Live Review: Miss Derringer, Philadelphia, PA, June 16, 2009

miss_d0270You could tell who the members of L.A.’s Miss Derringer were as soon as they walked into the crowded Khyber: the boys (guitarists Ben Shields and Morgan Slade, bassist Sylvain de Muizon and drummer Cody James) decked out in their rockabilly-styled outfits and singer Liz McGrath in her bright red uniform and feathers in her hair. When they took the stage, McGrath was all smiles and dancing as the band played ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, American style. The evening’s highlight was “All The Pretty Things,” during which Slade and McGrath dueled it out like Johnny and June. Miss Derringer’s new album, Winter Hill, will be out July 14.

“Black Tears” (download):

Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 6

peterbell380bThis week, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the Vision Festival, the avant-garde jazz event in New York City.

As the 14th Vision Festival winds down, I’m struck by the array of artists whose creative work is considered avant-garde. A number of great musicians were hanging around this week, and the programming for Sunday night’s show was full of amazing talent. Trombonist/composer Steve Swell presented his trio Planet Dream for a matinee performance of utopian chamber jazz, showcasing an intimate collaboration between himself, saxophonist Rob Brown and Daniel Levin on cello. Swell’s compositions were smart and imaginative, but it was the gentle improvisatory aspects of this group that really came across.

Chicago free-jazz patriarch Fred Anderson (pictured) made a memorable, early-evening appearance, supported by his longtime associates and Vision Fest mainstays Hamid Drake and William Parker. Anderson is 80 years old, and his history with Chicago’s avant-garde community goes all the way back to the very first concert given by the AACM in the mid-’60s. On Sunday, Anderson found his way onto the stage, put his tenor saxophone to his lips and didn’t move again for the length of his segment. Behind Anderson, Drake shifted from hand drum to full kit while Parker dabbled with Eastern instruments before settling on his upright bass. This was highly emotive free jazz, echoing the spiritual works of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and the amazing set ended far too quickly. I guess that’s how you cater to geriatric jazzmen—keep their sets short and the audience wanting more.

Michele Rosewoman has kept Quintessence—an ever-shifting performance collective—together for more than 20 years, and she presented two new compositions. Straddling the line between modern classical and jazz, Rosewoman is a talented pianist/composer, and she surrounded herself with a band of ace musicians including bassist Brad Jones, trombonist Vincent Gardner and alto saxophonist Loren Stillman. Toward the end of their highly arranged set, Quintessence broke into a funky groove with Rosewoman playing an electric keyboard in the style of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

The wholly improvisational trio of Whit Dickey (drums), Eri Yamomoto (piano) and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter started out slowly but gained momentum, especially as Carter switched from flute to trumpet to clarinet to saxophone. Dickey’s drumming was flowing and Yamomoto’s piano work cerebral, but Carter demanded the audience’s full attention as he put on a bold display of spontaneous improvisation. Carter deserves more of a spotlight, and Vision Fest programmers would be wise to bring him back next year in a greater capacity.

Finally, much to the chagrin of the weak-hearted jazz fans, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann closed the evening with his group, Full Blast. A virtual power trio with Brötzmann, electric bassist Mariano Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller, Full Blast lived up to its loud/fast moniker with a thundering racket that sent some of the Vision Fest faithful scurrying for the exits. Brötzmann’s brain-frying tenor screeds were imposing, the rhythm section pounding, and despite an occasional melodic interlude, his set was one full force gale and louder than love—the perfect way to finish up an evening of wild, diverse jazz performances.

With just one more night to go, I’m putting my dashiki and skullcap back in the closet and mourning the end of the 14th Vision Festival.

Live Review: The Church, San Francisco, CA, June 12, 2009


It’s a monumental occasion for faithful Oz-rock worshippers: The Church has once again returned to California. One of the keystone elements of college rock back in the ’80s, the Canberra-bred Aussie combo, led by bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes, was once part of a dazzling Australian contingent that included the Saints, Radio Birdman, Hoodoo Gurus, Died Pretty, Celibate Rifles, Screaming Tribesmen, Stems, Scientists, Moodists, Lime Spiders and Sunnyboys.

Kilbey has a sunburned look these days, like he’s just returned from a couple of months in the Australian outback with Mel Gibson, shooting Mad Max XII: Burned To A Crisp, continuing the endless search for gazzoline in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. “Hello, I intended to have flowers in my hair, but they never arrived,” said Kilbey. It’s a dead giveaway for anyone who hasn’t seen them in a while, to the musical direction the set will take. Rather than the jangly, slightly Velvet Underground-inspired folk rock of Church classics like 1983’s “Electric Lash” and 1981’s “The Unguarded Moment,” it’s the dreamy psychedelia of the band’s current album, Untitled #23, heavily under the sway of David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd, that will daub your evening with shades of paisley.

If you’re a die-hard Church-head, you probably enjoyed watching Koppes (or a roadie who resembled him from the back of the barn-like Slim’s) tuning a small arsenal of guitars for the 50 minutes that preceded the set. Others might have preferred a dozen Popeye cartoons. Then there was the amp meltdown that brought things to a grinding halt for 15 minutes, about half an hour into the set. The breakdown seemed to catch Kilbey at a loss for standup material to fill the void. To kill time, he described the band’s drive north from Los Angeles, which must have taken a strange turn, indeed. Kilbey referred to both the Andersen’s Split-Pea Soup restaurant near Buellton on the coast-hugging Highway 101 and the cattle-staging area dubbed “Cowschwiz,” located near Coalinga. It’s actually the Harris Ranch, the major supplier of ground beef for the In-N-Out hamburger chain, and it’s deep in California’s central valley on Highway 5. You can’t take both roads. Then again, who’s to say the band who cut the enthralling “Two Places At Once” in 1994 couldn’t pull it off?

“Have you ever noticed, the farther north you get in California, the less you hear people shout out, ‘Play some rock ‘n’ roll!’?” said Kilbey to Willson-Piper. “They’re more sophisticated up here.” And play the Church did after the amp was fixed, although not the mindless party soundtrack some L.A. hecklers might have preferred. It was a treat to finally hear 1988’s “Under The Milky Way,” the grizzled Aussies’ sole American chart entry, played live. The last time I saw the Church, opening for Echo & The Bunnymen in 1986, the song was just a glimmer in its collective eye.

“Deadman’s Hand,” “Happenstance” and “Pangaea,” all from Untitled #23, are taken at a measured, Dark Side Of The Moon pace. It’s surprising to hear the Church has soaked up a bit of the Bunnymen’s essence over the years. Kilbey enriches the new songs with his 12-string, while Koppes’ slide work on “Happenstance” is exemplary. If the recent stuff isn’t as groundbreaking as its earlier material, the Church, like the Rolling Stones before it, should be granted a lifetime pass from creating spectacular new music. The band has already done plenty of that.

—Jud Cost

Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 4

charlesgayle400iThis week, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the Vision Festival, the avant-garde jazz event in New York City.

As the week wears on, I’ve noticed one thing about the (14th) Vision Festival—that is, it’s a lot of the same people. Every night, it’s the same staff, the same vendors, as well as much the same audience and, often, the same musicians. Not that there is anything wrong with that—a number of music fans came from points abroad (Germany, Japan, etc.) just to see William Parker and company stroll out the representative best of their free-jazz subculture.

Things seemed a little off-kilter on Friday, and although the music started late and was subsequently rushed throughout the evening, there were still plenty of fascinating musical moments. Miriam Parker’s Corridor combined her interpretative dance routine with the atmospheric sounds of Jason Kao Hwang’s violin and Joseph Daley’s tuba. Parker was elegant, agile and lovely, while Hwang and Daley provided the perfect avant-garde ambience to compliment her performance.

The Charles Gayle Trio was an appropriate choice for the Vision Festival, and Gayle (pictured) was absolutely commanding on alto and tenor saxophone. He is a humble, expressive musician who has overcome some imposing obstacles in his life (including homelessness), and although his noted saxophone style is still intense, his overall sound is kinder and gentler these days. With bassist Lisle Ellis and drummer Michael Wimberly, Gayle gave an amazing performance and finished up the set on piano. Let’s all pay more attention to Charles Gayle!

The Ayler Project is a quartet devoted to the music and memory of late saxophonist Albert Ayler, who provided a guiding light to many during the free-jazz explosion of the 1960s. Trumpeter Roy Campbell is the leader here, but saxophonist Joe McPhee, drummer Warren Smith and bassist William Parker all contribute equally. The band’s first performance in America was all it could be with a spoken invocation from “Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe” followed by hymns, marches, meditative chants and expressive blaring. Those familiar with the Ayler songbook were thrilled, except for certain nitpickers (i.e., me) who wanted to hear the composition “Ghosts.” Maybe next time.

The evening concluded with a segment featuring critically acclaimed saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, who hails from South Africa, supported by Vision Fest all-stars such as pianist Matthew Shipp, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Parker. I missed the show, but it was supposed to be a big deal and the place was packed when I left. Maybe I can ask some of those same people about it when I return to the Vision Festival tomorrow.

—Mitch Myers

Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 2

marshallallen360This week, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the Vision Festival, the avant-garde jazz event in New York City.

Things are starting to heat up at the Vision Festival, with Wednesday night being dedicated to the lifetime achievement of 85-year-old Marshall Allen (pictured), multi-instrumentalist and current bandleader of the Sun Ra Arkestra. One of the more distinctive alto saxophone players for the last 50 years (he began playing with Ra in 1958), Allen has kept the fabled Arkestra going since Sun Ra left this planet for the cosmos in 1993.

The evening began with Allen and aggregate Vision Fest all-stars—tenor player Kidd Jordan, drummer Hamid Drake and two powerful bassists, William Parker and Henry Grimes. Allen immediately set the controls for outer space, playing an electronic valve gizmo that echoed and manipulated synth-like phrases. The band was a killing machine with Drake at the center—flanked by Parker and Grimes, who plucked and bowed at will. Kidd Jordan, no spring chicken at 74, blew long, hard lines of tenor madness, echoing the spirit of Allen’s old Arkestra partner, John Gilmore. Allen duly summoned his ferocious alto to match the intensity of his amazing bandmates.

Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble was something of a letdown after the Allen band’s set, but the group persevered and converted some new fans with its indigenous world jazz. Cole plays Eastern-sounding double reeds as well as the didgeridoo. His daughter Althea’s singing voice wasn’t as strong as the musicianship on the stage, especially with Warren Smith on drums, but Cole’s insistent melodies interlaced with Joe Daley’s tuba and Smith’s drumming blended nicely with Atticus Cole’s percussion.

All of this led up to a rousing performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra under Allen’s direction. There were at least 20 people onstage, all wearing some small amount of glittering apparel. While not exactly resplendent in his sparkling red poncho and matching hat, Allen led the band with humble authority. Part of the Arkestra’s appeal has always been its organic amalgamation of spaced-out, avant-garde sounds, ancient-to-future philosophy and classic jazz traditions. Besides Allen, several other Sun Ra veterans were onstage, including saxophonists Charles Davis and Danny Thompson and bassists John Ore and Juini Booth.

The Ra set consisted of wild instrumental interludes, raucous big-band arrangements, ragtag singing and dancing and reconstructed jazz standards. Of course, one had to miss Sun Ra’s physical presence at a gig like this but his spirit was certainly everywhere. Personally, I was dismayed to note the absence of the Ancient Egyptian Infinity Drum. Still, the finale was big and nostalgia ran high, and the Vision Festival even presented Allen with an envelope containing some money. Hooray for our side!

Stay tuned for more Vision Fest adventures, as free-jazz medicine men Sunny Murray, William Hooker, Charles Gayle and Fred Anderson all wait in the wings.