Rambunctious and impulsive, volatile, protean and given to musical hijinks, Wiener Kids might seem like a bad bet for a performance in a church. But Trinity Chamber Concerts, a series hosted by Trinity Chapel on Dana Street in Berkeley for almost four decades, has long presented experimental jazz and improvised music mixed in with solo and duo classical recitals, early music ensembles, string quartets, and new music masters, like flautist Robert Dick.
A trio led by the insistently inventive Oakland drummer Jordan Glenn, Wiener Kids feature two of the region’s most dependably interesting reed players, Cory Wright and Aram Shelton. No stranger to the chapel’s resonant space, Glenn has prepared a Wiener special for the group’s Trinity debut Saturday night.
“That space is pretty big and kind of cavernous, and a drum set and two saxophones can get loud pretty fast,” Glenn says. “We’re bringing a bunch of the softer, intimate, more ambient kind of pieces. I’ve also been writing pieces for the two saxophonist to play percussion, and we’ll have some guest percussionists placed throughout the chapel, playing some textural stuff.”
Originally a duo formed at Mills College featuring Glenn and Icelandic guitarist Steini Gunnarsson, Wiener Kids evolved into the present trio in 2009 after Gunnarsson returned home. The name reflected Glenn’s desire to develop an approach steeped in various improvisational strategies but unfettered by academic considerations.
“I was trying to write music with fun melodies and not too heady, stuff that had more of a hook to it,” Glenn says. “It’s become other things since then. With guitar and drums we could have it sound more like a pop or rock group.”
On the latest Wiener Kids recording, 2011’s What A Mess, the band expands to an 11-piece ensemble on about half the tracks. As a trio, the music is rollicking and mercurial, with constant shifts in instrumentation, dynamics and density. For Saturday’s show, Shelton expands his usual arsenal of alto sax and bass clarinet to include a suitcase vibraphone (vibraphonette), and various metallic percussion implements, such as car shock absorbers, triangle, small cymbals and bells. Wright augments his baritone sax and clarinet with tin cans, wood blocks and cowbells. And Glenn adds to his standard jazz trap set with cowbells, opera gong, tin pie plate, shakers, whistles and other sundry objects. He’s also bringing selected bundt pans from his extensive collection.
“My mom mails them to me,” he says. “She really likes the way they sound, and I’ve found some with pitches I really like, where you can hit them and swing them around so the sound has that vibrato effect.”
Hailing from Eugene, Glenn has carved out a niche since moving to the Bay Area in 2006 as a savvy master of textural drumming particularly adept at interacting in loosely structured improvisational situations. He performs with heavyweights like guitarist/composer Fred Frith and harpist Zeena Parkins, though lately he’s focusing on a new collaboration with saxophonist/poet Jim Ryan, Mindless Thing. Saturday’s performance offers a rare opportunity to hear him in a setting where he can fully explore his penchant for coaxing sounds out of unlikely sources.
“Trinity is so fun because you have these great acoustics, and you’re getting undivided attention in a way you don’t get in other situations,” Glenn says. “It’s a great opportunity to exploit.”
Speaking of sacred spaces, Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal, who recently released At Peace, a gorgeous follow-up to their first album on Six Degrees Records, 2009’s Chamber Music, perform Friday at St. John’s Presbyterian Church at 2727 College Avenue.
An active presence on the Bay Area music scene in the 1980s, guitarist David Haskell returns to action after two decades pursuing his interest in aviation with Pivot Point, an produced by Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip. He celebrates the CD’s release Friday at the Jazzschool with Steve Carter on piano and keyboards, Aaron Germain on acoustic and electric bass, drummer Alan Hall, and special guest saxophonist Michael Zilber.
South Bay organist Brian Ho brings a stellar trio to Jupiter on Saturday, featuring drummer Lorca Hart and guitar great Calvin Keys, whose resumé includes gigs with Hammond B-3 patriarch Jimmy Smith
Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also 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, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.