ROVA Saxophone Quartet playing at the Old Friends Festival in Berkeley. Photo: Myles Boisen

In these belt-tightening times, it’s edifying to recall just how little gold it takes to create a golden age. On Friday and Saturday the Old Friends Festival brings together more than two-dozen musicians active on the Bay Area creative music scene in the 1990s. While high tech was booming, the scene thrived on a shoestring, with a handful of venues serving as sonic petrie dishes for some truly inspired musical experiments.

Presented by the Berkeley Arts Festival, an ongoing concert series produced by Bonnie Hughes at a downtown Berkeley storefront at 2133 University Avenue, OFF is curated by bassist/composer Steve Horowitz, who recently returned to the Bay Area after years in the Netherlands and New York City. Recalling the roiling creative energy of the Bay Area scene at the time of his departure, Horowitz decided to round up as many of his former comrads as possible.

Friday’s show features three sets. The Ralph Carney/Randy Odell Duo brings together the irrepressibly brilliant multi-instrumentalist Carney, a regular contributor to Tom Waits projects, and drummer Odell, whose resume includes the bands The Impalers, The GG Amos Band, and the recently convened Ralph Carney Serious Jass Project.

The Lost Planet (formerly known as Pluto) is a free improv combo featuring Marc Weinstein, Steve Clarke, Len Paterson and saxophonist Dave Slusser. The quartet first performed nearly three decades ago and has developed numerous strategies for impromptu composition and arrangement.

Members of the New Monsters project

Composer and percussionist Gino Robair’s Improvcore Orchestra 3000 showcases a bristling array of improvisational talent, including Steve Kirk, Phillip Greenleaf, Mantra, John Shiurba, Rent Romus, Ben Goldberg, and Jules Ryan in a large scale conduction. As a founding member of Splatter Trio, an essential component of the 90s scene, Robair has recorded a plethora of musical mavericks, from Tom Waits and Terry Riley to Anthony Braxton and Lou Harrison.

Saturday offers an equally intriguing line-up. Internationally acclaimed San Francisco sound artist Pamela Z performs a solo set combining her extended vocal techniques with live electronic processing, sampling technology and video.

Back in the 90s, saxophonist Dan Plonsey and Steve Horowitz released two albums under the name The Manufacturing of Humidifiers. For this set they’ll combine with Plonsey’s melodically charged New Monsters project featuring Steve Adams, Scott Looney and Jim Bove. Plonsey, it should be noted, was largely responsible for booking Beanbender’s, the lamented downtown Berkeley performance space that played such an important role in the Bay Area’s creative music boom of the 90s.

OFF closes with a set by the intrepid ROVA Saxophone Quartet, a Bay Area institution for more than three decades. The foursome is dedicating the performance to the late saxophonist Glen Spearman, a major force on the scene until his death in 1998.

Andrew Gilbert covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley. 

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....