When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?
On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.
He played dubstep.
Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?
Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.
The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.
At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.
The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.
DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.
(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)
The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, Jason Moran listens intently, forming long, resonant chords. By the time Chris Potter starts blowing, the tone has been set.
This is Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet, a pleasant surprise to those expecting anything close to the jazz giant’s past glories. Though Holland played bass on Bitches Brew, and led the avant-garde hallmark Conference of the Birds, his Overtone Quartet is a different creature entirely—it balances on intuition and interplay, bordering on ESP.
A better cast for this particular approach would be hard to imagine. In front of a sold-out SFJAZZ audience at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday night, Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet exhibited a collective mastery of the art of listening to one another in jazz. In fact, the set’s first two selections, “The Outsiders” and “Walkin’ the Walk,” nearly focused more on input than output.
Then, during Harland’s tune “Treachery,” a thundering Jason Moran solo opened the floodgates. With his arms bouncing off the keys, Moran’s vivacious invention took center stage, and Potter came back in clearly energized.
From that point forward, the band clearly came together. Moran opened “Blue Blocks,” the opening track from his most recent album Ten, with a pensive melody; the full band hopped in and fluidly turned it into an earthy, swinging spiritual. “Trail of Tears,” a Holland composition, opened with a lovely bass solo, then reimagined the spirit of Henry Mancini’s “Charade” as a noir-esque spectre. Chris Potter, who ranges from lilting soprano saxophone to sheets-of-sound tenor, was a weak link on Friday night, but shined here, blowing breathy, low-register Ben Webster notes.
But it was Holland’s “Patterns” that brought the night’s highpoint. As Moran and Potter settled into a cyclical, repeating figure, with Moran on a Fender Rhodes, Harland worked his magic. First, he jumped schizophrenically from one quiet hip-hop pattern to the next, playing out of rhythm, like a needle being dropped at various places on a record. But he slowly increased the volume and pace, aiming at the sides of his drums, his hi-hat stand and his mounted tambourine. He built to such a point that his cowbell fell off its stand and onto the floor, and by the end of the passage, Harland was exploding all over the kit, the pieces of the previous eight minutes’ soloing pouring forth ferociously.
Because of moments like this, it’s no wonder the sold-out crowd moaned their disappointment when Holland announced the last song, “Ask Me Why.” Naturally, the group was cajoled out again for an encore, and the standing ovation that followed brought the close to a memorable night of jazz played by the best.
The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, the WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU KIDDING.
A bright light flashes next to me, a goddamn phone camera. The guy sitting next to me is taking a picture on his goddamn phone. With a flash. The kind of cheap flash that stays lit for two seconds, invading everyone’s view, currently ruining the opening moments of this concert. Jesus.
Did he not hear the announcer, mere minutes before, say “turn off your phones”? Did he not notice the multiple signs posted reading “No photography of any kind”?
No, he did not. He did not give a shit. He is that guy.
After the bright flash, I figure he’s utterly embarrassed and will put his phone away for good. I figure wrong, of course. Two songs later, while the place is quiet and polite and still, he pulls out his phone again and starts clicking away. The display screen raised high, in everybody’s vision, multiple tries to get the shot just right even though he’s too far away and the stage is poorly lit and the picture is destined to look like shit.
Then he opens Facebook on his phone. No joke, he is posting this crappy picture to Facebook, brightly, vividly, right in the middle of the show, while a dream band of jazz legends is playing. Does he even know what the band is called? No! That’s why he picks up the program and leafs through it to find the name of the group. “Dave Holland Overtone Quartet,” he types into a status update. He tags his girlfriend. He tags the Palace of Fine Arts. He posts the photo.
Fine, you’ve posted it, I think. Now put the phone away. But no, he starts scrolling through his feed, stroking the screen rhythmically with his thumb. With his other arm, he reaches over and places his hand on his girlfriend’s thigh, just to, like, you know, let her know that he cares about her as much as his phone. He is caressing his phone and his girlfriend at the same time as he is reading Facebook, his face alight with that blue phone glow so unmistakable in a dark theater.
After a while, he closes Facebook. He opens Twitter. For fuckin’ real? Yes, for real. He goes through the whole ritual again: type tweet, mention girlfriend and venue, upload photo, online look like a cool guy who does fun interesting cultural stuff but in real life be an irritating guy who doesn’t care about the fun interesting cultural stuff as much as he cares about appearing like the guy who does, even at the expense of all the people around him who do actually care about said fun interesting cultural stuff, etc. Then he scans through Twitter for a while, implementing the same pathetic hand-on-my-girlfriend’s-thigh maneuver while staring into his phone, and not at the stage, where incredible things are happening.
Without a doubt, everyone around me has noticed this guy, because he is impossible not to notice. But I’m probably the only one who went home, searched for “Dave Holland” on Twitter and found his cruddy photo, and, by extension, his name. So congratulations, Matt Jessell of San Francisco, you are the Annoying Facebook Photo-Posting Person of the Night. Why am I not surprised to learn that you’re in marketing? Hope this award strengthens your “personal brand.”
Just got back from the Shuteye Unison show, where the band gave an entirely new veneer to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But why stop there? Here are some nominations for Shuteye Unison’s resolute wayback machine.
“Sailing“: Originally by Christopher Cross, there’s no reason Shuteye Unison couldn’t crank up the triple delay effect and make it their own.
“I Wanna Know What Love Is“: Too majestic, you say? Nothing’s too majestic. Give this Foreigner hit a double drumset solo and a whispered chorus.
“Lawyers in Love“: The Jackson Browne track, anchored by a single guitar arpeggio repeating for five minutes straight, over and over.
“Magic“: Could be that this AM staple by one-hit-wonder Pilot is too peppy—that’s why Shuteye Unison would transpose it into a minor key and sing it backwards.
“Alone Again (Naturally)“: Performed entirely by synthesizer and light show.
Shuteye Unison’s album ‘Our Future Selves‘ is stellar, and does not sound like Gilbert O’Sullivan.
Jolie Holland’s voice is an old wooden roller coaster; a reciprocating saw; a warped steel beam that stopped holding up the building years ago. It falls behind, it jets diagonally. It soars above and below, limboing through the weave of a song instead of along its linear plane. It has, in moments, transformed a room.
At just $10 a ticket and with a strong local following, her show last night was filled. Moving to the front, away from the chattering bar crowd, was the thing to do. Also, up front, Holland and her band—Carey Lamprecht on violin; Keith Cary on mandolin, viola and lap steel; and Henry Nagle on guitar—played sitting down. It helped to be close. It felt close, and right, and Holland was visibly touched by the warmth of the crowd.
Holland played mostly material from her new album, Pint of Blood, but if it didn’t sound familiar, that’s intentional: she has a way of trying out new roadmaps each time she ventures into a melody. After openers “All Those Girls” and “Gold & Yellow,” Holland played loose with songs like “June,” while boldly inhabiting “Alley Flower” with a forceful, harrowing voice.
Musicology runs in Holland’s blood, evidenced by her choice of covers and her frequent referencing of those that came before her. “My dad was teenage hippies with Townes van Zandt,” Holland said, talking about how he’d worked on a studio for Jimi Hendrix and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, then launched into “Rex’s Blues.” Likewise, Holland raised a glass to the recently deceased Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, from whom she learned to “turn the amp up loud, and play real quiet.”
After a fantastic “Mexico City,” the set veered into Escondida territory—the album she recorded at Tom Waits’ behest just over the hill from Hopmonk, in Forestville. “Amen” was followed by a lengthy ghost story, and then “Goodbye California” and “Old Fashioned Morphine” closed the set thrillingly. “I have vinyl,” Holland announced, “and I have these useless little pieces of garbage called CDs,” inviting the audience on the stage after the show. A half hour later, there was still a line of people waiting to talk to her, ask her to sign their albums and take pictures.
A few weeks ago, we announced out Built to Spill Cover Song Contest. Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve chosen a winner: Thomas Gonzalez, from Windsor, with his lovably bizarre version of “Carry the Zero.”
I admit—listening to Thomas’ version, about 15 seconds in I was like, “This is the worst thing I have ever heard.” We had some pretty funny debates around the Bohemian office about it, actually. What was up with Thomas’ voice? Why did it sound like an acoustic Matisyahu outtake? How was he going to handle the climax, where 5,000 guitar tracks smash into the mix all at once?
But hang in there and keep listening, because a certain atmosphere is created—one that definitely doesn’t exist on the original. Every ridiculous thing about Thomas’ version of “Carry the Zero” is what makes it special. Rather than a straight replication of the Built to Spill style, he truly inhabited the song and made it his own. For this, he wins two tickets to Built to Spill this Saturday night at the Uptown Theatre.
Picking a winner wasn’t easy, because the two runner-up entries are good, too. Here’s Kirana Peyton‘s version of “In Your Mind”:
…and Ben Guerard‘s double-vocal version of “Big Dipper”:
Both runners-up win high-fives, and the affirmation that they are awesome.
Thanks for entering, everybody!
He’s one of the great singer-storytellers, and yet I’d never heard John Prine’s personal explanation of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” until coming across this clip from 1980, below. Watch as he drives around his old hometown, describing his job at a church, telling the story of the morning when one of the altar boys was hit by a train and pointing out all of the song’s landmarks:
“Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through… this alley, over here. On a cold winter’s morning.. to that churchhouse. Just to shovel some snow… off that sidewalk. An’ I heard sirens on that train track, over there.”
(The clip is from John Prine Live on Soundstage 1980, from Shout Factory.)
I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes on Google Maps trying to find this very church referenced above, with no luck. Prine grew up in Maywood, Ill., and the main train tracks in town run along S. 25th Ave, with some others along Main Street. Prine calls them the “Northwestern tracks.” Those are the clues. Let’s consider it one of those Andrew Sullivan “View From Your Window” contests—if you can find the church (here’s a starter), let me know.
(UPDATE: CSI pal Jake Bayless has found it! It’s the New Beginnings Christian Church at 205 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood, about a block away from the tracks. See a Google Street View here. Thanks, Jake!)
Picking a favorite John Prine song is impossible, but when I met John Prine, once, about ten years ago, I was awkward and nervous as I explained to him that “Bruised Orange” had helped me through some very tumultuous times. I think I even quoted some lyrics back to him: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Like he needed to hear them. But he was kind, and told me he was glad to have lent a hand.
Naturally, I’m not the only one touched by the song and its story. While writing this post, I’ve discovered that Bon Iver has recorded a version of “Bruised Orange.” It’s reverent and soaring, of course. Hear it here.
Strolled down to Christy’s on the Square tonight and was pleased to see that Christy’s Thursdays are working out pretty well. For the past couple months, the live music booking on Thursdays has skewed toward the louder variety, which is welcome indeed. Hell, live music period in downtown is welcome indeed, especially when clubs that opened swearing they’d never have DJs now host nothing but.
Even though the bands are allowed to be loud at Christy’s, the sound system is crisp, and not muddled. What’s more, the doorman is unimposing, a healthy change from the unnecessary velvet-rope of the location’s former incarnation as Upper Fourth (the swift demise of which is still one of my favorite Santa Rosa stories, which I probably shouldn’t repeat here, but if you see me, ask). Yes, the attendant in the bathroom at Christy’s offering soaps and cologne is a little out of place, but in front of the small stage, there’s plenty of dimly-lit room to mosey around and chat with friends, drinking cozily in their booths. A five-dollar cover seals the deal.
Playing was Derailed Freight Train, a band that keeps getting better and better. It’s always a pleasure to watch drummer Jamie Voss, who many know from his behind-the-beat laze in Cropduster, but in Derailed Freight Train, he’s fast, crisp, sharp and anything but derailed. Jesse Kindt holds down a solid bass. But the treat is frontman Damian Cohn, a brilliant paradox who plays his well-weathered guitar with simple open tuning but goes off on abstract, strange solos. Over the years in Sonoma County, Damian’s proven himself a master musician, not only adept but excelling at hip-hop (Kranky), free jazz (Army of Ants), cut-and-paste electronics (Scattershot Theory), novelty rap (again, ask me in person) and who knows what the hell else.
In short, Damian knows music inside and out, but instead of playing some ridiculous amalgam of all his influences, he’s choosing to dominate at straight-ahead power-trio rock. So dominating, in fact, that Flavor, downstairs, asked Christy’s to stop Derailed Frieght Train’s set until their dining hours were over! If that’s not a good indicator, I don’t know what is.
The only thing missing at the Napa Valley Opera House Wednesday night was the tent.
Billed as the “Soul Salvation” tour, the co-headlining lineup of Ruthie Foster and Paul Thorn brought the fervor of a religious revival, with a decidedly temporal bent, to the gathered congregation.
Both Thorn and Foster have early backgrounds that include heavy doses of religion—Thorn’s father was a Pentecostal preacher; Foster sang in and played piano for her church choir. Take those gospel influences, mix with equal parts of blues and soul, and you get an energetic and entertaining performance with somewhat different approaches.
Thorn can rock when backed by his touring band, but when performing acoustically, his regular guy, southern-accented attitude with some “aw, shucks” self-depreciating humor allows the listener to focus on the humor, love and pathos in his writing. His self-introduction, “Hi, I’m Paul Thorn and I’m gonna play some songs I made up,” set the tone for a wide array of song subjects.
He opened with “I’m Still Here,” giving thanks for making it through another day’s often bizarre trials and tribulations. The song “I Don’t Like Half The Folks I Love” said what many of us feel, but are afraid to say, about extended family—”I like it when they come, but I love it when they go.” Thorn told the story of “Joanie, the Jehovah Witness Stripper,” who was a good girl at heart just trying to make ends meet.
Death and destruction played roles in Thorn’s gospel revival: the touching “I Have A Good Day (Every Now And Then)” was prompted by the suicide of a friend, and Thorn promised “I’ve got a can of gas and I’m a dangerous man” to an unfaithful wife in “Burn Down The Trailer Park.” He paid tribute to his mother, who lived in the shadow of his preacher father for so many years, with the song “That’s Life,” stringing together different phrases she used throughout her life. Then, channeling his father, Thorn promised the crowd “If you don’t buy my CDs, you’ll go to hell,” before closing with “Everybody Looks Good At The Starting Line,” a tune about those good intentions we all have.
Ruthie Foster came to celebrate. She was genuine, warm and energetic, and her gospel roots inhabited every song. Although Foster was honored by the Blues Foundation last year as Best Contemporary Female Blues artist, she effortlessly blurs musical lines of Mississippi blues, Texas roots, Memphis soul, Cajun funk and Southern gospel. It’s an infectious mix that just exudes energy.
Her band took the stage one by one—Tanya Richardson on bass, Samantha Banks on drums and Scottie Miller on keyboards—slowly working into a slower, jazz-infused version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer,” one of the songs from her recently released album Let It Burn. The band changed instruments, with Richardson on violin, Banks on a wood block and spoons and Miller on the mandolin, to brilliantly cover Mississippi John Hurt’s “Richmond Women’s Blues.” They went a cappella to perform “The Titanic,” on which Foster is backed on her new album by the Blind Boys of Alabama. (The foursome on stage did a magical job, so much so that Foster beamed, “We get the Blind Boys with us on that and woo, we have church!”)
The energy began to build as Foster belted out what may be her signature tune, “Phenomenal Woman.” With the immediate standing ovation, the night could have ended right there, but she then went solo a cappella with the Son House song, “Grinnin’ In Your Face.” A slow-cooking “Real Love” followed, and the band closed with an extended version of the traditional “Death Came A’Knockin’.” Lyrically a generally morbid song, it was transformed into a lengthy upbeat jam, giving each of the musicians some quality solo time.
Thorn joined Foster and the band for two encores. With everyone on their feet, they did Fosters’ “I Hear Music In The Air” and closed with a new Thorn song, “Take My Love With You,” both high-energy, gospel-swaying, hand-clapping crowd pleasers.
With the spirit in the building, it’s a good thing they’ve renovated and strengthened the rafters of the Napa Valley Opera House. And at that point, if your soul wasn’t saved, well… maybe you just weren’t listening.
Announcements for the 2012 Healdsburg Jazz Festival are trickling in, and the first one so far lives up to the festival’s reputation of excellence. On June 10, a jaw-dropping lineup of Roy Haynes, the Vijay Iyer Trio and Sheila Jordan headline Rodney Strong Vineyards in Heladsburg.
I say: Goddamn, Jessica Felix has done it again.
Let’s start with Roy Haynes. The master drummer has played with every jazz great imaginable, starting with Lester Young and Charlie Parker and moving through a you-name-it sea of greats: Coltrane, Dolphy, Getz, Miles, Dizzy, Monk, Rollins, Bud, Art Pepper, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill. I saw him a few years ago at Yoshi’s with Kenny Garrett and John Pattitucci, and even in his mid-80s, the guy hasn’t lost one drop of power in his thunderous, commanding playing. For reals. He’s a marvel to watch.
Vijay Iyer made what was without a doubt my favorite jazz album of 2009, Historicity—a dense, inventive slab of forward-thinking playing. It wasn’t just the cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang”; it was the completely unique harmonic conception, the static-laden solos, the unpredictable in every minute. Think the Bad Plus, minus some of that trio’s more overt showiness. He’s a must-see.
Not to let an already star-studded show suffer from a lack of further lumination, there’s Sheila Jordan. I found the singer’s 1962 Blue Note album Portrait of Sheila a couple years ago, and it wound up on my 2010 year-end jazz list. After its release, she didn’t record for over a decade. I never thought I’d ever see her, and yet here she is, playing Healdsburg. Just like everyone else who you never thought you’d see. Of course.
The show is on June 10, 2012, at Rodney Strong Winery, made possible in part by a $10,000 NEA Jazz Masters grant that’s only given out to 12 nonprofits nationwide. The fact that the Healdsburg Jazz Festival is one of that small pool of recipients doesn’t surprise me, but it does make me proud for the festival’s ongoing success in the wake of its near-death in 2010 and the irritating fake-jazz festivals it has had to compete with over the years. True art always survives, one way or another, doesn’t it?
Further announcements for the 2012 festival will be made at www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.