Welcome to SFCV’s 2020 year-end roundup of recordings released this year by local artists. Every year we’re amazed at the musical riches in our own back yard, and this year more so than ever. Despite the strictures of the lockdown, artists managed to create a lot of brand-new music and find creative ways to record it, while many organizations scoured their archives for great, unreleased music that deserved a fresh release.
Our list isn’t limited to classical music: We have a little bit of everything to offer. We can’t claim that our roster is comprehensive, but we tried to provide a solid sample of the area’s musical wealth. There is so much great music here that we aren’t able to hear or review over the year, and this is one way for us to catch up.
We offer this listing with no editorializing or reviews: Blurbs are drawn primarily from artist and label promotional materials. Album titles and cover images are linked to sites with more information and purchasing options. We hope you find something new and interesting as you peruse the listing. Take a chance and enjoy the diversity of sounds available here. Visit us on Facebook to add your comments and suggestions, and please share this with your musical friends.
Sonoma-based composer Mark Abel’s fifth album for the Delos label presents three chamber works and a cycle setting verses of the powerful and tragic Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, for the first time in English translation. Chamber luminaries David Shifrin, Fred Sherry and Carol Rosenberger deliver Abel’s Clarinet Trio and Intuition’s Dance, while violinist Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker and pianist Dominic Cheli collaborate on The Elastic Hours. Grammy-winning soprano Hila Plitmann is front and center on the Four Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. Gramophone observed: “The songs take full advantage of Plitmann’s wondrous voice, which gleams in all registers, especially when she picks out notes in the stratosphere. Her attention to meaning suffuses every phrase.”
Trio for Violin, Piano and Percussion is a prime example of the largely self-taught composer’s later works, in which he moved away from open forms and graphic notations towards an approach, while not exactly traditional, could be communicated in traditional notation. The latter approach provides the composer more direct control of the music and more defined formal qualities. Shere makes the best use of such an exemplary ensemble, crafting a statement that sounds fresh even nearly a quarter century after its debut. This Trio is an outlier in Shere’s body of work. The music is gestural and dreamlike, tangential to the work of Shere’s close friend Lou Harrison or even Claude Debussy — a cool evening breeze through a window. The work is something of an overview of Shere’s aesthetic ancestors, even opening with an unmistakable quote from the music of another personal friend, Virgil Thomson.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV Review: Berkeley vocalist Jeff Weinmann has spearheaded the project Alma Matters for the past decade, corralling a talent-laden circle of friends into the studio for recording sessions resulting in an excellent eponymous album and numerous videos. Recorded just before the shelter in place order, the latest release is “Hole in the Sky,” a song composed by Brazilian-born guitarist Ian Faquini with lyrics and arrangement by Natalie Cressman (who contributes vocals and the trombone solo). Inspired by the experience of the Northern California wildfires, it’s a timely anthem about maintaining hope in the face of natural disasters. The piece includes the usual impressive Alma Matters crew, with tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, trombonist Jeff Cressman, and bassist Steve Hogan, as well Brazilian percussionist Douglas Alonso. The video stars Vanessa Isaac, a Brazilian actress, singer, dancer, choreographer, dance instructor, and writer.
This soothing compilation of serenely beautiful music by Bach, Corelli, and Handel is the sonic equivalent of a weekend at a spa. Whether you listen to this album as comfortable background music, for unwinding and meditation, or even to lull you into peaceful calm, this selection from ten ABS recordings is likely to become an instant favorite. Featured solo performers include cellists Elisabeth Le Guin & Tanya Tomkins; flutist Sandra Miller; harpsichordists John Butt & Michael Sponseller; oboist John Abberger; recorder players Aldo Abreu, Dan Laurin, Judith Linsenberg, and Hanneke van Proosdij; viola da gambists Mary Springfels & Brent Wissick; violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock, Katherine Kyme, & Elizabeth Wallfisch; violists Anthony Martin & Elly Winer; violone player Steven Lehning; and vocalists Ian Howell, Judith Malafronte, and William Sharp.
Two new remote recording works by Alameda-based composer Brian Baumbusch will be highlighted on an upcoming album release by Other Minds, scheduled for release December 18, 2020 (details pending). Commissioned by the University of California Santa Cruz Wind Ensemble, Isotropes was written in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and consists of a sequence of varied musical fragments chosen and recorded by each participating musician from their respective homes during quarantine. Together, these fragmented recordings combine to create an ambitious 25-minute work for large ensemble. Also featured on the album is Tides, a piece commissioned by the Creative Work Fund in collaboration with video artist Ian Winters and recorded remotely in lockdown following the cancellation of its March live premiere.
San Francisco drummer Brian Andres previously released three albums with his Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel octet. The Mayan Suite is his first with Trio Latino, featuring pianist Christian Tumalan (co-leader of Grammy-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra) and bassist Aaron Germain. Repertoire includes originals (by Tumalan, Germain), tunes by Chick Corea and Mike Mainieri, and a pair of standards; the album's centerpiece is the title track, a five-part series of hard-grooving miniatures that packs fully realized statements as well as satisfying improvisation into a remarkable seven-and-a-half-minute journey.
Broadway by the Bay ends the year by releasing Home, Hope & Holidays, a holiday musical celebration recorded by its alumni artists. The album features 21 seasonal favorites, sung by over 65 alumni artists and musicians. The album was recorded completely remotely from the artists’ homes, and mixed remotely, to ensure adherence to the local health department protocols. The result is a truly inspiring and joyous collection of holiday music that embodies the artistry, generosity, and collaboration that are the hallmarks of Broadway by the Bay.
Henry Hadley, the San Francisco Symphony’s first conductor, was one of the most popular composers of the early 20th Century. Unfortunately, his works have since be largely forgotten, but it certainly is not because of any lack of quality of the work. These are wonderful pieces that hopefully will now again get at least of bit of the recognition that they deserve, with sensitive performances by Theodore Buchholz, cello, and Paula Fan, piano. Theodore Buchholz, who studied at the SF Conservatory of Music, is the cello professor at the University of Arizona, where he also serves as string area coordinator, string chamber music coordinator, and the director of the UA String Project. As a performer, Theodore Buchholz has been lauded by newspaper critics as a virtuosic cellist with a warm beautiful sound. He has performed in prominent venues from New Yorks Lincoln Center to international halls in Italy and Tokyo, and in countless venues across the United States. He toured the recently commissioned concerto The High Songs by Carter Pann, and performed Brahms’s Double Concerto and Beethovens Triple Concerto with orchestras across the U.S.
The characteristically rich and varied program of Chanticleer Sings Christmas, Chanticleer’s eighth Christmas album, embraces traditional carols and gospel numbers, plainsong, European and Mexican music of the 16th and 17th centuries, and composers and arrangers of the present day. The featured carols have their roots in the U.S.A., Quebec, Germany, Spain, and South America. Among the composers are Praetorius, Victoria, Hassler, Byrd, Manchicourt, and the contemporary Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Steven Sametz. and Rosephanye Powell.
Classically trained pianist, MC, producer, and bandleader Kev Choice wears many hats, and all of them fit. Blessed with prodigious talent, plus the skill and dedication to his craft to pull it off, the Oakland-based artist is redefining what it means to be a musician in this day and age. The artist was in the middle of recording another project when the pandemic hit and lockdown sidelined that album. In response, Choice composed and recorded this release in just two weeks. Our reviewer wrote, Choice’s achievement on his new album Social Distancing is remarkable. Released via Bandcamp on April 10, it’s an album that isn’t so much ripped from the headlines as reported from the midst of the SIP pressure cooker ... Aside from the speed and the quality of the production, what’s most impressive about Social Distancing is the way in which Choice managed to manifest such a vital community in a moment of extreme isolation.”
Slow & Steady Records and Jazz Mafia announce the co-release of genre-bending chamber ensemble Cosa Nostra Strings self-titled debut album, Cosa Nostra Strings. A fitting Mafia-nod to the Sicilian crime syndicate, and translated as “our thing,” Cosa Nostra is a band of musical misfits who find common ground between classical and chamber music, metal, hip hop, R&B, jazz, drum & bass and EDM. Featuring a cadre of superlative musicians including violinist Shaina Evoniuk, violist/vocalist Keith Lawrence, cellist Lewis Pazner, multi-percussionist Aaron Kierbel, and bassist/trombonist Adam Theis, the music showcases pretty much everything a string band can do. “Through the recording process, the band's sound really evolved into something much more cohesive than ever before,” notes Evoniuk. “Sort of like a trip around the world, landing you, in the end, at home.”
Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band
This is Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band's sophomore CD, enclosed in a 6-panel cover, filled with photos and musings from the band. This CD, a labor of love, was produced by David Grisman banjoist Keith Little, and engineered and mastered at Opus Studios in Berkeley, CA. The band comprises Teo Quale, mandolin and vocals; Miles Quale, fiddle and vocals; Andrew Osborn, bass and vocals; and John Gooding, guitar and vocals. Featured guest artists are mandolinist Sharon Gilchrist, fiddler Chad Manning, and Keith Little on banjo.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: Producer, drummer, songwriter and vocalist Dame Drummer is a vital force on the East Bay’s black music scene who’s contributed to some of the most interesting recent recordings drawing on R&B, jazz and hip hop (like keyboardist Kev Choice’s recent album Social Distancing). His new five-track project Aye Yai Yai is a sleek, bracing and quietly raging session that seems like a direct response to the racist confrontations and police abuse playing out on our streets and public spaces. Whether he’s capturing the demise of a relationship in “Burn It Down” or calmly painting a turn-the-tables racial revenge fantasy on “Get What You Gave,” Drummer delivers seductive, resolutely cool beats.
The duo started collaborating in loose ensembles with other artists in the Bay Area, but their more focused creative efforts didn’t begin to take shape until they were invited by composer Chris Brown to record a piece for a curated series at San Francisco’s Center for New Music. Sally’s homemade network of electronic feedback loops and oscillators presented a natural counterpoint to Brendan’s infatuation with organs and slow, open melodies; but they hadn’t ever spent time formally integrating these constituent components.
A musical reflection on social justice, progress and equality from Lara Downes and friends. In this time of global unrest and upheaval, Downes turns to freedom songs and spirituals that invoke our human capacity for optimism, activism, and unification in the face of crisis. In Downes’s words: “We are strong. We are resourceful. We have come through darkness into light, over and over again. Let’s lean on our ancestors and the lessons they have taught us about hope, courage, and above all unity.” Read our story about the recording.
The third album by late-blooming Sacramento jazz vocalist is a collection of smart new songs by the late-blooming Dutch-born, Oakland-based composer Martine Tabilio, arranged by Jacam Manricks and featuring pianist Joe Gilman, bassist Matt Robinson, and drummer Rick Lotter . Duncan was primed early on for a career as jazz singer (including serious study with noted Oakland vocal teacher Judy Davis) when she developed vocal nodes. She transitioned to a career in broadcasting and now works as a substitute host for Capital Public Radio’s current affairs show Insight. Her return to music dates back to a 50th-birthday party performance, after which Duncan committed to developing her own repertoire and releasing albums in 2005 and 2012.
Ensemble for These Times’s third recording, Once/Memory/Night: Paul Celan, continues the group’s exploration of poetry and music by Holocaust artists, in honor of the centennial of seminal 20th-century poet Paul Celan (1920-1970), whose work speaks to his experiences of loss, disempowerment, and survival under a brutal regime. The recording features four premiere recordings: Die eichne Tü” (The oaken door, 2017), by E4TT composer and co-founder David Garner to texts by Paul Celan, including “Espenbaum” (Aspen tree), the poet’s heartrending reflection on his survival and his mother’s death; Nachtlang (Nightlong, 2017) by Jared Redmond,” also to poems by Celan; A Song on the End of the World (2018) by Stephen Eddins, to a text by Czeslaw Milosz; and 4 ½: A Piano Suite (2016) by Libby Larsen.
Evie Ladin Band
The Evie Ladin Band’s banjo-centric, old-time sound is a flexible vehicle for both Ladin’s well-honed originals and traditional Appalachian dance tunes, ballads, and songs, but Ladin along with bass player Keith Terry and guitarist Erik Pearson are all versed in a world of music and rhythms, and their ears are all wide open. It comes as no surprise, then, that the supple ensemble decided to include some material from more mainstream sources on its latest outing. Leading off with Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” they ramble through Des’ree’s “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser,” explore the Grateful Dead’s “Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo,” engage in a few serious mashups of traditional tunes and more modern strains, and end up with Janelle Monae’s bouncy “Tightrope.”
Marla Fibish is one of the prominent voices of the mandolin in Irish music. She brings a deep and distinctive sensibility to the tradition on one of its lesser-heard instruments. Marla also plays mandola, tenor guitar and button accordion, and is a first-rate singer and a composer. She is known for her musical settings of works from a variety of poets, as well as original tunes written in traditional forms. Her latest recording is an intimate album of mostly solo and duo interpretations of mostly Irish music on mandolin and mandola, with brilliant guest performances from Martin Hayes, Keith Murphy, Steve Baughman, Bruce Victor and Rebecca Richman, beautifully mixed and mastered by Sean Keegan.
FivePlay creates original music that nourishes mind and heart. Their unique style speaks to a wide audience, from savvy listeners to those hearing jazz for the first time. FivePlay’s repertoire ranges from burning post-bop, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian grooves to music set to poetry, atmospheric ballads, and extended, unusual compositions. Co-led by husband and wife team guitarist/composer Tony Corman and pianist/composer Laura Klein, the members of FivePlay are long-time musical associates who have played together in numerous and varied settings. On this album, the band is joined by flutes, a vocal choir, and the sultry vocals of the wonderful jazz singer Clairdee on the title ballad. Nine originals, many recorded at the legendary Fantasy Studio, in homage to the joy, romanticism, and serenity of summer.
In 1982, Bill Fontana mounted a monumental outdoor sound installation called Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns that would near-impossible to realize today. Live audio feeds from eight foghorns around the San Francisco Bay were routed to a central listening arena on city’s waterfront at Fort Mason. As a pioneer in the developing field of Sound Art, Fontana’s fusion of sound and sculpture was virtually unheard of, much less on the region-encompassing scale that he was working with for Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns. A document of the installation was released as an LP by San Francisco radio station KQED, which has since become a sought-after collectors’ item.
A love letter to our fragile planet, Rising refers to the increasing water and temperatures that threaten to consume our human settlements and the wilderness around us. It is also a rallying cry to mobilize our community against this catastrophe. This is our planet to love, and our planet to lose. We hope that this album will provide an environment for you to reflect on the power and vulnerability of our planet Earth. Rising features three quartets commissioned by Friction Quartet from composers Alex Van Gils, Max Stoffregen, and Gabriella Smith. The collection was recorded at the Lincoln Theater in the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center in Yountville, California.
The Galax Quartet (Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson, Baroque violins; Roy Whelden, viola da gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello) is equally at home performing works by 17th- and 18th-century composers as well as cutting edge, newly commissioned works. Joined by guest artist Karen R. Clark (contralto) the Galax Quartet takes us on a traversal of three vivid musical realms. Featured are two world premieres: Dream Drapery “Thoreau Songs” by Joseph Schwantner (Pulitzer Prize for Music, 1979), and Radif IV “Stars of Highest Magnitude” by Robert Morris. Also included is Marc Mellits’s popular String Quartet No. 2 “Revolution” in a new setting.
San Francisco Bay Area fingerstyle guitarists Teja Gerken and Doug Young have performed together for more than a decade. Drawing from their individual catalogs of original compositions, Celtic tunes, arrangements of jazz standards, and the occasional classical piece, Teja and Doug present a varied repertoire. Often using a variety of guitars that may include baritone, metal-bodied resonator, and 12-strings in addition to more standard instruments, the duo takes advantage of a wide tonal palette.
Ben Goldberg’s remarkable musical diary includes fresh entry for nearly every day since the shelter-in-place order was first imposed back in March. Goldberg describes the project: “Like many musicians, when the coronavirus hit in March I lost all my work in a matter of days. I had a complicated schedule for March and April, filled with tours, festivals, and local concerts, and it all evaporated very fast. Along with losing all my paying work, I was left with the question, what about the work of art? Something tells me art will be fine, even though humans are in trouble at the moment. But right now art is precluded from its important work of gathering us together. So musicians are in a weird situation. In the initial shock my thought was, I don't know what to do but I can record music at home. So on March 19, 2020, I began recording a new song every day and posting them to this album. The philosophy is ‘use what you’ve got” (is there ever another option?). For me that means clarinets, a synthesizer I can't figure out, and rudimentary recording ability. Because it's a diary I am trying to use the recording process as a sketchbook, and an opportunity to mess around.” (“Don't forget to mess around.” — Steve Lacy)
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: Featuring the all-star ensemble The Good Life led by Berkeley drummer Scott Amendola, the bristling band includes clarinetist Ben Goldberg, electric bassist Trevor Dunn, and the powerhouse guitar tandem of Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and Wilco’s Nels Cline. Recorded live at the lamented Oakland art space 21Grand and released on Bandcamp as a fundraiser for Food Bank for New York City (Foodbank4NYC), the group explores a vivid palette of densities and textures, with close listening even at its most frisky. The project started as a vehicle for spelunking Ornette Coleman’s volatile oeuvre, but grew to include originals and the amazing opening track, Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry, Want” from his classic 1961 album Fusion. If you contribute $20, the piece is worth the price of admission itself.
Grex is the Oakland-based duo of Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia whose music blends free jazz, noise, and spoken word. From the album Bandcamp page: This whole thing started in a living room in Oakland. Over a decade, half a dozen albums, hundreds of performances, and tens of thousands of miles later, it still feels like yesterday - even though absolutely everything has changed. If you follow the sound, you’ll know what we mean. It’s been an absolute pleasure; as our hero and friend Louis Moholo-Moholo says, “You don’t have to love us … we love you.”
Matthew Charles Heulitt is a professional freelance studio guitarist and full-time music teacher. He’s been in the Bay Area for 23 years touring, performing live, and doing clinics. Since the pandemic, he has moved to producing music at home. This is his first release. Heulitt plays guitars and bass, with Frank Briggs on drums.
Matthew Charles Heulitt describe the music on this digital-only release: This song is written to honor the native peoples of the Mount Shasta and southern Oregon area where I have spent much time. There is very little written or known about the peoples who called that spectacular terrain home for thousands of years. It is a profoundly moving and beautiful place. As part of the genocide of native peoples by the American government, the Ka'hosadi were systematically and brutally murdered by American militia and gold seekers. No apology or reparations have been offered to the surviving families by the American government. There has been no acknowledgement of the genocide. Heulitt played the guitars, Terry Branam played drums and percussion, and Dan Feiszli played bass.
Trumpeter/composer Ian Carey has long aimed to blend the swing and virtuosity of jazz with the dense compositional textures of chamber music. After receiving a grant from Chamber Music America to compose a new suite, he chose “anxiety” as his subject — a longtime affliction of his, and entirely prescient given the events of the last several years. (The suite was premiered at SFJAZZ in 2018.) On the new CD, Carey’s fifth as a leader, the Richmond resident is heard with his Quintet+1 (Adam Shulman, piano; Sheldon Brown, bass clarinet; Kasey Knudsen, alto sax; Fred Randolph, bass; Jon Arkin, drums; and Carey on trumpet).
Here I Stand is the debut album of the award-winning girls’ choir, iSing Silicon Valley. It celebrates iSing’s focus on the power of girls to change the world as they raise their voices in remembrance, strength, and the pure, shared delight of coming together to sing. The album opens with the treble-voice version of Ēriks Ešenvalds’s work for solo voice and chorus, Only in Sleep. It also includes works commissioned by iSing during its first six seasons, with themes ranging from social justice to individual growth and collective power: Never Shall I Forget, Adam Schoenberg’s musical setting of excerpts from Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, Night; Daniel Elder’s arrangements of his commentary on gun violence, 365, and of In Your Light, his musical setting of one of Rumi’s poems.
On his new album Solace, Alam Khan presents three spacious improvisations on the sarod. Recorded live at the Ali Akbar College Of Music, these alaps slowly unfurl to reveal the movements and characteristics of the ragas, and the powerful beauty within. Coming at a time of turmoil for many across the globe, Solace is an opportunity for listeners to embrace a moment of peace and stillness. North Indian classical music is unique for its ability to conjure powerful nuanced emotional experiences, and to allow listeners to access deeply tranquil meditative states in which time seems to stand still.
Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger (Smithsonian Folkways) is a tribute to the music, political philosophy, and social impact of American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger. Commissioned by the FreshGrass Foundation to celebrate Seeger’s centennial birthday in 2019, the songs collected here were debuted in a series of concerts in San Francisco, Barcelona, and other locations, culminating in the world premiere of the full multi-artist program at the 2019 FreshGrass Festival at MASSMoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. Long Time Passing features new arrangements of 13 songs written or popularized by Seeger or his band the Weavers, as well as an original composition titled Storyteller by Jacob Garchik (who also arranged most of the songs) that features archival recordings that were gathered with help from Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center reference archivist Todd Harvey.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV Review: Mumbai-born, South Bay blues vocalist and harp ace Aki Kumar just released a seven-song album Dilruba (Sony) with a series of typically playful videos. The piece below, which was shot in the Utah desert to minimize social contact, is his bluesification of “Aana Mere Pyar Ko,” a 1990s Bollywood hit. Like with Sons of the Soul Revivers, Kumar’s career took off through his Little Village Foundation releases, particularly his mind-bending 2016 breakthrough Aki Goes to Bollywood, which transformed Hindi film themes by setting them to an array of African-American grooves. While Sony is marketing Dilruba as Indian pop, it’s actually a rootsy set inspired by Kumar’s love of early rock ’n’ roll.
Over the past four decades, Laurie Lewis’s name has become synonymous with the West Coast Bluegrass Scene. Her contributions to the genre through recordings, performances, songwriting, and producing have earned her two Grammy nominations, two International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year awards, and deep-seated respect from her peers, inspiring multiple new generations of musicians in the process. On her new album, and Laurie Lewis, she presents a collection of duets, joined by 10 West Coast musicians with whom she has shared touchstone moments throughout her career. With the album’s 13 tracks, Lewis demonstrates her commitment to making music as an act of community building, sharing what she describes as “intimate conversations” with musicians from her past, present, and future.
Classical-guitar virtuoso Yuri Liberzon tackles the challenging Manuel Barrueco transcriptions of the Bach Violin Sonatas. The Six-String Journal wrote about this release in September, “Yuri meets every one of the demands with elegance and finesse, two aspects I admire in his playing. From the opening lushness of the first track, the adagio from the G Minor Sonata, Yuri sets the stage for the entire recording by slowly and calculatedly pulling the listener into a world rich with introspection and beauty. The strengths of this release are many but what perhaps stands out as a theme is how grounded Yuri’s playing is while moving you with a subtle forward momentum.”
A suite of original music for electro-acoustic sextet, inspired by Italo Calvino's stories about the origins of the universe. Mezzacappa describes the inspiration for music: “This set of music is what happened when I let Italo Calvino and his Cosmicomics stories fully inhabit my mind for a year. I found his fictional universe an ideal place to hang out in as a composer—it’s a space of boundless imagination, infinite generative possibility, fierce intellectual curiosity, and just the right amount of irreverence and weirdness to rescue it from being cute. He reminds me over and over again of the wonder and playfulness of the creative act, and I tried to transfer some of the intoxicating energy of his prose to my music, and to how the musicians in the band interact.”
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: San Francisco drummer Lorca Hart teams up with three confederates from his years on the Los Angeles scene on his long awaited second album, a top-notch, post-bop session that swings with fierce conviction. Playing with all the taste and power that Bay Area audiences have come to expect, Hart mostly cedes the foreground to his exemplary bandmates, the highly sought-after pianist Josh Nelson and big-toned bassist Edwin Livingston. But the session’s star is the resurgent tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, a brilliant improviser and major voice who seemed to drop off the scene after his long tenure in the Tonight Show Band. The group plays with unfussy confidence on a strong program that includes originals by all three Angelenos, a sumptuous ballad (“Here’s That Rainy Day”), a tricky Monk tune (“Bye-Ya”) and a post-bop anthem (Joe Henderson’s “Mo’ Joe”).
Australian-born composer, arranger, and multi-reed player Jacam Manricks relocated to Sacramento in 2014 after more than a decade in NYC, where he worked with leading artists like Tyshawn Sorey, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Ben Monder, Gary Versace, and Matt Wilson. He also earned a doctorate in JazzArts from Manhattan School of Music in ’07, a program that allowed him to pursue his love of classical music and cutting-edge jazz. The new album, his seventh, was recorded at his home studio, with Sacramento pianist Joe Gilman and NYC compatriots Clarence Penn, drums, and Matt Penman, bass. Manricks produced, engineered, and mixed the project, which features his original compositions, arrangements, and, on several tracks, string and woodwind orchestrations.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: A scarce presence on the Bay Area scene since taking over the keyboard chair in Santana, Pinole’s David K. Mathews is a veteran jazz, blues, and funk player who has thrived creatively as an accompanist. On this project he turns the spotlight on some of the region’s greatest vocalists, showcasing soul-steeped masters Lady Bianca on Van McCoy’s “Giving Up,” Kenny Washington on Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday,” Tony Lindsay on Donny Hathaway’s “You Had to Know,” and Amikaeyla on Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman, the Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman.” Mathews focuses on undersung masters, but Rock ’n’ Roll Hall-of-Famer Steve Miller also cuts loose on Ray Charles’s “One Mint Julip.”
Norma and Richard Mayer play a fiery brand of chamber music not often associated with their rare musical blend — music for unaccompanied voice and flute. Their operatic arrangements have been acclaimed as a groundbreaking direction in modern music. The compositions on this album are a selection of pieces by Black composers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Will Marion Cook, Nathaniel Dett, Florence B. Price, William Grant Still, Dorothy Rudd Moore, and many more from the Mayer’s repertoire of more than 700 numbers for voice and flute. Norma and Richard have performed to great acclaim from Russia to Germany to France to California, with points in between, with a vast repertoire encompassing early music, classical music, African-American spirituals, show tunes, and jazz.
This is the debut episode of a new digital opera, released as a serial podcast, and created by composer Lisa Mezzacappa and librettist Beth Lisick. They describe the opera’s setup: It’s the early 1980s, and people across the US are connecting online for the first time. Internet service providers are setting up bulletin boards and chatrooms (also called forums, or “bands” after CB radio) for their customers, allowing people to discuss hobbies, politics, work, life and love with like-minded people they might never have met otherwise. Margot gets hired to be the community manager at a new online community. As women in the chatrooms find themselves talked over and preyed upon by men, Joan comes out of her shell and requests a forum for women only. She and Margot emerge as the leaders of a close-knit group of computer-savvy women, and bond over their newfound sense of purpose and possibility.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: Featuring violinist John Ettinger and the potent guitar tandem of John Finkbeiner and Myles Boisen, the East Bay’s Miniwatt String Trio adds a dose of twang to its stripped down take on the hot club sound. Focusing on standards from the 1920s and ’30s (like a jaunty take on Johnny Green’s “Out of Nowhere”) the trio can also turn the Thelonious Monk gem “Hackensack” into perfect fare for a Parisian café. Vocalist Jill Rogers, Boisen’s bandmate in the alt-country outfit Crying Time, contributes on two tracks, bringing the sass on “Frim Fram Sauce,” and the requisite rue on “Foolin’ Myself,” a song indelibly linked to Billie Holiday.
According to Amy X Neuberg, this release is a “mini-magnum opus Entitled offers a breathless onslaught of modern entitlements — from Thai food delivery to NSA spying to preparing for death — all arranged in an ever-evolving dactylic hexameter chorus of 140 vocal tracks. The piece was designed originally for the 140-speaker Cube theater at Virginia Tech University.”
The music Resurrection of Everyday People was originally commissioned in 2019 by David Herrera Performance Company (DHPC) for a full-length dance work created to honor the human experience of devastating loss; it premiered at Z-Space in San Francisco. The collaboration explored the ability of loss to provoke empathy, strength, and resilience. This piece is an electronic work, using samples of live instruments including prepared pipe organ, piano, invented instruments, and found sounds. Nicholson released the music from this project as an album in 2020 with an album release party at Center for New Music on January 19th.
First it was a simple collection of stress-relieving audio tracks — live improvisations performed by Erin Nolan and Donna Stoering, shared with friends who in turn passed it on to others. The feedback was tremendous, so eventually an official CD titled Against the Noise was released in early summer 2020 on the Acis label. The CD unexpectedly was considered for the 2021 Grammy Awards, but the more exciting part was that these specific tracks were found to be neurologically beneficial for COVID-19 patients and others in ICU situations or noisy hospital rooms. Listen For Life is now partnering with major research hospitals in USA and 5 other countries thus far, and your continued support will enable us to donate special mp3 players, preloaded with these beneficially proven music tracks, to ICUs, hospice centers and hospital medical staff throughout the world.
Bay Area musical power couple Isaac Pastor-Chermak, cello, and Alison Lee, piano, team up for their debut album, with sonatas and showpieces by Beethoven (Op.5 No.2), Gershwin (Three Preludes), Schumann (“Fantasy Pieces,” Op.73), and Debussy (Cello Sonata).
The Peninsula Women's Chorus is proud to announce the release in December 2020 of its ninth CD, Women Making Waves, in celebration of the centenary of the 19th Amendment. Our sparkling new recording features the three very special pieces that were commissioned by the PWC for our Trailblazers Project, honoring the achievements of three American women pioneers: abolitionist Harriet Tubman, transgender rights activits Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and women's suffrage leader Alice Paul. Along with Bay Area composer Eric Tuan's brilliant, haunting displacement, the inspiring words of Susan B. Anthony in “Rise Up,” by Jake Runestad, Jocelyn Hagen's thrilling “Moon Goddess,” and more, this is a powerful, beautiful collection that celebrates women — making waves!
George Frideric Handel lavished particular attention on the contralto or mezzo-soprano roles in his operas and oratorios throughout the years. What better way to celebrate the lush arias that Handel composed for his contralto stars than with Avery Amereau, described by The New York Times as “an extraordinary American alto on the rise,” alongside Handelian scholar Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Featuring virtuosic, passionate, stirring arias throughout Handel's composing career from his early Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (1708) to his later Alcina (1735) this recording brings to life the incredible music once sung by Nicolini, Senesino, and Carestini. This debut album by Amereau marks the last recording of Nicholas McGegan at the helm of PBO.
Young David has just slain Goliath, earning him the rapturous admiration of the Israelites and the murderous envy of King Saul. This Biblical tale of love and jealousy, madness and mourning, family feuds and supernatural apparitions inspired one of Handel’s most inventive and popular oratorios. Renowned Handel expert Nic McGegan leads an all-star cast through the full dramatic range from tender lyricism to full-throttle triumph and glory. Read our review.
Since 2015, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale and Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer Caroline Shaw have developed a strong artistic relationship. Alongside Shaw’s first commission for the organization, a song called “Red, Red Rose” composed for the Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, PBO established its New Music for Old Instruments initiative, an effort to commission and perform new works written expressly for period instruments. Subsequently, Shaw wrote two more songs for PBO and von Otter (“And So” and “The Edge”), and in 2019 composed a large-scale oratorio for the Orchestra, Chorale, and soloists Avery Amereau and Dashon Burton titled The Listeners. This CD encompasses PBO’s blossoming relationship with Caroline Shaw, featuring the full collection of PBO/Shaw commissions thus far.
David Rapoport describes the genesis of Andromeda: “In February of 2020, my cat of 17 years, Andromeda, was diagnosed with lung cancer. In March, on the day that Shelter in Place was announced, I had to euthanize her. After her death, I decided to compose a work that would both be a tribute to her memory as well as a vehicle to help me process going through an indeterminate period of isolation without an important companion. The work is in a simple, modified song form. I chose to write for such a large ensemble, rather than a chamber ensemble of some variety, because of the psychological release from a period of isolation that I could cultivate by thinking in terms of the landscapes that an orchestra can create.”
Red Cedar Chamber Music brings Bach's three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba to life in a new arrangement for three players. With violin and cello playing each respective hand of the harpsichord part, this album takes Bach's black and white masterpiece and explodes it into orchestrated technicolor. Red Cedar's core ensemble — violinist Miera Kim and cellist Carey Bostian — is joined by Bay Area guest artist Isaac Pastor-Chermak for this new CD release.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: The latest dispatch from the Life’s Blood Ensemble’s mytho-improvisational realm is another singular musical journey combining the hurly-burly of open-form jazz with folkloric instruments, themes, and rhythmic cycles. Inspired by Finnish mythology and the epic tales of other northern peoples, Finnish-American Rent Romus (alto and soprano saxophones, flute, and Finnish kantele — plucked psaltry) and Finnish-born master Heikki “Mike” Koskinen (e-trumpet, tenor recorder, and kantele) create strikingly vivid, deeply textured music that evokes stark landscapes and heroic deeds. The sprawling ensemble features 11 highly regarded Bay Area musicians who play with keen awareness of each other, particularly the dynamic-minded rhythm section of drummer Tim Orr, vibraphonist Mark Clifford, and bassists Safa Shokrai and Max Judelson. With the great nature-music explorer Cheryl E. Leonard working her sonic magic on various beachcomber objects and Japanese bowl gongs, the music seems to emerge right out of the Finnish soil.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: With contributions by Peter Apfelbaum, Steve Hogan, and Jeff Cressman, there’s a good deal of personnel overlap between Alma Matters and the new album by steel drum player Mark Rosenthal, a musician I wasn’t familiar with before he dropped me a link to his new album Diggin’ In. Add in players like percussionist Ami Molinelli, guitarist John Schott, and saxophonist Larry de la Cruz, and Stephen Kent on didgeridoo and the surfeit of talent is evident. Rosenthal unleashes his collaborators on a diverse and delightful puckish program that ranges from Pharoah Sanders’s celestial jazz hit “The Creator Has A Master Plan” (featuring vocals by Michelle Jacques) and Bob Marley’s “No Trouble” to John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and Billy Cobham’s fusion landmark “Red Baron.” He also tips his hat to his formative Caribbean influences with a graceful version of “Rainorama” by the Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener.
San Francisco Symphony
In celebration of Michael Tilson Thomas’ 25th and final year as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, SFS Media presents the premiere recordings of MTT’s first and most recent compositions for voice and orchestra. MTT’s From the Diary of Anne Frank features narrator Isabel Leonard, while Meditations on Rilke is brought to life by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny. Inspired by and based on the words and compassionate spirit of Anne Frank, From the Diary of Anne Frank opens with a flourish and culminates in a solemn yet hopeful vision for the future. Meditations on Rilke takes listeners on an emotional and evocative journey befitting the lyrical sweep of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony add to their Grammy-winning discography the soulful recording of American composer Aaron Copland’s final and monumental Symphony No. 3. “Like a magician pulling away the curtain for a big reveal,” (San Francisco Chronicle), Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony offer a performance that captures “a powerful degree of ardor, clarity, and expressive integrity.”
Lara Sarkissian is a sound artist, electronic composer, radio DJ and filmmaker born and based in San Francisco, California. Sarkissian’s electronic music weaves experimental approaches, sound collage techniques along with Armenian instrumentation and sampling. According to her, “I was curious about taking elements from Armenian sounds and classical but creating something new that isn’t necessarily nostalgic or looking back, but more so imagining it in current times and future. It’s sort of a reflection of the lived experiences and place I’m in, and the communities I am a part of in San Francisco and Oakland.
“I’ve enjoyed listening to Armenian classical compositions through my mother, and one of my favorite albums she introduced me to is Karine Hovhannisyan’s “Classical Music for the Armenian Kanun” featuring the Armenian State Opera Orchestra. I fell in love with “Adagio” on this album, and how the abrupt and then vanishing kanun brings tension, and kind of suspends you in time. I imagined chopping up parts of the orchestra and kanun, and sampling that tension within bass and modular synth elements, some suspenseful light percussion, to emphasize that feeling even more. I also put parts of the kanun in a guitar amp and pedal plug in for a distorted and vintage sound.”
Sarkissian describes this recording: “I produced part of this song during my artist residency at Les Dominicains de Haute Alsace in France, creating a multichannel soundscape. I used my own field recordings from Geghard Monastery’s choir singing Armenian Chants (Sharakan). Because of the multichannel format, I intended to create a trans-sensorial and immersive environment with the song.”
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: Her love of natural splendor suffuses her ninth release, the two-disc album Data Lords, but this ambitious, bifurcated project takes her 18-piece band into territory where she hasn’t trod before. Half cautionary tale and half rapturous celebration, her message is as blunt and direct as her voicings are shaded and subtle. The first disc, “The Digital World,” explores the damage done by the technological colossi who are shaping the contemporary order (an issue that Schneider has often addressed off the bandstand too, writing essays and articles and testifying before Congress). ... I found the second, “Our Natural World,” more diverse and satisfying, as no one else in jazz builds lapidary passages with Schneider’s patience and attention to detail.
In a world of growing disconnection, master instrumentalists Tristan Scroggins and Alisa Rose provide a touchstone for experiencing the world in the moment. Despite their youth, Scroggins & Rose bring an experienced touch to the worlds of both Western classical and American traditional music that explores the dynamic and emotional capabilities of a string duet. They are part of a new musical movement that seeks to bridge the gap both culturally and musically between classical and folk music. Scroggins, a mandolinst and second-generation bluegrass virtuoso, and Rose, a Grammy-nominated composer and violinist/fiddler, create an inviting musical atmosphere with their thoughtful arrangements and harmonies. From here the listener is taken on a journey away from the familiar as the duo utilize risky improvisation and innovative musical techniques to reimagine both the limits of acoustic music and the boundaries of both bluegrass and classical genres. Read our Artist Spotlight with Alisa Rose.
In 2020, Edward Simon celebrates his illustrious three-decade career in music. During this timespan, the Venezuela-born pianist and composer has led or co-led award-winning ensembles and collaborated with some of today’s most prominent jazz artists, including vocalists Luciana Souza and Gretchen Parlato; Afinidad, the long-running virtuoso quartet featuring David Binney, Scott Colley, and Brian Blade; the acclaimed chamber ensemble Imani Winds; and the all-star SFJAZZ Collective. 25 Years presents Simon’s bespoke overview of his multilayered, innovative work as a pianist and composer. In short, it is a unique way to experience and enjoy Simon's music — a must-have for his fans and the perfect introduction for those not yet familiar with his elegant playing and unique compositional sensibility.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: For sheer soul-powered inspiration, it’s hard to beat Songs We’ll Always Sing: A Tribute to the Pilgrim Jubilees by the Vallejo gospel group The Sons of the Soul Revivers. The old-school Soul Revivers are a family band that found a new audience with the 2017 release of Live! Rancho Nicasio on blues keyboardist Jim Pugh’s nonprofit Little Village Foundation label. Produced by Pugh and San José guitarist Kid Andersen in his invaluable Greaseland Studios, Songs We’ll Always Sing offers another object lesson in the enduring power of the classic gospel quartet sound.
It’s not hard to see why Soul Revivers brothers, James, Dwayne, and Walter Morgan, Jr. are drawn to the Pilgrim Jubilees, a golden age gospel ensemble that’s been around since 1934 and still includes members of cofounder Elgie Graham’s family. The album includes many of the Pilgrim Jubilees’ best-known songs, but you don’t need to be a gospel music aficionado to revel in the Soul Revivers raucous rhythms and ardent harmonizing.
Brooklyn-born, San Francisco-based, Grammy-nominated Jody Stecher has been described as a musician’s musician, and is widely revered as one of the leading artists playing bluegrass, old-time, and other traditional music from around the globe. He is equally adept on the mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar, as well as the Indian sursringar and other instruments. Dreams from the Overlook is his new double CD of songs and tunes he composed or dreamed. On this recording he plays mostly mandolin, but also mandola, guitar, five-string and tenor banjos, and he sings. He is joined on various tracks by his wife Kate Brislin, Tony Trischka and Keith Little on banjos, Chad Manning, Tashina Clarridge, and Tristan Clarridge on fiddles, Ethan Jodziewicz, Paul Knight, and Sharon Gilchrist on bass, Bill Martin on mandolin, and Scott Nygaard on guitar.
These compositions represent composer Ryan Jobes's latest attempt to offer the listener a momentary escape from the uncertainty of the current status quo and provide an excuse to escape into their headphones, stare at the ceiling and drift away from the temporal world — if even for a moment. By highlighting subtle timbral changes in the material, Jobes seeks to guide shifts in perception between consciousness and a dream-like state.
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: There’s a different kind of glory in the music of Oakland bassist Josh Thurston-Milgrom, a well-traveled player who’s been a presence on the Bay Area jazz scene for years. I’ve seen him in a variety of settings, particularly at the Stanford Jazz Festival (where he’s a longtime faculty member at the Workshop). But I was surprised and delighted to find out he’s also a composer with a gift for sumptuous lyricism. His debut album Thirsty Pilgrim Songs (Slow & Steady Records) is full of drama, incident, and counterpoint, starting with the gospel-tinged opening track “Le Petite Mort.”
The stellar cast features players he connected with through the Stanford Jazz Workshop, including tenor sax star Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Mike Olmos (the leader of Club Deluxe’s long-running Monday Night Jam session where Thurston-Milgrom was in the house band). He’s joined in the rhythm section by pianist Malcolm Campbell, a close confederate, and New York drummer Allison Miller, leader of the award-winning band Boom Tic Boom. Keyboardist Adam Shulman, percussionist Josh Jones, guitarist Robert Kirby, and multi-wind player Steven Lugerner (on bass clarinet) also contribute on several tracks.
Mahsa Vahdat is a renowned singer of classical Persian music. In his profile of Vahdat, Andrew Gilbert described her latest release: Her new album, Enlighten the Night, which was released in North America by San Francisco’s Six Degrees Records, reflects her new life in Berkeley. Like many of her previous projects it’s a seamless fabric weaving together her compositions based on classical Persian modes and flowing jazz harmonies created by the Norwegian trio of pianist Tord Gustavsen, bassist Gjermund Silset, and drummer Kenneth Ekornes. For lyrics, she returns to the beloved Persian verse of Rumi, Hafez, Saadi of Shiraz, and Omar Khayyam, while also drawing on essential 20th-century writers like Forough Farrokhzad, Nimā Yushij, and the great poet/painter Mohammad Ebrahim Jafari. The album opens with Jafari’s “The Act of Freedom,” a poem about the power of raising one’s voice.
Included in this album are Stockhausen’s vocal masterpiece, Stimmung, as well as several works influenced by it, such as Our Time and Kontakion for Pascha. Earlier works from Cyril Deaconoff’s output are represented by the String Quartet and No Ladder Needs the Bird.
Our Time for chorus and electronics is driven by the desire to capture modern spirit with its constant forward motion, yet find a moment of reflection in the middle section of the piece. Outer sections also emphasize the broken nature of our world today through the electronic part. Kontakion for Pascha (Easter) represents the meditative and ethnic nature of Eastern Orthodox Christian celebration of this feast. No Ladder Needs the Bird is a movement from cantata Canticles of Love, Despair and Hope. In this movement, Emily Dickinson’s poetry is given a joyful treatment through polytonal orchestral and choral texture.
This is the first duo collaboration in 27 years between critically acclaimed composer/clarinet player Ben Goldberg and prolific drummer Kenny Wollesen (Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Ron Sexsmith, Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, John Lurie, Myra Melford, Steven Bernstein, and John Zorn. He is a founding member of the New Klezmer Trio and a member of the Sex Mob and Himalayas groups.) Clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg has shaped a career through curiosity and experimentation across genres and styles. The New York Times has noted that Goldberg’s music “conveys a feeling of joyous research into the basics of polyphony and collective improvising, the constant usefulness of musicians intuitively coming together and pulling apart.” According to the Bandcamp page for this new release, “Kenny said ‘someone needs to make a record called Music for an Avant-Garde Massage Parlour. So we did.”
From Andrew Gilbert's SFCV review: There’s no surprise about the consistent brilliance of pianist Denny Zeitlin’s new album Live at Mezzrow (Sunnyside). Recorded at the New York piano bar over a two-night run last year when he was 81, the session extends Zeitlin’s late-career creative surge into his ninth decade. When he’s not giving captivating, often thematic solo recitals or creating electro-acoustic soundscapes with percussionist George Marsh, a trio with bass master Buster Williams and drum star Matt Wilson has been his primary vehicle over the past two decades. Given the hectic schedules of his collaborators, Zeitlin doesn’t get the group together often, but when he does, they make it count.