For Gyan Riley, labels don’t apply 

There’s no way to pigeonhole the music of guitarist Gyan Riley and his trio. 

The son of composer Terry Riley — whose seminal minimalist composition of 1964, “In C,” influenced the course of both classical and rock music — Gyan grew up in a household filled with a wide variety of sounds.

Surrounded by his father’s Indian music, contemporary classical music, ragtime, blues and jazz, Gyan — who plays solo Tuesday and with his band at Yoshi’s next week — initially moved in a classical direction, studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. As a result, when he later formed a jazz trio to play many of his own compositions, Gyan’s cohorts found themselves facing not your typical jazz charts but far more complex, written-out music that reflects a grounding in complex Western classical forms.

His music has a beauty all its own.

As much as it reflects diverse musical traditions from around the world, it sounds nothing like your typical “world music” potpourri that tends to homogenize indigenous music into an easily palatable form.

Rather, the music is a whole new thing, filled with surprising harmonies, energetic excursions and a unique grace.

“There’s still a lot of room in my compositions for improvisation,” Gyan says during a phone interview. “It’s not necessarily the kind of improvisation that screams ‘Jazz Improv’ with a capital J, but it’s there nonetheless. If you can’t tell what’s been written out and what’s being improvised, the goal has been achieved.”

Riley’s partners in his trio have their own diverse interests.

String player Timb Harris blends a background in contemporary chamber music with death metal, and he’s worked with many of the Bay Area’s top new music soloists.

Percussionist Scott Amendola first gained notoriety as a member of eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter’s trio, and he’s toured with such very different artists as Bill Frisell and John Zorn.

Joining the trio for the evening is bass guitarist Michael Manring, whom Gyan describes as a very lyrical, expressive and big-hearted guy with a very intuitive sixth sense of what to do all the time.

“I like to give the performers a lot of liberty to add their own personal expression to the group,” Gyan says. “It manifests not when they have a designated solo, but also in a lot of small passages that allow the music to develop and morph into something new. To me, that’s what keeps it interesting and enables us to grow as an ensemble.”

IF YOU GO

The Gyan Riley Trio

Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 22

Tickets: $10 to $14

Contact: (415) 655-5600, www.yoshis.com

Note: Riley also plays solo at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, 660 California St., San Francisco.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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