Bryan Smith - September 14, 2014

Over the past year I have been working on a recording project through the Artist Support Program at Jack Straw Productions. The music for this project is for solo alto saxophone and overdubs, which allows for a uniformity of tone quality and blend that would be difficult to achieve with an ensemble. This allowed me the flexibility to experiment with many overdubs to create various textures, and of course, scheduling was a lot simpler than it would have been with a larger ensemble. Going into this project, my intentions were to explore sonic landscapes and the perception of space by positioning each of my performances in different locations within the studio. Almost the entire recording process was improvised. The only compositional materials that I brought into sessions were conceptual postproduction ideas that I felt would help shape the overall pieces. Some of these included automated reverb or abrupt cuts to the attacks and releases of notes, which are ideas that could only happen in postproduction.

To my surprise, the process of improvising overdubs was a remarkably rewarding compositional experience that I was not expecting to find through this residency. I would improvise my first track in one location of the room, than move to a new location and improvise another track while listening to the previous track just performed. I would do this any number of times until satisfied with the overall product. The fact that everything was improvised, and I’d used my ear and memory from what I played earlier, created compositions that I would have never been able to conceive of if I was just composing with manuscript paper. Because of this process, I have entitled this project The RE: Project due to the fact each overdub track after the first is referring to, or in regards to, the previous. 

As I finished up this recording and residency, I began transcribing particular tracks that would make good saxophone ensemble compositions. On Sunday, September 14th, for the first time, I will be trying out a handful of these compositions with a saxophone ensemble at Café Racer. For the jam, I recommend musicians focus on blend and a uniformity of tone quality. 

Rhys Tivey - September 7, 2014

I’m grateful for the opportunity to join such a unique and brilliant music community gathering.

For the session, I propose that we use a protocol or ‘ceremony’ for entering and exiting each improvisation, in order to explore and briefly reflect on what happens to our experience of playing when we (A) consider the location of our mental awareness as a central element in the process of improvising and (B) create a one-word verbal intention.

The protocol for each improvisation is as such:

  1. everyone in the room, including listeners, sit for a moment to draw their awareness onto their breath
  2. note the position and sensations of the body
  3. take note of all ambient noise
  4. open the eyes and notice the orientation of the room and the play of light
  5. invite your thoughts to gravitate toward a single word that embodies your intention for the improvisation, whether it be an emotion like “serenity”, “madness”, “resolve”, “joy”, “melancholy”, “gratitude”, or a conceptual or visual idea like “journey”, “stillness”, “mountain”, or even “lion”; performers share their words.
  6. play
  7. performers briefly recall their experience

I offer this protocol because I’m interested in how the location of our awareness and the thoughts and emotions that arise while improvising are often passed over in favor of trying to recall an objective opinion of the music as a separate entity. Alternatively, I think all of the thoughts and visions that occur while improvising are truly integral (even if unheard) elements in the creation and perception of the music. Recalling and articulating our full experiences to each other will be super fun.

Perhaps music with lyrics drives listeners’ free associations of thoughts more specifically than purely instrumental music. In the performance before the session, my compositions will emphasize lyrics.

Bill Kautz - August 31, 2014

It is with great pleasure to have another opportunity to curate at The Racer Sessions! 

This week myself and Chris Icasiano will be performing duets to 5 of my compositions. The duo format has brought in a fresh breath of air to these pieces, some of which have been performed before in a few different ensembles. It’s great to hear them so youthful! 

Playing together just with one person has been one of the most accessible ways that I have grown as a musician. It’s simply not as complicated to get together and jam with one of your friends. There is also an openness and exposure that allows the instruments to resonate and show their characteristics more so than in a larger group, which includes an increased openness for an exchange of ideas and a composition’s development. You learn to fill your sound with less and also get on a stronger frequency with the individual you are playing with. 

The pieces Chris and I will be performing tonight were developed by improvising repetitively on the melodies and trying different ideas. Most of the time I stayed relatively consistent with the melodies as originally designed and Chris would try a number of different ideas with what he was hearing. We’d then conference after each piece and pick out things we liked and other directions we could take. There was a lot of importance given to working together and not one supporting the other. That’s why there are a lot of counter-melodic ideas happening throughout what we do this evening. 

For the session following our bit, I’d encourage smaller ensembles and perhaps instrumentation that is unique together. I’d also like to hear improvisations which develop a main focus, but have varying textures that evolve around the main focus. Bringing new life to a familiar idea.

Thanks and I look forward to seeing you there!

Barra Brown Quintet - August 24, 2014

I created the (BBQ Barra Brown Quintet) a little more than a year ago for two main reasons: to play with this group of musicians as much as possible and record a book of material that didn’t have a home in any of the other projects I playing with and leading (a pop rock band, an indie-folk outfit, and an electronic/experimental jazz trio). We rehearsed several times and recorded our first album live to 2-track in a tango studio very near my house in SE Portand. “Songs for a Young Heart” was released on PJCE Records last August, and the songs and band line up have changed and grown in the year since.

My formal training isn’t in improvised music, however. While studying classical flute in college, I was drumming and writing for the various jazz ensembles at Lewis &Clark.

This group is a vehicle for my compositional vision which takes influence from Debussy and Stravinsky to Radiohead and Brain Blade. I love playing with this group of people, and I write this music specifically with them in mind. I don’t know what we are; a jazz quintet, an instrumental rock band, a creative improvised something or other. We are musicians, and this is the music we play!

For this session we will play a set of newer compositions and invite free improvisation, concept based improvisation, and honest sounds!

Thomas Barber-trumpet
Nicole Glover-tenor
Bill Marsh-Guitar
Arcellus Sykes-bass
Barra Brown-drums/compositions

Phillip Greenlief - August 17, 2014


Racer Sessions extends a warm welcome to saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, in from the Bay Area this Sunday.

Since his emergence on the west coast in the late 1970s, Evander Music founder Phillip Greenlief has achieved international critical acclaim for his recordings and performances with musicians and composers in the post-jazz continuum as well as new music innovators and virtuosic improvisers. His ever-evolving relationship with the saxophone unfolds with an expansive sound vocabulary, a deep regard for melody and form and a rollicking humor and wit that is not dissimilar to the Native American Coyote tales. He is composer in residence with Rough and Tumble and teaches music at San Francisco Waldorf High School and the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. Mr Greenlief is a recipient of the San Francisco Bay Guardian Goldie Award and served as Composer in Residence at Headlands Center for the Arts in summer 2013.