Breaking the ‘Solitude’ with new Bay Area music

Breaking the ‘Solitude’ with new Bay Area music
New albums from San Francisco bands Late Astor and SLUGish Ensemble.

Dave Hughes The Beat of Diablo bannerCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Jan. 18, 2024) — It’s that time again when I attempt to convert readers into listeners by sharing my synopses of a handful of recent local releases.

This month’s column comes with a hope and an ask. My hope is that at least one of these brief overviews will have you saying, “Now that sounds like something I might like.” My ask is that you take that next step and actually give the music a listen.

I’ll begin with a couple of recent offerings from San Francisco, starting with the new album from SLUGish Ensemble, “In Solitude.” This pandemic-inspired album is the product of an instrumental jazz project led by bass-clarinetist and composer Steven Lugerner.

“Like many, I often felt lonely at the onset of the pandemic,” shares Lugerner. “I heard somewhere that it’s more appropriate to frame loneliness as ‘being in solitude.’ While loneliness is often a feeling of sadness, solitude is the acceptance of being on your own and being at peace with it.”

This is definitely music to sit with – music that flourishes with elements of improv, while being tethered tastefully by Lugerner’s writing. These compositions often consist of shorter, mantra-like melodies upon which the ensemble builds. Expect large dynamic ranges, from the lightest touch of upright bass and piano, to the Charles Mingus-like cacophony of horns, guitar, drums and synthesizers.

Another recent release from The City comes from the experimental duo known as Late Aster. Recorded in June of last year and released in the fall, “Light Rail Session” is a live album, though you wouldn’t know that by listening to the rich production. Late Aster electronically processes live trumpet, French horn and vocals in real time with synthesizers and a drum machine to create their signature dreamy sound, which they describe as being “situated somewhere between jazztronica, ambient electronic and chamber pop.”

Oakland offerings

Oakland music scene shines with artists such as Dani Offline and Aaron Burnham & the Brushfires.

Across the Bay, the Oakland music scene continues to shine with an eclectic array of offerings. I’ll start with a style of music not often associated with The Town: honky tonk.

In November, Aaron Burnham & the Brushfires released their sophomore album, “Barnburner,” featuring 11 fun original tunes that are sure to have fans of the genre tapping their feet.

The opening track, “Into the Fire,” quickly sets the tone with a slightly distorted guitar riff reminiscent of grittier Buck Owens. A giddy-up beat quickly joins the party, along with upright bass and some tried and true country fiddle, before Burnham’s vocals start the story-tellin’: “I was sitting with my cellmate when the warning came around – there was panic in his voice – that ‘California’s burnin’ down.’ ”

Last month also saw the debut EP from Oakland songwriter Dani Offline. “Mirror” offers seven original, jazzy R&B tunes that showcase the vocalist’s range, both as a singer and as a producer.

Her laid-back beats nudge the grooves along, often employing comforting lo-fi elements that complement the delicacy of her voice, which often shimmers with natural vibrato. At times, she sings about as quietly as one can without breaking into whisper, and yet her voice is never lost in the mix.

Self-production isn’t easy, but Offline has demonstrated with “Mirror” that it’s all part of her artistry.
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Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes

Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at