San Dieguito River, hitching on trucks, waterless in Borrego, escape from Vietnam, Devil's Peak in Baja, accident in Baja, wild horses of Coyote Canyon
8:30 a.m., June 17
Last night's double-concert at UCSD's Loft, featuring KaiBorg (Jeff Kaiser: trumpet/electronics; David Borgo: winds/electronics) and the very popular Marco Benevento Trio (Benevento: piano; Reed Mathis: electric bass; Andrew Borger: drums), combined two drastically differing aesthetics.
UCSD has a long, and admirable tradition of pairing up wildly different artists for these concerts. In addition to the stylistic divide, the headliner is usually much more well known, with a built-in following. The idea, I guess, is to expose some very serious musicians to a wider audience. That part of the concert went very well.
This duo is firmly committed to a total improvising mission that blends acoustic instruments with many computer generated electronic sounds into a chaotic collage that deals with sound itself as an instant compositional landscape. They don't shy away from using sound as a weapon, either, as those close to the speakers would find.
The concert began with Kaiser drumming his fingertips on the three valves of his trumpet, which was almost swallowing his microphone. These sounds went into his laptop and a myriad of effects. What came out of the speakers was a skittering percussive effect that sounded like a drum & bugle band falling down a long staircase. Borgo joined in on a series of exotic end-blown instruments also processed through a computer and manipulated through a long pedalboard, which made it look like he was performing some sort of minimalist "line dance" with himself. Kaiser blew streams of pure air through his horn which morphed into the sounds of a rioting crowd ricocheting around the room. Borgo picked up his soprano saxophone and began a long series squeaks and squawks powered by circular breathing. Kaiser stuck a Harmon mute into his horn and doubled and tripled himself into a trumpet choir that was too ethereal to last long. It didn't. He removed the trumpet and started chanting like a stuttering monk in an apocalyptic monastery. Borgo stuck a trumpet mouthpiece into his soprano for an effect that sounded like a popcorn popper having a seizure, while Kaiser growled, barked and made truly obscene vocalizations into the microphone. Kaiser trapped some water from a bottle inside his trumpet and activated loops of liquid percussion into the ether. Borgo stepped up for a true soprano solo that began with pure tones locked in a series of trills that eventually became so constricted that it ended up sounding like an asthmatic dog with a squeak-toy stuck in his throat. Kaiser created walls and waves of white noise distortion so violent in their delivery that several of the people sitting next to the stage actually stuck their fingers in their ears. Two people left altogether, never to return. Eventually, it all started to fade down, and the remarkable 45 minute adventure was over, drawing something more than a "smattering" of applause, but something less than a ovation.
Anyway you looked at it, that would be a hard act to follow. I must mention at this point that my response was definitely a minority opinion.
Marco Benevento Trio.
The band was announced to wild applause. Benevento began with a gospel-ish piano vamp that briefly evoked the sound of Keith Jarrett's early '70s work, but that connection was severed when he transformed his grand piano sound into a gigantic tremolo machine over Mathis' bass lines and the thundering backbeat of Borger. Mathis played a good deal of the night with a pick, which made his sound very thin, in my opinion, and he relied on the use of a distortion pedal enough to make me think he was auditioning for a spot in Black Sabbath.
This was really more of a "rock-instrumental-trio" than it was a jazz experience. That was clearly what they were going for, and the crowd was totally into it. People were bobbing their heads to the music, and they clapped enthusiastically to every move Benevento made.
The pianist altered his tone again during the second piece to something that sounded like multiple steel drums — he did some very creative things with electronics throughout, and there's no denying that he's got a lot of chops.
To me, the main star of Benevento's set was the drummer, Borger. He consistently pounded out wicked grooves — sort of like a rock and roll Jack DeJohnette, but sitting in the first row, he was a little too loud for my taste.
Most of the tunes that night took on the aura of "anthem-rock", with huge drumbeats and hummable melodies — the improvising, though, was kept to a minimum.
At my table were two younger friends who seemed to relate to all of this with much more enthusiasm. I was informed that one of the tunes was a cover of "Heartbeats," by the Knife, played with a semi-reggae groove that flowed nicely. Then Benevento, who seems like a really affable fellow announced to much fanfare that he was about to play his "hit", a song he called "The Real Morning Party," which sounded kind of like a jam-band covering a Tijuana Brass piece.
They brought David Borgo back to sit in on a cover of Deerhoof's "Twin Killers," and that was a nice touch. Borgo can play in any style, and his contribution elevates any musical situation.
So, there was something for everyone. KaiBorg may have picked up a few new fans, and Marco Benevento definitely gave his fans something to cheer for. For me, KaiBorg was very hard to improve on, but maybe that's just me.
Photo of KaiBorg by Chad Fox