Among the many lessons and observations from this overwhelming pandemic is that musicians need as many outlets as possible to perform. Every setting is a game. Driveways and parks, street corners and backyards can all serve as meeting places, especially when the weather turns mild. New indoor venues are equally essential, and a slew of shows in unexpected locations around the city testify to the continued search for concert options.
Best known for his all-encompassing stylistic approach to the accordion, Sam Reider celebrates the release of his stunning new solo piano album Petrichor Sunday afternoon at the Berkeley Piano Club, the Southside performance space that doesn’t often host jazz gigs. A San Francisco native who returned from New York City shortly before the pandemic to earn a graduate degree in composition at San Francisco State, Reider decided to document some of the new music he had written.
“I wanted to do something to showcase my piano playing, something that I didn’t bring to the fore and felt underrepresented,” he said.
Reider performed internationally on State Department-sponsored tours with the New York-based Silver City Band, which also included Berkeley-raised bassist Noah Garabedian. While the musicians were all steeped in jazz, Silver City created a sound equally influenced by folk rock and western swing, as well as folk styles encountered while traveling through Asia. Mentored by French composer and horn player David Amram, whose career includes recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, Langston Hughes, Pete Seeger and Leonard Bernstein, the band absorbed new sounds with each new musical assignment.
Reider brings a similar sensibility to his band Human Hands and his solo piano works. The new album “is more in the jazz world,” he said. “Half is composed and the other half is more improvisational. I wanted to do something with those contrasts. Reider performs an entirely different program on August 20 at the Red poppy art house with Venezuelan cuatro master Jorge Glem.
Vividly evocative, Reider’s solo piano music reflects his ears wide open. His elegiac piece “Emahoy” was inspired by the extraordinary Ethiopian pianist and composer Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. The title track was inspired by a West African balafon player he often met in Grand Central Station late at night, “playing these amazing ostinatos and singing,” he said.
“I would take out my accordion and try to jam with him, which was tricky because his balafon was tuned in F sharp, which is a difficult key for the accordion. But I love this music, and I had an ostinato idea inspired by him. I love some of Keith Jarrett’s ostinato-based improvised solo piano music and have tried for years with varying effects. I decided it deserved to be composed more, to make it something more than a jam.
A jazz piano recital at the Berkeley Piano Club is not very long, but the Outsound New Music Summit at the Berkeley Finnish Hall requires some explanation. From July 29 to August 29. 1, the festival brings together many of the region’s most daring musical explorers, beginning Friday with the double bill of ROVA Saxophone Quartet and trombonist Rob Ewing’s Long Tone Sally, an experimental trombone choir that includes Adam Theis, CL Behrens, John Gove, Jon Hatamiya, Jonathan Seiberlich, Marty Wehner, Patrick Malabuyo, Scott Larson, Spencer Sussman, Wayne Wallace, Will Shannon, and Berkeley High alum Danny Lubin-Laden.
Saturday’s doubleheader features percussion duo Karen Stackpool and Krys Bobrowskion gongs and Gliss Glass (an instrument he invented consisting of water-filled glass containers mounted on telescopic stands and interconnected with tubes and valves) , and the multi-directional quartet of Alexandra Buschman-Román, David Lim, Danishta Rivero and Ven Voisey performing Voisey’s “Scaffold”. Sunday’s program includes TD Skatchit & Company celebrating the memory and legacy of the instrument builder and new music catalyst Tom Nunn and multi-instrumentalist David Leikam’s psychedelic jazz quartet zBug.
The festival closes Monday with a wild and woolly double bill featuring Oakland art-punk deathrock band Moira Scar with the Tri-Cornered Tent Show, an edgy power trio featuring electric bassist Ray Schaeffer, drummer Anthony Flores and Philip Everett in electric lapharp. and xlarinet.
Improvised music has found its place in Finnish room thanks in large part to the efforts of Richmond Rent saxophonist Romus, founder of Edgetone Records and a composer deeply inspired by the folklore and music of his Finnish roots. He has performed his epic suite “Manala” several times at Kavela Hall with his Life’s Blood Ensemble, which includes several musicians playing in other Outsound ensembles.
The fact that the city has two Finnish halls speaks to the outsized role the Finnish community played in Berkeley in the early decades of the 20th century, when the area surrounding the intersection of the university and San Pablo was known as Finntown. The community included several Lutheran churches, saloons, cooperative grocery stores and the sadly closed Red Finn Room on 10th Street (which was built by the radical Finnish Comrades Association and served as a community center for all Berkeley residents after its completion in 1909).
With political divisions exacerbated by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which led to Finnish independence, the Finnish community split and a second Finnish hall was built in the mid-1930s on Chestnut Streetwhere the concert takes place on Saturday.
It’s not particularly shocking to find music in an amphitheater, but Bruns, the beautiful outdoor venue in the Berkeley Hills, is known as the home of Cal Shakes. Building on last year’s inaugural music lineup by Berkeley paper moon present, this summer’s three-night tour kicks off Friday with Berkeley’s Destani Wolf opening for pioneering Asian-American MC Lyrics Born. The series also features Brett Dennen with Megan Jacob on Saturday and String Summit Sunday mandolin legend Sam Bush, AJ Lee and Blue Summit, Tony Furtado and others.
A powerful singer and songwriter, she is joined by keyboardist Kevin Wong, bassist Uriah Duffy, guitarist Sam Wright and Booker T Jones drummer Darian Gray. Wolf plans to share several new songs and spread the dynamic energy that runs through his music.
“It’s an opportunity to share the joy and togetherness that are so needed in these times,” she said. “This pandemic continues to be ongoing and it is taking its toll on all of us. I want to connect with people so that we really feel that we are not alone.
No forum is better designed to create an instant sense of community than the weekly Circlesongs sessions at Freight & Salvage. Wolf is also part of Bobby McFerrin’s new vocal ensemble, Motion, which performs every Monday, inviting participants to add their voices and launch new improvisations. While McFerrin’s delicate health means he’s not always able to join the proceedings, the group with Wolf, Bryan Dyer, David Worm and Tammi Brown creates a powerful communion as a quartet. There are a few sessions left before the Circlesong School take it back place from August 15 to 19.
A Berkeley resident since 1996, Los Angeles native Andrew Gilbert is a longtime arts and culture journalist who has been contributing to Berkeleyside since 2011.