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SFJAZZ Spring Season Out of Control; Lou Donaldson, Tomasz Stanko, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Caetano Veloso, more

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2009 | Comments (0)

Jesus Lord, why do they do it to us? SFJAZZ’s spring season is announced today, and once again the booking has turned up a crazy, diverse lineup full of wide-ranging talent and scattered must-sees. Exciting stuff to say the least.

On May 29, Blue Note legend Lou Donaldson blows soul-jazz roots at the Herbst. On Apr. 11, my man Tomasz Stanko drops in with his quintet to the Florence Gould Theatre at the Legion of Honor; the ticket includes entry to the museum. (Stanko’s recent tribute to Krystof Komeda is sublime.) Apr. 25 brings Charles Lloyd with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland to the Palace of Fine Arts; this quartet is incredible and shouldn’t be missed.

On Feb. 21, Touareg political pioneers Tinariwen plays the Palace of Fine Arts. Count the cratediggers on Apr. 17 for Brazilian pioneer Caetano Veloso singing at the Masonic, and on June 11, the excellent bassist Marcus Miller replays Miles Davis’ electric era at the Herbst.

It keeps going on! On May 1 it’s the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the Chicago-bred sensations, playing two shows at the Palace of Fine Arts. On Mar. 20, the hip-hop–influenced Robert Glasper Quartet plays with Japanese star Hiromi at the Herbst Theatre. And Mar. 13 brings alto saxophonist and former Vijay Iyer collaborator Rudresh Manthappa to the Swedish American Music Hall.

Keith Jarrett, Pharoah Sanders and Joshua Redman all play separate solo shows, and Bobby McFerrin, Chris Thiele, Salif Keita and Max Raabe are in the mix, too. There’s way more; check out the full and complete lineup here, and if you’re like me, you’ll start saving up for tickets.

Johnny Downer, R.I.P.

Posted by: on Dec 9, 2009 | Comments (2)

Like many of you, I heard the sad news that Johnny Downer, guitarist for the excellent Sonoma County band Free Peoples, died unexpectedly while vacationing in Mexico over the weekend. He leaves behind a huge group of loving family and friends, as well as his exemplary recorded work with Free Peoples. He played the hell out of the guitar, man. I saw him play with Free Peoples several times, and it was my pleasure to present his deserving band with a gold record award last year at the North Bay Music Awards. He will be missed.

Condolences are collecting here and here. A memorial is planned for Dec. 18 in Costa Mesa, CA, and the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol is hosting a fittingly lengthy tribute show on January 9, from 4pm ’til close. More info, as it comes in, can be accessed here.

Things You Don't See at the Phoenix Everyday

Posted by: on Dec 6, 2009 | Comments (0)

It’s always a special treat when Tom Gaffey, usually with a broom or an apple in his hand, takes the stage at his own theater to sing a song or two. This past weekend, as the Phoenix Theater celebrated its 105th anniversary, Toast Machine cajoled him into the spotlight for “Rock and Roll All Night”:

Such happenings came at the end of an unusual week for the Phoenix. On Thursday, Petaluma’s Kala Ukelele Co. hosted a ukelele workshop, where everyone in the crowd learned how to play a few chords. Any local hardcore bands looking for a ukelele player?

Too Much Joy, Four Sad Cents

Posted by: on Dec 2, 2009 | Comments (1)

The name Too Much Joy might not ring any bells, or, if it does, it’s a tiny bell also sounded flatly by forgotten major-label bands like Dog’s Eye View, Cry of Love or Butt Trumpet. Being forgotten by the public is manageable—maudlin drinking can provide acceptance of failure for most ex-stars. But what about being forgotten by your record label, an entity that’s contractually obligated to keep records of your dead band’s meager sales?

Tim Quirk, the singer of Too Much Joy, shares an irresistible story over at Gizmodo, “My $62.47 Royalty Statement,” chronicling a thirteen-month battle to convince Warner Bros. to report his band’s digital sales. The three Warner Bros. albums by Too Much Joy haven’t been in print physically for ten years, but Quirk knew that nostalgia-driven downloads of his band were a very real thing, because he works for Rhapsody. Not too surprisingly, his royalty statements from Warner Bros. reflected absolutely zero downloads.

In the course of a few tangents involving a Warner Bros. employee laughing that “$10,000 is nothing!,” a primer on how unrecouped bands such as his have actually earned a profit for their label, and lots of keen insights into the world of digital reporting, Quirk gets his next statement. It shows the sum of $62.47. Quirk:

The sad thing is I don’t even think Warner is deliberately trying to screw TMJ and the hundreds of other also-rans and almost-weres they’ve signed over the years. The reality is more boring, but also more depressing. Like I said, they don’t actually owe us any money. But that’s what’s so weird about this, to me: they have the ability to tell the truth, and doing so won’t cost them anything. They just can’t be bothered. They don’t care, because they don’t have to.

Read the whole thing here.

The Autumn Leaves

Posted by: on Oct 29, 2009 | Comments (0)

Little things trickle into my life lately and then so quickly trickle away. Rushing like mad through the brain, cogitated upon, reacted to, processed, and ejected. Could someone please sell me the key to the unused percent of the human brain? I’m willing to pay for storage.

Last night, after a movie at the quaint and wonderful Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, I grabbed an enormous, beautiful leaf off the sidewalk. I put it on the dashboard in the car. For at least the 30-minute drive home, it didn’t slip out of my life.

Today, I offer a Hefty cinch-sack of little things that have trickled in.

1. The Goodman Building in St. Helena, right across from Cameo Cinema. Take a look at it. Isn’t it amazing? I flip out every time I pass by.

2. For that matter, the Empire Columbia Building in Los Angeles is on the favorites list too. I have only seen it in person once on a special pilgrimage at 2am, and never knew that beneath its amazing clock, there sits a pool.

3. My favorite local DJ Max Wordlow has put up a new vinyl mix at Ofad.com. It rebuts the theory—commonly perpetuated by those obsessed with the mainstream—that hip hop is somehow “dead” when in reality you just gotta dig. Let him dig for you.

4. Speaking of Ofad, this article by Eric Simpson about the making of Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art is essential reading for anyone who owns the book or its recently-released expanded edition, which in itself is essential reading. Just, actually, stop what you’re doing. Go here and buy a copy. Your life will be better.

5. The chorus might not deliver venomously, but I can imagine this song becoming fantastic “break-up mixtape” fodder. Why aren’t there more songs about hating bands? Are we all too nice that we can’t call a spade a spade?

6.  Here is a 1986 news item from the San Francisco Chronicle about a teenager who crashed his car, was pinned immobile, and was forced to listen to Wham! on his tape deck for six hours. Of course, the reporter didn’t ask the question we’re all wondering: Was it Make it Big or Music From the Edge of Heaven? ‘Cause that makes a big difference.

7. If you’re not going to see the Dirty Projectors at Bimbo’s on Sunday night, why not? Those who didn’t bring a signed form from their parents for the field trip can console themselves with this new song from the upcoming Temecula Sunrise EP (not to be confused with the Can Make You Laugh Sometimes EP, which only exists in my mind).

8. Like many children of the 1980s, I wanted to dance like Michael Jackson. And yes, if asked, I would have gladly taken part in recording this song called “I Want to Dance Like Michael Jackson” for a classroom instructional dance album.

9. WFMU brings us anti-drug celebrity PSAs! The Linda Ronstadt one is great—”Watch out for the things that might wreck you, or your pickup truck”—but my favorite is still Curtis Mayfield, spelling out in a reverb effect exactly why Freddie’s dead.

10. More dongs used as microphones, please. The album‘s growing on me, too.

SFJAZZ Picks for the Fall

Posted by: on Oct 20, 2009 | Comments (0)

Every year, SFJAZZ puts on so many shows, all around the city, and it can be kind of daunting for a casual jazz fan to decide which ones to attend—especially those living in Santa Rosa, where attendance means am hour’s drive plus gas and bridge toll. The new season starts this week, and everyone’s got different tastes, but here’s my whittled-down list of the best five SFJAZZ shows this fall.

Nov. 8: Ornette Coleman at the Masonic Auditorium
Beg, borrow or binge—whatever you do, see Ornette Coleman. His history doesn’t need to be recounted here; what you need to know is that he still sounds as creative and vital as he did fifty years ago. Seriously, you will not believe that he’s 79 years old. He plays with two basses—one bowed, one plucked—and his son, Denardo, on drums, with whom he’s been playing since Denardo was 12. Expect to be left speechless.

Oct. 31: Marco Benevento at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
I first heard Benevento playing wildly on a 35-minute song by Zach Hill, the drummer for Hella; he, along with Ethan Iverson, represents a trend of assimilating indie rock into jazz. Live, Benevento manhandles a group of pedals and effects with his trio, which keeps one foot in the “jam” world. Bonus: the ticket price is on the low side and the venue is nice and small.

Nov. 4: Trio 3 at Swedish American Music Hall
I make no reservations about recommending these three and their intuitive magic created together. Reggie Workman’s resume with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter speaks for itself; Oliver Lake is a mammoth tenor player and Andrew Cyrille spent 11 years backing Cecil Taylor. If you can’t make it to their show in Healdsburg, do yourself a favor and head to the wooden-interior Swedish American Music Hall.

Oct. 23: Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet at the Herbst Theatre
I’ve had a cassette of Rubalcaba’s Discovery: Live at Montreux in my car for a month now, and have not tired of it in the slightest. This show is with a quintet—the same guys on his last album, Avatar—and he fuses Cuban music and jazz in a decidedly artistic, and not commercial, fashion. Always worth seeing.

Oct. 30: Nicholas Payton & Don Byron at Grace Cathedral
Part of SFJAZZ’s “Sacred Space” series, where artists perform solo in Grace Cathedral and utilize the incredible seven-second echo attainable from the towering ceilings. Payton is most likely to work the room with sharp trumpet punches and high wails in the New Orleans tradition, while Byron specializes in Eastern scales on the lower-register clarinet.

For more lineup information and tickets, see SFJAZZ.

Can't Keep Up, Can't Keep Up, Can't Keep Up

Posted by: on Oct 13, 2009 | Comments (0)

Rollin’: Minor Threat’s Jeff Nelson has just sold a test pressing of his old band’s record Out of Step for $5,899.99. This will no doubt give the other members of Minor Threat ideas; check eBay soon to see Brian Baker’s auction of the coveted Junkyard test pressing.

Lyin’: I was among many who were taken in by Roxanne Shanté’s story of earning a Ph.D. due to a stipulation in her contract stating Warner Bros. would fund her education for life. It was soon exposed as a falsehood, and Shanté has finally apologized but not really.

Cavortin’: I can’t help but sense a conspiracy when one week, I get a press release about Los Lobos being invited to the White House and the next week, I get one announcing the band’s upcoming album, a collection of Disney songs. THE MAN IS WINNING.

Wishin’: Summit Global, who bought the license to the Polaroid name, has announced they’re going to make Polaroid cameras once again. Why? Because these lovable heroes saved the original film plant from total extinction. Amazing!

Cryin’: Chris Connor died last week at age 81. Her phrasing was like running through fields of flowers with no particular destination because a destination means the end and new love is forever. I could write about her forever and probably will. In the meantime, this is required listening.

Missin’: Andy Kerr has not played in Nomeansno for 18 years and they’ve never been the same without him. I would have paid $500 to see he and Connor sing duets. As it stands, he lives in Holland now and sings songs like this.

Tom Waits, Steve Martin, Affronti, Souls of Mischief and James P. Johnson

Posted by: on Oct 12, 2009 | Comments (0)

Tom Waits is releasing a live album, Glitter and Doom Live, on November 24, just in time for the Christmas season. It includes 17 songs from various shows on his tour last year. I saw two shows from the tour; one at the beginning when the players were still finding their footing and one at the end, which was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. The live album features a bonus disc in the CD version called “Tom Tales,” with 40 minutes of Waits’ trademark ruminations on “romantic spiders and injured vultures” (the bonus disc comes as a free mp3 download with the LP version). Here’s the track list:

Lucinda / Ain’t Goin Down (Birmingham – 07/03/08)
Singapore (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Get Behind The Mule (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Fannin Street (Knoxville – 06/29/08)
Dirt In The Ground (Milan – 07/19/08)
Such A Scream (Milan – 07/18/08)
Live Circus (Jacksonville – 07/01/08)
Goin’ Out West (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Falling Down (Paris – 07/25/08)
The Part You Throw Away (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Trampled Rose (Dublin – 08/01/08)
Metropolitan Glide (Knoxville – 6/29/08)
I’ll Shoot The Moon (Paris – 07/24/08)
Green Grass (Edinburgh – 07/27/08)
Make It Rain (Atlanta – 07/05/08)
Story (Columbus – 06/28/08)
Lucky Day (Atlanta – 07/05/08)

Steve Martin, comedian and banjoist extraordinaire, has been booked at the Napa Valley Opera House to play on Thursday, November 5. If you were stuck behind a tree or thousands of other people when he played in Golden Gate Park, there’s still a handful of seats left for the Napa Valley Opera House, which is comparatively the size of a shoebox. Click here for tickets, which run $110-$125 per person and are going very fast. Might I tangentially also recommend Martin’s very wry and funny memoir, Born Standing Up, if only for his fantastic story about running into Diane Arbus at Disneyland, or the passage on briefly dating Linda Ronstadt.

Healdsburg’s jazz scene was set to lose a fantastic outlet when the Palette Art Café was sold, but thankfully, the new owners of the just-opened Affronti have carried on the tradition of showcasing excellent small combos in their intimate environs every Thursday night from 7-10pm. Reports on the food are positive as well, and dinner reservations are the best way to get a good seat. Upcoming acts include Cat Austin (Oct. 15), Ken Cook and the Gravity Trio with Scott Peterson (Oct. 22) and the Adam Theis Mega-Quartet (Oct. 29). The location once played host to jazz bassist Henry Franklin, and might I tangentially recommend Henry Franklin’s The Skipper, a very good record that I wish I had discovered prior to his performance there this summer with Azar Lawrence and not, sadly, afterward.

Souls of Mischief, far from being past their ’93 prime, have a new album, Montezuma’s Revenge, out in early December. They are still one of the best live hip-hop groups in the Bay Area. Every time I see them open a show, I feel bad for the headliner, who bumbles through a set doomed to inadequacy. Next week at Slim’s, they hold to the fire the feet of Ghostface Killah, a great rapper currently on “miss” in his hit-and-miss catalog of albums. Parlay the temptation into instead seeing Rakim, a great rapper who hasn’t made an album period for a while but who never disappoints, at Slim’s on Oct. 25. Might I tangentially recommend Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader, an album packed with just as much genius as Paid In Full but not, you know, overplayed.

Here’s my favorite story of the week: Earlier this year, Scott Brown made a pilgrimage to the final resting place, in Queens, of stride master and jazz piano pioneer James P. Johnson—only to find an unmarked scattering of weeds. Shocked at the lack of respect for one of jazz piano’s inarguable giants, he called on some of New York’s stride aficionados, including Dick Hyman and the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, in order to raise money for a proper tombstone. You can read about the marathon nine-hour cutting session here, and rest assured that James P. Johnson will have his life and legacy properly marked.

Dickie Peterson, R.I.P.

Posted by: on Oct 12, 2009 | Comments (0)

Dickie Peterson, the bassist and singer of Blue Cheer who spent a lifetime oversaturating amplifiers in underrated glory, has died at age 61. There is no way to go back in time and listen to Blue Cheer devoid of their subsequent context—Black Sabbath, prominently; Sleep, the Melvins and Sunn 0))), less prominently—but it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that Peterson and his trio were on some heavy shit way before the world was on some heavy shit.

Of course, Blue Cheer played extensively in the Bay Area, including the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in the 1960s right after Vincebus Eruptum came out, but had even more recent ties to this area. I met Peterson a few years ago when he was living in West Sonoma County, of all places, and playing the occasional blues show at the Forestville Club. He looked exactly like an unsung pioneer of heavy metal, with long hair, a denim jacket and imposing heft. I guess he didn’t stay here long—he died this morning in Germany, presumably of cancer. May he be remembered.

Trio 3 to Perform in Healdsburg

Posted by: on Oct 5, 2009 | Comments (0)

If you’re rooting out a jazz musician’s complete discography, Wikipedia is not the place to look. Thousands of contributors are willing to supply page content for, say, Roman Polanski (whose Wiki page is currently locked, natch) but that number dribbles down to almost zero for confirmed jazz heavyweights. How many albums has Sonny Rollins played on as a sideman? Nine, according to his Wikipedia page.

I listened to Reggie Workman last night twice and didn’t even realize it: Once, on the brilliant Takehiro Honda outing Jodo, a Japanese release, and again on the equally brilliant Booker Ervin album The Trance. If I’d have stayed up for another hour, I’m sure I’d have pulled another record from the shelf, randomly, that happened to feature Reggie Workman. How many albums has Reggie Workman played on as a sideman? Eleven, according to his Wikipedia page. (Here’s a work-in-progress discography that lists over 140.)

Trio 3, Workman’s impeccable group with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, is coming to Healdsburg for two tiny, intimate shows at Flying Goat Coffee on November 3 at 7pm and 9pm. When I profiled Healdsburg Jazz Festival founder and director Jessica Felix in 2008, she mentioned Trio 3 in passing among her favorite groups—and an example of the risk one might take with more obscure, avant-garde booking amongst wine-country tastes.

I applaud the risk, and can guarantee that the opportunity to see these three titans of jazz (collectively, they’ve played with John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, Cecil Taylor, the World Saxophone Quartet, Wayne Shorter, Peter Brotzmann and many, many others Wikipedia does not list) will be $25 well-spent. Add the close ambiance of Flying Goat, and the choice is a no-brainer. While they last, get tickets here.



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