BIZAR BAZAAR WITH MARK KARAN 3-20-03
Eyeing the sparse crowd before the show, Michael Bizar conjectured that the impending doom permeating the world might have kept folks locked up tight in their bunkers. I could think of few places I’d rather be than listening to Bizar, one of the most gifted & versatile six stringers walking around today, and his supremely gifted group of collaborators, especially if someday soon I might step into a cloud of mustard gas. In such seemingly perilous times, where Chicken Little dashes to & fro with a frightful orange scream, there’s even more sense in grabbing onto the beauty still blooming under the black clouds. When the Bazaar comes to town such beauty grows a bit more readily.
The force, the sheer flucking vitality of their playing is instantaneous. As the first notes ring out in the cozy & exceedingly inviting air of 19 Broadway in funky old Fairfax, I could see the tension ease in the shoulders around me. Seated, I drank in the music for a few minutes, letting it find its place in this night two days into a new war. At the other end of the stage stood Mark Karan, guitarist for Ratdog. As with every week this band performs, a different musician joins them making the experience fresh for all involved. What unifies their choice of co-conspirators is a resounding feeling that these players make music because they have to, that the notes rattle around in their heads and demand access to the world like the poems that once held Charles Bukowski hostage until he finished them. There’s a sense of urgency & honesty rooted in every note I hear from BIZAR BAZAAR and anyone who plays with them. And in an age of spin, subterfuge and folly it is holy work to lay out Truth of any kind.
Smiling behind his glasses, Karan laid into an angular fuzztronics, inspired by a flight from Michael, making a noise that seemed it might very well break down one of those doors of perception I’ve heard so much about. Karan is an inspired pick to spar with Bizar Bazaar. He’s got an amazing FEEL for music, the kind of groove perception that ignores false categories like genre in order to find a flow of a higher order. A sticker with the word “Soul” on it was plastered to the front of his guitar and it served as both signpost and harbinger of things to come.
Minutes before they got on stage they had borrowed my pen to construct a setlist. It’s hard to believe a band this seemingly kickback would produce such a big big sound with so many twists. Maybe every T isn’t crossed or I dotted but the changes are honey sweet and their embrace of cacophony is palpably exciting. Knowing they only sort of know where they are going each night only makes being a fellow traveler that much richer when they pull it off.
Many of the guests tend to fall into the jazz end of the spectrum but Mark stands with one foot on Funk and the other patting Rock. This steers them into different waters including an inspired reggae jaunt into “Don’t Look Back” skipping on light feet into “Feelin’ Alright”. From the lilting intro solo picking of Karan through the roots deep rhythms it just made a body feel good. The straight up 60’s go-go instrumental that followed had me and not a few others working it like Laugh- In dancers. Their palette is broad & colorful but it’s anchored by a level of musicianship that at any given moment you could focus in on a single player and get knocked out by their part. They resemble a tight jazz unit in that they play very well together, take a lot of solos and can integrate others seamlessly but that’s as far as the comparison goes. They play great music and it’s best to leave it open like that.
A standout again this night is the back end pairing of bassist Murph and Lucas Carlton, a combination that always feels like a bracing dip in a cool pool. The power and swing they muster always serves as a platform for the others to dive from. And I’m not talking a straight down fall. They give a kind of warm confidence to a soloist that prompts them into a reverse somersault with a half twist. Even the German judge would have to give them high marks. Add in the limber keyboard antics of Simon Rochester and this rhythm section could hold their own anywhere. Simon’s mad diversity is always a hook for me as well. He can travel from a Lonnie Liston Smith butteriness over to robotic funk in the blink of an eye. Sandwiched in between you might find soft organ swells, big black key block chords and a powerful right hand that knows how to be confident AND careful.
During the set break I ponder what it is that sets this convocation apart from the many very talented groups gigging their tails off today. And it came to me in a single word: Chops. They play like the guys that got me deeply into music in the first place, superb musicians with strong material like early Steve Miller, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Buddy Guy, the more lucid Grateful Dead and a score of others from the early 70’s. I have a failing for badass musicians; players who are good but always strive to be better, the ones who carry their instrument around waiting for a chance to sit in, the ones that make other musicians’ stare & smile. My confidence in Bizar Bazaar’s is enormous. If one listens to them with open ears it would be impossible to walk away unimpressed.
For the first minutes of the next set, I find myself thinking how much Leonardo da Vinci would have loved all the hands on stage. They have the muscled sturdiness of Leo’s notebook sketches, a kind of earned beauty, the product of hours heaped upon hours plying life from their instruments.
Also found myself tripping back to the first time I saw Mark Karan play. It was April 2001 at the wonderful Roseland Ballroom in Portland. I’d come to finally see what Bobby Weir had gotten up to and check out how two jazzsters from the Bay Area were fairing. As a longtime Alphabet Soup enthusiast I was anxious to see Dead Music performed by key whiz Jeff Chimenti and stoned-to-the-bone Kenny Brooks and his fitfully terrific sax. To give you an idea of how good these shows were the band released their first official live set taken from these two nights. The biggest surprise besides how much more I liked Bob with this band than with his surviving Dead bandmates was the lead guitarist. Karan had the blue swagger of Mike Bloomfield and just enough Jerry to set off all the fireworks, calliopes and clowns a grown man could stand. Acoustic or electric it made no nevermind, his hands, full of rings & bracelets, made the wood & wire sing. His strong, eager voice blended well with the tunes and proves an on-going treat in his visits to the mic in both Bizar Bazaar and his own Jemimah Puddleduck. If Little Feat ever felt like adding another man I think he’s gotta be candidate number one. Mark remains one of the main draws every time I step into to chow down with Ratdog.
Initially during the set, I sat back in the shadows at the edge of the mirrorball spray letting light & sound distort nicely. A drum-and-bass section from Lucas & Murph sets Simon off on an electronic squiggle like a malfunctioning Texas Instruments science calculator. A drama unfolds on Michael Bizar’s face, a lively play of winces & shouts spoken through his amplifier. I admire them for bravely playing what they play, finding their own voice despite the easier roads that skilled players like these might follow. I think how much fear holds me back from what I might be and make a note to follow their example a bit more closely.
And this lead me to wonder about all this abstract fear in the air, about how dumb it is and about how it whittles away at our precious time when we might better be enjoying this gift of life, listening to fab tunes and drinking the new wine. As another salvo across the broadside hit I felt compelled to join the dance, to quit hiding my joy in the back of the room. A “plenty grindy” take on Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” proved the loose limbed strut my body needed. This rumination on the consequences of one’s actions fit my own bleak, angry thoughts about America’s government to a tee. When Mark tucked in a “Mister Bush” into the chorus I split a grin so broad it actually hurt a little.
We all have free will and with it a hundred chances to be happy or sad every single day. On a night where many huddled before the glow of televisions watching bombs fall and soldiers speak I chose to venture out. And a small group of others made the same decision. The owner of 19 Broadway waved the cover charge as a spontaneous act of good will. It’s a small choice in the scheme of things but a single act of goodwill like this, a single hand raised in joy instead of hatred might be all the difference the world needs to tilt us towards a new perspective. Between the music and slightly glowing audience I left with a spring in my step and a renewed commitment to do as Rumi suggests:
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
As that Middle Eastern poet says, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Our reward for stepping out with the Bazaar this March night was a potent reminder of this fact.
SPACE COWBOYS VS. THE PLACEBO SYNDROME
BIZAR BAZAAR 1-17-03, Boom Boom Room, San Francisco, CA
Michael Bizar attacks his guitar with a bite that revels in the joy of repetition. It’s only the first number and he’s already throwing his head back and easing into his “O” face. His tone is clean and fresh as a breeze and the band lock it down tight as Dick Cheney’s hidden fortress inside of Mount Rushmore. Guests Jason Concepcion (guitar, Netwerk:Electric and Santa Cruz Hemp Allstars) and Joe Cohen (sax, Cannonball and Brass Monkey) watch the music, tossing in a pinch here and there, waiting for an opening, just a sliver to slide into. To merely call this engaged would miss the feral delight happening up there. This is where instrumental gunslingers come to draw leather. And there is no doubt this will be a Friday night showdown to reckon with.
Very quietly, without silver trumpets & town criers, Bizar Bazaar has developed into a band confidant enough to play with just about anyone. In a live music scene that takes guests as de rigour it is still no small thing to perform week after week with an ever changing cast of partners in crime. Tuesdays have become something special at the Boom Boom since whoever sits in will be playing with four terrific musicians. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to make it out on a weeknight to hear them have always hugely rewarded me. All four men have the casual mastery I associate with the behind-the-scenes wizards who played with Steely Dan or even the gritty fusion of early Return To Forever; players who are good enough to set aside the ego tripping and just lay into the music with both fists.
They’ve also managed to figure out how to play to a bar crowd without losing their intensity or complexity. Sweeter Latin jaunts alternate with watermelon men and other familiar territory but they do so with an ear for twisting standards that brings to mind Coltrane’s Ballads where he brought in sheet music of popular ballads and let the classic quartet have their way with it. Instead of adhering to the formula I mentioned above of theme-solos-theme they blur the transitions by letting everyone wail when the mood strikes them. The logic of this music is made in the moment, fired up and maybe a bit sloppy at times but always in a good way. That they can be tight enough to bounce a quarter off them AND still maintain the blood & sex of rock ‘n’ roll with their jamming has continually impressed me.
Tonight they have two veterans of their residency laying in the cut and the smiles are all around. Without the first night jitters to contend with they can play it loose. Freed from the usual routine, they dive into a Friday night with gusto. Simon Rochester coaxes a busy Cecil Taylor-like note cluster from his electric piano and a guy standing by the bar screams. Not a polite “yahoo” or even a boozy “woo” but a real bellow. What they play has that kind of primal viscosity, a thickness that oozes under the skin and makes nerve endings wake up.
Throughout the night Jason is a Zen archer, choosing his shots with care and silent wisdom. When he lets it go he brings the funk hard with all the sucker punch glory of Melvin Sparks with a technical proficiency that truly does seem impossible for his youthful self to possess. Cohen rides along taking care not to overpower the rest of the band as so many horn players are want to do. His knack for knowing when to barrel ahead and when to hang back is impeccable and really adds to the overall together vibe.
The shaolin monk rhythm section, Murph on bass and Lucas Carlton on drums, move as one mind except for the few well-chosen breakouts they indulge in. All their movement goes into their instruments, nothing is wasted or showy or staged. It is the lean three-bowl meal of the Taoist acolyte, the essence of beat & breath distilled. For me they unlock the door to Bizar Bazaar’s true identity, the one that resides the below the chameleon nature of their musical chairs. It is a passionate dedication to the almighty Groove that encompasses the many faces of funk. Carlton and Murph create the pulse that beats strong and true in this body. This is how they can play like the Butterfield Blues Band with Mark Karan one week and then bang out a Tuvan trance funk with John Whooley the next. All finds its place in the 10,000 Things in some supercalifragisexy way.
Two sets, two pockets of creation brimming over with fun and frenzy, another fine night in the Bazaar. If that seems like less than ample praise it comes with the understanding that the consistency and invention of this group and their collaborators is nearly always a guarantee of such a night. The patina of so much gigging, with all the discipline & dedication inherent in it, gives them a warm glow that does not soon fade.Dennis Cook
MASTER BASSOONIST PAUL HANSON JOINS BIZAR BAZAAR
5/21/2002 - Bizar Bazaar is the appropriately titled name of a group of Bay Area musicians getting together every Tuesday night at the Boom Boom Room. Musically, it's an open market of improvising and jamming on a variety of styles from jazz/funk to dance hall classics that are infused with the energy of rock and roll. The local ingredients in the market change each week, adding to the flavor of the show.
This week's theme ingredient was the unique taste of Paul Hanson on Bassoon, a Bay Area musician and composer rapidly gaining international recognition. Hanson is a master bassoonist who approaches his instrument with techniques not associated with the classical instrument. One way he achieves this is by brilliantly manipulating his sound with a variety of MIDI controls. Hanson, a graduate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is a frequent collaborator with Bela Fleck and appears to have a similar philosophical musical approach.
Bizar Bazaar is led by event creator Michael Bizar (AJ Croce, Wayside, Citrus) on lead and rhythm guitar. Rounding out the rhythm section is Murph (Citrus, Freddy Jones Band) on bass, and Jim Richards (Soultree) on drums. Bizar's Wayside companion Josh Paxton joined them on Hammond B3 and electric piano.
In a seven song first set, the band opened with a jazzy warm up that showcased the special ingredients. Although the guests are supplied with sheet music for the songs, the shows are spontaneous without rehearsals. Hanson and Paxton both took straightforward solos in what appeared to musical introductions.
The meat of the second song focused on Hanson, who wasted no time in getting freaky and letting us know what we were all in store for the evening. Accompanied by fast flying choppy drums, Hanson used MIDI effects to turn his bassoon into a Hammond B3. Adding to the impact was his ability to phrase notes like a keyboardist. His solo was a special collective moment that brought smiles to the faces of the band and the audience.
Up next was the Medeski, Martin, and Wood composition "Where's Sly?" a song that Hanson originally wrote the horn arrangements and played on Saxamaphone. This tune was a perfect pick to showcase Paxton on Hammond B3, who delivered with a layering of sound between individual notes and sustain. Bizar then delivered a dazzling solo, his first of the night, and appeared as if he had been waiting to explode.
The fourth song of the evening electrified the place. With a funky backdrop, Hanson and Bizar teamed up for a cat and mouse game that ran through spirals that moved through a kaleidoscope. The rest of the band was with them at every step, pushing the two even further. The fireworks continued with the full collectively jamming on "Watermelon Man" and "Hang Up Your Hang Ups", both by Herbie Hancock.
The last song of the set was a frequently played Bazaar song reminiscent of Eighties style King Crimson. Murph and Richards steal a bass and drum lines out of the Tony Levin and Bill Bruford catalog. Hanson seemed to enjoy this flavor and laid down an absurd and eclectic solo on the Saxamaphone. Bizar frantically played around all of them, weaving the song together.
By set break, the crowd had begun to swell and had doubled in size since the show started. This was very encouraging for a Tuesday night. The eleven song second set began with a session of musical chairs. Wayside members Justin Hellman and Lucas Carlton joined the band on bass and drums, and immediately fed off the anticipation of the crowd. What followed was one of the most brilliant things I've ever witnessed standing 3 feet away from a musician.
A perfect choice, the first song was another frequently played number that features Bizar's delicious wah-wah guitar that sounds like Jerry Garcia ala Dancin' In The Street circa 1977. This set us up for Hanson to give us schooling in the art of MIDI, as he turned himself into a A horn section! He slowly moved from one brass instrument to the next, stepping on pedals to control the output. He had at least 5 different sounds going and would play them with and against each other. This fed into the rest of the band who were creating more and more energy. Hanson began to switch sounds more frequently as the song moved into the final climax. He then held a sustaining note and used his pedals to sound like an exploding horn section that was layering higher and higher on top of itself, until it couldn't possibly go any higher. It was a jaw dropping moment.
The next song was a Wayside original, giving Bizar an opportunity to expose us to his cohorts. The song featured an extended bass solo by Justin, who was really enjoying himself on stage. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him join the line-up as a guest one week.
Murph and Richards returned to the line-up for Jimmy Smith's "Root Down", which was a welcome and familiar number to many in the crowd. This version was slightly different then past versions because of Paxton's influence on the song playing the Hammond B3. He owned this number and took the band to new heights. Hanson followed with a short but sweet solo returning to the basic bassoon sound.
The next number brought Hanson back to the effects, playing with artificial sound I can only associate with Jerry Garcia, because he introduced me to this unique MIDI sound. For all I know it could be a pre-programmed MIDI sound that is a standard out of the box sound. Although the tone is quirky and machinery and fake, Hanson used beautiful jazz phrasing to demonstrate the contrast. I really enjoy it when people take a weird tone and treat it in a normal classic style.
The second set focused more on collective group improvisation. The set continued with classic like "The Sanford and Son Theme", "Livewire" by The Meters, "Cantaloupe Island" by Herbie Hancock, "Slow Down Sam" by Jimmy Smith, "Shank" by John Scofield, and closed out with "Mercy, Mercy, Mecry" by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. All of these songs featured spectacular interplay between the band members and frequent mathematical games of constructing and deconstruction. This kept the dance floor shaking and swaying during the entire set.
This installment of Bizar Bazaar showed a new comfort level between the musicians as the band moved closer together as a single unit. Although the song selection is similar each week, the approach and resulting sound is always different. It was an interesting perspective to hear these songs with Paul Hanson on bassoon. Bizar Bazaar has become a great way to get exposure to the special ingredients taste, while witnessing how they can blend the flavor of their own world into the Bazaar world.
Word on the street seems to be getting out about Tuesday nights at the historical Boom Boom Room. The blossoming jam scene in San Francisco finally has a weekly home where everyone can come together for a unique but reliable night of improvised and jammed out music. More people have been coming out each week to get their groove on. It's nice to see many familiar faces in the audience, including other local musicians, all supporting the scene and having a positive uplifting experience.Cory Ferber
BIZAR BAZAAR | 5.14.02 | BOOM BOOM ROOM
Bizar Bazaar is a super group of Bay Area musicians joining forces for an ongoing project reinterpreting funk/jazz/soul dance hall classics. Every Tuesday night, they come together at the historical Boom Boom Room, the blossoming home base for the area's funk, jazz, and jam scene. Event creator and guitar wizard Michael Bizar (AJ Croce, Wayside, Citrus) is joined by Simon Rochester (!Tang, Tangria) on electric piano and Hammond B3, Murph (Citrus, Freddy Jones Band) on bass, and Jim Richards (Soultree) on drums. This weeks spotlighted local special guest musician was Will Bernard (Motherbug, TJ Kirk) on guitar.
Bizar Bazaar is steeped in interlocking rhythms where each song felt like a fractal set with its own clearly distinguishable image. While there are boundaries and limits to the structure, there are endless possibilities in color, focus, and speed. Their jams feature a soloist working against the other four musicians. The soloist wanders around the fractal, digging deeper and deeper, finally turning around to fight their way back out. Smooth bass lines and steady drumming are in constant collaboration with the two non-soloing musicians to deconstruct themes while keeping the fractal together.
A small but growing crowd finally hit the dance floor when they broke into Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”. Bernard took the first solo improvising in a relaxed note-to-note jazz style, uniquely working around the starts and stops of the composed section of the song behind him. This contrasted magnificently to Bizar’s follow-up solo that was wailing guitar rock intermixed with ferocious rhythm that pumped up the energy in the place.
The musical highlight of the night may have been the tripped out rendition of John Scofield’s “Kool”. The interaction of all five musicians on this song could be described as a spiral graph, the toy you had as a kid where you put different colored pens inside a stencil that then spun around the inside of a circle. Bernard’s playing was extremely spacey with a rubber band phrasing that added beautifully to the greater collective. It was magnificent, inspirational, and triumphant.
The zany "Sanford and Son" Theme Song was one of the most memorable moments of the night. Elizabeth would have been proud of the way they turned this one into an extended dance number reminiscent of late seventies Grateful Dead. Towards the end the jam, Murph started to slowly weave the bass line from the theme song back into the mix in an elongated time sequence. Meanwhile, Bizar took an electrifying solo that took on a life of its own.
Bizar’s guitar wizardry is a sight to be seen and heard. His solos are active and energetic, incorporating elements of progressive, psychedelic, surf, jazz, and rock to create something completely new and refreshing. This talented musician shined all night long, appearing confident and comfortable with the rest of the band. He consistently hit those elevating moments that had the crowd cheering.
As the special guest, Bernard was an integral part of the music. One of the hottest moments was a monster solo reminiscent of Frank Zappa. Bernard’s solo was an emotional exploration through a thematic mood. He showed no regard for time signature and was completely removed from the underlying music. He intentionally was in the middle of his phrasing every time the rest of the band hit their ‘one’. At one point, he had both hands on the base of the guitar and was attacking and tearing at it.
Other highlights of the evening included solid versions of Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down”, Hancock’s “Spank-A-Lee”, the Meters “Live Wire”, and Scofield’s “Chank”. The band has gelled together well and was having a lot of fun. There was a good turn out and nice vibe at the Boom Boom Room for a usually sleepy Tuesday evening.
Bizar Bazaar is something special for both musicians and audience. Be sure to catch next week’s installment with the uniquely amazing Paul Hanson (Wayne Shorter, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones) on bassoon and midi effects. Hanson makes frequent guest appearances and recently sat in with Ratdog and MMW. Bizar’s own band mate Josh Paxton (Wayside) will also be joining them on Hammond B3 and electric piano. Cover is only $3 so bring your friends to the Boom Boom Room!Cory Ferber