Idiom

Idiom.
Idiom.

Idiom (bandcamp link) by Anna Webber.

The CD release of this album is two disks.

The first disk, (tracks 1-5,) is a trio album with Webber, Matt Mitchell, and John Hollenbeck, (Webber’s working group, aka “Simple Trio”). The second disk, (tracks 6-12,) is a large ensemble of 12 members, a mixed group of improvising and “new music” players.

The bulk of the pieces on both disks are made up of pieces which are part of Webber’s Idiom series, Idiom I, III, IV, V, and VI. In fact, the whole second disk, for large ensemble, is made up of Idiom VI, a six movement, (and three interlude,) Suite.

Webber’s “Idiom” series of compositions made its debut with “Idiom II” on her 2019 album Clockwise.

Idiom is a series of six pieces, each of which is based on a specific woodwind extended technique — a broad term meaning any non-traditional way of producing sound on an instrument, including the use of multiphonics, alternate fingerings, key clicks, overblown notes, and the like — that she has taken from her own improvisational language.

Idiom Bandcamp release notes.

In any case, with both discs, this is around a couple hours of music, so there’s a lot to think about. And as I pointed out in my notes about “Clockwise”, Webber is a composer and player who isn’t afraid of mixing modes of expression and influence that might be more common in modern composed music than modern “Jazz”.

For me, it’s a bit easier to think of “Idiom” as two albums, rather than a continuous piece of work.

First, for me, I find the second disk, with full rhythm section, to be a little more easily appreciated. While I wouldn’t exactly say it swings, it does, occasionally, actually almost rock, for example, on the last third of the first tune, “Idiom 6, Movement 1,”: The walking bass kicks in; sax and guitar scrawl screeching lines above; horns screech harmony chords seemingly randomly, until the whole thing collapses in on itself. Beautiful, I wish it had continued for another 10 minutes!

The first disk, on the other hand, is just more densely composed and tightly performed. You can tell this group has performed and practiced together A LOT. There is some super amazing, and playful, playing from all three musicians, (I, for one, would not want to even try to play the almost painfully complex syncopation written in these compositions,) but for me… Well, about a week ago, I wrote, “the first disk is a little harder to access.”

After another week of listening, I’m not so sure.

With time and repeated listening, the first disk has grown on me more than the second, as its playful nature expressed itself and met with my moods… now the noisier second disk now seems more formal, composerly, diagrammatic, and tense.

So, yeah, there is a lot of music and there are a lot of moods on these 12 tracks from Ms Webber and her compatriots. A lot to think about and contemplate.

I said the following about “Clockwise”, “Endlessly rewarding, and endlessly interesting, Webber’s Clockwise is some of the most ambitious writing and rewarding listening I’ve encountered for a modern jazz-ish ensemble in recent memory,” and that comment is even more applicable to “Idiom”.

Ms Webber is a modern composer and player at the height of her gifts, if you are interested in modern improvised or composed music you should be paying attention to what she is doing now and what she does next.

Musicians tracks 1-5:

Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute
Matt Mitchell – piano
John Hollenbeck – drums

Musicians tracks 6-12:

Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute
Nathaniel Morgan – alto saxophone
Yuma Uesaka – tenor saxophone, clarinet, contra-alto clarinet
Adam O’Farrill – trumpet
David Byrd-Marrow – horn
Jacob Garchik – trombone
Erica Dicker – violin
Joanna Mattrey – viola
Mariel Roberts – cello
Liz Kosack – synthesizer
Nick Dunston – bass
Satoshi Takeishi – drums
Eric Wubbels – conductor

Idiom Album Art
Idiom Album Art

Mayan Space Station

Mayan Space Station
Mayan Space Station

Mayan Space Station (bandcamp link) by William Parker.

This album is surprising people in that it includes some rather raucous playing from Ava Mendoza on Electric Guitar. I guess, typically, we associate Mr Parker with acoustic instruments. (In fact, the only other electric guitar player I can think of, off the top of my head, that Mr Parker has played and recorded with a few times, is Joe Morris, (I’m sure there are others.)).

One way to describe the album would be “groove oriented”.

Basically the songs’ moods are set at the beginning by a short sequence of gestures from all three artists. The artists then repeat those gestures with theme and variation for the duration of the tune.

All three artists pursue their individual theme and variation simultaneously with each other. There aren’t many points where one or another of the artists drops out and allows the others to take center stage or to do a featured solo.

As far as I can tell, there aren’t any chord changes, per se, more a tonal space within each song operates.

The only tune which seems to really contain different zones of expression, is the title song, Mayan Space Station, where Mr Parker switches from plucked to bowed bass about midway through, giving the second half a different feel.

While the Rawk-Us electric guitar makes the album initially appealing in an obvious way to Rawk-heads, the density of the three artists’ gestures and the unrelenting pace of expression are ultimately not very Rock-ish.

It is a very dense album to unpack, with great playing from all three artists, but even after a week of listening, I still can’t quite decide how I feel about it.

Is it Expressionist Rock or Noisy Jazz?

I don’t know, and I don’t know if it matters, but it will definitely propel you into a different (head) space.

Mayan Space Station [AUM115]

William Parker: bass, compositions
Ava Mendoza: electric guitar
Gerald Cleaver: drums

Mayan Space Station album
Mayan Space Station album

Big Old Ass Tree Maocha

Big Old Ass Tree Maocha
Big Old Ass Tree Maocha

Maocha is unsorted tea leaves. In the case of raw puerh, it is what producers/distributors buy from farmers and then sort, blend, and press into cakes (or ferment into shou Puerh). Basically, puerh maocha is green tea made from Camellia sinensis var. assamica.

A bit ago I posted about an earlier years’ Bitter Leaf Teas‘s Big Old Ass Tree raw puerh.

So, because the nice people at bitter leaf teas had some of the maocha they were going to process into the 2021 version of Big Old Ass Tree in the office when I ordered something else, (hint, the something else was a gift for Mrs Flannestad and it is in the pictures,) they sent me a sample.

Opening the bag, it smells great, spring forest meadow. Upon brewing, he first impressions are of mild flavor, thick body, and a bit of almost salinity. Towards the end of the first infusions, as it cools, a mild bitterness makes itself felt. The sweet bitterness lingers on the palate, with little of the harshness that young Puerh has a reputation for.

The energy is definitely a fast head buzz, rather than body.

An intriguing preview, looking forward to trying the finished tea later this year!

Email Subscriptions to Blog

Some of you have email subscriptions to this blog.

Unfortunately, the rss-to-email gateway I use, FeedBurner, is shutting down the email subscription portion of their service later this month.

I will try to figure out some way to transfer email subscribers over to whatever new service I use, so hopefully there won’t be any missed posts.

However, I can’t guarantee you may not have to subscribe or opt-in to a new mailing service, (or that I will get something working before Feedburner shuts off their email subscription service).

Also, I have removed the automatic re-writes of the RSS feed URLs to Feedburner and will now depend on WordPress’ native RSS feeds.

So, if you subscribe the feedburner feeds, you might want to re-subscribe via the native site feeds: https://underhill-lounge.flannestad.com/feed/

More to come as I figure out what I am going to do.

Book Cover Green

Book Cover Green
Book Cover Green

Every year White2Tea releases a few green teas for a couple weeks in the spring.

They usually include one with the March Tea Club shipment.

When I tried the one with the teaclub shipment a few years ago, I realized that it was both some of the freshest green teas I’d tried and some of the tastiest. The only disadvantage is that White2Tea only pre-sells a fairly small amount for a couple weeks in the spring and then they are gone for the rest of the year.

The teas are early spring harvest, (pre-qing ming,) but come from relatively uncoveted regions for green tea production, Sichuan and Guizhou, whose producers and teas, the proprietor of White2Tea maintains, are often tapped to fill in the production gaps of more desirable regions.

In any case, tea producer gossip aside, White2Tea’s green teas are great, well priced, and I usually order a big bunch of them for the couple weeks they are available to get me through my summer hot weather tea drinking.

Book Cover Green is a bit of an oddball. It is a blend of tea leaves that are sorted out from the Green Tea producers other high end productions. More single and broken leaves than you would expect from a bud only early spring tea, but great quality tea. If you’re familiar with the Puerh term, Huang Pian, it is sort of like that, but for early spring green tea. A little less subtle than some bud only green tea, but a good chance to drink high end pre-qing ming green tea at every day green tea prices.

You could brew Book Cover gong fu style, but I prefer to brew summer green tea lazy stylee: Put tea in a tall glass, pour over nearly boiling water, wait to cool, drink, and repeat with more hot water until it tastes more like water than tea. I find 4g in a 450ml glass is about right for me.

Tasting Notes: Sweet fresh spring asparagus, tarragon, a touch of umami, and lingering menthol. Calm, but strong and lingering, warming body centered energy. Some broken leaves does mean more caffeine.

Everthing Happens to Be

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Everything Happens to Be.” by Ben Goldberg.

A new album from a quintet organized by Ben Goldberg.

It would be easy to classify this as “Thumbscrew with Horns”, as the band IS Thumbscrew with two horn players. (And I always enjoy a good two horn blow out.) However, Ben is the brains of the outfit and composer of the tunes, rather than Mary, Michael, or Tomas being the instigators which gives it a very different caste. And more than Thumbscrew, this band is about melodic interplay and harmonies.

I read that the compositions are inspired by Chorale form, and, indeed, multipart harmonies and interaction between the different players melodic lines is far more prevalent than much modern Jazz.

I don’t know how through composed the structures here are, but it still feels mostly like Jazz, often very traditional Jazz, even while largely eschewing “head, solo, head” forms.

I think the somewhat Rococo sensibilities of all the players here just works well, making it feel like Jazz, even though the forms are a bit less traditional.

The album starts fairly placid and suckers you in, whistling along tunefully as you appreciate the interplay between Goldberg and Eskelin or Halvorson and Formanek. But by the time the we get to “Tomas Plays the Drums”, the album’s most raucus tune, and Goldberg pulls out the Contra Bass Clarinet, Halvorson cranks the distortion, Eskelin squonks enthusiastically, and Formanek and Fujiwara increase the tension, the album heads into very different territories.

To-Ron-To sounds like the sort of expressionist music landscape Jazz heads like Charles Mingus, (or even some light classical composers,) created to evoke modern car clogged urban environments of the 1940s and 1950s.

The album closes with a very traditional rendition of the hymn, “Abide With Me”, a fitting and peaceful Doxology for this enjoyable album and all the players contributions. I know I have been very happy to abide with this album over the last few days while I took the time to write it up.

Mary Halvorson – electric guitar
Ellery Eskelin – tenor saxophone
Michael Formanek – bass
Tomas Fujiwara – drums
Ben Goldberg – clarinets

All compositions by Ben Goldberg, except “Abide With Me,” by William Monk (by way of Thelonious Monk).

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Huang Shen Mao Feng

2020 Huang Shen Mao Feng from Retour des Montagnes Jaune.

If one tea is unanimously liked from Northern China’s Siberian steps to Southern China’s tropical forests, it is the Mao Feng from Yellow Mountains. Smooth, sweet and subtly flowery, this tea is a mirror of the millennial poetical Chinese culture. Its name, Mao Feng, is coming for this poetical realm, as an homage to the “Downy Peaks” of the Yellow Mountains surrounding the tea gardens.

Type: Yellow Mountain green tea

Producteur : Family Lü – Shexian County – Da Gu Yun

Période de cueillette : 2nd April 2020 (pre Qing Ming – batch 01)

Retour des Montagnes Jaune
Huang Shen Mao Feng
Huang Shen Mao Feng

While in China, Green Tea is more universally drunk than any other sort of tea, in the US, green tea has never been very popular.

I have some theories as to why this is.

First, green tea needs to be drunk fresh to appreciate its subtle charms, and, ideally, it should be drunk within 18months of its picking.

There just isn’t a market for selling vintage dated tea in the US.

The best case is usually an undated bulk bin in a coop, hippy grocery, or spice store.

So, most of the green tea sold in the US is probably old, largely flavorless, or, if it does taste, it tastes like the patchouli sold in the hippy spice store it came from.

Second, green tea is about subtle charm, herbaceous light flavors, and a slight lingering sweetness.

The jaded American palate is about big bold flavors, we don’t really hang with the less-is-more ethos which the best green teas strive for.

Finally, green tea is best made with slightly less than boiling water, in addition, due to its subtle flavor characteristics, you really need to pay attention to the quality of the water you use.

So, suppose do somehow find some well stored green tea in the US, how should you drink it and what should you expect?

The most common way green tea is drunk in China is “Grandpa Style”, where you put a pinch of tea in your thermos or mug in the morning, add off boil water, let it cool until it is drinkable, and then add more hot water through the day as you drink and the water level goes down.

Alternatively, if you have some friends coming over, you can make it in a pitcher or if you are solo, the usual gong fu method with a gaiwan.

Which brings us to the Huang Shen Mao Feng from Retour des Montagnes Jaunes. We talked about Huang Shen Mao Feng once before in this post, “Huangshan Maofeng“. Everything there applies to this tea and I stand by my previous tasting notes, “light grassy vegetal flavor evocative of green beans or asparagus with a camphor/pine aftertaste…This is a super elegant and light green tea, more vegetal than fruity, almost no bitterness or grip to speak of.”

The only thing I will say is that this Huang Shen Mao Feng from Retour des Montagnes Jaunes is it was an earlier pick, so it has smaller buds, and lighter, less vegetal, flavor than the “Huangshan Maofeng Has Strong Buds” from Yin Xiang Hua Xia tea had been.

About this tea, Retour des Montagnes Jaunes says, “It is a very smooth tea, sweet and honey-like: a nice introduction to the subtlety of Chinese green teas.” I would completely agree with that. While this is a green tea, it is almost like a silver needles type white tea in its delicate character and the light color of its soup.

Rock 4×4

rock 4x4
rock 4×4

Rock 4×4 Wuyi Rock Oolong from White2Tea.

“The name Rock 4X4 comes from this blend of rock oolongs, which contains 4 different yancha varietals (tieluohan, rougui, shuixian and qidan) with 4 roasts. This blend has enduring aromas and a burly bite from both the flame and the strength of the tea. This blend is for seekers of strong tea; heavy handed roast and heavy handed character.”

White2Tea

I ordered this bunch of Rock Oolong, (Rock 4×4, Dahongpao, Stone Sparrow, Shui Xian, Shui Jin Gui, No.2 Rougui, No.8 Rougui, Jin Guan Yin, and Stone Milk,) in November of 2019.

For the last couple years I have had a tradition of drinking Rock Oolong in the first few months of the new year as a celebration and I wanted to be prepared for 2020.

Little did any of us know what 2020 would have in store. I started a new job, then COVID-19. I just never got around to drinking the 2019 White2Tea rock oolongs in 2020.

Fast forward, or slow forward, a year, and I am finally drinking the tea I had been most looking forward to of the bunch, Rock 4×4.

I sometimes joke that White2Tea makes all varieties of tea they sell with puerh drinkers in mind. Which is to say, they are not shy about flavor and they are not shy about energy in their teas, whatever the variety and wherever they come from.

And while this commonplace isn’t true of all the tea from White2Tea, it is true of this blend 4x rock tea varietals roasted 4 times. And check out that color! You can tell they weren’t shy about oxidation, either.

And while the roast character is heavy, and the flavor is heavy in the mouth, it is still a balanced tea somehow.

Well, anyway, if you like strong roast character and heavy oxidation in your Rock Oolongs, Rock 4×4 is one yancha that should be on your list to try.

rock 4x4
rock 4×4

Water is Life

I live in San Francisco where our water is mostly snowmelt from the Sierras (Hetch Hetchy) or pretty neutral water from a few city wells.

SF PUC does often add a pretty heavy dose of Chloramine, so the water does need to be filtered, (and there is sometimes a bit of off flavor,) but mostly a quick trip through a britta or maytag filter is all that you need to get it ready for tea.

After a bit of filtration, the water here is very neutral and ready to let almost any tea shine without much effort.

Other areas of the world, it can be a bit more challenging. For example, I grew up in the Midwest in an area where all the water came from wells tapping into limestone aquifers. The water there was horrible for tea. I spent much of my young life trying and trying to make a good cup of tea and failing over and over.

I recently visited an area of California where the tap water comes almost exclusively from volcanic mineral hot springs. The water there is so mineral laden that the it nearly tastes like tea just coming straight out of the tap.

The hotel where we stayed even filtered it heavily through the device pictured above. It tastes much better coming out of the filtering machine, but I still spent several days futilely trying to get a good cup of tea out of it, even with teas that I was familiar with from home. I dunno, I think maybe the mineral content makes it more challenging.

I suppose it is interesting, as in China mountain spring water is most often highly thought of for tea brewing, the most famous, of course, being that from the “Dragon Well” in Long jing, which is said to be very heavy in texture.

But, I don’t really remember the tea there tasting like anything but tea leaves in water.

In any case, it’s always good to remember that tea is 99.99% water. If the water doesn’t taste good, the tea you make from it won’t taste good either.

Steeped Dragonwell Tea-2

Gui Ding Yunwu

Gui Ding Yunwu
Gui Ding Yunwu

Gui Ding Yunwu tea from Tong Xin She.

It was almost 80F here yesterday, so time to get out the green tea.

However, the 2021 green teas aren’t quite available yet, so I pulled one out of the cabinet from last year. This is a Gui Ding Yunwu from Guizhou province, which I got from @tong_xin_she.

“Yunwu” means literally, “Cloud and Mist”, describing the weather and climate in the tea mountains and has become a bit of a generic name for roasted green teas. Gui Ding is the county in Guizhou that this tea comes from.

In the past, the better quality versions of this tea were thought of highly enough for this sometimes be an imperial tribute tea.

The little rolled buds and leaves are said to resemble fish hooks.

It reminds me a bit of a good quality Mao Jian, light flower and perfume in the scent with a hint of medicinal character, grainy honey sweetness in the flavor, a touch of astringency, and a long lasting aftertaste.

If I were an Imperial Official, I would be happy to have this Gui Ding Yunwu in my teacup.

#Tea #Cha #TongXinShe #GuiDingYunwu #GreenTea #DrinkTea #TeaLife