Saturday, May 31, 2008


After the last month of incredible shows away from home, it feels strangely prosaic to see gigs in my own city again. I recognize all the signs of PCD (post-concert depression), but if any performer can light a fire under me, it's Nels Cline in yet another inimitable combination.

Rova/Nels Cline Celestial Septet, Yoshi's, May 28, 2008: I first heard of Yoshi's while in college at Berkeley. At the time, it was that cool little club over in Rockridge. Since then, it's moved at least once, and now it's anchoring the Fillmore revival. The cousin and I have eyed the spot since it's opened, and there was no doubt who'd be the catalyst that brought me to the space.

The cousin's attendance had other benefits as well. For one thing, she's an actual musician; also, she's logged many nights at jazz clubs. Thus, she was probably more excited than me to see this show, and she filled me in on some of the more technical details of the night, such as what each of the several saxophones onstage could do. (Lesson learned: So that's what Lisa Simpson plays!)

I'm going to try to keep this short before I make a mockery of music blogging in general, but here's a cursory rundown: The familiar trio of Nels Cline, Scott Amendola, and Devin Hoff came together with the Rova Saxophone Quartet to form--drumroll, please--the Celestial Septet.

They started off with a Scott Amendola composition and worked their way through several numbers written by the very musicians onstage. The performance culminated in an as-yet-untitled Nels Cline work, before closing with a John Coltrane piece.

Blogs are all about biases, so it should come as no surprise to learn that my favorite segment was Nels's song. About halfway through this number, things got really interesting, when the group ceded the floor to Scott Amendola and his percussion solo. During this segment, the horn players started dispersing, with one member leaving the stage altogether. This fellow would, in fact, make his way around the room, piping up from time to time, until he rejoined the rest of the saxophonists in front of Scott, the four of them squawking like a gaggle of geese.

The saxophonists, I noticed, took on the role that Nels would normally play in his songs; that is, they offered the discordant and contrary notes that Nels often provides. As a guitarist, Nels's contributions were less prominent, though to his credit, he kept busy directing the others through the course of the song.

After Nels's composition, the Coltrane piece felt almost traditional. Nonetheless, it was a gorgeous reminder of the group's roots and inspiration, especially in contrast to the septet's envelope-stretching excursions.

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