Musical Favorites of 2013

by E. "Doc" Smith on December 20, 2013

We’ve seen some exciting music come through San Francisco in 2013; too many to name in this space in fact. Sadly, we’ve also lost many musical greats, and yet we continue to see and hear some new music emerge, thrilling audiences worldwide, and making spirits dance. Here’s a list of some of my personal favorites and musical moments…

10. SFJazz Center Opens
San Francisco’s newest venue, located on Franklin near City Hall, is the SFJazz Center which opened on January 23rd with “a star-filled line up “consecrating” the stage of the Robert N. Miner Auditorium.” Hosted by Bill Cosby, the concert included pianists McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, saxophonist and long time SFJazz Collective alum Joshua Redman, legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, Esperanza Spalding, Mary Stallings, John Handy, Pete Escovedo, the SFJazz Collective, and the new SFJazz Center Resident Artistic Directors Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, John Santos and Miguel Zenón amongst other special guests. I saw two fantastic shows there, Hiromi with Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips, and later Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana’s “Mehliana”.

As happy as I was to see the SFJazz Center open, we also saw the closing a few local jazz haunts: Rasselas and Savannah Jazz Clubs. Yoshi’s SF and Oakland’s Duende and the Sound Room continue to feature great, local jazz talent like Lisa Engleken, Matt Swindells, Steve McQuarry, Edo Castro, Niels Myrner, Michael LaMacchia, Pc Munoz, Andre Custodio, and Bishu Chatterjee just to name a few.

9. Trilok Gurtu’s “Spellbound”
Describing this latest release, Gurtu’s website actually provides the best insight, stating, “Two short snippets recorded live by Trilok Gurtu and Don Cherry, bookend the album “Spellbound”: a 33-second improvisation in a duo with Cherry on trumpet and Trilok Gurtu, who can be heard on the drum set especially converted and modified for his needs, forms the start of the new CD by the Indian percussionist, while a brief “Thank you, thank you very much” from Cherry for the applause of the audience closes the album. Trilok’s last Bay area appearance was at Stern Grove, where he put on a wonderful show.

8. Billy Martin and Wil Blade’s “Shimmy”
Drummer Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin and Wood and up and coming organist Wil Blades come together for a new duo project. After two highly successful shows in San Francisco and New Orleans, Martin and Blades are taking the show on the road. The duo’s music is at once danceable and highly improvisational. This duo rolled through town and rocked the Boom Boom Room, later adding a horn section. Great album and a great show.

7. The 12th Annual Outsound New Music Summit
Every year, the Outsound New Music Summit showcases some of the most innovative and pioneering new music that is happening in California and beyond, and it gets better every year. Rent Romus’ Lords of the Outlands, with special guests Hasan Abdur-Razzaq and LA Jenkins kicked off just one of the fabulous evenings; followed by Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large and Kyle Bruckman’s incredible “Wrack”.

6. Sussan Deyhim at Yoshi’s SF
“Sussan Deyhim is a fascinating original voice in music and the arts. Her rich and complex vocals are warm, beautifully sung, and always surprising. I’m proud that she is and has been a member of our ‘Voicestra’ for many years.” – Bobby McFerrin. On a Sunday night last October Sussan brought her incredible voice and trio to Yoshi’s on Fillmore in San Francisco for what was a truly fantastic show.

5. Mehliana at the Independent
As I wrote in a previous column, there have been a few notable jazz-rock duos featuring piano/synthesizer and drums over the last few decades; Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul and Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu’s “Orient Express”; Drummer Bill Bruford’s duets with Patrick Moraz, and later Michiel Bortslap, (Bruford would also record and perform simultaneously with six pianists in Colin Riley’s Piano Circus!); Happy the Man and Camel’s Kit Watkins and Coco Roussel; Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, to name but a few.

Following in their footsteps comes “Mehliana”, (an amalgamation of their names), featuring keyboardist Brad Mehldau; a fabulous player well known by fans of guitarist Pat Metheny, and drummer Mark Guiliana, who like Russo and drumming legend David Van Tiegham before them, hails from NYC’s cauldron of forward thinking percussionists. Mehliana returned to San Francisco at the Independent on Divisadero, and followed up their amazing SF Jazz Center last April, with yet another fantastic show.

4. Ann Dyer’s “Vak” at Yerba Buena Gardens
Inspired by the ancient Indian goddess Vak, who creates the world through sound vibration, Vak: Song of Becoming calls on ancient yoga philosophies to create an immersive sonic experience. The new work, commissioned by YBCA, comes out of a period in which Dyer withdrew from a successful recording and performing career as a jazz vocalist to explore her personal relationship to voice and self through the study of Indian sound practices. In the piece, Dyer experiments with these ancient principles in a new, contemporary context, creating a monumental work at a new intersection of art and mindfulness…” Dyer brought “Vak” to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and left me completely blown away. The choreography, music and performers were like nothing I had ever seen before. Breathtaking and one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

3. “OoN – The BassOoN – Bass Duo”
“Bass and bassoon are not your usual musical duo partners. But when Paul Hanson and Ariane Cap met and talked about how they have both been using their instruments beyond their traditional roles, they felt an immediate kinship on so many levels. They agreed that what matters most is the music and not the ‘tool’. They could relate how one could just fall in love with a sound. They understood the challenge and joy of hearing something inside and bending the instrument beyond its intended techniques to create new sounds. This amazing duo also just released their fantastic debut album, and I’ll be reviewing it in detail in 2014.

2. Stick Men
“Stick Men is a rock trio like no other. Playing instruments not seen or heard every day, and writing captivating, challenging music, they embody the tradition of progressive rock and created by musicians with extensive experience playing together. Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin are the rhythm section of the legendary band King Crimson. Mastelotto is in demand all over the world as the premier drummer for progressive rock. Levin plays an unusual instrument — the 12 string Chapman Stick — in Crimson, with Peter Gabriel and others. Markus Reuter is a composer/guitarist who designs and plays his own unique touch style guitar.

Their newest and best work yet, DEEP features heavy rock pieces “Concussion”, “Horatio”, the 11 min. tone poem “Whale Watch” and the musically amusing “Nude Descending Staircase.” Mixed by Machine (producer for King Crimson, Clutch, Lamb of God), this is a must have for King Crimson and Progressive Rock fans…” Stick Men rolled into the Regency on Van Ness awhile back, (along with Arian Belew’s Power Trio), and the “double trio” finale rocked the house.

1. Richie Havens, George Duke, Donald Blackman, Lou Reed, and Bobby Parker
Lastly, a nod to a few of the great musicians I’ve known or seen, who have moved on this year; Richie Havens, George Duke, Donald Blackman, Lou Reed, and Bobby Parker to name only a few. True musical giants whose like we’ll never see again. As I wrote previously, “I will leave you with my favorite tune by Duke of the era, from his album, “The Aura Will Prevail”; the aptly named “For Love, I Come Your Friend”, by the late great George Duke.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment