IN THE FLOW FESTIVAL MAY 15, BEATNIK STUDIOS, SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
Something like a live-blog (all times are given in Pacific Daylight Time)
We interrupt my ongoing Braxton-fest series with a real series about real music happening in the moment...
Polly Moller and I got here around noon just in time for the Nahum Zdybel trio, pleasant guitar-trio jazz covering a Satie Gymnopedie, Nefertiti, Eronel, and Then You’ll Be Sorry. Small brunch crowd in the gallery (front room of Beatnik Studios) clapped politely and have now decamped into the big room in the back where the Henry Robinette quintet is holding forth with more hard-driving jazz. Or, at least, it’s louder. Alto sax, keyboard, bass, drums and some other instrument that looks like an electric guitar. Here in the capital city of Califonia.
I just met a bunch of guys I only knew previously through Facebook including Steuart Leibig, who’s a self-described snob and copy editor (and bassist in LA). We shared our impressions of the neighborhood: aside from the “GUN ROD & BAIT” shop next door, it seems student-oriented, with Thai and Ethiopian restaurants, two record stores, vintage clothing, etc. There are working-class touches besides the aforementioned hunter’s den, and I scoped a couple of serious hot-rodders parked in the bank parking lot across the street, sharing their antique/retro-antique Chevys with each other. Chrome, studs, black leather, and decals of blackletter epithets.
The day’s superstars have arrived – Nels Cline, Vinny Golia, G. E. Stinson et al, and the atmo's jumped a peg. The festival is a kind of SoCal/Bay Area mashup with some Sacto dressing. In the back, Robinette and crew have gotten a little more loosey-goosey and are going out on a fonky Voodoo Chile. Backbeat, wah-guitar, post-Maceo saxophoning. Body count up to 40 or so, many of those audients eventually to mount the stage(s) themselves during the weekend.
Reconaissance Fly is set up and soundchecking in front of me, and as I hereby disclose it’s my girlfriend’s band, I can’t offer much beyond a description of what they do, and that in itself is pretty cool. Ooops! Sorry for the plug for this cool band! Shucks! Did it again! OK, Recon Fly takes ‘spoetry’ (inadvertent poetry created by computers battling spam filters) and sets it to composed and improvised music vibrated by electric bass, flutes, voice, and synths.
2:00 pm and Recon Fly are doing Steengo. Sadly, much of the audience is sitting in wait for Cline and his partner Yuka Honda to start doing their thing in the other room. Who was it said "Adulthood is high school, with money?" Sometimes, music festivals with multiple stages turn into dorky kids/cool kids ghetto zones.
2:15: FIG - Nels Cline and Yuka Honda: Described to me as a "love project," (Cline and Honda are engaged to be married) this duo started their set quietly enough. Honda's CV includes Cibo Matto and the Plastic Ono Band; Cline should need no introduction here. Now they getting they skronk on and they noise on and the previously comfortable audience is getting restless. Honda's rocking a Tenori-On. The duo is putting out some simply complex songs with splashy sounds. 2:48 pm: Just completed, a long, techno-y jam; now Cline's flying his guitar up some huge fijords as Honda's fat drum machine beats underpin catchy octave riffy hooks and punctuated screams. Maybe there's a reason the cool kids are so cool.
3:00 pm: AMBI, with Steuart Leibig and Andrew Pask. The name seems to suggest ambient, and this duo's music, while not background music by any means, carries forward more of the Painkiller kind of ambient, with some free jazz sax deep in the mix. Excellent programming to follow FIG with this stuff! 3:15 - Ha! Satie and his gymnosperms make a surprise reprise, although it doesn't sound like a real Gymnopedie being sampled and tossed around with drum hits. A simulation of an imitation, now melted into soprano saxonotes and e-bass boings. Hipster bait. Just passed was an interlude that put one much in mind of Code M.D. off Miles Davis' "Decoy," due to Leibig's Jaco-esque bass and Pask's spacey sax tootles. Great beats round off a satisfying set of Ambi music.
3:42 pm. Bit of a break before Halfmonk lets loose. The activity level here at Beatnik Studios is definitely up a few nachos. Brick walls and concrete floors make for a boomy ambiance. Not a whole lot of foot traffic outside. Unlike the coast, where I mostly roam, the Central Valley is already in the full bloom of summer, and it's getting up to the mid-80s. (Phillip Greenlief mentioned just now that "This time of day, last year, you couldn't stand outside like this. You'd cross the street and just melt." We're having a cool spring this year.) 4pm: now they're up and running; physically the duo Halfmonk is similar to FIG (middle-aged white guitar guy and Asian singer/noisician) but musically, in another world. It's more based in Stinson's pads and quirky beats (more foot pedals than you can shake a Chapman Stick at) while Jen Hung vocalizes through a toy microphone/processor dingus.
Next up: Phillip Greenlief solo tenor saxophone. PG's been at the solo game a number of years and has several solo albums and tours to his credit. A 4th album is coming soon, "Lines to Mind." He's a transplanted LA to BA'er, Oakland style, teacher, composer, good guy. Now he's circling the audience with a huge drone that's pushing back every corner of the room and filling each with vibrating air-columns. A dance with mouthpiece only leads to a back-and-forth with a little girl in the audience and breath-pops on mouthpiece-less sax. The audience is rapt, barely chuckling as PG kicks a chair around.
7:15 pm L STINKBUG is farting up the joint. Yez got yez Stinson, yez Leibig, yez Cline, and yez Scott Amendola brandishing their weapons in a
Götterdämmerung for the ears. Full house: people standing around the door holding babies, for chrissake. These kids today. I love all these guys but this glasssliver blast more nasty than it is fun, like really spicy food that tastes fantastic on first bite, but less and less with each successive mouthful as the skin starts to hang from the upper palate. 7:30 pm. With time comes taming. Stinkbuggers have settled into a nice, twisted post-Double Image dronegroove that reminds another audient of Pink Mountain, "only less sludgy." Cline's bringing out twangier, less-distorted guitar and Amendola is giving a rack of sleigh bells a stiff workout.
8:30 pm. I'm praying the band in the gallery will stop soon. Somebody in the crowd standing outside the gallery said, "It's really sad when a trumpet player feels he needs to be amplified playing in a gallery space." So, enough on that subject and on to Vinny Golia and his quintet. Mr. Golia promised during the Stinkbug set that his band would be considerably quieter than they. Two saxophones, e-guitar, e-bass, drums. Vinny said they're usually a sextet but that their trumpet player was at an audition in Prague right now being told his playing is "too American." Oh dahyum!
8:45 pm. Main Stage - HOLY SHIT! Vinny's got out the bagpipes. Local ordinances be damned.
I wanna call this band "Vinny's Kids." Before the set and onstage his presence is more that of a teacher and mentor than star and bandleader. This first number is a melange of vignettes for the guitarist, a good shredder using a hollow-body and beat-looking amp. He's fond of minor seconds. The groove is very much in a Steve Coleman kind of bag, if one's allowed to use that phrase anymore. 9:00 pm Since Vinny's sets are continuous, it's not possible to tell exactly where they are, except that the leader's now soloing on soprano. After a long series of phrases that begin with a high held note and cascade down in sheets, he leads the band into the next section, a slower, thorn-thicket of harmonized phrases over an almost dirge-like beat. A kick-ass, fun buncha notes.
Gotta sign off now. One more set tonight, Tony Passarell's Thin Air Orchestra, which will no doubt involve many of the aforementioned players of the day, and yours truly. Type to you tomorrow!
SUNDAY MAY 16, 11:45 am.
The Church of Gino Robair Without Gino:
5:13 pm. This citizen journalist had to turn in his press pass to play a set with All Tomorrow's Zombies, in the company of Gino Robair and Tim Perkis, at 11:45. The same trio has a gig tonight in San Francisco, so goodbye from Sacramento and the 4th annual In the Flow Festival. We realize you have a choice of blogs when you fly and we appreciate your choosing WFMU-BOTB.