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.
After several days of re-thinking the Victims Family show in Petaluma on Sunday night, the thing that sticks out the most is their songs’ unremitting sense of right and wrong. “Times Beach,” “As It Were,” “Insidious”—they all have a direct moral center, which is something that you don’t find in Animal Collective songs. Commenting on society is no longer hip, I’m afraid.
“Punk funk” is no longer what it once was either, which means that when I talk about Victims Family I tend to downplay my enthusiasm in the interest of context, much in the same way I do for golf. No friends my age really like golf. I suppose it’s not that weird; golf isn’t the most, uh, “progressive” sport. Reputation for elitism, wastes a lot of water, lots of old white men. That perception has forced me to talk about golf dismissively, like, “Oh, well, I wouldn’t expect you to care, but I saw Tiger Woods tee off at point blank range and, um, it was pretty cool, I guess.”
Victims Family is the same way. “Oh, they’re this metal-funk jazz thing, kinda punk rock with slapping bass, you probably wouldn’t like them,” I sometimes tell people, when really, I oughtta be saying: THEY ARE THE GREATEST BAND SANTA ROSA HAS EVER KNOWN. A completely elated crowd of over 400 people who packed the Phoenix to see one of their rare shows—the last one was five years ago, in 2004—would agree. Even after just a few practices, they were mind-bogglingly tight as ever, and if you’ve ever tried to play a Victims Family song, you know that playing it correctly, let alone tightly, is a harrowing challenge.
The set skewed old, with “Zoo,” “August 6th” and “Product” from Headache Remedy, “Insidious” from The Germ, and all the rest from Voltage & Violets, Things I Hate to Admit and White Bread Blues (remastered and reissued very soon on Santa Rosa’s own Saint Rose Records). Basically, the show was a veritable onslaught of the band’s best shit, and a patent reminder that here’s a local band that put out seven full-length albums, toured the world, and is now something that barely anyone under 30 in town knows about? That’s a wrong that needs to be made right.
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.
I don’t have too much to add to this piece by Jody Rosen, for Slate, about NPR’s taste in black music, but I recommend reading it. Rosen looks at their very white “Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list and advances a theory that NPR’s producers look for four basic factors in deciding to spotlight a black musician—they’ve gotta be either Dead, Old, Retro or Foreign. He calls it the “DORF Matrix.”
Cute, yes, and true. NPR’s best-of list, voted by listeners, includes only two black artists out of 30 on the “best albums” list (Mos Def and, uh, Danger Mouse) and none at all on the “best songs” list. NPR isn’t the only media outlet to shaft current hip-hop and R&B for crusty soul revivalists with a by-the-books story of redemption, and though every media outlet is entitled to their own opinion, and death, age, history and foreign countries all make good, easy-lazy stories, it would seem that NPR should have an interest in battling their own caricature. Right?
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, 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.
There are many transgressions I will abide at live hip-hop shows. I accept that I will be yelled at for not making enough noise. I know that I will be schooled on some arcane lyric I am supposed to repeat. I can hang with crowd-rocking clichés like left side vs. right side, I’m cool with rappers getting too excited and gruffly shouting their lyrics, and most of all, I have started to swallow my indignation at Serato.
But let’s say you’re People Under the Stairs. You’ve made seven full-lengths. You’ve got fresh beats for days. You’re one of the best throwback hip-hop acts in the country. The last thing you need to do is come out on stage and, before performing any song, try to get the crowd hyped by talking about your new sponsorship from Vans:
“This is a world premiere! Check out dubbayu dubbayu dubbayu dot VANS dot com, forward-slash, remix”—blah blah blah—”an’ if you win, Vans is gonna hook you up! Now San Francisco, are you with that?!!”
I was embarrassed for the Bay when the crowd actually cheered. No wonder the Dodgers are in the playoffs and the Giants are toast. L.A. plays us like a violin. Seriously—we’re such dumbshits that we cheer for a promotional Vans remix contest website URL?
My friend Matt quickly recalled Soul Strut hosting a PUTS remix contest, a couple years back. The prizes included having the winning remix pressed on vinyl, free records for the runner-up, and, for third place, a $10 Wendy’s Gift Card they probably found laying around (“for baked potato or baconator, yo choice”). That same idea co-opted by Vans, who make perfectly fine shoes but have an insidious penchant for swooping in and plastering their name on quality youth culture, is not a reason to throw your hands in the air.
So the starting line was set about 20 yards back, with a lot of catch-up to do. This ordinarily shouldn’t be hard to do for Double K and Thes One, given the enormous back catalog of PUTS jams. Obvious classics like “Hang Loose,” “San Francisco Nights,” “Tuxedo Rap,” “Up Your Spine” and “Acid Raindrops” were all played, but I dunno, something was off. A faded Thes One—one of my favorite producers, who dominates both The Price is Right and Will.i.am—kept messing around with the mic’s reverb by huffing his way through too many acapellas (“Time to Rock Our Shit” faded out, but never faded back in) and the lack of tight pacing showed.
People Under the Stairs play party jams and people love party jams, so there were no complaints from the dozens of girls pulled up on stage for “Hang Loose” (see Fig. 1A, above). Nonetheless, we walked back to the car in a weird daze—”It’s like their crowd changed from beatdiggers to douchebags,” we overheard someone say—and hoped it was just an off night. Carried Away, their new record that comes out next week, is as great as ever. How could it be bad, right? So anyway. Here’s to future days.
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.
This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.
What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.
The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:
Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”