Hubbub in the Cistern

Posted by on Feb 1, 2011 One Comment

Many of you are familiar with the Hubbub Club Marching Band, the renegade troupe that marches through the streets playing everything from Herbie Hancock to traditional Hungarian folk melodies. They’ve been a splash at the Handcar Regatta, and are a perfect example of why Santa Rosa’s new street performer ordinance is a good idea. They may not have the approval of David Byrne like the Extra Action Marching Band, or the novelty clout of the March Fourth Marching Band, but they’re ours and we love them.

I should let you know that the Hubbub Club gang are trying to raise funds to go to this thing in Austin called Honk TX, which is a Lone Star replica of similar events in Seattle and Boston—basically, a soiree of community street bands from around the country raising hijinks in the street. Their benefit is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Aubergine in Sebastopol, with the Easy Leaves and DJ Broken Record warming up for the brass, drums and xylophones of the Hubbub Club.

But what’s really fascinated me lately is that Jesse Olsen, founder of the Hubbub Club Marching Band, rather quietly released this record called Flightpatterns that was recorded in a giant two-million gallon cistern in Washington state. I bought it off him a month or so ago and each time I listen to it, I like it more. It’s essentially a high-concept sound experiment—there are no “songs,” just sparse melodies played on invented instruments, found objects and what sounds like a trombone. Why it works so well is that the Dan Harpole Cistern (read about it here) has an incredible, natural 45-second reverb. (To put that in perspective, Grace Cathedral has a 7-second reverb.) You can listen to a segment of the recording in the video below.

So what gets me is this: Olsen starts a band that marches wildly out in the streets, causing a ruckus and grabbing people’s attention, and then goes into a quiet space and records an album of meditative sonic reverence. If music is a language, Olsen is speaking it well.

Live Review: Ra Ra Riot at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery

Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 One Comment

“I have a really important announcement to make,” said Jeff Bundschu, standing on a stage in his family winery’s 70-year-old barn. “This night is all about love. So turn to that person next to you, that stranger you don’t know, and give them a big hug.”

The announcement might have been redundant, since every minute of the Ra Ra Riot show last night at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery had already been special, but sure enough, hundreds of hugs ensued. From driving up the long driveway under a clear starry sky and parking next to the vineyards, to the last song of the night, with singer Wes Miles jumping off the stage and giving double high-fives to everyone in the crowd, there was something overseeing this night; some mystic force that propels shows into a category of impossible-to-forget.

First off, the barn. Gundlach-Bundschu has been booking indie acts in their outdoor amphitheater for the last few years, from Jonathan Rice and Maria Taylor to Vetiver and Deertick, but this was the first time they’ve used the barn. Its ceiling is slate wood. Its walls are covered with old lanterns, ladders, pump equipment, pallets, bags of Epsom Salt and barrels. Insane! Here’s what it looked like directly behind the makeshift soundboard, for example:

Secondly, the tour. Ra Ra Riot sold out the Great American Music Hall just prior to last night’s show, and when I first heard about the show coming to Sonoma County, it was slated for the Mystic Theatre. I don’t know why it moved to Gun-Bun, but to snag a hot-ticket lineup at such a remote location is undoubtedly cool. The bands repeatedly remarked how nice it was to play here instead of another nightclub, and how could you blame them?

Ra Ra Riot played a fine set of pleasant material—that’s about as best as I can say. I’ve got numerous friends super into them, and they’re indisputably talented and well-oiled, but they also distill every stylistic touch of indie rock from the last four years and whip it together in a smooth, palatable cocktail. The Ivy-League touches of Vampire Weekend, the strings of Arcade Fire, the semi-African sounding guitar of Dirty Projectors—it’s all in there, with a touch of Stevie Nicks on the songs sung by their cellist. I was hoping for more originality or variety.

The real treat of the night was openers Givers, from Louisiana, who are the greatest band you’ve never heard of, and who cast a tremendously long, energetic shadow over Ra Ra Riot. (“You guys might think we’re masochists for going on after them,” Miles quipped, and he was right.) I don’t know what’s taken their record so long to get released, but when it does it’s gonna be nuts. Seeing them live is on another level—tons of energy, tight songs and they’re all between the ages of 21 and 24. Tiffany Lamson, who plays numerous instruments and sings with a pitch-perfect voice that’ll melt your heart, is a classic foil to eye-rolling, tongue-wiggling upbeat Taylor Guarisco, who seems to be loving living the dream. I just wanted to hug them all, and tell them to have fun taking over the world. I settled for stealing their setlist afterward.

Only one sour note: the bar was only selling wine by the full bottle, starting at $23, which is confusing and inconvenient in a show situation. I saw people pooling money and going in on a bottle, but there shouldn’t be any need for that. (I also saw people buying a whole bottle and getting hella wasted.) Just sell it by the glass, guys!

But all told, it was a really, really unique night, and another in a line of good shows at the winery. Here’s hoping that Gundlach-Bundschu keeps up their good booking, and next time you’re half-temped to go to a show out there—well, be fully tempted instead. Says Andrew Maury, soundman for Ra Ra Riot, “A mature crowd of wine enthusiasts apparently know how to do a rock show.”

(Givers! They ruled.)

Live Review and Photos: Public Enemy at Yoshi’s

Posted by on Jan 16, 2011 One Comment

“When we first heard we were gonna play Yoshi’s,” said Chuck D last night, after “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” opened the set, “we knew it was a historic jazz club. We said, ‘We know we can’t rage against the machine in that motherfucker.’ What do I do, wear my Sam Cooke suit? Do some Sonny Rollins shit?”

It must be a common question for the many who’ve played Yoshi’s since it began regularly hosting hip-hop shows a couple years ago, from names like the Pharcyde and Foreign Legion to Mos Def and De La Soul: how to adapt? Or is it even required, since Yoshi’s seems to be adapting to hip-hop? It only makes sense for the Bay Area’s most famous jazz club to embrace the next great American artform, and the venue works well for it. Yes, the sound system was designed for Steinways and not Serato (Bass: How low can you go? Not very low), but the small stage, standing room and temporary bars on either side of the crowd fit the scene perfectly.

To a totally sold-out, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, Public Enemy played a 90-minute set of every hit one could want to hear. “911 Is a Joke,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic,” “Burn Hollywood Burn”—and yes, most of the songs were over 20 years old. Age coupled with the red-velvet environs gave the night a nostalgic vibe, and on top of two decades already taking the incendiary edge off these songs, they were mitigated further by a general onstage playfulness.

The set featured Kool & the Gang and White Stripes riffs; an ongoing game of “toss the mic”; a James Brownian rule that anyone who messes up has to do 10 pushups; an “invisible studio fader” routine and of course, the ongoing antics of Flavor Flav. “I wanna thank y’all for makin’ Flavor Flav the number-one reality TV star of the decade!” he shouted at one point, during a long monologue about his “second job” on a television show (involving girls defecating on the floor, among other things). And yet it wouldn’t be Public Enemy without him—Chuck D even gave a little “every family has one” defense of Flav, if anyone doubted their closeness.

As for the music? The night was billed as Public Enemy “with a live band,” but as Chuck D pointed out, they’ve been playing with a live band since 1999, inspired by a tour of Japan with the Roots. Chuck D has said in interviews that he wasn’t ever really into jazz, that it was more his dad’s thing, but there was plenty of flash to go around last night. New bassist Davy D at one point let Flav take over for “Welcome to the Terrordome” while the guitarist played solos behind his back; Flav even hopped on the drum set at the end.

And though Chuck D didn’t break out any freestyles (“I’m the least talented member of the group,” he quipped), his between-song improv touched on the importance of the Bay Area, referencing Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Etta James and Johnny Otis right on up to Too Short, DJ Q-Bert and JT the Bigga Figga. “Bay Area independent hip-hop always did the thing,” Chuck D said in homage, “and they just never got support of local radio.”

It’s knowledge like that which separates Public Enemy from the rest. By the end of the set, Chuck D was wearing a “Justice for Oscar Grant” shirt and Flavor Flav was railing against racism and separatism. In the shadow of a chilling live version of “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” and the shooting there last week, it was clear that the progress Public Enemy fought for twenty years ago is still elusive. While everyone in the place threw hopeful peace signs in the air, set closer “Fight the Power” felt more like a party than a war, but there’s still a lot of bite in Public Enemy. Relevant bite, at that. Even in a jazz club. Thank goodness.

EXTRA POINTS: I dunno if it was P.E.’s doing or what, but playing the great Funky Riddims compilation Bay Area Funk before the show was a nice touch. (“Foxy Girls in Oakland.” Listen to it!)

CELEBRITY SIGHTING: Those eyes didn’t deceive you—Aesop Rock was in the crowd.

Photos by Liz Seward.

More Photos Below.


Tom Waits Releases Chapbook to Benefit Sonoma County Homeless Charities

Posted by on Jan 13, 2011 One Comment

Tom Waits has always been an advocate for the homeless, whether in songs like “On the Nickel”—a beautiful ballad from Heartattack and Vine about Los Angeles’ Fifth St.—or in lending a song to the soundtrack of Streetwise, a 1984 documentary about homeless teenagers in Seattle. Most recently, he penned the sympathetic ode “Cold Water,” from Mule Variations, a lovely and sad song in the voice of a homeless teenager.

Today, Waits has announced a 12-page poetry chapbook titled Seeds on Hard Ground. A “long, lyrical ballad in the voice of those who walked, fell, or were pushed to the margins of society,” Seeds on Hard Ground is being printed in a limited edition of 1,000 copies.

A snippet:

When I was born
My folks wept at my beauty
I was the package that all
Their good luck came in
I was bright and shining, magnetic
And flaming
Am I just something that got eaten
By the gods
Am I only just the bag
That it came in

Here’s the thing: Waits is donating all proceeds from the book to Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County Homeless Referral Services, and the Family Support Center in Santa Rosa. Hell yeah, Tom!

I just ordered my copy, and with shipping, presale for the book comes to about $34.00. It ships on Feb. 22. You can order your copy here, but make sure to do it quick – they won’t last long.

UPDATE 1-15: It’s only been two days and a second edition is already sold out, too.

“Incidentally, It’s a Very Bad Recording.”

Posted by on Jan 8, 2011

This week’s Bohemian column is on Conlon Nancarrow, the communist expatriate composer who manipulated piano rolls to create ridiculously impossible-to-play sonatas. In poking around to find further information about his life, I found this lovely 1987 interview with Nancarrow by Bruce Duffie. I say “lovely” only because of personal reasons; by most measurements it’s a disappointing interview, because while Duffie probes Nancarrow on any deeper meaning about his music, he keeps deflecting his inquiries.

BD:   So where is music going today?

CN:   I have no idea.  I don’t think anyone else does.

BD:   Well, what direction is it heading?

CN:   I don’t know.

I should, as someone who interviews people for a living, feel uncomfortable reading this interview. But on the contrary, I applaud Nancarrow’s reluctance to join in the game and settle for giving pap, bullshit answers. Another gem is the mention of the Columbia Records release Studies for Player Piano, which is the subject of my column. In Nancarrow’s own words on the album that introduced him to the public at large: “Incidentally, it’s a very bad recording.”

Here’s a good example of Nancarrow’s music—the Study No. 5:

Live Review: Ceremony at the Arlene Francis Theatre

Posted by on Jan 8, 2011 2 Comments

When I got to the Arlene Francis Center last night, there was already a line wrapped around the front of the building and out through the parking lot onto the street. It was only 6:44pm. Six bands—Ceremony, Sabertooth Zombie, Dead to Me, All Teeth, Strike to Survive and Hear the Sirens—were about to play.

In chatting beforehand with Ian Anderson, Dead to Me drummer and former Santa Rosan who once lived around the corner from the Arlene Francis, I remarked that this was probably the biggest punk show in Santa Rosa in 15 or so years. That’s not because there hasn’t always been a thriving punk scene in Santa Rosa, but mostly due to lack of an all-ages venue in the city limits proper. The Arlene Francis, I gotta say, is finally the answer to the long-repeated complaint you used to hear all the time: “Why isn’t there a great all-ages venue in Santa Rosa?”

But Santa Rosa wasn’t the city on people’s minds. Rohnert Park is the latest album by Ceremony, and even though the people I talked to who drove to the show from Fairfield and Sacramento hadn’t ever been to Rohnert Park, they’d certainly heard of it. (You’ve got to love the cover art.)

“North Bay! North Bay! North Bay! North Bay!” chanted Cermeony’s Ross Farrar, during the intro to their first song, “Sick,” the lead-off track from Rohnert Park. The crowd chanted as if a tribe. Bodies flailed above other bodies’ heads. The song kicked in, and the swarm went nuts.

It’s tempting to say that the true experience of a Ceremony show is not the music but the mayhem. A dreadlocked guy front-flipped off the theater’s support beam and onto the crowd. Multiple people dove off the center post. Someone hit Farrar in the face. The speaker and mic cables kept getting unplugged. There was surely more craziness than anyone could possibly see—at one point I saw a dude walking through the packed crowd holding a bag of ice to his head.

But putting the emphasis on audience theatrics doesn’t do Ceremony justice. They’re simply one of the best punk bands touring today, and Rohnert Park is a triumph of combining decades-old punk styles with spoken-word interludes and near-downright goth songs (“The Doldrums,” which directly addresses living in Rohnert Park). Between climbing on the theater’s support beams, swallowing the microphone, pulling his Bad Brains shirt over his head and pacing the stage, Farrar mentioned that this was the first show the band had played in Santa Rosa in probably six years.

After the show, with the insanity of “This is My War” bubbling down to a finish, and amidst chatter about the Giants, old Negative Approach 7”s and instructor Richard Speakes (Farrar attends the SRJC), he told me the band’s already writing a new album. Based on some other things he told me that I swore I’d stay quiet about, I have every reason to believe it’ll be Ceremony’s biggest album yet.

(Previously: ‘Suburban Home: Ceremony’s newest, ‘Rohnert Park,’ castigates and embraces’)

Top 20 Shows of 2010

Posted by on Dec 31, 2010

1. Watching the Giants Win Game Two of the World Series Through the Right-Field Fence for Free and Then Riding Bikes Through the City High-Fiving Strangers and Screaming My Head Off

2. Filth at Gilman St.

3. Pavement at the Greek Theater

4. Miranda Lambert at the Sonoma County Fair

5. Superchunk at Treasure Island Fest

6. Robyn at Amoeba

7. Porcelain People at the Phoenix Theater

8. The Budos Band at Outside Lands

9. Pete Swanson at Café du Nord

10. Snoop Dogg at Rock the Bells

11. Fred Eaglesmith at Studio E

12. Janelle Monae at Outside Lands

13. Grouper at the Swedish American Hall

14. The Wedding Present at the Independent

15. Gil Scott-Heron at Yoshi’s

16. E-40 at the Phoenix Theater

17. Ute Lemper with the Santa Rosa Symphony

18. Yo Gabba Gabba at the Civic Center

19. Smashing Pumpkins at the Phoenix Theater

20. KRS-One at the Last Day Saloon

(Click through for reviews)

Best Reissue of 2010

Posted by on Dec 31, 2010

Sorry, Numero Group. The Syl Johnson set was epic, but this European label beat you to the holy grail.

Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2010

Posted by on Dec 29, 2010 One Comment

Grachan Moncur III – Evolution
Might be the find of the year. All mood. Reminds me of Walt Dickerson’s Impressions of a Patch of Blue, in that way—just incredibly evocative. I’d never heard much from Moncur, a trombonist, except I knew he recorded quite a bit for Actuel. Pair that “out” aesthetic with some of the best from the Blue Note roster—Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson (in full Out to Lunch mode), Anthony Williams, longtime Sonny Rollins bassist Bob Crenshaw and Lee Morgan, of all people—and this is an engaging winner. The title track in particular is timeless.

Marion Brown – Three for Shepp
Right after Brown died, I surprisingly found used copies of Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Three for Shepp at the record store. I love the autobiographical undertaking of the first two, but for pure listening pleasure, this one’s the winner, with the aforementioned Grachan Moncur on trombone and liner notes which posit the question, with a straight face, “Can white people play jazz?”

Reggie Workman – The Works of Workman
Not too many people can record solo upright bass records, but I figure anyone who played on Olé Coltrane is allowed this indulgence. Workman has the tone of three oxen and the conception of a carburetor; he’s not always running at full potential but sounds incredible.

John Lewis – The John Lewis Piano
I’m into Andre Previn, but John Lewis brings a European classicism to jazz that’s unequalled. A lot of people remark about soloists, “they make it sound so easy.” Lewis makes it sound easy to sound hard, and then makes that gossamer. The Sophia Loren of jazz records.

Grant Green – Green Street
Sometimes it’s all about finding the right record. Or maybe it’s about not finding the wrong record; the first Grant Green album I heard was The Main Attraction. You can see why I might have been turned off to the guy for a while. Such a relief to discover his other work; and have my mind forcibly changed. This record walks crowded sidewalks, and all others get the fuck out of the way.

Freddie Hubbard – Polar AC
I was waking up to 1970s jazz this year, but in actuality this record is on the list solely for one asset: the Ron Carter bassline that kicks off the title track, which has been lodged in my head for months. (I asked Edgar Meyer earlier this year which bassist he looked up to most; “I am glad that Ron Carter is still alive” is all he could say.)

Ron Carter – Uptown Conversation
Speaking of Ron Carter, I picked this one up at a store in Augusta, Georgia in the spring. “Doom” is incredible, but the entire thing is worth seeking. It’s gotta be hard to be Ron Carter and have people ask you, “So which record of yours should I buy?”

Quartetto Basso-Valdambrini – Walking in the Night
Found a pair of reissues by this Italian post-bop group on Dusty Groove and I couldn’t stop playing them for weeks; they’re reminiscent somewhat of Miles Davis’ Jazz Track. Just very cosmopolitan and cool.

Francois Rabbath – Multi-Basse
This man’s Bass Ball is one of my favorite jazz records ever, completely ahead of its time. One day, it will see a reissue on Warp (in quite a few ways, it’s the original drum ‘n’ bass record) or Revenant (probably a more suitable label) and be regaled by the multitudes at last. It was nice to find another album of his dizzyingly creative, if slightly less fearless, works.

Horace Silver – The Jody Grind
Especially because of the go-go girls on the cover, I figured this’d be more “Song for My Father” soul jazz stuff. Instead, it’s my current favorite Horace Silver record, somewhere beyond late ’60s boogie and emerging into its own, with Woody Shaw and James Spaulding.

The Great Jazz Trio – Collaboration
I love Someday My Prince Will Come and was glad to find this, from the same 2002 sessions with Elvin Jones. Hank Jones was a living miracle.

Dizzy Gillespie – The Greatest of Dizzy Gillespie
It seems silly to put a Best-Of on this list but damn if RCA didn’t do them right. I have The Popular Duke Ellington—re-recordings, no less!—and I listen to it much more than the so-called cream-of-the-crop Webster-Blanton stuff. This Dizzy record truly is his best stuff under his own name, a great reminder of his prowess. I adore the cover photo.

Noah Howard – The Black Ark
Originally on Polygram! Which is like Hell Awaits being played on KZST or something. Violent and snarling. Pick up this reissue while you can.

Henry Threadgill – Rag, Bush and All
SFJAZZ booked him this year, and though I couldn’t go, I hope ticket sales were strong enough to bring him back soon.

Sheila Jordan – Portrait of Sheila
A nice little vocal trio album on Blue Note, who didn’t much release vocal albums. This record is marred only by “Dat Dere,” whose lyrics are so asinine they’d make Tracy Byrd cringe.

Gunther Klatt – Strangehorn
Not all Germans play like Peter Brotzmann, and this record—a tribute to Billy Strayhorn—is a nice breath of invention. Finding it in the dollar bin, I was charmed by the credits: “Dtae: July ’84. Cut: Uwe Clemens. Producer: Gunther Klatt. Reason: Don’t know.”

Ran Blake – Plays Solo Piano
Of all instruments, the piano is the most infinite. Ran Blake plays compositions by George Russell and Ornette Coleman alongside “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and “On Green Dolphin Street” and makes it all appear as if from the same mind. A good early ESP disk. (Speaking of ESP, did you hear the incredible story about Giuseppi Logan, who was presumed to be dead, discovered last year playing “Begin the Beguine” in Tompkins Square Park?)

Contraband – Time and Space
The cover gives it a prog look but this is full-on jazz, played by an only slightly “rock” band. Epic, who put out albums by Ruby Braff, Dave Pike and Dave McKenna, was obviously going for some San Francisco-sound thing with this signing. I’m glad it doesn’t resemble Santana.

William S. Fischer – Akellare Sorta
Originally recorded in 1972 and possessed by Basque witches and psychedelic chemicals. Fischer worked with Roberta Flack, Les McCann and Wilson Pickett and then dropped off the deep end with this insane recording. Reissued by a label in Barcelona.

Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book
You know how, like, you heard the name Sonny Rollins a lot but always took his existence for granted until BAM! it hit like a ton of bricks and you bought everything he recorded? (Sam Amidon’s I See the Sign from this year has a wonderful and tangential little blurb about Rollins in the credits.) This year, Booker Ervin’s mortar splattered all over my consciousness. Of all the “Book” titles that I committed myself to finding after stumbling across The Blues Book from last year’s jazz discoveries list, I play this one the most.

Ricky Ford – Manhattan Plaza
Jaki Byard and Dannie Richmond? Yes, thank you. Manhattan Plaza is a government-subsidized building that’s served as a home to jazz musicians over the years; read about it in this fine article. Samuel Jackson was a security guard there. Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon lived there, as well as Tennessee Williams, Mickey Rourke and Alicia Keys. New York is crazy! Ricky Ford lives in France now, it seems.

Henry Franklin – The Skipper
You won’t likely find another album with the song title “Beauty and the Electric Tub” in your lifetime, nor will you find a better album on Black Jazz Records, in my opinion. The story of the label, and how it came into the hands of the current owner, is pretty fascinating. This past February, the label’s best-selling artist Doug Carn appeared at Yoshi’s for one night only with other artists, billed as “Black Jazz Reunion.” These days, Franklin plays at a hotel lounge in L.A. every Friday and Saturday night.

Dollar Brand – The Children of Africa
“I am not a musician,” writes Abdullah Ibrahim on the back of this LP. “I am being played.” I saw him last year and he played one seamless, hour-long song. It seemed like he was being played. No one else sounds like him.

Byard Lancaster – Sounds of Liberation
Philadelphia, 1972. Solid bass lines. Somewhere the spirit of this record is in The Roots, pre-sousaphone, before they started doing shit like this.

Coddingtown Center’s ‘Dinosaur Christmas Song’

Posted by on Dec 22, 2010

It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this old flexidisc record and played it—12 months, to be exact.

In December, an annual tradition of mine is to listen to “Dinosaur Christmas Song,” credited only to “Coddingtown Center.” For those who grew up in Santa Rosa, it’s truly one of the strangest Christmas songs in existence, telling the story of how the very first Christmas ever took place on the land now known as the Coddingtown shopping mall. It does a horrendous job at connecting Christmas and commerce, but I look at it through the eyes of one like, say, Stan Freberg, who railed against the commercialization of Christmas. Would not even Stan be charmed by the surreal absurdity of the British narrator, the female chorus, and the incessant groaning of dinosaurs in the background?

Many years ago, right when I started at the Bohemian, I decided to try and track down the origins of this record, which I discovered in 1994 at Goodwill for 35 cents. The article took me to Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Hugh Codding’s main office in Rohnert Park, local commercial recording studios, radio stations, Montgomery Village and more. Read all about it here.

Or, if you’re so inclined, click the player below and be transported to a very strange moment in local history. At this point, after becoming an annual tradition, it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Enjoy.