Live review: Bill Casale Trio, Open Gate Theater Band at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, April 6.


A congenial L.A. music-family event. Alex Cline curates this concert series, and his wife, Karen, is there pre-show tonight with their kid, who must be 3 or 4 now; they’re assembling balsa dinosaur bones on the floor amid an exhibit of local art. Meanwhile, Nels Cline is joining Alex and Cryptogramophone label chief Jeff Gauthier (the three constitute the remnant of the chamber-jazz group Quartet Music) plus Crypto artist Bennie Maupin in a photo shoot for an LA Times article I’m working on. (Link here.) Award-winning photographer Anne Fishbein, in traditional artist overcoat, is herding them around; she says it’s good to be documenting something other than food, which has been her main thing lately, though she established herself with her deep portraits of, y’know, humans.

So here comes the Open Gate Theater Band, a mutable outfit consisting of Will Salmon, Alex and whoever; here it’s a trio with bassist Bill Casale, the leader of the evening’s other trio. I want Alex to introduce the kakologies at my funeral, ‘cause he can completely tune the air with just a perfect ringing stroke on one high cymbal. Immediately his kid is standing in the aisle of this echoing old former library, rapt. Casale takes a quick solo; his trademark is the way he taps the strings with hands moving up and down the neck a foot apart, real light but managing to fill the whole room with waves of dense chordal sound.

And then there’s Salmon -- funny I’ve never heard him before, though he’s been co-hosting these Sunday Night Concerts for 11 years and performs a couple times a year at least. He’s a hell of a talent, an opera-quality vocalist who’s also proficient on B-flat flute, wooden flute and piano. The singing is scary, as Salmon executes clarion highs, nasty controlled growls and villainous tenor declamations; it might seem this would be silly, but he keeps his dignity all the way. Alex holds the feel together with rumbly malletwork.

The next number is a scored excerpt from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which starts semistraight with some grave bowed bass from Casale and barrel-chested baritone from Salmon, who gets progressively freakier with Klingon gutturals, Tuvan split throat tones, plucked piano wires and wafting flute. The well-balanced trio strikes a special chord at one point: a lovely triad consisting of a cymbal scrape by Alex, a bowed overtone by Casale and an upper-register sustain by Salmon.

The Open Gaters proceed through a stalking, thrumming tango and a full-spectrum improvisation concluding with Salmon’s Tuvanoid version of a “Kyrie Eleison.” It’s all fresh, all fun.

The energy maintains with Casale’s trio. Looking like a big, bearded professor of literature (without the self-importance), he’s all over the bass with techniques I’ve never seen before -- the tapping thing, pluckings above the nut by the pegs, rich overtones from the bow. He’s got a knack for matching and diverging from the lines of white-turtlenecked windman Matt Zebley, who blows a dark, pretty melody and Oz-wizard trills on alto, and careens through jagged yet soft riffs on the rarely seen E-flat alto clarinet (with a neck and a bell like the bass clarinet, but smaller).

The music is rhythmically diverse, from a breezy ride groove to a butt-shaking huh-huh feel to a shoving tension, and drummer Alan Cooke, a very small, slight white-haired dude, kept drawing the ear and eye. Flipping his match-gripped sticks around the kit with quick sensitivity, he was all action while barely seeming to touch the skins and cymbals. A jazzman all the way. Nels sat in the audience, nodding and grooving.

This concert series is hidden treasure; more people should come. Just mark the first Sunday of every month on your calendar and stop in once in a while -- it’s always good, and I always plug it on MetalJazz. 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, 7pm; $10.