For many years Mills College in Oakland has been producing innovative concerts of the highest caliber, challenging audiences with new and unusual listening experiences. Unfortunately, the school's promotional budget for these events is fairly nonexistent, which means that the recital halls are often half-empty. One can only hope that this weekend's double shot of must-see showcases will draw a larger crowd of aural adventure-seekers.
First up is Amy Denio, the Seattle-based eclectician who initially made a name for herself with Northwest prog rockers Tone Dogs and the estrogen-powered Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet. A one-of-a-kind performer, this creative-music goddess with the four-octave vocal range mesmerizes as both a versatile composer of offbeat pop tunes, symphonic works, and dance soundtracks and a one-woman orchestra playing guitar, bass, sax, and accordion. This consummate musician uses her skills to merge a crazy range of traditions — from groove-heavy jazz and funk to European folk and odd-metered rock — into a surprisingly accessible style. She's released nearly two dozen albums in 11 years, creating a body of self-described “spoot music,” which, she says, tries “to encourage empathy and active listening in all walks of life.”
Though they may not use the same vocabulary, the renowned out-cats of the U.K. ensemble AMM clearly share Denio's spoot aesthetic. For 35 years this pioneering improv combo has been challenging concertgoers to check their musical prejudices at the door. In its set-length pieces, the trio supplants conventional notions of melody, rhythm, and harmony, working with the eerie drone of bowed found objects, the bent tonality of detuned guitar strings, and the unexpected timbre of unorthodox piano playing. By organizing these sounds within ambient improvisations, AMM puts a coherent personal stamp on this unusual sound world.