Top of the Mountain

Experimental music reaches new heights in a concert on Mount Tam

Rova Saxophone Quartet is an inspiration in Bay Area experimental music circles not only because it has performed and recorded widely for two decades, but also because the group sponsors community events that include musicians of divergent backgrounds. One of them, "New Music on the Mountain"(now in its sixth year), gives fans and players an opportunity to experience creative music in an equally inspired setting: the natural amphitheater on Mount Tamalpais.

Popular violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt (Tin Hat Trio, Charming Hostess, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) stages a one-woman project called Two-Foot Yard. The unusual moniker mirrors Kihlstedt's ambition: to give herself a severely limited choice of musical possibilities. Her inchoate vision combines unusual tonalities and textures with the massive range of musical idioms she's absorbed over the years, resulting in a tightly knit series of folk tale-like tunes. On occasion, Kihlstedt matches her eerie falsetto singing with fever-dream bowing on the violin. Elements of Gypsy lamentation, classical virtuosity, and even "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" emerge organically from Kihlstedt's wide-roving sound.

A duet by kotoists Shoko Higake and Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto is also slated for this year's concert. Japanese native Higake (who moved to the Bay Area in 1997) and Oakland native Muramoto enjoy a shared aesthetic that startles with its lyrical, rhythmic intensity. The duo's music pairs the quiet introspection and surprising dynamic shifts of Japanese koto with modern inventiveness.

Shoko Higake's Japanese koto shakes Mount Tam.
Shoko Higake's Japanese koto shakes Mount Tam.


Sunday, Sept. 16, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10


Mount Tamalpais Mountain Theater, Rock Springs (near Pantoll), Mill Valley

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For fans of a more in-your-face approach, bassist/composer Adam Lane's appropriately dubbed Full Throttle Orchestra merges the fire and form of hard-swinging jazz and open-ended improv with the brash exuberance of avant-rock. His sound exemplifies the broad-minded ethos of "New Music on the Mountain."

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