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Finding Water CD Review

River Cow Orchestra Finding Water Personnel: E.E. Pointer, trumpet, vocals; Allan McGinty, bass; Don McCarter, guitar; Michael LaGrega, synths, violin; Brent Bowman, keyboards; Greg Field, drums, vocals. Tracks: The Muffin Man Revealed, Sweet Dreams Emily, Her Hair Was Flexible, My Own Private Child Safety Cap, Muffaletta Dog, Toxic Sweetness, I Know Her Name, As a Man Thinks, Got a Hole in My Head, Unplug the Car. Recorded at Max Stout Studio, Skidmore, Missouri, 2013. Repetitive, hypnotic, ambient music with an energetic push and a distinctive solo element, River Cow’s sound is somewhat indescribable and indefinable. It’s certainly improvisatory, and many might liken the Finding Water sound to Davis’s Bitches Brew period, a full rhythm and percussion section churning, including electric keys, guitar, and bass—with sparse, terse trumpet in the lead. Also there’s the poetry. River Cow has a spoken word element, something to say beyond the sound: closely crafted, poem like benedictions, sometimes angry, sometimes absurdist, always modern and witty. Lines like the following catch and hold: “Got a hole in my head, / where the sky shows through” and “Her hair was flexible” and “Unplug the car. / Let’s hit the road. / Unplug the car. / Let’s pack up and go.” With absurdist, contemporary bluesy push, River Cow’s poetic lines are lasting. Although delivered in a monotone, their dulled delivery only sharpens what is said. What’s said matters, not how it’s said. Delivery is clear, but toneless, full of weary, city ennui. Characteristic of this album, there are no pauses or breaks or stops, only constant motion. The rhythm section and drums push forward, sometimes lumbering, sometimes sprinting, but as one. It’s that Bitches Brew sound, or On the Corner. A minimalist soundscape, River Cow draws from a limited, select palate to paint a diversity of swirling colors and designs. It’s music to think uncommon thoughts to. To muse, contemplate. It’s also music of jest, with its compelling, stark, worldly lyrics, including a full, absurdist exploration of a common nursery rhyme ditty, “Do You Know the Muffin Man.” On track one, Pointer on trumpet repeats the known children’s melody, jazzily altering his phrasing and pacing, repeating and repeating the first half of this melodic riff, “Do you know the muffin man,” with alterations, additions, and subtractions, a note dropped, a note added, a phrase changed, until the original is made new, changed and rephrased—and is worldly and aburdist in its new reading. Although River Cow’s musicians don’t seem virtuosic, they play together, like Dannie Richmond with Charles Mingus, and there’s only unity here: no sectional sparring, no infighting; only common good, common sound. It’s something groups can develop with time and commitment, with mutual admiration. And with a kind of musical respect. The group, as one, plays towards its strengths, in this case a common, unified sound. Sometimes it’s a terse, jarring sound. Often it’s a smooth, cool sound. When jar ring, River Cow is jazz gone punk. And we can use a little more punk in this monotonous, homogenized world. Try Finding Water, if this sounds like you. —Kevin Rabas JUNE + JULY 2014 • JAZZ AMBASSADOR MAGAZINE

Review - Go Softly Into The Good Night

My first thought when I heard the muted trumpet motif opening “Inspirational Mo- ment,” was of Sanctury from the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew album. Indeed, much of River Cow Orchestra’s album reminds me of In a Silent Way and related meditative fusion of that period. According to their MySpace page, it’s ‘Zen Jazz.’ It’s as apt a term as any for this mostly contemplative and mellow free jazz effort. There’s plenty of groove in the mix, though, both from Greg Field’s percussion work and from pulsing bass and guitar riffs that provide texture and a moving background for E.E. Pointer’s explorations. Guitarist Don McCarter interacts a lot with Pointer, particularly on track such as “Grace Over Beauty.” Interplay is what makes free jazz work (and lack of it is what can make it fail), and all the musicians who make up the River Cow Orchestra are ‘big ears’ players who stay attuned to what the other musicians are doing so they can contribute to the overall without getting in each other’s way. A track that deviates from the overall is “Allegory of the Beast With a Million Eyes” — there’s no vocalist listed, but there’s a rant that comes in over the music about the black and white science fiction movie included in the title. It’s a brief rant, a sort of comic relief (it put me in mind of “Stuart” by the Dead Milkmen—though not nearly as bizarre or intense). Vocals are used sparingly, such as at the opening of “Hey Brent...” sounds a lot like Roger Allan Wade say- ing, ‘Hey Brent.’ More semi-comedic accents come in a vaguely Celtic sounding vocal bit about Glen getting his gland stepped on in “Glen and Glenda (for Edward Wood).” As with all experimental music, River Cow Orchestra takes risks and requires a receptive mind set to appreci- ate. If your attention span is as sporadic as mine, you can listen to it 10 times and notice completely new things each time—I know this because it happened to me. It tends to the ethereal and hypnotic with funk and R&B influences, always interesting, nuanced and musical. —Rod McBride, Jazz Ambassador Magazine Oct/Nov 2012

CD Review - This Is Not A Bill

This is the second River Cow Orchestra release that we have reviewed in recent issues, following their Go Wake the Rooster CD that was reviewed in the October/ November 2011 JAM. That release featured their spontaneous free improvisation over some simple forms, set up over some great grooves, and the fine soloing of trumpeter E.E. Pointer. That disc was also just a lot of fun to listen to; there were plenty of surprises to keep the ears happy. This Is Not a Bill seems more composed than the spontaneous Rooster (although there is still plenty of spontaneity and interplay here). The seductive grooves are still there, the solid Pointer trumpet still shines and you might find some of the melodies sticking with you. Almost sounds (dare we say?) accessible. Actually, it is accessible. Its simplicity is one of the is accessible. Its simplicity is one of the is attractions: jazz-rock rhythms (with enough variation to keep you on your toes), repetitive layered riffs from bass, keys, and guitar, and the whole band finding places to make their solo statements. The opener “Heads Together at Table 3” is a case in point. This features a repeated two-bar riff from bassist Allen McGinty over which Pointer states a shave-and-a-haircut-like melody. Pointer then builds on this phrase. After a short Don McCarter guitar fill, Pointer returns on muted horn. Like much of the RCO work, there’s not much in the way of chord changes; just set the groove and let’s play. McCarter’s fuzzed-out funk guitar and a matching rhythm makes me think of a Lonnie Liston Smith groove on “Alley Dice”. “Morning Light” is a light rock piece that proves my accessible comment, feel free to sway a little here. “Doctor” brings back the funk and backbeat, with a driving bass line from McGinty, who also solos. Again, no chord changes, no modulation, just that groove. And check out the space-age synth at the close. The title track gets going with a rockish Bowman riff that is picked up by McCarter and Field, and Pointer has one of his more effective solos. The band really cooks here, the comping from guitar and keys adding interest. Somehow the tune keeps adding heat until Pointer slows it down, and then McGinty gets it going again with a solid solo and there is some actual modulation which normally would not surprise, but it does here. A wah-wah serves McCarter well to open “Slow Dance”. He keeps it going while Pointer’s trumpet voice enters, before they settle into an easy groove and some dramatic moments. Like Rooster there are some “vocals” as well, what I think of as poetry to help establish a rhythmic foundation for a tune. On “Baby Tonight” McCarter’s guitar plays with the almost spoken vocal, and Pointer’s trumpet repeats and makes us realize that there is a melody after all. All the while, we have a drone from Brent Bowman’s organ. “Money Girl” opens in a free vein under the short vocal, and never really loses it, because Bowman’s comping goes in some different places. “Black Heart” is a zombie- like poem with a drone and Pointer obbligato before some fun guitar and drum work. How do we sum this up? I still like my word accessible. There’s nothing that one might hear as too noisy or dense, it is melodic, and these guys do have a way with setting a stage for their solo voices. I have yet to hear RCO live, but after Rooster and Bill I’m thinking that the River Cow Orchestra would make for an enjoyable evening, and this will be another fine souvenir until then.

—Roger Atkinson JAM-Jazz Ambassador Magazine April/May 2012 p.23

Improvised Music Festivals – North America

Improvised Music Festivals – North America

Seattle, WA (January) http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/musicnightlife/2010845620_jazz21.html

Seattle, WA (February) http://www.seattleimprovisedmusic.com/ Vancouver, BC, Canada (February) http://www.whatsonwhen.com/sisp/index.htm?fx=event&event_id=158677 http://www.vancouver2010.com/more-2010-information/cultural-festivals-and-events/event-listings/22nd-annual-time-flies-br-improvised-music-festival_70588dJ.html

Boise, ID (April) http://www.b-cimf.com/

Chicago (April) http://www.emptybottle.com/booking.htm

Boston, MA (April/May) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Cyberarts_Festival

South Bend, IN (May) http://www.artseverywhere.com/event/detail/35455

NYC (May) http://www.gildedpony.org/

NYC (May) http://www.visionfestival.org/

Seattle, WA (May) http://improvisedmusicproject.org/contact/

Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada (May) http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=36944 http://www.fimav.qc.ca/en/

Ventura, CA (May) http://www.vnmf.com/VNMF_2006/index.html

Austin, TX (May/June) http://blog.noideafestival.com/ http://www.noideafestival.com/

Burlington, VT (June) http://angioplastymedia.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/other-music-festival-2010-burlington-vt/

Montreal, Quebec, Canada (June) http://www.casadelpopolo.com/contents/node/74

New York City (June) http://www.visionfestival.org/

Ottawa, Canada (June) http://ottawajazzfestival.com/

New York City (July) http://albertaylerfestival.com/

Birmingham, AL (August) http://www.theredmountainpost.com/the-improvisor-festival-august-2010-4622/ http://www.the-improvisor.com/Improvfest/festival%20schedule.htm http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2010/aug/04/exploring-art-improvisation-2010-improvisor-festiv/ Satellite concerts in Montevallo, AL; Chattanooga, TN; Athens, GA; Atlanta, GA; Seattle, WA; and NYC.

Chicago, IL (August) http://www.neonmarshmallowfest.com/

Baltimore, MD (September) http://www.highzero.org/

Guelph, ON, Canada (September) http://www.guelphjazzfestival.com/

Harrisburg, PA (September) http://www.hbgimprovmusicfest.com/

Twin Cities, MN (October) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Sur_Seine

Wichita, KS (Oct/Nov) http://www.knobfest.com/ http://www.myspace.com/knobfest

Chicago, IL (November) http://umbrellamusic.org/2010FestPR.html

Brookline, MA (November) http://brookline.patch.com/articles/brookline-high-concert-embraces-improvisational-spirit-of-jazz

Santa Cruz, CA (December) http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=191040606872&v=info#!/group.php?gid=191040606872&v=wall

Free Improvisation Music Resources in the USA

Artists’ Organizations

AACM (Chicago) http://www.aacmchicago.org/

The Alliance for Improvised Music (Carrboro NC) http://www.ibiblio.org/aim/index.html

Arts for Art (New York, DC) http://www.visionfestival.org/

Bay Area Improvisors Network http://www.bayimproviser.com/default.htm

CNMAT (Bay Area) http://cnmat.berkeley.edu/

Deep Listening (Bay Area) http://deeplistening.org/site/

Jazz Composers Collective (New York) http://www.jazzcollective.com/

JumpArts (New York) http://www.jumparts.org/

North Carolina Arts Council http://www.ncarts.org/

Shaking Ray Levi Society (Chattanooga, TN) http://www.chattanooga.net/srs/

The Improvisor http://www.the-improvisor.com/

Performance Venues

Beanbenders (Bay Area) http://www.plonsey.com/beanbenders/beanbenders.html

Creative Music & Film (Columbia, SC) http://magmazed.tripod.com/creativemusic/

Downtown Neon Gallery (Kansas City) http://www.myspace.com/downtownneongallery

Empty Bottle (Chicago) http://magmazed.tripod.com/creativemusic/

Eyedrum (Atlanta) http://www.eyedrum.org/

Knitting Factory (New York) http://www.knittingfactory.com/

New Music Circle (St. Louis) http://newmusiccircle.org/

Project Space 211 (Winston-Salem, NC) http://www.krankiescoffee.com/

Red Room (Baltimore) http://www.redroom.org/

Salvador Dali Museum (St Petersburg, FL) http://salvadordalimuseum.org/

Tonic (New York) http://www.tonicnyc.com/

Transparent Productions (DC) http://www.transparentproductionsdc.org/

Velvet Lounge (Chicago) http://www.velvetlounge.net/

Zeitgeist (New Orleans) http://zeitgeisttheater.wordpress.com/

Calendars, other resources

Bay Area Resources http://sfsound.org/

Bay Area Music Calendar http://sfsound.org/

Chicago Now Calendar http://www.tisue.net/chicagonow/

Radio Stations

WXDU (Durham, NC) http://www.wxdu.org/

WXYC (Chapel Hill, NC) http://www.wxyc.org/

WNUR (Chicago) http://www.wnur.org/

WFMU (New York/New Jersey) http://www.wfmu.org/

WREK (Atlanta) http://www.wrek.org/

KFIR (Kansas City) http://www.myspace.com/kfirradio

River Cow Orchestra - Discography

Discography (FieldInfoServ Records, Independence, Missouri) 2012 Go Softly Into The Good Night 2011 This Is Not A Bill 2011 Go Wake The Rooster 2011 RCO Live at the Farris Theatre 2010 Mother Tongue 2009 Secret Sickness 2009 The Tyranny and Grace of Good Socks 2008 Emerging

Available on all major internet music portals (iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, etc.)

River Cow Orchestra - Members and Collaborations

Current Members

E. E. Pointer trumpet, spoken voice Allan McGinty string bass, electric bass Don McCarter guitar. steel guitar, bass/piano Michael LaGrega violin, synthesizer, drums, percussion, theremin Greg Field drums, percussion, poetry, spoken voice, theremin Brent Bowman keyboard, saxophone, flute

Guest Artists and Group Collaborations

Thomas Cobian neon artist (a.k.a. “The Neon Warrior”) Connor Bowman flute, alto saxophone Kacico contemporary dance theater of Kansas City Kansas City Writer’s Place creative writers and poets

River Cow Orchestra - Music Philosophy

Free improvisation is both a technique and a instrumental genre. It essentially is playing music ‘without rules’, the music is free. It is highly idiosyncratic and takes it lead from 20th century music innovators John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Free improvisation is music of enormous passion and surprising sophistication. Free improvisation developed out of the free jazz (avant-garde) movement which started in the 1960’s in the USA. Some free jazz artists are: The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Dave Holland, Charles Lloyd, Charles Mingus, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and the later works of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. These musicians were dissatisfied with the limitations of bebop, hard bop and modal jazz and cast off the traditional jazz elements (such as written melodies over fixed chord changes) in search of greater artistic expression. Free jazz (avant-garde) musicians attempted to alter, extend and discard the fixed conventions of jazz. Free improvisation as a music style developed during the 1960s in the U.S. and Europe. It focuses on collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans Jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacts with the group as a whole. An aesthetic premium is on the character and personality of each musician rather than the technical skill. The music is highly idiosyncratic and the artists seek to explore the process of artistic creation rather than focus on making a polished commercial product for entertainment. Group improvisation demands radical egalitarianism and the musicians are devoted to the music of the moment. Free from commercial restraints the non-conventional performers focus on raw innovation and sound art. Free improvisation is not about pursuing the highest level of abstraction, rather it seeks the highest level of autonomy within a collaborative musical context. No free improvisation performers are well known among the general public but some artists are known among musicians (and discriminating listeners). Some free improvisation artists are: AMM, Derek Bailey, the Globe Unity Orchestra, Barry Guy, London Improvisers Orchestra, Butch Morris, Toney Oxley, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and John Zorn. Unfortunately, visionary free improvisation and free jazz (avant-garde) artists usually perform for sparse audiences in small venues. Typically non-commercial musicians perform in private homes, art galleries, coffee houses, bookstores and other intimate venues for friends and small groups of people. Their intuitive music challenges listeners intellectually and does not seek to entertain. The artists are not concerned with orthodox rules and each musicians’ voice is allowed to emerge. Their creative expression is outside the realm of ‘fine art’ and completely liberated from the ordinary. Fortunately, the internet has made it possible for free improvisation and free jazz (avant-garde) artists to connect their small niche of listeners dispersed around the globe.

River Cow Orchestra - Overview and History


River Cow Orchestra is a free jazz improvisation group based in Kansas City, Missouri. The group was founded in 2008 by musicians Greg Field and Brent Bowman. The ensemble specializes in collective spontaneous free improvisation.


Jazz artists in America have suffered much during the past forty years. Dwindling audiences and public indifference have resulted in the emergence of more commercial jazz during the past few decades. The innovative avant-garde and free jazz styles of the 1960s and 1970s have been replaced with less adventurous more marketable jazz. In the 1980s, Wynton Marsalis became the leading advocate for the ‘classical jazz’ that promoted mainstream artists like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He authored an article in the New York Times titled, “What Jazz is – and Isn’t” (1988) that took aim at "..an attempt to blur the lines (of jazz) for commercial purposes." In the article he said new age, third stream, jazz/rock fusion were not jazz. In recent years a sub-genre ‘smooth jazz’ has emerged. Being heavily influenced by R&B and funk ‘smooth jazz’ has a contemporary beat to make the music more attractive to younger audiences. Commercial radio stations have promoted artists like Kenny G. and pitched the ‘smooth jazz’ format.