is a blog for musicians and people who care about music. Our focus is jazz, creative music, composition, improvisation, and experimentation. We will be discussing recordings, performances, and the changing world of music.

January 17, 2011

If Anyone is Still Out There...


My long-promised new blog STOMPBEAST is now up and running. Actually, it's been up and running for a few months, but I wanted some time "in the dark" to develop some sort of voice and focus. Since THAT wound up being a washout, we're offering up five months of random introverted excavations for your dining and dancing pleasure: a 13-part deep reading of the Brat Pack flick St. Elmo's Fire, coverage of the 2010 Angel City Jazz Festival,a review of Nels Cline's DIRTY BABY, an essay on Errol Morris and my latest interview with pianist/sound sculpturist Motoko Honda.

June 7, 2010

Adios, Amigos (UPDATED)


Well, pards, it's been three exciting years here at the Beast, but we must be movin' on. We had an awesome time attempting to turn this blog from a de rigueur attempt at self-promotion to something. . .uh, a little bit more than that. Have we succeeded? We have no idea. Oftentimes, it feels like manning a Morse Code substation in the Arctic Circle: ".. ... - .... . .-. . .- -. -.-- -... --- -.. -.-- --- ..- - - .... . .-. . ..--..? .- -. -.-- -... --- -.. -.-- .- - .- .-.. .-.. ..--.. ..--.. ..--..?!?"

At any rate, yours truly is now walking out the door into a scary and frightening world of freelance chaos. I am in the process of (natch) starting my own blog which we be a continuation of my obsessions -- musical, medicinal and otherwise -- that have taken shape over my tenure here at Downbeast.

Anyhoo, we'll let you know when that starts up. In the meantime, much love, respect, and thanks to Cryptogramophone's Fearless Leader JEFF GAUTHIER for letting me go on (and on and on and on) with this lil' bloggy-wog. By far, he's the best boss I've never drawn obscene caricatures of on the bathroom wall. Another shout-out to all of the great musicians who have rolled through the Crypto Head Office and were quite gracious in answering all of my pestering questions. And thanks to y'all for reading!

(POSTSCRIPT: Our friend and L.A. jazz sage Steven L. Isoardi, has just published "The Return of Henry Grimes" his long-awaited account of the remarkable rehabilitation of the former Albert Ayler/Cecil Taylor bassist at the hands of two teeenage jazz enthusiasts. It's a terrific story, and one that has not been told in its entirety -- much less by someone who was actually there to witness it. Congrats, Steve!)

June 3, 2010

CD REVIEW: The Matt Ritvo Group

We here at the Beast don't usually do CD reviews (we overdosed on them in the Nineties and simply ran out of 10-cent adjectives) but we met guitarist/pianist Matt Ritvo at the old Pasadena Jazz Institute space and Mimi Melnick’s Jazz Salon (which, by the way, was just referenced in Rex Butter’s new AAJ profile of another gee-tar guy). Quite honestly, he was so soft-spoken we never would have guessed the guy had assembled a powerhouse L.A. sextet of elder statesmen for his debut CD: Rahmlee Michael Davis (trumpet), Bobby English (tenor sax), Michael Session (tenor sax), Roberto Miguel Miranda (bass) and Woodrow "Sonship" Theus (drums).


The opener, “Dirty Murray,” sets the scene for this understated disc that's ocassionally spiked with spirited intensity. Ritvo's solo piano intro takes its time before unfolding a slo-drag blues shuffle with simple sax harmony. Ritvo’s busy piano runs meld melody and dissonance, spurred by the Coltranisms of Session’s tenor sax -- soon joined by English as their voices intertwine like a pair of morning glory vines. “Blues for Sonship," the CD’s centerpiece, is named after the gloriously eccentric percussionist, who at live shows would often break into possessed and riveting holy pronouncements from his drum seat that could go on for twenty minutes (the Beast actually witnessed this). The tune launches with Ritvo on crystalline guitar -- firmly ensconced in the Joe Pass-Wes Montgomery pantheon -- and features a “snapping” bass solo by Roberto Miranda. Davis’ trumpet recalls muted Miles, although quicker and more acrobatic, like an ornery hornet. There's some furious vamping by Session and English before Mr. Theus himself -- who's been playing deceptive possum throughout the tune -- explodes in a thunderous drum break that enables one to understand why, back in the day, people like Alex Cline argued over who would carry his traps.

Matt Ritvo leads studio rehearsal with Roberto Miranda

With the exception of "Blues for Sonship," most of these tunes are bite-sized snippets (both "Queensberry Street" and its reprise clock in at barely more than a minute). "The Path" breathes like a funky film-noir soundtrack before ending in a horrified peal of dissonance. “396 Bellevue” carries an off-kilter melody that seems to backs up on itself, creating an aural illusion that almost sounds like you’re listening to it in reverse. Ritvo’s halting barrelhouse-inflected piano interlude brings the song down to concert-hall quiet softness before the tune fades out like smoke from a departing train.

The Matt Ritvo Group: "The Path"

All in all, a wonderfully under-the-radar release that will prove essential to any salt-worthy L.A. jazz snerd. You can pick up the CD here.

Matt Ritvo interviewed by Richard Blackwell

Francisco Aguabella
Fred Anderson
Stuart Cable
Roy Carrier
Larry Dale
Ronnie James Dio
Bill Dixon
Ernest Fleischmann
Paul Gray
Dennis Hopper
Lena Horne
Marvin Isley
Hank Jones
Jackson Kaujeua
Yvonne Loriod
Rob McConnell
Kazuo Ohno
Pete Quaife
Rosa Rio
Anneliese Rothenberger
David Sanger
Gary Shider
Ali-Ollie Woodson

April 20, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (4 of 4)


February 2007: Nels Cline is voted the #4 “New Guitar God” by Jann Wenner’s struggling indie ‘zine Rolling Stone:


For many rock-guitar fiends, the oldest guitarist on this list is actually the newest. Before joining Wilco in 2004, in time to tour behind A Ghost is Born, Cline -- born in Los Angeles in 1956 -- was a highly regarded figure in jazz and avant-rock circles, a sonically aggressive guitarist who played with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the art-country band the Geraldine Fibbers and his own searing instrumental groups. Now Cline agitates the bent-pop designs in Wilco's recent music with strafing feedback, zigzagging distortion and, when you least expect it, a striking, scarred romanticism. (David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 2/22/07)

Nels immediately begins concocting self-effacing and embarrassed responses.

“The guitar (god) thing…whatever.”
(Nels, Cincinatti Citybeat, 6/10/09)

[Photo by Beth Herzhaft]

…A guitar “demon” is more like it.
(, 7/16/07)

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (4 of 4)" »

April 19, 2010

Initial Initiate Intel In!



"SANDINISTA!": All About Jazz
"YIN AND YANG": Audiophile Audition
"WON'T INDUCE SLEEP": The Daily Athenaeum
"IN TRUE NELS FASHION": Greenleaf Music
"INSISTENT MELODY": L.A. Times Pop & Hiss
"WINGIN' IT": MetalJazz
"INNOVATING": Music and More
"INSPIRING": NPR’s First Listen
"IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE ENTIRELY": Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Check back with us tommorrow, when we'll conclude our 4-part oral history of the Nels Cline Singers -- including informative info on the making of Initiate!

James Brody
Devin Clifford
Keith "Guru" Elam
Charlie Gillett
Franz Kamin
Gene Lees
Malcolm McLaren
Graciela Grillo-Perez
Steve Reid
Alan Rich
Peter Steele
Luigi Waites
William Walker

April 13, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (3 of 4)

PART III: “INTO IT” (2004-2007)

In early 2004, the Singers add a new word to their already-expansive vocabulary:

wil•co \ˈwil-(ˌ)kō\
interj [will comply] (ca. 1938) – used especially in radio and signaling to indicate that a message received will be complied with
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Wilco lineup circa 2003. From Left: Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche, The Tweedman, John Stirratt

NELS CLINE: I met Jeff Tweedy in 1996 when The Geraldine Fibbers opened for Golden Smog (a "fun" side project made up of members of The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Run Westy Run, et al). The Fibbers really cottoned to Mr. Tweedy, seeming to single him out as "special". I'm rather chagrined to say that I didn't really notice him any more than the other fellows… (

PAT SANSONE (Wilco guitarist/keyboardist): "Ah, Nels. I first met Nels about twelve years ago at South By Southwest when he was playing with the Geraldine Fibbers...We had a long, intense and deep conversation that really touched me -- and he has no recollection of it whatsoever." (from Wilco: Ashes of American Flags DVD)

Cline has been making records since Wilco's leader Jeff Tweedy was in grade school.
(Bill Moyer, Chicago Tribune, 11/09/04)

“I just joined Wilco!”
(Nels Cline to this blogger, 3/04)

Holy crap, dudes. Nels Cline is going to be playing live with Wilco "for the foreseeable future." Are you excited as me? You should be. (post on Done Waiting bulletin board, 3/04/04)

NELS: Carla Bozulich – (Fibbers leader) stayed in touch with Jeff, and when we would play Chicago, Jeff would come to the gigs and/or lend me gear…What a generous and friendly sort he seemed! Little did I realize that he was kind of keeping tabs on me. (

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (3 of 4)" »

April 7, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (2 of 4)


NELS CLINE: “I knew I wanted an upright bassist in the new trio.”
(Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN HOFF: “I’m an anarchist, so my motto would be: ‘Everything for Everyone.’”
(Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT AMENDOLA: “Actually, I knew Devin before I knew Nels.”
(Interview, 3/12/10)

Devin! Hoff! [photo via Downtown Music]

DEVIN: “I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, which was a farm town before it became a college town. It’s smack dab between Boulder and Cheyenne [Wyoming], and kind of culturally reflects that geography: A lotta rednecks and a lotta hippies! So as a kid you kind of grow up in that mix. There’s some urban influence and some rural influence, but it’s not quite either. It’s kind of confusing.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “My dad [guitarist Bard Hoff] is a musician and my mom’s father was a farmer and a semi-professional country-western musician. My mom is a rocker, so I probably absorbed Led Zeppelin and the Small Faces in utero…so it was almost a no-brainer what I would end up doing for a living: the family business!...My dad knew a lot of musicians from the Denver scene…like Hugh Regan, who’s worked with Roscoe Mitchell, and David Murray. They would come over to my house a couple times a week when I was little…and play Charlie Parker and Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler. It fucks with your ears at an early age. I grew up hearing that stuff as normal.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (2 of 4)" »

April 1, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (1 of 4)

Having just celebrated our 10th anniversary here at the Crypto Nerve Center, we have another milestone upon us: The Nels Cline Singers are also reaching their first decade (and four albums’ worth) of delicate lyricism, groove-laden fuzz-funk workouts and face-melting sonic deviance – all without any discernible singing.


Since joining the critically lauded rock group Wilco in 2004, Nels Cline has emerged in recent years as one of the most respected, argued-over and unclassifiable musicians active today – memorably described by Jazz Times as “the world’s most dangerous guitarist” and by bestselling author David Carr (Night of the Gun) as "one of the best in any genre.” Ironically, Cline formed the Singers in 2001 not entirely on his own accord but at the urging of versatile percussionist Scott Amendola, a New Jersey-born Black Sabbath and Ornette Coleman acolyte who had gained prominence in San Francisco's heady, dot com-era music scene of the early 90s though his collaborations with guitarist Charlie Hunter and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief.

Buy will buuuuuy these...

It was Greenlief who introduced Cline to Amendola, who then brought in Colorado native Devin Hoff, a young contrabassist equally at ease with Norwegian Black Metal as he was with improvised skronkitude. What emerged was a impeccably pedigreed and potently eclectic band of three successive generations of vanguard virtuosos whose buzz has only grown with each subsequent release – Instrumentals (2002), The Giant Pin (2004), Draw Breath (2007) and their new world music-influenced double-CD Initiate (2010), which Tim Niland of Music and More recently called “a fascinating and thrilling journey.”


With the release of Initiate on APRIL 13, we at the Beast thought we’d forgo the usual promo interviews (although don’t get us wrong -- we did those, too) and instead pay homage to all the dogged and loyal scribes -- famous, infamous and anonymous – who have provided us with ten years of solid and devoted journalism, opinions, rants, interviews, whining and live reviews on the NCS. Coupled with brand spankin’ new interviews with Nels, Scott and Devin, we have fashioned a musical journey of three accomplished and twisted April fools using the “found voices” of the past decade. Enjoy!

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (1 of 4)" »

March 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, Shrimper

Be it Fabian or Pat Boone serving as a clean cut kid’s introduction to the real rock & roll music of Little Richard & Charlie Feathers, or ‘The Boss’ inadvertently turning young kids onto the fury of Suicide & Albert Ayler, it doesn’t really matter as long as the road winds though the same valleys & vistas and offers an exit to the less-trampled venues.
Dennis Callaci, The Village Idiot (1999)


We at Crypto were elated/amazed when we hit the ten-year mark as an indie alt-jazz concern, but we must pause to give props to the abovequoted Mr. Callaci, who since 1990 has headed the mystically resilient lo-fi mail-order label Shrimper Records.

Callaci founded Shrimper (unrelated to the slang term for "toe-sucking," as well as another fetish so disgusting that decorum forbids mentioning it here) with his wife Catherine Guffey in the sleepy bedroom-community of Upland, California. Shrimper is a truly indie operation, from its home office (Jazz-Age, red-brick bungalow behind white picket fence) and recording "techniques" (Shrimper helped make tape hiss hip), mom 'n' pop distribution (starting with $3 cassette tapes dubbed one-by-one and mailed from a P.O. Box in San Berdoo), slackerish promotional attitude (press kit: Ralph's grocery sack stuffed with cassettes, CDs and vinyl--often with a handwritten note in Callaci's apologetic scrawl). Although the Shrimper came to encompass acts from Boston and The Netherlands, Shrimper’s specialty was freakish folk, mellow hip hop, noisy experimentation and bash-pop from the tract-home anomie of SoCal's "Inland Empire." No doubt this aesthetic influenced L.A. junkyard-music hermits like Beck and Ariel Pink.

Dennis Callaci punches out Matt Damon

Continue reading "Happy Birthday, Shrimper" »

March 19, 2010


Ah, those pholkes at Soul Jazz Records have done it again. Mere months after their fascinating (and long overdue) study of indie jazz cover art of the 1970s, they've re-released 2004's A Message from the Tribe, a lovingly restored anthology of the underground Detroit jazz-funk label Tribe Records. The specially-packaged box set contains early performances by trombone madman Phil Ranelin [pictured below] before he moved out to LA-LA Land and became an integral part of our local "scene" -- if one can call it that. We recommend seeking out Ranelin's Nixon-era lost classics like The Time is Now (1974) and Vibes from the Tribe (1976).


Check out this review of the comp from Pitchfork Media's Mark Richardson below:

Continue reading "Tribeology" »

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