Despite releasing three acclaimed CDs over the past decade featuring some of jazz's most accomplished improvisers, John Ettinger
is one of the East Bay's best kept musical secrets.
The El Cerrito violinist gained a good deal of attention in 2006 with "Kissinger In Space," an album as strange, wondrous and amusing as its title.
mostly been out of sight since the release of his
last CD, 2008's beauteous "Inquatica" with Pete Forbes on drums, piano, and banjo, a multi-tracked improvisational duo session marked by his
judicious use of space and a haunting version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust."
Ettinger presents a program of music drawn from his three albums for the first time Saturday at the Berkeley Art Festival space on University Avenue with a quintet featuring bassist Todd Sickafoose, drummer Lorca Hart, guitarist Jon Preuss and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby.
"There just hasn't been time to do the phone work and booking," says Ettinger, who also performs with Preuss, Sickafoose and guitarist Myles Boisen in the Miniwatt String Quartet at San Francisco's Red Poppy Art House on Nov. 24.
grew up in Arizona and moved to the Bay Area in the early 1990s.
Over the years he's
played in chamber music ensembles and symphony orchestras, theatrical settings and free improv jazz.
gained the most visibility in the 1990s jazz/rock combo he
led with Preuss, Hurlo Thrumbo, which occasionally shared the bill with T.J. Kirk, the popular three-guitar-and-drums quartet powered by Scott Amendola.
After playing several gigs with the Scott Amendola Band, Ettinger recruited Amendola, Sickafoose and pianist Art Hirahara, who all performed together in an exquisite trio, for his impressive debut album, 2003's "August Rain.
"I tried not to pin it down stylistically," Ettinger
"Free improvisation and modern composition are among the hallmarks of Kissinger In Space, John Ettinger's
fine sophomore release.
Ettinger, a San Francisco Bay Area violinist, shares the front line with the tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby in a piano-less quartet.
and Malaby complement one another in spite of the differences in the range and tembre of their instruments.
Six of Ettinger's
nine originals clock in at five minutes or under; the solos neither drift nor ramble.
The quartet soon leaves the pocket behind, and Ettinger
and Malaby blow their most intense solos of the session.
"The combination of John Ettinger's
violin and Tony malaby's tenor sax on Kissinger In Space is as beautiful as it is unusual.
finds in the saxophonistt an exceptionally sensitive partner.
The compositions are all by Ettinger
, and they are all intriguing and diverse, swinging at times and at times finding free abstraction.
"Harper Lee" is a good example of how he
and Malaby spiral around one another you can hear each instrument borrowing qualities from its counterpart: it's particularly intriguing to hear Malaby shifting towards a light sound and edgeless, long-lined lyricism rarely heard in his work elsewhere.
The freeboppish "Quaint" is one of the album's most exciting tracks, though it keeps circling back to a hushed, secretive core; the sadder-but-wiser lyricism of "Harper Lee" twists between dark and light, eliciting some of Ettinger's
most rapt, flowing violin; while the rock and roll thrash of the title cut turns into a mysterious plunge into the cosmos."
John Ettinger, a versatile violinist based in the San Francisco Bay area, has in the past played with rock and avant-garde groups so he has a very open style.
Listening to John Ettinger's
muscular and weighty Kissinger In Space, you wonder why.
Most likely it's because the violin comes with a truckload of uncool conservatoire associations: ranks of penguin-suited automatons sitting cowed by the conductor's baton, and not a reefer in sight. (Only a few people today know Smith's 1936 recording 'Here Comes The Man With The Jive,' and most of them have short-term memory loss).
Whatever the reason, the violin's isolation is undeserved.
Here, without fanfare or special treatment, it fits right into a high-grade piano-less quartet-displacing easily as much weight as tenor saxophone, bass or drums, and proclaiming Ettinger
as a distinctive and top-drawer new voice in the music.
Electronic manipulation is sparingly used (considerably less than on Ettinger's
2003 debut, August Rain), and the title track and Amendola's showcase 'The Doors Are Closing' aside, post-production supports rather than shapes events.
By turns joyous and autumnal, pensive and funked up, lyrical and beat-driven, on the page and off it, all sometimes within the course of the same tune, Ettinger's
music blends precisely arranged through-composition with unfettered collective improvisation.
It's utterly distinctive stuff, and amongst its chief joys is the remarkable symbiosis between Ettinger
and Malaby, whose close sonic fit and dual-drive improvised lines are the disc's dominant presence.
starts off the show with his
free-jazz exploration "Dual Diagnosis" from his
latest disc Kissinger In Space.
In all honesty, I don't believe I've heard anyone play the violin like John
does here - his playing is raw and wild, totally abandoning the "sweetness" of tone that marks Stephane Grappelli's playing for example.
And so with that selfish mindset a given, John Ettinger
just scored a whole heap of points this evening.
The secret in this case is John Ettinger, violinist and looper and effects man, sharing the stage with electric piano, bass, and drums.
has a way of popping in and out at opportune times to build a melody out of a groove, establish a specific mood, or carry on a burst of lyricism.
You don't often bump into this sort of thing, which makes it all the better when it's unexpected. (There's a whole lot of bad unexpected music in the world, trust me.) So score twenty for John Ettinger
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