larger band expanding the ideas.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #DukeEllington #CharlesMingus #MaxRoach #MoneyJungle

Currents, Costellations

Currents, Constellations by Nels Cline 4.

A couple years ago, Cline and Julian Lage made a duo album called Room. This release expands on that by adding bass, Scott Colley, and drums, Tom Rainey, into the mix.

After the extremely ambitious Blue Note album, Lovers, this makes a move inside to a comfortable Jazz-ish, uh, maybe, Foyer.

The interplay between Cline and Lage is a wonder, with them trading off between melody and harmony parts like long lost conjoined twins. The feel, and sound, is, as mentioned, fairly traditionally “Jazzy”. The guitarists sprint up and slide down the necks of their guitars, runs peeling off at a speed that would make a Bebopper blush, but still take time to be pretty, on “River Mouth”, and a little sad on, “For Each, a Flower”. 

#NelsCline #JulianLage #NelsCline4 #ScottColley #TomRainey #CurrentsConstellations #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Songs and Dances

Songs and Dances by André Jaume / Joe McPhee / Raymond Boni.

I feel like this was one of the first “Free” albums I bought. I love what they did with “The Dock of the Bay”, it is a sort of musical ideal for me. It sounds like they build the tune slowly from its most basic elements, working in the harmonic space of the song. Eventually, the melody coalesces, only once, and then their playing collapses back to chaos. Are they playing the changes? Is that portions of the tune being quoted? It’s all magic, as far as I am concerned.

Their take on “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is even more puzzling. I can’t say to this day what their playing has to do with the song, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, but I try not to think about it too much, as analysis might ruin the magic. I just love how, at the end of 4 and a half minutes of basically free improv, Mr McPhee addresses the audience to say only the name of the tune, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. Like it is some sort of explanation or totemic incantation which might explain what has gone before.

31 years later, and I still find this album fascinating.

#SongsAndDances #JoeMcPhee #RaymondBoni #AndréJaume #todayscommutesoundtrack

The Emancipation Procrastination

The Emancipation Procrastination by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.
Bandcamp Link: The Emancipation Procrastination

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a young trumpeter who experiments a bit with electronics and the edges between Jazz and Pop music.

This release caught my eye due to a song called, “Michele with One L”. This is an odd album. The first few tracks sound kind of like demos. Sketches worked out over fairly basic drum machine vamps. The recording and mixing is a bit odd. Initially, I thought maybe they were trying to mimic a sort of LoFi 1970s Funk-Jazz sound. The production on later tracks normalize to a certain extent and add what sounds like live acoustic drums, to their benefit. But, it seems like there are large amounts of compression applied to all the melodic instruments.

The album production is atmospheric, but the solos sound a bit same-ey and are very consonant in their voicings. Technically skilled, but ends up sounding like music that wouldn’t be out of place in an elevator or dentist’s office.

#TheEmancipationProcrastination #ChristianScottaTundeAdjuah #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack