KFJC 89.7FM

Max Level

Kjetil Brandsdal – Untitled – [Drid Machine Records]

Max Level   4/13/2021   7-inch, A Library

Wobbly layers of gently ambient Norwegian noise with an insistent beat. Evidently it is to be played at 45rpm (although it doesn’t actually say that on it anywhere) to give you a nice concise three-minute experience, but I like it better at 33rpm, which offers a more dragged-out and woozy perspective. This 2019 release is a one-sided 7″ on clear vinyl with green and pinkish dots silk-screened on the reverse for a cool see-through effect, and the cardboard sleeve is printed on the recycled cover of some unknown record album. I love offbeat art-damaged stuff like this.

Max de Wardener – “Music For Detuned Pianos” – [Village Green]

Max Level   3/14/2021   12-inch, A Library

Composer de Wardener’s pieces written for pianos modified with various ‘non-standard’ tuning systems. If you enjoy the unusual instrument tuning concepts of composers such as Harry Partch and LaMonte Young, then you will no doubt appreciate what’s going on here. I’m just a dumb bass player so I can’t tell you much about tunings such as “seven-limit just intonation” or “overtones from three interlocking harmonic series” but I can say the music they produce is pleasantly otherworldly. I do wonder why four pieces played in standard piano tuning are included–the liner notes say it’s “to provide a familiar perspective” but one track like that would have been plenty. I’m here for the modified tuning stuff. Pieces performed by pianist Kit Downes.

Barker, Andrew / Irabagon, Jon Duo – “Anemone” – [Radical Documents]

Max Level   2/25/2021   CD, Jazz

Drums and tenor sax duo. Free Jazz Explorations. Inspired and interesting interplay. I can recommend each track individually, but listening to the whole CD in one sitting is somewhat exhausting. Free jazz drums/sax duet records tend to be like that for me. I can’t help it–after a while I’m like where’s the upright bass dude? Four adventurous tracks here, 11 to 14 minutes each; pick one (or two) and you can’t go wrong.

White Hills – “Splintered Metal Sky” – [God Unknown]

Max Level   2/25/2021   A Library, CD

Abrasive noise rock with pounding machine beats, seething electronics, and semi-sneering talk-singing. I was not familiar with White Hills, but I have been reading other reviews that portray them as guitar-driven and psychedelic. This CD isn’t like that at all. I would describe it as urban-sounding, synthetic, and damaged. There are a few noise pieces that only last a minute or two, and sometimes just a few seconds. Dave W, one of the two constant members of this prolific, long-running project has said “I’m very conscious about making the records sound different from each other.” Quite so. If you know White Hills from their previous releases, this one may surprise you.

Eagle Twin – “The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn” [Southern Lord Recordings]

Max Level   1/10/2021   A Library, CD

Stoner doom heaviness out of Utah, but actually coming from a more unusual place than that: Eagle Twin’s songs are about snakes and wolves and trees and buffalo and antlers and wings and crows and water and blood and fire… things considerably older and more profound than mere humanity. I mean what on this earth could possibly be bigger and heavier to write music about? Whew. Two guys are Eagle Twin–Gentry Densley brings thick layers of saturated guitar and sings in a deep rasp somewhere between Tom Waits and a Tuvan throat singer, and Tyler Smith’s drumming is pure punishment yet he is creative and never predictable. Give this huge-sounding record a listen and ponder the purity of spirit animals and the beautifully brutal forces of nature. From 2018.

Dimuzio, Thomas – Balance – [Gench Music]

Max Level   11/8/2020   A Library, CD

Wow! Local sound wizard Dimuzio has always been known for his collaborations as well as his solo work, and here is a triple-CD overview of ten years of collaborations 2009-2019, all of them live improvisations recorded at shows. Dimuzio takes his Buchla synth rig and his sampler and hooks up with a roster of artists that goes on and on… Matmos, Nick Didkovsky, Beth Custer, Alan/Anla Courtis, Aurora Josephson, Wobbly, Phillip Greenlief, Scott Amendola, Emily Hay, Gino Robair, Tom Nunn, Ava Mendoza, to name just a few… in duos, trios, and various combinations. A wide range of sounds are offered, from pleasantly musical to drone to quirky spoken word to moderately harsh noise. It’s all here. The final track on CD-3 was recorded by KFJC in 2010 at Cafe Du Nord in SF and it has that electric-Miles rock/jazz fusion thing going on. Dimuzio is a good friend of the station and always a force to be reckoned with. He curated these tracks, did the editing and mastering, and even the package design. Dive deep into this one!

Cramp, Dominic / Khoury, Mike / Greenlief, Phillip / Robair, – Compassion and Evidence -[Creative Sources Recording]

Max Level   11/3/2020   CD, Jazz

Electronics, keyboards, percussion, reeds, and viola in amorphous music/sound improvisations performed at Oakland’s Temescal Arts Center in 2018. Local improv stalwarts Greenlief and Robair are quite familiar to me; the other two players not so much. I enjoyed the electronic/keyboards/percussion angle the most, although it is nice to hear the reeds and viola come to the forefront every now and then. A couple of short pieces (3 to 4 mins) and a couple of longer ones (13 and 27 mins.)

Toned – “Private Sector” – [Shhpuma]

Max Level   9/22/2020   A Library, CD

Abstract pieces by this electroacoustic trio featuring alto sax, electronics, and drum set. Often crazy, jagged, blurting, and in your face, other times more restrained and seemingly thoughtful. I especially enjoy it when Tom Weeks uses his sax to make unusual sounds—squeaks and pops and flutters. Track 5 has a different flavor than the rest— it starts quietly with what could be water sounds but may be electronics; about 2/3 of the way into the track things get louder with something that sounds like train noises but who knows what it actually is, and then it ends quietly. There are a couple of tracks with snippets of conversations added, and those don’t do a whole lot for me. I like this release because it’s weird and messed up, but I hear it as mostly coherent sound—which is good—rather than random stuff thrown in just to be weird and messed up.

Nakatani, Tatsuya -Monochrome [Self Released]

Max Level   7/7/2020   A Library, CD

Percussionist Nakatani, whose solo releases are invariably live recordings with no overdubs or sound processing, takes a different approach here: He made hundreds of recordings of bowed gongs (17 of them to be exact) and “arranged them on the computer to build the compositions.” Resonant, singing metallic drones layered in different ways makes for an interesting listening experience. If you’re a fan of Nakatani’s Gong Orchestra project, you will love this. Mastered by James Plotkin, whose name attached to any project immediately gets my attention.

Bow Gamelan Ensemble – Great Noises That Fill The Air [Cold Spring Records UK]

Max Level   6/23/2020   A Library, CD

Radical with a capital R. This three-member London ‘percussion’ ensemble were in existence from 1983 – 90. The material on this CD was recorded in 1988. Their live performances were: 1. An unholy marriage of Savage Aural Hotbed and Survival Research Laboratories (remember them?), and 2. Dangerous as fuck. They banged on 55-gallon metal drums—no surprise there, I mean who doesn’t?—but beyond that there was also fire, large amounts of water, steam, lights, huge loud machines crashing, giant pieces of broken glass hanging like wind chimes, iron bathtubs banging together, metal cabinets and lockers suspended and sprayed with a fire hose, whistles, fireworks, all manner of discarded noisy junk… This CD brings us a taste of what they were up to and is quite satisfying. Guest performers include legendary percussionist Z’ev. I can’t even begin to describe how deep and remarkable their concept was. Watch this worthy 16-minute video to see what it was all about: https://fourthree.boilerroom.tv/film/bow-gamelan-offshore-rig. I had no idea. Brilliant stuff.

Laguerre/Noetinger – DnT – [Aagoo Records]

Max Level   5/27/2020   A Library, CD

Two well-known French electro-acoustic sound artists (Anthony Laguerre and Jerome Noetinger) bring us many forms of noise by way of tape loops, manipulation, distortion, live processing and… drums! This release seems to be centered around the sounds of a drum kit. It shows up everywhere, often being processed in some way or other, and is combined with some odd noises–notes and blips and hums and is that a dog barking in the distance on Track 4? The dynamics vary from track to track, but it never takes long for this thing to get back to spotlighting the drums. Track 2 is probably my favorite–it starts in a quietly tense place and ramps up to a crashing drumscape on some weird planet, accompanied by an overload of intense alien shrieking.

Mezzacappa, Lisa Six – Cosmicomics – [Queen Bee]

Max Level   4/21/2020   CD, Jazz

Bay Area composer/bassist/bandleader Mezzacappa writes the material and leads a first-rate ensemble of local musicians. These engaging compositions are jazz-based but draw from many other traditions as well. They take their inspiration from the “Cosmicomics” series of short stories by author Italo Calvino—the liner notes provide elaboration on the story behind each piece. Many of the tracks do lean in a cosmic direction, with titles such as ‘The Soft Moon’, ‘Solar Storms’, ‘The Distance of the Moon’, and ‘The Form of Space.’ The three tracks with ‘Signs’ in the title are mood pieces by way of conducted improvisation. I like the way electronics wizard Tim Perkis lays out for long periods, entering every now and then to enhance the mood with unexpected sounds. Also, for some reason Mark Clifford’s vibraphone sounds like moonlight to me, which seems totally appropriate for this material. Mezzacappa’s instincts always serve her music well and while it is not always obvious, one can often detect a sly sense of humor informing her composing and arranging.

Icasiano, Christopher – “Provinces” [Origin Records]

Max Level   2/25/2020   A Library, CD

Drums and keyboards–everything played by Icasiano, a mainstay of the Seattle free music scene. There are two “suites” here and within each suite the pieces tend to track together. Several of the tracks have repeating–in some cases one could say relentless–drum patterns, augmented with simple keyboard/synth melodies, drones, and sounds. Field recordings pop up occasionally, some of them including voices. I really enjoyed Track 3, a jagged piece with free drumming alongside bursts of what seem to be backward sounds. The thing that I probably like most about this CD is that I don’t quite understand what’s going on and can only listen and wonder what will come next. Icasiano’s work occupies a section of the musical universe that you probably didn’t even know was there. I didn’t.

Boni, Raymond/Gilles Dalbis – Selenites: One Kenichi Dream – [Mazeto Square]

Max Level   2/11/2020   A Library, CD

Two French guys playing the soundtrack to what seems to be a dream story. Boni on guitar and harmonica, Dalbis on drums. All instrumental, very abstract, quiet and loud places, hard to tell what they are getting at sometimes. The 15-minute Track 1 starts with 3 minutes of solo drumming. Dalbis has a nice touch with the brushes. Boni’s guitar comes in gently and… eventually all hell breaks loose like you suspected it would. There are shades of Derek Bailey in Boni’s playing and he adds to that a lot of processed guitar sounds and some overdubs. He plays harmonica on Tracks 2 and 5; he has an unusual approach, that’s for sure. It sounds to me more like an accordion in a style reminiscent of Pauline Oliveros maybe? Track 3 features some flying-fingers abstract blues guitar and it’s pretty nice. Dalbis adds surprising percussive touches throughout the record. I don’t really understand the dream story–something about HG Wells and an alien civilization living inside Earth’s moon, and at some point a modern manga character shows up and does something or other. Perfect music for an oddball dream like that.

Radical Empathy Trio – Reality and Other Imaginary Places – [Esp-Disk]

Max Level   1/21/2020   CD, Jazz

Three masterful improvisers—Thollem McDonas – keyboards, Nels Cline – guitar, and Michael Wimberly – drums–present two 18-minute pieces of inspired improvisation, recorded 2017 in Brooklyn. We feel very early on that we are in good hands. I especially enjoy hearing Thollem’s acoustic piano give way to his electronic keyboards, usually leading to some noisy interactions with Cline’s guitar, and then back again. As usual, Cline’s guitar exists on a completely different plane from the rest of us–he’s that advanced. Wimberly’s tasteful percussion accents are pretty much perfect throughout. Dive in.

Osborne, Brian – Decorous Novelties – [Heat Retention Records]

Max Level   12/4/2019   A Library, CD

Solo percussion performed live with no effects and no overdubs. Cymbals, gong, wood blocks, glass bowls, aluminum pipes, brake drums, wrenches, baskets, scrap metal, etc. A kitchen sink is not mentioned, but it may as well have been. Ringing metallic sounds, tinkly things, tappity-tap on wooden temple blocks, the pinging of glass bowls. It never really gets intense and dramatic as someone like Tatsuya Nakatani does on occasion—this mostly comes across as light-hearted and playful. Fun. Well-recorded.

BERP – “BERP” [Yabyum]

Max Level   10/29/2019   A Library, CD

Total immersion into a world of acoustic sound/noise. The quartet coaxes sounds from stringed instruments such as guitar and violin, percussion, toys, ping-pong ball, waterphone, hurdy-gurdy, and voice. The pieces are generally on the active side, with a multitude of instruments and other sounds (taps, thuds, tickles, scrapes, whacks, nonsense vocals, etc) all clamoring for attention. These players excel at bursts of frenetic creativity. That’s not to say there aren’t some quieter sections, but even those are full of taps and boings and rattles and they aren’t what I would call relaxing. This material is not for everybody, but it’s quite interesting in a ‘what-will-they-come-up-with-next?’ kind of way. Track 5 is a 46-minute marathon that is easy to get lost in.

ebolabuddah – “Water is Life; Swallowed in Muck” – [Self Release]

Max Level   5/8/2019   A Library, Cassette

Local avant garde noise project. Two side-long tracks (A = 23 mins, B = 17 mins.) Voices and crashes and booming noises and guitar feedback and a flute and a sax. Highly questionable recording quality–To say “To say this is fidelity-challenged would be an understatement” would be an understatement. Imagine them playing at the far end of the NoiseHaus garage and someone recording them from 100 feet away on an old $20 Radio Shack microphone they found in a box in the basement. It sounds like that. But yeah, I love it. The band won’t tell us which side is which, so I had to guess. One side has a higher muck quotient than the other so I’m proclaiming that to be Side B (“Swallowed in Muck”.)

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