Saturday, September 6th, 2014 » Thollem McDonas & Alex Cline

Bread & Salt
1955 Julian Avenue
San Diego, CA 92113
7:30PM - opens in new window
$15.00 and $10.00 students

Thollem McDonas, electric piano, and Alex Cline, percussion

Both musicians approach music as adventurers of the present moment, percussionist Alex Cline and pianist Thollem McDonas excavate depths of sound and energy. Wonderfully broad in its scope, the art they compose together ranges from the subtle and sensitive to the majestic and cathartic, dynamically immediate in its impact. This evening they will be performing purely improvised/spontaneous music.



Percussionist-composer Alex Cline has been a mainstay on the jazz and new music scenes of Los Angeles for over thirty-five years, his endeavors having established for him a career international in scope. Combining colorful and sensitive percussion sounds with a drumming foundation based in the jazz tradition, Cline is recognized for his contributions to the music of such artists as Vinny Golia, Julius Hemphill, Bobby Bradford, Tim Berne, Richard Grossman, John Carter, Don Preston, Arthur Blythe, Horace Tapscott, Gregg Bendian, Joseph Jarman, Wadada Leo Smith, Charlie Haden, Henry Grimes, Charles Lloyd, and countless others, having toured extensively in North America and Europe and having appeared on over a hundred recordings. From 1980 until 1991 he was a member of the seminal L.A.-area ensemble Quartet Music with Eric von Essen, Jeff Gauthier, and his twin brother Nels Cline. His work as a composer and bandleader has been documented on four recordings with his group the Alex Cline Ensemble: The Lamp and The Star (ECM), Montsalvat (Nine Winds), Sparks Fly Upward, and The Constant Flame (both on Cryptogramophone). His Cryptogramophone CD Continuation, featuring Jeff Gauthier, Peggy Lee, Myra Melford, and Scott Walton, was released in early 2009 to considerable acclaim. He also leads a group which plays his compositions as well as those by composers other than himself, Alex Cline's Band of the Moment. Alex has organized some notable improvisational group collaborations as well, such as the trio Cline-Gauthier-Stinson and the quartet Cloud Plate (with Kaoru, Miya Masaoka, and G.E. Stinson), both of which have released CDs. For People in Sorrow, Alex's homage to and personal re-imagining of the influential composition People in Sorrow by Roscoe Mitchell and recorded by the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1969, was performed with an all-star ensemble at L.A.'s REDCAT in October 2011 as part of the Angel City Jazz Festival, and a CD/DVD package of the performance was released on Cryptogramophone. Alex has also been heard on numerous film soundtracks and in collaboration with many dancers, dance companies, and visual artists. Many print and online magazines have run feature articles on Alex, and he was included among the twenty of the "world's most creative percussionists" in Michael Bettine and Trevor Taylor's book Percussion Profiles. Some of Alex's more recent musical associations are those with the Jeff Gauthier Goatette, Dependent Origination, the Amir ElSaffar-Hafez Modirzadeh Quartet, the Tom McNalley Trio, the Ross Hammond Quartet, a duo with Thollem McDonas, and Open Gate Theatre.

"Alex Cline has a musical sensibility and sensitivity that belong to another time... a time when intimate thoughts were best expressed by someone sitting down, setting pen to paper, and sending their innermost feelings by land or sea, to be read by the intended a few days or weeks later... in short, a time when "time" really counted." -Peter Erskine


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 such as West African drumming troupes, Javanese Gamelan ensembles, punk bands, with film makers, dancers, poets and painters. In the past 7 years, he has added 40 albums to his discography on 17 different vanguard labels. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of Irish and Cherokee descent. At the age of five, Thollem began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century and studied with many notable teachers including Aiko Onishi 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.

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. In 2013, he was a regular columnist in Full Moon Magazine (Prague), a print publication dedicated to independent music.

Thollem's music is diverse, with each album and every concert exploring a variety of approaches and paths, resulting in dramatically new and different outcomes.

"Thollem McDonas travels the world looking for magical sounds that will enlighten and inform him about the possibilities of how to live. He is learning the dance of life through sound. Hear a sound feel a sound, care for them but know they have a life of their own. Man didn't invent music it was here when we arrived and will be here after we have died. Musicians like Thollem know this intellectually and intuitively." -William Parker

"An intense and virtuosic keyboardist" -Time Out New York

"Thollem McDonas is simply one of the great improvisers of today." -The Detroiter (U.S.)