Out of This World

An S.F. Jazz Festival showcase takes music where it's never gone before

The San Francisco Jazz Festival never fails to sponsor at least one or two ear-bending performances during its annual two-week celebration. Radical adventure-seekers should not miss the "Avant World" showcase, featuring a pair of trios that aim to redefine the concept of global-minded jazz.

Headliners Terry Riley (piano/vocals), Krishna Bhatt (sitar), and George Brooks (tenor saxophone) present serenely beautiful ruminations that draw from Indian ragas, Western classical music, and myriad jazz traditions. Less self-consciously synthesized than the East-meets-West fusions Ravi Shankar famously pioneered three decades earlier, the trio's music blends disparate cultural motifs with ease. The meditative melodic and rhythmic arcs led by minimalist master Riley on the 88s repeat naturally in Bhatt's evocative ad-libs on the Indian lute and Brooks' oblique accents on the horn.

Terry Riley, "the father of minimalism," appears at the 19th annual S.F. 
Jazz Festival.
Terry Riley, "the father of minimalism," appears at the 19th annual S.F. Jazz Festival.

Opening act Maybe Monday -- Fred Frith (guitar), Miya Masaoka (koto/electronics), and Rova Saxophone Quartet's Larry Ochs -- approaches so-called world-jazz from a less dreamy space. In fact, sections of the group's 1999 CD debut Saturn's Fingerborder on the nightmarish. In an eclectic fusion of acoustic and electric sounds, the trio explores collective improvisation as an edgy union of melody and noise. The players constantly adjust the timbre of their respective instruments with deft moment-to-moment transmutations that are startling in their synchronicity and breadth. For example, Frith's detuned six-string can be flabby, rough, or strangely streamlined; Ochs' saxophone riffs chitter and wail, whisper and splash, pumping momentum into the mix like volcanic spray; and Masaoka steers her harplike Japanese zither from lovely iridescence to frightening cacophony. Focusing on such subtle shifts in tonal color, the players feed the organic development of the music, which journeys fearlessly into new worlds that know no bounds.

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