Monday, March 6, 2017

Next Now Hardly Strictly Personal 2017, 3/3-3/5 2017; Finnish Kaleva Hall, Berkeley CA

Mika Pontecorvo's big booking endeavor for 2017 has come and gone. I must say that this last weekend's proceedings went by really quickly, as they always do: a blur of logistics, action, playing and hanging out making for a swiftly moving event.
Fun, excitement, a modicum of stress and emotionalism always feature in Hardly Strictly Personal weekends, as least in my case. Everything leading up to the action, be it rehearsals, promo spots, or helping Mika and Kersti Abrams as they try to bring all of the moving parts to harmony can sometimes feel overwhelming. Once the music starts, though, all of that seems to melt away, fading into the background as the musicians make their sounds.
Accordingly, a bit about the sounds that I was involved with.

Friday, 3/3/17
Ear Spray-Ear Spray had the honor of opening the weekend's music, setting up on the hardwood floor of Kaleva Hall on Chestnut St. In plotting out our set, we decided to go with a more circuit bent feel. Carlos had lots of his electronic axes set up; I used my ratty circuit bent Casio keyboard, a new synth pedal from Marbeau Synth, and a singing bowl. All of these were fed into a mixer and pushed out from our PA. Ann, after giving a brief bio of Van Vliet, stuck with her great films, projected upon the ceiling. We achieved what I felt was a good auditory mix, and I certainly had a good time checking out the sounds of my new synth pedal. Carlos pumped snippets from Beefheart interviews into it and did a fine job as usual with his rig. He's really adept with his stuff. In Ear Spray, I always feel as though I'm adding extra spice to music, which is a fine role for me. Fun jamming, if marred a bit by some talkative people on the other side of the hall. I guess that we could have turned up to drown out, but, hey, we're nice people.

Crow Crash Radio-As was the case last year, writer Garrett Caples joined Crow Crash Radio for some Captain Beefheart-inspired singin' and playin'. We chose to do a version of Diddy Wah Diddy, but cleaved more to the side of the great 1950's Bo Diddley's version. Soon after we started playing, I realized that I could not hear a damn thing from Garrett, as he'd set his amp up at the very front of the stage (yes, he sang through an amp as opposed to the PA). Additionally, I could just barely hear Brian's guitar and was essentially awash with the sound of Andrew's theremin. Stressful? I'll say. Somehow I managed to overcome the urge to stop, and just kept rolling through an extended vamp of the chords after making some pretty deep mistakes during the form. I figured that just posting up inside of a pretty simple beat and just staying there for a while would be the most effective thing to do a that time. Somehow, we managed to finish the song, after which we did a passable version of Tarifa (Strang's fave Crow Crash jam), and a satisfyingly slow and heavy version of I Saw A Face In The Rain, during which I stuck to the simplest brush pattern that I've ever used. That one lifted the fear and stress from my mind, thus making our set, initially so rough, a satisfying if flawed occurrence.

Below: Ear Spray rig on plastic on hardwood; Carlos tweaks the levels

Above: Crow Crash Radio featuring Garrett Caples and a badly placed amp (photo courtesy of Amanda Chaudhary,, thanks Amanda!)

Saturday, 3/4/17
VoiMaa!-Whenever Mika's daughter Adrienne is in town, he tries to get her to play cello with what is usually Cartoon Justice. This morphs the group into its VoiMaa! configuration. There are slight sonic adjustments made, too, with the group focusing a bit more upon conducted passages that are relayed by cues from Mika. We definitely had some tough acts to follow on Saturday night from Dire Wolves and Arringon de Dionyso, but I felt as though we more than held our own. Inspired as we were by the previous groups, along with the presence of great reeds man Jaroba on stage with us, I felt as though we rose up the occasion. Our sounds seem to mesh with the ambiance of Kaleva Hall's beautiful stage and wonderful acoustics. The cues were followed, the feel was loose while not feing too sloppy, and, for me, things just FELT RIGHT. I enjoyed trying out an improvisational Free approach before dropping down to let Meg Pontecorvo read some of her excellent Sci-Fi writing. Things went from there to an upbeat Jump Blues-ey shuffle, directly inspired by Beefheart's Ant Man Bee. Sometimes one just feels on; that's how I felt during VoiMaa!'s set: ON. What a great night!

Below: VoiMaa! hits the changes (photo courtesy of Amanda Chaudhary,, thanks Amanda!)
Above: VoiMaa! post-freak

Sunday, 3/5/17
Census Designated Place-Amanda Chaudhary has put Census Designated Place together over the past year or so, with the desire to blend influences from 1970's Funk, Fusion, and Disco and Free Improvisation. Her requirements for my playing are pretty clear: play good time, follow the heads, and really support the group. As I admire her music a lot, it's a pleasure to comply. During our rehearsals for HSP 2017, I came to the conclusion that using brushes would probably be really effective as a method for letting the sounds of Amanda, Tom Djill, and Joshua Marshall's instruments speak and breathe. In performance, there were a few gaffs during the heads, but we managed to get past them with relative grace and get down to some good jams. It was fun to push the music with a lot of syncopated 4/4 brush work as I tried to play some decent Funk. Tom's blurby modular synth sounds were particularly cool, as was Josh's great tenor/soprano sax blowing and Amanda's adept conducting. Perhaps a bit "normal"for an Experimental Music fest, but I know that our thirty minute set had some really odd subtleties at times.

ebolabuddha-This was where Sunday evening got surreal and odd for me. ebolabuddha's sets always have that effect, but at Kaleva Hall things went even more freaked out than usual. I was happy that Tom Weeks was able to join us for the set. After admonishing the small audience to read with us, which they did with aplomb, I read from Ovid, banged on a piano,  blew on my student recorder, used a bass drum like a taiko, scraped a metal rod across a metal street sign (found on Hilltop Dr. in Richmond), and just generally acted like an insane person. ebolabuddha lends itself to that kind of contained madness. The rest of the group, Eli, Lorenzo, Jason, along with Tom, brewed up spooky drones and crazy tones. After a while, I joined them on traps for some relatively quiet improvisational Cave Metal before and crazed ending of our one "song", Four Clicks. Four Clicks basically utilizes a blast beat stretched out for as long as we can ratchet it up before a hard, crashing ending. Tim Orr suggested to me that ebolabuddha's set could have been the featured set at a 1966 Acid Test. Would that that were the case!

Instagon-Last up for me and Hardly Strictly Personal 2017, Instagon #724 closed out Sunday evening with a set of Lob's patented bass-lead Garage Jazz. Alongside Lob and myself were Rent Romus on alto sax, Hannah Glass on violin, and Leland Vandermulen on guitar. Instagon sets are always different, and, in my case, sometimes harrowing. Thankfully, and seemingly in large part due to Lob's desire to really stretch out the opening drone portion of the set, this was not the case for me. I felt as though our set moved a relaxed tempo. This is not to imply that it felt lazy, for it did not. The interactions seemed solid to me, and I felt free at times to go off, secure that Lob's bass lines would be waiting for me when I circled back. It's been a while since I got to play with Rent, which is always a kick for me. Leland and Hannah were cool to play along side as well as we navigated the Daemon and led to some very natural sounding stops and pauses. Really good, interactive listening and playing from this quintet. Solid and satisfying.

Below: Census Designated Place grooves (photo by Tim Orr, thanks Tim!)

Above: ebolabuddha DaDa (photos courtesy of Amanda Chaudhary,, thanks Amanda!)
Below: Instagon groovin' high (photo courtesy of Amanda Chaudhary,, thanks Amanda!)

Lastly as regards Sunday night, many thanks to Tim Orr for providing his wonderful Sonar kit as the drum back line. What a Jazz dream kit!

In recent past years, there have generally been two Next Now festivals. I don't know what Mika plans for later into 2017, but I do know that I had a blast over the first weekend in March. Time will tell.
Huge props are due to him, Kersti Abrams, and Eli Pontecorvo for all of the arduous work that they put in to make it happen. It was so great to make crazy sounds, attempt beautiful pieces, and get so much drumming and jamming in. As I type these words, I'm still blissfully drained and buzzing from the weekends' actions at Kaleva Hall.

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