Angel City Memories
A brief look back
One of the highlights of 2022 was, once again, the amazing Angel City Jazz Fest. As a West Coast festival, this tends to fly below the radar, but Rocco Somazzi and team do an incredible job of programming both established artists and up-and-coming musicians, with a particular focus on Greater Los Angeles. The music is always on point, and the crowds are generous and friendly. I don’t always attend as many shows as I’d like (Daniel Rotem’s Wise One played on a day I had family commitments), but I always love what shows I do get to see.
ROVA Saxophone Quartet & Battle Trance
I had joked with friends before attending the ROVA and Battle Trance show that what I really wanted to see was a battle royale, “two enter, one exits” style. Of course, I’m fairly confident it would have been closer to the “Naatu Naatu” dance-off where one saxophone quartet playfully concedes to the other in a clear draw.
ROVA Saxophone Quartet, I mean, what can one say? You get four brilliant saxophonists performing a high-wire act while juggling flaming torches. They played mostly from their newest albums, 2021’s The Circumference of Reason and 2018’s In Transverse Time. The finale was an epic performance of the already epic “Hidden In Ochre,” a Larry Ochs composition that seemed (to me) to work something like a perpetual motion machine. The recorded version on In Transverse Time is excellent, the live version was just slightly more mind-blowing and, not surprisingly, very fun.
Battle Trance’s music is its own thing—like, say, The Necks and Horse Lords, there isn’t another group that plays anything like it. I may have held my breath for the entirety of “Green of Winter” (from their latest album), or, if I didn’t actually (that would have been literally impossible), I certainly felt like I had. Reader, do anything you can to see this group live.
Nicole McCabe Septet & Myra Melford Fire and Water Quintet
Earlier this year, Nicole McCabe received the Jeff Clayton Memorial New Note Award, a local award typically given to a rising star to compose a special work to debut at the Angel City Jazz Festival. Rather appropriately paired with Myra Melford’s screamingly great all-women quintet, McCabe’s suite “The Women Who Shaped Me” paid homage to a number of strong female influences in her life. Her septet featured an LA dream-team lineup, with Jon Hatamiya on trombone, Ethan Chilton on trumpet, Devin Daniels on tenor, Logan Kane on bass, Tina Raymondon drums, and Christina Galisatus on piano. McCabe’s sound and style is fierce AF. Think Caroline Davis or Tineke Postma filtered through a distinctly West Coast vibe, bridging McCabe’s Portland and LA backgrounds. She recently released albums on Minaret and Fresh Sounds, plus co-leads the absolutely bananapants Dolphin Hyperspace with Kane. In other words, watch this space.
I had never seen Myra Melford in person before, no excuses it just happened, as things do. But I could not have asked for a better first experience than this excellent Cy Twombly-inspired quintet. I simply cannot recommend this group highly enough.On this tour, at least, the awesome Lesley Mok replaced Susie Ibarra, but the rest of the group remained the same: Mary Halvorson, Tomeka Reid, and Ingrid Laubrock, something of a bicoastal dream team to complement McCabe's local one. I have literally no words for how awesome the group was, and seeing Laubrock, Reid, Mok, and Halvorson together with Melford, well… something of a dream come true.
Devin Daniels Quintet & Zoh Amba Quartet
In a world of balanced coverage, Devin Daniels would have gotten a fair amount of print in 2022. Young and brilliant, with a humble, luminescent style, he’s got everything going for him. His performance the previous night with Nicole McCabe was just awesome, and his quintet was fiery and funky, everybody seemed to be having a great time. He’s got a James Brandon Lewis vibe, and also something of a Ron Miles vibe, that same openness and warmth.Daniels kicks off 2023 with a quartet session at Sam First on January 4.
And then, Zoh Amba. I haven’t seen friends and fellow critics as excited about a young player since, maybe Susana Santos Silva arrived on the scene (although, I’ve recently learned, many people have yet to hear Santos Silva’s music, which, if that’s the case for you, please rectify this immediately). Amba put together a knock-out quartet with Wendy Eisenberg, Dylan Fujioka, and, I still can’t believe it, Mark Dresser.
Amba’s gotten a ton of press, which I contributed to this year. She has a ton of promise, with a lot of comparisons to Albert Ayler, although I hear more David Murray in her tone and expression. Her performance has a real NY Loft vibe to it, structured like a Sam Rivers set, with Amba moving from sax to piano and back. The highlights, however, were when she just sat back and let Eisenberg, Dresser, and Fujioka do their thing. That’s not a knock on Amba, it’s just to note that hearing the other three improvising was… there’s no other word for it I can think of, sublime.
I really don’t know what the structure of this will be just yet. I want to keep it loose and chatty and to make time for the kinds of album recommendations and random bits that I typically shared on other platforms.
Look for the overall format of this to change a few times before it settles into something repeatable. In the meantime:
Ayler Records is running a start-of-year sale through end of this week. I picked up a quartet of trio dates. Completist I am, I have an urge to get every one titled Live at Glenn Miller Café, but the real discovery (for me) is Anders Gahnold, who I don’t know much about but who released two wonderful albums with William Parker and Hamid Drake (both on Ayler).
Off the back of the epic The Chicago River set with Hal Russell, released earlier this year by Fundacja Słuchaj, I’ve been listening to a ton of Joel Futterman. I really failed at getting this reviewed in time to put it on my end-of-year lists. Currently (literally, as I’m writing this), I’m listening to Naked Colours, his one other recording with Russell, made in Berlin, 1991. Both are excellent, but The Chicago River is all the more raw for being just the two in duet over three hours.
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Raymond’s been on a roll lately, and her co-led Esthesis Quartet is apparently releasing their second album on the excellent Ears & Eyes Records (pretty much always on point, a couple years ago they released a gorgeous Patrick Noland album, a trio with Charles Rumback and John Tate, When I Look To Sky—if you didn’t already know, I’m a huge Rumback fan, and this rates highly in my personal ranking of his discography).
And I’m clearly not the only one taken with Melford’s new quintet. Collectively, over at Free Jazz Blog, we voted this as one of the top albums of the year.
Still absolutely devastated by the death of Ron Miles. One of my very favorite players, a brilliant thinker and composer. The EPK for I Am a Man showed Miles in his home, talking deeply about his music, artistry, and much of what propelled him in life. In the opening monologue, he gives what, to me, is a prime definition of any jazz or jazz-adjacent performance, “I think that’s the nature of improvisation: it’s never complete until there’s both people participating, the performer and the listener, and I think that’s what makes the music unique.”