by Josef Woodard
GIVING AN “A” TO Z: In the Z zone of the new and experimental music cosmos, the big name may still be Zappa, Frank, but Z, Pamela is steadily gaining attention — and love. Since the ’80s, Z has been honing and inventing her artistic voice (voice, in literal and lateral ways). Her aesthetic involves electronics, spoken and sung word, an amazing self-reliance — thanks to such technology as the body-triggering “BodySynth” — and a hip accessibility, implicitly posing the question: “Who’s afraid of contemporary music?”
That question descends on Center Stage Theater when Z makes her long-awaited Santa Barbara appearance, Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3. She played Ventura years ago, in the Ventura Chamber Music Festival, but finally hits our town, courtesy of the Iridian Arts series put on by Robin Cox. His own ensemble will also collaborate with Z, when not going it alone, as she does charismatically.
Comparisons to Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk have long hovered over Z’s work, but she’s really embraced her own artistic entity. While her discography is mighty lean, you can get a taste from the recent compilation, A Delay Is Better (take the title as you will — she was first lured into electronics by the digital delay, this album is a delayed release, etc.). Suffice to say, Z’s Center Stage show is a hot ticket for anyone curious about the music/ideas of the moment.
GREAT WEIRD WHITE NORTH: The music/sounds making their way each May to the festival FIMAV (International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville) in Victoriaville, Quebec, is definitely an acquired taste. Noise gambits, free improvisation, art rock, post-free jazz, and new laptop marauders are among the fare, in one of the continent’s most distinctive and important avant-garde fests. But if and when you acquire the taste — as with sex or WiFi — life without it would seem empty.
The 23rd annual FIMAV gushed forth recently — 24 concerts in five days. Some of the old guard seemed perturbed by the lack of old-school jazzers. Last year, Anthony Braxton was the special guest, in three settings (all now available via the in-house Victo label). This year, the three-concert honor went to wild-man vocalist Mike Patton, whose projects have included Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, and countless other odd side trips. Here, Patton brandished his versatility, in duets with soundscaper Christian Fennesz and then-rapper/beatbox king Rahzel on closing night. Patton also wailed excellently with the Italian art rock outfit Zu.
LOCAL ANGLER: Drummer Tom Rainey, who went through local schools and has become the finest Santa Barbara-grown jazz drummer, hasn’t lived here for decades. But fans hereabouts can track a brilliant, semi-underground career, with Tim Berne and other offbeat N.Y.C.-based projects. Rainey was a surprise hero of this year’s FIMAV, a critical one-third of an improvisational encounter with guitarist Nels Cline (longtime L.A.“out cat” getting wider play through his gig with Wilco) and Andrea Parkins, accordionist/pianist with a textural flair. Somehow, Rainey was the primary source of musical mojo, whether venturing abstractly or setting up inventive, fragmentary bursts of groove and rhythmic force. A musician trapped in a drummer’s body (to quote his own joking appraisal), Rainey needs to make a solo album.
Speaking of notable trios, another festival star was the progressive and young N.Y.C.-based Fieldwork — pianist Vijay Iyer, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and alto saxist Steve Lehman — who was recently making waves and soaking up kudos. Hearing the trio live, you hear what the excitement is about: intricate and hyper-empathetic, and arty while visceral, they thrill in a new way.
For this columnist’s money, the real sensation was the super-dynamic Norwegian duo known as Fe-mail, being Maja Ratkje (voice and poetically manipulated electronics and gadgetry, heard in L.A.’s REDCAT earlier this year) and Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn and electronix). These women give new energy, vision, and nuance to live electronics — artistic, non-groove division. Remember those names. The future is still bright in the avant-garde netherworld. (Got e? Email email@example.com.)