MSP/Piano: Double trios w Thollem McDonas, Cheryl Leonard, Nava Dunkelman, Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, and dancer Nan Busse, Wed 15 Jan, @ Center For New Music, SF, 9pm + Set 1: Bloom Project (Rent Romus & Thollem McDonas) @ 8pm

I’m excitedly looking forward to an evening of cosmic forces in kaleidoscopic alignments of double trios, triple duos, and high-energy fermion-symmetric vapor trails, with a matched set of peerless improvisors and sonic explorers.

These configurations will emerge from the sonic quantum froth of electro-acoustic free improv so pure it has a unique blue color at 8pm, Wed 15 Jan @ Center for New Music (55 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA – map).

Composition de l’équipe:

Keyboards allsorts:

Thollem McDonas (piano) & Joe Lasqo (piano & laptop)


Bruce Ackley & Steve Adams

Meta-percussion and way, way beyond:

Cheryl E. Leonard & Nava Dunkelman (ナヴァ・ダンケルマン)


Nan Busse

Thollem McDonas w Piano & Victrola (© 2012, Angela C Villa)

Thollem McDonas w Piano & Victrola (© 2012, Angela C Villa)

Thollem McDonas is a pianist, composer, improviser and teacher. He travels perpetually internationally performing as a soloist as well as in collaboration with a wide array of artists in wildly divergent directions. In the past 7 years, he has added 32 albums to his discography on 15 different vanguard labels in 5 different countries. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of Irish and Cherokee descent. At the age of five, he began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century and studied with many notable teachers including Aiko Onishi (大西愛子) and Lou Harrison. After graduating with degrees in both piano performance and composition, he stepped from the concert pianist trajectory to dedicate his time to grassroots political movements and ecological restoration projects. In 2005, he returned to his music as his full focus, incorporating his myriad experiences into his compositions, improvisations and teaching.

On Debussy's Piano And…, by Thollem McDonas & Stefano Scodanibbio

For musicians and listeners saddened by the artificial split between “classical” and “improvising” traditions, Thollem’s incorporation of radically re-imagined patterns and strategies from classical music into a fiercely trans-idiomatic gumbo, along with elements of free jazz, transmuted Latin music, and other influences, will be especially interesting and beautiful. A wonderful CD (among many) highlighting this is On Debussy’s Piano And…, an incredible collaboration with the late, great Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio, which Thollem performs on the last piano owned by Debussy.

The hands of Thollem McDonas, Bairro Alto (© 2010 Angela C Villa)

Thollem has performed extensively as a soloist as well as in piano concertos with symphonies, West African drumming troupes, Javanese gamelan ensembles, punk bands, with film makers, dancers, poets and painters and a wide array of divergent musicians, both famous and under-known. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange.  As a writer, his essay, “Deep Listening and the Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician” was written specifically for An Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (Deep Listening Institute, 2012) in honor of Pauline Oliveros‘ 80th birthday and he is a regular columnist in Full Moon Magazine (Prague), a print publication dedicated to independent music. His music is diverse, with each album and every concert exploring a variety of approaches and paths, resulting in dramatically new and different outcomes.

His collaborations with musicians, dancers, and film-makers take up 23 single-spaced lines (here) and continue to grow rapidly.

Cheryl Leonard and friend

Glass shards and pinecones, glaciers, boxspring mattresses, a flock of accordions, circular saw blades, viola, the erhu (二胡), hyenas and whales and elk, Cheryl E. Leonard’s music finds its raw materials just about anywhere. From these diverse sources come works that embrace the spectrum of musical possibilities: improvised to composed, acoustic to electronic, diaphanous to bombastic, notes to noise. Over the last decade Cheryl has focused on investigating sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Many of her recent works cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers, and bones as musical instruments. Cheryl uses microphones to explore the micro-aural worlds contained within her sound sources and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices they contain. Her projects often involve constructing one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments that are played live on stage. She’s particularly interested in collaborating across artistic disciplines and developing site-specific works.

Cheryl Leonard's Driftwood Cloud Mobile instrument

Cheryl holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MA from Mills College, both in music composition. She studied composition and electronic music with Alvin Curran, Chris Brown, George Lewis, Frederic Rzewski, Laeticia Sonami, Salvatore Macchia, and Alan Bonde; and performance art with Moira Roth, Carolee Schneemann, and Betsy Damon.

Cheryl Leonard in her instrument-building lab (photo by Lisa Jennings,

Cheryl’s music has been performed worldwide. Her work with natural object instruments has been featured on KQED TV’s local arts show Spark, the Hallmark Network’s New Morning Show and CBS’s Evening Magazine, as well as in Tim Perkis’s documentary film Noisy People. She is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, ASCAP, the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, and the American Composer’s Forum. She has been awarded residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, The Arctic Circle, Engine 27 and Villa Montalvo. Leonard has been commissioned to create music and instruments for Kronos Quartet, The Illuminated Corridor, and Michael Straus. Recordings of her music are available from Nexmap, Ubuibi, Great Hoary Marmot Music, Pax Recordings, Unusual Animals, Apraxia Records, 23 Five Inc, Old Gold Records and The Lab.

Cheryl Leonard' s icicle instruments from Music From The Ice at the San Francisco Exploratorium, 11 Oct 2013

Cheryl’s many collaborations with artists from other disciplines include: Adfreeze Project with visual artist Oona Stern, Sila with visual artist Genevieve Swifte, Tides:Estuary with visual artist Rebecca Haseltine, three projects (Fable, Good Guy Bad Guy, Eenie Macy and the Ten Step Program), and numerous works for dance, film and video. She has created sounds for several exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and, over the past two decades, has played in many experimental ensembles and noise bands, touring Japan, Canada, and the U.S. in the process. These days she sometimes performs with Big City Orchestra.

Cheryl Leonard's Han Shan Tree (寒山木), site-specific instrument at Djerassi, evokes the Tang dynasty poet and Zen master Han Shan (寒山)

In addition to her musical endeavors Cheryl is a climber and mountaineer, studies aikido, and collects pinecones with handles.

Nava Dunkelman (ナヴァ・ダンケルマン), photo by Mido Lee

Nava Dunkelman (ナヴァ・ダンケルマン) is a Bay Area percussionist and improviser. Born in Tokyo, and raised in a multi-cultural environment by an American father and Indonesian mother, Nava’s musical interests span the globe from Japanes taiko (太鼓) to Indonesian gamelan to American marching band, and from classical to contemporary to the avant-garde. Nava studied percussion under Eugene Novotney at Humboldt State University before attending Mills College, where she studied with William Winant, as well as Fred Frith, Maggi Payne, Zeena Parkins, and David Bernstein, among others.

DunkelpeK - (L) Jacob Peck, (R) Nava Dunkelman, at Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, 18 Jul 2013 (Photo -,

Since graduating with a degree in music performance in 2013, Nava has performed and collaborated with John Zorn, William Winant, Fred Frith, Chris Brown, DominiqueLeone and many others, as well as formed the improvisational trio Dapplegray with Jeanie-Aprille Tang (恬怡) and Tara Sreekrishnan, which debuted in 2012 at The Stone in New York City. She also is a member of two marvelous duos: DunkelpeK with JacobPek, and IMA () with Jeanie-Aprille Tang (恬怡). Through improvisation, Nava enjoys discovering her own musical language by exploring experimental approaches to communication, progression, and space.

Bruce Ackley w ROVA / Nels Cline Celestial Septet at Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, 20 Aug 2011 (photo by peak, http//

Bruce Ackley was born in Rochester, New York. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began singing in choral groups at age 10. (His father performed in a vocal sextet as a young man in the 1930s.) Bruce sang throughout his school years and finally took up the sax. He formed his first improvising trio that year with friends from his art school days at Wayne State in Detroit, where he studied painting and drawing. In 1971 he relocated to the Bay Area.

Largely self-taught, Bruce studied saxophone briefly with Lee Hester and Noel Jewkes, and clarinet with Beth Custer and Ben Goldberg. Throughout the 1970s he was involved with the emerging free improvisation scene in San Francisco, and formed Sound Clinic with Lewis Jordan and George Sams in 1975. He began playing with Larry Ochs in 1973 and Jon Raskin in 1975, which led to the formation of ROVA in the fall of 1977.

Bruce Ackley, Celestial Septet @ le poisson rouge, 26 Feb 2011, w ROVA, Nels Cline (& Nels Cline Singers), Scott Amendola, and Trevor Dunn

Since then Bruce has mainly devoted his musical life to his work with ROVA, with some notable side projects. In 1977 he performed and recorded with the quartet Twins, featuring John Zorn on reeds, and Eugene Chadbourne and Henry Kaiser on guitars. During the 1980s he played regularly with trombone-electronics wizard, Dino J.A. Deane and drummer Joseph Sabella. They formed Planet X in 1992, which performed extensively in the Bay Area and made a recording at that time. Bruce has also performed with the Italian bass virtuoso, Stefano Scodanibbio. In 1996 they performed together with koto-electronics player Miya Masaoka (正岡みや), and the brilliant cellist, Rohan de Saram, formerly of the Arditti String Quartet.

That year Bruce formed a trio to perform his more jazz-oriented original compositions, Actual Size, with George Cremaschi on bass and Garth Powell on drums. This led to the recording The Hearing by the Bruce Ackley Trio, featuring Joey Baron on Drums and Greg Cohen on bass, and released on the John Zorn-curated Japanese label Avant. During the late 1990s Bruce formed Frankenstein, a jazz repertory band that played the music of many of the forward-looking artists of the early ‘60s, particularly Grachan Moncur III, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, and Jackie McLean—providing him an opportunity to dig into material that significantly impacted him during formative years.

Steve Adams

Fellow ROVA-ite Steve Adams needs little introduction to lovers of jazz and new music, having been a long-standing key player in various East & West Coast scenes. His work on various saxes, flutes, electronics and as a composer combines probing originality, playful improv structures and swing with a very specific angular momentum.

Steve Adams

Steve is best known as a member of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, whom he’s been with for more than 20 years. Steve is also a member of the Bill Horvitz Band, various Matt Small ensembles, and the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, as well as leading his own projects.

Steve lived in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s, where he was a member of Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and Composers in Red Sneakers among others. A remarkable collaboration with avant jazz bassist Ken Filiano, which we in the Bay Area have the pleasure of hearing on his swings to the West Coast, was formed in this period.

Steve’s versatility, powerful musical imagination, commanding technique, and personal warmth and great sense of humor make him a wonderful collaborator, and it’s been great to have my ears expanded by his beautiful ideas by working together in various duo and trio dates.

Nan Busse

Nan Busse has been creating dance-based art works since receiving her MFA from UC-Irvine (“a long time ago…”). Collaborating with choreographer Christopher Beck, she made pieces performed at Centerspace (Project Artaud) and New College; and with her partner, poet Tobey Kaplan, participated in the Link inter-disciplinary performance series.

Emily Mizuno (L), Nan Busse (M), and Peggy De Coursey (R) prepare backstage for the performance of Nguyễn Dance Company at the Metropolitan Theatre in Hồ Chí Minh City, Việt Nam

Since about 1999 she has been unable to stop dancing – thanks to Yvonne Caldwell, Evelyn Thomas, Roger Dillahunty, Georgia OrtegaJohn Tanner, and the great Cassie Terman, and has toured in Việt Nam and the US with Nguyễn Dance Company. She works as an Education & Arts Therapist in the East Bay.

Joe Lasqo @ Meridian Gallery, 11 Jan 2012 (Photo:,

I look forward to improvisatory adventures with this fine company, using piano, MSP/laptop, and percussion.

My laptop-based AI improvising agent associate, Maxxareddu, may also assist if he is moved to jump in.

Set 1 (8pm): Bloom Project (Rent Romus & Thollem McDonas)

Bloom Project - Rent Romus (L) and Thollem McDonas (R)

We’ll be preceded by Thollem’s long-standing spirited and colossal duo with Rent Romus, the Bloom Project. Featuring free improvisations as well as interpretations of numerous textual and graphical scores, Bloom Project’s music is an organic construction and expression of combining disparate and divergent stylistic histories with a sense of refreshing immediacy, intensity, and spontaneous inventiveness.

Guest recording and performing musicians have include instrument builder Steven Baker, drummer and found-object player Jon Brumit, trumpet and electronics artists Liz Albee, and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani (中谷達也).

One of my favorite Bloom CDs - Sudden Aurora

Among their several great recordings, I would particularly recommend the intimate and transfixing sound-universe of their album Sudden Aurora. Have a listen for yourself, and your ears will be opened very wide.

For info on Thollem McDonas, please see above…

Rent Romus, Godfather of Avant Soul

The Godfather of Avant Soul, organizer of innumerable Bay Area events, Rent Romus, saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and producer, is heavily involved in going beyond the confines of standard music forms of composition and improvisation and focused on presenting and supporting the local experimental and avant-garde community. From his beginnings as a student of jazz while being exposed to the tutelage of Stan Getz to the present day Rent Romus has recorded and released 22 recordings as a leader which have included Jason Olaine, Steve Rossi, Chico Freeman, John Tchicai, Jonas Müller, Stefan Pasborg, Toyoji Tomita (富田豊治), Dave Mihaly, Bill NoertkerCJ Borosque, Philip Everett, Ray Schaeffer, Paris Slim, Jesse Quattro, Scott R Looney, Bob Marsh, Jim Ryan, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Tobias Fischer, and Thollem Mcdonas. As a producer and artist business activist he runs Edgetone Records a label for all forms of improvisation and experimentation. He is the founder and Executive Director of Outsound Presents under which he curates the SIMM Series, the Luggage Store Series every Thursday, both in San Francisco, and The Outsound New Music Summit, a national experimental music festival held in the San Francisco Bay Area every summer in July.

This will be a fantastic night – look forward to play for you at this grand, one-of-a-kind show!



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