Bristle: this quartet, started up by reedman Randy McKean, acts more like a co-operative, with composing duties shared by the founder with fellow reedist Cory Wright, violin/oboist Murray Campbell, and bassist Lisa Mezzacappa. The results are astonishing. Mood-swings cut as sharp and clear as a diamond’s facets. Hemphillian harmonies that taste like tangerine juice spiked with stinging nettle. No genre is safe from their predatory gene-splicing. On their first release bulletproof, ‘Notlob’ bounces along for awhile in jaunty fashion, but ends up somewhere south of Albert Ayler by the end, before reprising the bounce. ‘Wheezy Breezy,’ despite its breezy moniker, wheezes along like Morton Feldman’s just inhaled a broken harmonica. The effect is simultaneously hilarious and wistful (the main motif was suggested by the sound of a child’s toy squeezebox). ‘Drizzle’ offers cascading downward runs in liquid proliferation (as the title suggests). It’s completely serious and carried off with enviable precision, yet somehow the mood is light as a hummingbird feather. They have another album coming out soon, and I can tell you, from the previews I’ve seen onstage, it’s going to eat up vast new territories of wonderfully sweet strangeness.
Lovely Builders: this power duo of Ross Hammond, guitar, and Scott Amendola, drums, is in its fourth year of settin’ em up and knockin’ em down. Little needs to be said to sketch in Amendola’s CV — he should be familiar to anyone following current jazz trends. Hammond, a Sacramento mover/shaker (his In The Flow Festival, in its 5th year, recently showcased most of the bands mentioned here), gets around his instrument fluidly, with plenty of power, and a sound that pushes toward the outer fringes of Frisell, nearly touching Sharrock. The two of them improvised a 45-minute set with no breaks, Hammond supplying the harmonic shifts and riffs, Amendola a deep and abiding cushion of expertly sculpted beats and subtle electronics. The last several minutes were held in place by a simple yet appealing brush figure that, no matter how often it repeated, stayed mesmerizing. (Amendola also held down the drum/electronics chair in the Steve Adams Quartet, which essayed a nicer-than-nice set earlier on Sunday at ITF5.)
The Mentones: bassist Stuart Leibig leads and composes for this blues-gang of four, manned by Tony Atherton, alto saxophone; Bill Barrett, chromatic harmonica; and Joseph Berardi on drumset and percussion. I confess a serious dislike of harmonica in a jazz setting, but Mr. Barrett completely turned my ears around. Not just in terms of taste and chops, but in the Mentones’ set at In the Flow, he somehow combined harp, mic, feedback and general relativity and who knows what-all else, to get a sound that grew blue icicles between the ribs. Often, in the heads, he and Atherton burn along in octaves, melding into a brand-new sound. On top of Berardi’s solid drum work and Leibig’s restless and relentless riffing, this band shatters down the sunbaked pavement on chopped hogs between the capitals of Massacre and Power Tools — Spotlite Kids running down electric voodoo Ornettes.
Wiener Kids: once a duo with a now-departed Nordic guitarist, this project of drummer Jordan Glenn today plies the airwaves with two gonzo reedguys up front, Aram Shelton and the previously mentioned Cory Wright. Some of what I blathered about Bristle up there goes just as well here, except slightly madder — and with an edge. Glenn’s the composer, and he somehow manages to write notes and music concrete with little regard for what music was ever supposed to be up to this moment. Things go by in events and event-sets, rather than measures and movements. Many of the ‘tunes’ are around a minute or less, yet they contain multitudes of attitudes. On their latest, What A Mess, many guests come and go but the essential jazz-metal sound and thrust of the project poke through at all junctures.
Vinny Golia, the amiable silverback of In The Flow 2012 (his white-haired eminence was onstage for at least a half-dozen sets), brought his own sextet of baby-faced badasses to whip through his boot-camp of compositional strategies (Dan Rosenbloom, Alex Noice, Gavin Templeton, Jon Armstrong and Andrew Lessman — with Golia, it’s two saxes, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums). “I love these young guys,” he remarked afterwards. “They don’t say anything about what I write. It doesn’t matter what’s on the page — they just play it!” Golia’s pieces don’t hold back on intricate voicings and dizzy melodic filigrees, with rhythms that are as apt to break things up as they are to drive the action.
G. E. Stinson, who long ago helped found Shadowfax, has evolved into a higher-consciousness beat-dropper (aka Halfmonk) and guitar-pedal collector who makes insanely compelling glitch-fusion complexity out of simple musical materials. He and his musical partner Kaoru recently buzzed through Berkeley, offering a sublimely trance-inducing set, he providing the rhythmic foundations and off-world guitar topography, she the wide-ranging vocals and vocal extensions, mixed with a hefty chunk of pure noise sculpture. It’s reminiscent of some of Bill Laswell’s more restrained atmospherics, but casts a wider musical net: Lots of things happen in a short time.