5 songs for right now: Steven Schick, Nonexistent Night, Tasha Smith Godinez, Cali the Dreamer and Margo Cilker
We're listening to new or notable music from San Diego musicians Nonexistent Night, Tasha Smith Godinez, Cali the Dreamer and Steven Schick, and touring Americana singer Margo Cilker.
'Prelude in Terror' by Nonexistent Night
San Diego audiences first met the song "Prelude in Terror" as a solo piano composition by Carrie Gillespie Feller, performed as part of the Logan Lone Piano Concert series from the Athenaeum Art Center.
Singer and keys/piano player Feller (also of Hexa) has now formed a new band, Nonexistent Night, with John Rieder (of Parker Meridian and Secret Fun Club) on bass and Sal Gallegos (of Secret Fun Club and Some Girls) on drums. Though their future releases will have vocals, this first tiny taste — dropped a few weeks before the band's first show — is instrumental. While there was a sparse beauty to the solo piano recording, this fleshed-out composition is even better (if better means "more full of darkness and dread"). The added instrumentation folds in a welcome curiosity and complexity to this tune. Joining the band on this recording are cellist Alia Jyawook and guitarist Dale Holland, who also recorded and mixed the track.
'Janissary Music' by Steven Schick
Steven Schick's new two-disc album, "A Hard Rain," launches an ambitious multirelease recording project called "Weather Systems." With this project, Schick wants to revisit, as an older musician, works that he has been playing his entire career.
"The very first notated piece for percussion solo is actually younger than I am," Schick said. "I predate my own repertory. So these are pieces from the late 1950s and the '60s that established percussion as a sort of area of invention and innovation."
"Janissary Music" was composed in 1966 by Charles Wuorinen and is a piece Schick has been playing for upwards of 45 years.
"Over the course of recording these two albums, I started a really fascinating conversation with my much younger self, the person who would learn those pieces in the first place, and in some cases, nearly a half century ago," Schick said. "The conversation as I practiced the piece was with me as a 23-year-old, and I found that a fascinating way to bridge generational gaps and to test the theorem about whether percussion was really music only for acrobatic young people. As my body ages — but potentially my mind is more experienced — this was a way in which to kind of see the growth over time."
The piece opens with a creeping, beguiling vibraphone melody — more mallet percussion falls in, as do sporadic drum beats and brushed cymbals, each offering their own subtle melodic participation. The composition breathes through several moods in its nearly 13-minute duration, setting dissonance next to beauty, or a few experimental clangs with more traditional resonance, and Schick's performance is masterful.
'Refraction' by Cali the Dreamer and True Love
As a genre, rap is appraised as a combination of lyrics, rhythm and cadence (which is, of course, oversimplified). A good rap song, to me, packs that combo with vivid scene-setting, a nod to things that matter right now and a deceptively relaxed groove with plenty of underlying desperation. San Diego rapper Cali the Dreamer and producer True Love do this so well on the full-length album "The Simulation," released in May.
I keep coming back to "Refraction," featuring Vista-based hip-hop artist Dre Trav. It's sonically and lyrically layered and complex, with some surprising flourishes of trumpet, an almost jazzlike break — plus an ending that's a little bit haunting. Cali the Dreamer performs fairly often, so watch out for upcoming shows.
'Mulatta' by Tasha Smith Godinez
San Diego-based harpist Tasha Smith Godinez has a new album on the way in June. Her next release will be "Out of the Desert," due June 10, and the first single is "Mulatta," the album's opener. Godinez recently wrote a short essay and poem about the song's title, a term seen in some communities as problematic, though one that Godinez has always found solace in when self-identifying as mulatta.
The composition is gorgeous, featuring Domenico "Nico" Hueso on viola and Christopher Garcia on percussion, along with Godinez's skillful and emotive harp. I'd heard the piece before performed just on harp, which was magical, but the song feels like it was written with this arrangement in mind: the mournful tones of viola and the scampering, delicate percussion adding depth to what was already a nearly bottomless sound.
Don't miss Godinez performing at 7 p.m. on July 29 at Light Box Theater, joined by Hueso and Garcia, as well as dancer Camille McPherson.
'That River' by Margo Cilker
From the "out of town" files, folk-country/Americana artist Margo Cilker will tour through San Diego with a show on Sunday at the Casbah. Cilker, who is based in Oregon, released her debut full-length album, "Pohorylle," in the fall. The album is packed with tracks that are somehow effortless, lilting and total bangers at the same time, like "Kevin Johnson," "Broken Arm in Oregon" and "Tehachapi." The album's opener is my favorite, "That River," which gives a wintry, northern spin to the country river and road trope.
You can find a partial playlist of these songs here, and follow KPBS on Spotify for more playlists.