Accordion time traveling with Rob Reich in Berkeley
Some of the musicians featured at the recently launched Bands at Brower series approached the performance like any other gig, presenting their usual material. But for Rob Reich the David Brower Center’s ecological mission is a feature not a bug, and he’s designed an immersive multimedia event that explores the way music and natural settings can alter our consciousness.
This Friday’s Bands at Brower show introduces Reich’s new project Thymesia, which he describes as “a meditation on time and memory. I think most people have had the experience of music warping their experience of time. I want to tap into this powerful quality.”
Playing by candlelight to create the feeling of “an autumnal meditation,” Reich says the music will be accompanied by original abstract video projections by local video artists Thomas Bates, Ben Flax, and Brett Stillo. It’s just the latest musical sojourn by an artist who can always be found keeping interesting company, like an event next year with two other Bay Area luminaries who share his name, Cal’s Robert Reich and Stanford poli sci professor Rob Reich (the debut of new Rob Reich Trio?).
A pianist, accordionist, composer and bandleader, Oakland’s Reich is an inveterately creative force who can be found creating extraordinary music in an improbably wide array of settings. He spent years in the Gypsy jazz-inspired combo Gaucho, though he’s easing out of the band’s long-running weekly gig at the Mission District barAmnesia in favor of his own duo gig with bassist Daniel Fabricant at The Page, a bar in the Lower Haight.
Reich leads the Circus Bella All Star Band, composing and performing music to accompany the one-ring Circus Bella. He’s a semi-regular at Klezmer Mondays at Saul’s Deli, playing duo with Berkeley clarinet maestro Ben Goldberg (“We play some klezmer, but they don’t mind when we play whatever we want,” he says). He and Goldberg collaborate in several other ensembles, from the now-inactive chamber group Tin Hat and the rootsy Ben Goldberg School to Reich’s lithe Shadowbox, a project he introduced on an eponymous CD back in April on Goldberg’s label BAG Productions (he’ll be exploring that music Sunday afternoon at Bird & Beckett).
For the stripped down Thymesia project he’s recruited Henry Hung on trumpet and electronics and Eric Garland on drums and percussion. The Brower Center doesn’t have a piano, so he’ll mostly be playing accordion, though he’s also planning to incorporate the latest addition to his instrumental palette, the vibraphone. Rather than tunes, the concept calls for creating ambient environments, employing electronics to manipulate acoustic sounds in real time.
“As a father and full-time gigging musician, it’s pretty hectic trying to make a living in the Bay Area,” Reich says. “We need time to be quiet, to get into touch with the flow and rhythms of life. I go on a lot of hikes, but music can accomplish that as well.”
In many ways Thymesia returns Reich to some of his early musical experiments as an undergrad studying composition at Oberlin in the late 1990s. Deeply interested in electronic music, he played around with with analog synths and learned some basic MAX programming. He put electronics aside after moving to the Bay Area in 2000 to focus on establishing himself as a piano teacher and performer. Now he’s busy enough to long for tranquil environments where he can investigate “the intricacies and little details of sounds,” Reich says.
“I’ve been exploring recent technology for Thymesia and the music will be largely improvised, but not free form jazz. It’s improvised within a basic framework of slow, repetitive structures and dark organic timbres.”
That’s music to the Brower Center’s ears. The organization created Bands at Brower to “offer a different kind of social space,” says Jackie Hasa, the center’s co-managing director. “It’s all about supporting environmental activists. But that doesn’t have to be so serious. You can have fun and enjoy our beautiful gallery too. We’ve been really happy with that aspect of Bands at Brower, but we want to focus more on working with local musicians with explicitly environmental themes.”
Reich’s performance on Friday concludes this year’s concert series, and after a winter hiatus the Brower Center is looking to introduce a new program of shows in the spring.