By Ian S. Port
By Cory Sklar
By Godofredo Vasquez
By Gil Riego Jr.
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Christopher Victorio
By Ian S. Port
Welcome to the SF Weekly Music Awards 2002! This year, it’s as if the Bay Area music community has finally sighed with relief. Sure, some musicians are out of work, there's still a shortage of rehearsal space, and the authorities continue to shut down nightclubs for functioning as nightclubs, but the economic stranglehold has weakened. Art lovers may partake of the (perhaps foolhardy) notion that no more musicians will be forced out of the area to make room for fusion tapas and valet parking. That is not to say the well heeled invasion has been purely detrimental to Bay Area music: It seems to me that the musicians who hung in there playing in warehouses, on street corners, at junk yards, on contaminated beaches, and at weird living room salons are some of the most talented and mutually supportive artists the Bay Area has produced in years. Evolutions in sound resonate between the bridges. One need only glance at the forward looking faces in the hip hop, rock, and electronic categories to see this. Thanks to all the music-makers for sticking around and making this a very, very interesting year. - Silke Tudor
Old-fashioned, well-written, and well-performed honky-tonk has a cheerful new champion in San Leandro's Tom Armstrong, a modern-day master of the booze-soaked ballads that echoed throughout America's beer halls in the '50s. Hick-music patron saints such as Wynn Stewart, Ray Price, and Webb Pierce surely hover over Armstrong's personal turntable, as the soft-spoken songwriter delves deep into the sounds of a bygone hillbilly era. While many of today's crop of twangcore artists wade in waters an inch deep, Armstrong dives headlong into the swirling current of authentic pedal steel- and fiddle-driven Texas shuffles. His new record, Songs That Make the Jukebox Play, takes its title and cover design from an old album by Jimmie Skinner; his last LP featured covers of songs by Onie Wheeler, another '50s singer whose work is little known outside of the hard-country faithful. But though Armstrong has nailed the look and sound of days long past, his latest disc is packed with fab new material, original songs that are worthy of old masters like Harlan Howard and Leon Payne. These are clever, tongue-in-cheek ballads of broken hearts and romantic misadventures, performed with a nudge and a wink, and tailor-made for auditioning with a beer under your belt. For the CD, Armstrong gathered local roots music vets Mike Wolf, Les James, Greg Reeves, and David Phillips, who collectively go by the handle the Jukebox Cowboys. Together, these Bay Area pickers breathe life into a classic sound that once was called hokey, but now sounds pretty darn hip.
Dave Gleason's Wasted Days
Though the members of Dave Gleason's Wasted Days got their musical starts in '90s groups like the Loved Ones and the Glee Club, the East Bay outfit's spiritual roots go all the way back to the Nashville scene of the '70s. At that time, country "outlaws" brought a renegade, honky-tonk spirit to Music City, creating a new kind of country music that was both soulful and gritty. Dave Gleason adds his own spin to the work of that era's seminal songwriters -- Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Gene Clark, Clarence White -- combining that spirit with the warm country-rock sound popularized by bands such as the Eagles and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Burrito Brothers reference is an especially apt one, as Gleason's voice evokes a reedier, seedier Gram Parsons. But Gleason sings with more fire in his belly and a lot more heartache on his mind, an emotional quality that also comes out in his lead-guitar playing. Gleason's Telecaster work is the stuff of legend, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone else in the Bay Area who can coax such perfectly heartbreaking notes of liquid loneliness from a fretboard. Joined by Michael Thereau on bass, John Kent on drums, and Dave Stark on tenor saxophone, Gleason has opened for acts ranging from Jerry Jeff Walker to Dwight Yoakam. Whether Dave Gleason's Wasted Days is the opener or the headliner, though, the group has a tendency to steal the spotlight, flooring audiences with its sometimes-reverent, sometimes-raucous revisiting of country music's recent golden age.
Mark Growden's Electric Piñata
Mark Growden is the kind of songwriter who only comes around once in an age. Endlessly, deliriously creative, Growden has recorded and released two full-lengths (Inside Beneath Behindand Downstairs Karaoke), written and performed a myriad of theater pieces, scored music for videos and films, and contributed to Bob Weir's Sun Ra tribute album. His work has earned him a deluge of praise throughout his career, including the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Music for a New Dance Piece and two Best Song awards from the Northern California Songwriter's Association. Hailed as "a contender for Beck's throne" by Alternative Pressmagazine, the restless Growden is one of those musicians who will play anything that gets in his way -- from pawnshop hallmarks such as the accordion, banjo, and saxophone, to a host of freakish home inventions and non-instruments like PVC pipes and scissors. His inventive, imaginative lyrics are as wide ranging as his instrument choices, evoking Tom Waits' ragged theatricality, but on a more charming and personal scale. Growden's stories -- about Ted Nugent, a shuttered factory that made wooden crates in an era of cardboard, and feeling like a piece of meat at a vegan potluck -- are at once contemporary and timeless, funny and heartbreaking, surreal and lucid. It sounds like an impossible set of contradictions, but Growden is born to achieve the inconceivable; for a man with his talents, the impossible is just a starting point.
With an ear honed by more than 20 years of scratching, and a reckless, genius disregard for the alleged limits of a turntable, DJ Disk has been one of the trendsetters in a movement that has transformed the record player from a simple playback device into something far more diabolical. Whether he's working his magic on his own peerless projects -- such as 1998's mind-melting Ancient Termites and 2001's Phonosychographdisk vs. The Filthy Ape Mooch Moose-- or as a guest scratcher on works by Bill Laswell, Disk catapults the act of vinyl manipulation into the lofty realms of experimental art. Tchaikovsky, Hendrix, Coltrane, Laurel & Hardy, and old Disney soundtracks are all fair game for this sonic scientist -- though source material has a tendency to, uh, undergo some changes at the hands of the maestro. Disk doesn't just scratch records, he sculpts them, freaking his sampled sounds with an arsenal of effects, amplifications, and weird delays. Through this laborious process, Disk manages to create a pastiche of rhythm and noise that is much more than just the sum of its parts. As an original member of the seminal Invisibl Skratch Piklz crew (which also featured DJs QBert, Mixmaster Mike, and Shortkut) and on his solo albums, Disk continues to display jaw-dropping talent, most recently on Tabla Beat Science's Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove album.
Raised in both the Midwest and Paris, France, DJ Laird grew up steeped in a mixture of American populism and European sophistication, a blend that informs his DJ sets today. A San Francisco resident since 1990, Laird helped birth the rave era on the West Coast, and his cowboy hat has been floating above audiences ever since. The tongue-twisting name of his monthly party -- "Psychofunkodiscodelic" -- suggests something of the anarchic fusion underpinning his breakbeat house antics. Playing as far afield as Belgium, Spain, and Monaco, Laird has become an emissary of San Francisco dance music culture. In 1995 he moved back to Paris for a year, broadcasting a weekly radio show and spinning in the City of Light's biggest clubs. But as well-traveled as he may sound, Laird's more in tune with the down-and-dirty than the cliché of jet-set, bling-bling club life. After all, he's been dirtying his decks with the sands of Burning Man's Black Rock City for the past six years, making his Flambé Lounge one of the staples of the annual desert gathering. And at Munich's annual Tribal Gathering, Laird has played to 30,000 bouncing bodies -- no mean feat for a jock schooled at the relatively small-scale venues of the Bay Area. There's nothing petite about his sound, though: It's a euphoric mash-up of funk, soul, and block-rockin' stompers that's wholly diversified.
As an epicenter of hip hop DJ culture, the Bay Area boasts an absurd number of dusty-fingered LP collectors, studio-savvy beatsmiths, and turntablists who can manipulate sound with the flick of a wrist. DJ Zeph is the rare vinyl technician who brings voluminous record crates, a keen ear for sonic chemistry, and impressive digital dexterity together in a total package -- equally suited for the club or the control room. Zeph has cultivated an intense passion for the turntables ever since the sixth grade, when he began his tutelage under KutMasta Kurt at Santa Cruz community radio station KUSP-FM (88.9). While earning a degree in audio engineering at S.F. State during the early '90s, Zeph built a reputation for artfully mixing golden-era hip hop with wildly varied breaks that stretched beyond the usual funk, soul, and jazz staples. As a producer, Zeph first garnered serious underground attention for the spacious, tasty beats on L'Roneous Da'Versifier's acclaimed 1998 debut, Imaginarium. Weaving deft scratches and jazzy horn drops over thumping rhythms, the DJ created the perfect foundation for L'Ron's rhymes. Zeph has churned out a steady stream of tracks ever since. In addition to collaborating with former Spearhead MC Azeem and crafting two funkified mix-CDs (Break Builders and Electrospective) with fellow Santa Cruz wax-fondler Imperial, Zeph has released several efforts for Mission-based imprint Wide Hive. His eponymous 2001 solo joint combined sampling wizardry and studio-tweaked live musicianship into seamless arrangements and memorable songs. On future-jazz ensemble (VU) Variable Unit's recently released opus Seven Grain, Zeph matches his turntable skills with powerhouse players like keyboardist Kat Ouano (Crown City Rockers) and ex-Tower of Power drummer Ron E. Beck. Hip hop legends Biz Markie and DJ Premier paid Zeph the ultimate compliment last year when they jacked one of his beats for the single "And I Rock." How's that for a heavyweight endorsement?
Blevin Blectum -- nee Bevin Kelley -- rose to prominence as part of Blectum From Blechdom, a duo with Kevin Blechdom (aka Kristen Erickson). After meeting onstage at a Mills College performance in 1998, Blectum and Blechdom went on to form one of the Bay Area's most distinctive electronic acts, fusing groovebox jams with abstract, laptop-based composition and a love for cultural phenomena. The four-armed, four-legged jumpsuit the duo wore in performance obscured the pair's internal rifts, though; after taking Ars Electronica's prestigious Golden Nica award for electronic music in early 2001, the two split. Later that year, the pair reunited for a series of performances based on their shared obsession with multimedia heavyweights the Olsen Twins. While Blechdom moved to Florida recently, Blectum -- who by day works in sound design for interactive toy companies -- continues to perform in Sagan, a group that also includes techno tweaker J Lesser and video artist Ryan Junell, as well as release solo recordings. Blectum's Talon Slalom, released this year on Seattle's Deluxe Records, starts with tinny, ring-modulated beats and then layers on a deluge of shredded electronic sounds made from ultra-bright chords, samples of half-forgotten pop music, and waves of white noise. Despite Blectum From Blechdom's ironic propensity for cheekiness and preteen icons, Blevin Blectum's work is anything but cutesy: It's densely difficult, funky as hell, and more fun than a food fight in FAO Schwarz.
The latest in a long line of San Francisco electronic acts to find a home on a German label, Broker/Dealer brings the spirit of Teutonic minimalism to sun-dappled, fogbound productions of the Bay Area. Launched in 1996 as a series of radio broadcasts, the band -- Ryan Fitzgerald and Ryan Bishop -- quickly gained recognition for its involvement in "Pop," a weekly party showcasing the punchy spring of reductionist dance music and the unabashed glow of new wave and vintage chart pop. Don't believe the fusion is possible? Just check out "Haulin' Oats," Broker/Dealer's track on the first 12-inch from Los Angeles' Sentrall Records. As the title pun suggests, Hall & Oates provide the source material for the song's slow-burning groove, in which the disco-rock strains of "I Can't Go for That" are folded almost unrecognizably into a thick, viscous swirl. Such amalgamations continue to boost Broker/ Dealer's profile. This year, the group executed two singles and two compilation contributions for Cologne's esteemed Traum Schallplatten imprint; garnered glowing press coverage in URB, XLR8R, and highbrow U.K. music mag The Wire; and licensed "Haulin' Oats" for the third volume of Proto Tracks, a subscription-based series for independent electronic music. Clearly Broker/ Dealer understands the salesman's maxim, immortalized in Glengarry Glen Ross: "ABC: Always Be Closing."
If the pulse of Western culture is accelerating, as many trend watchers would assert, Miguel Depedro might just be its pace car. Everything about Depedro (aka Kid606) is fast. He talks a mile a minute, travels with the frequency of a flight attendant, and turns out so many records on his Tigerbeat6 label that fans have to skip meals just to keep up. But all that gas looks positively slo-mo compared to the frenetic velocity of Kid606's recordings and live sets, which reroute dance music's gentle thump into a jackhammer pounding. Quite possibly the first person ever to grace the cover of U.K. magazine The Wirewearing braces, the barely post-adolescent musician got his start in the San Diego punk scene, before discovering digital composition. Since then he's released an untold number of singles, albums, and compilation tracks for labels such as Force Inc. and Ipecac as well as his imprint. His own music ranges from lush, subdued minimalism to take-no-prisoners speedcore, but the Kid's greatest contribution may be in the realm of remixes. A pioneer in the field of "bootlegging" -- illicitly remixing pop songs -- he specializes in cheeky, highly illegal reworks of chart tunes, such as a set of Missy Elliott versions he released as the initial effort from the Tigerbeat6 spinoff Violent Turd. Kid606's live sets, executed on two laptops simultaneously, challenge not just copyright rules but also the logical limits of processing power, muscling against the outside edge of his PowerBook's RAM to fuse Top 40 tunes into a blur of beats and cultural references, rendered at a blink-and-you'll-miss-'em speed.
The Fucking Champs
The Fucking Champs weren't always fucking. Tim Soete and Josh Smith were just the Champs when they originally got together as a guitar duo in 1992. Back then, Soete and Smith were living in Santa Cruz, playing a kind of transgenre instrumental rock that borrowed equally from prog, '80s metal, and hardcore punk. When the lads decided to relocate to San Francisco in 1996, Soete moved to drums and ex-Nation of Ulysses axeman Tim Green joined up. The music unleashed on the band's debut III was a riff maniac's dream. Crunchy and distorted, the band's sound was also marked by a sense of melodic experimentation usually missing in mainstream metal -- as well as a sense of humor. Though the trio's songs are painstakingly composed and layered (III took years to record), the band isn't afraid to have a laugh at its own expense, giving tracks names like "I Am the Album Cover" and "Happy Segovia." When a '50s combo also called the Champs complained about their moniker, Green, Soete, and Smith officially add "Fucking" to their name in 2000, for the release of their sophomore LP, IV. The three's latest release, titled -- you guessed it -- V, continues to push the boundaries of metal, mixing in quieter guitar lines with the adroit, bombastic soloing that has made their appellation such an apt one.
On Ludicra's Web site, www.ludicra.org, the band lists the instruments played on its debut album, Hollow Psalms, starting with "guitar" and ending with "misanthropy," which says quite a lot about the group. Featuring members of Hammers of Misfortune, Fölcainö, Impaled, Ominum, and the Lord Weird Slough Feg, Ludicra has steadily gained a cult following in the Bay Area's black metal community. But the outfit's real claim to fame is the spine-shaking vocal assault of Laurie Sue Shanaman and Christy Cather, which sounds a little like feeding time at the hellcat enclosure of the devil's zoo. The group's thoroughly dark and disenchanted lyrics complement the women's unholy din. On "The Final Lamentation," for instance, the subject of the shrieking has just slit her wrists, and "still ruby ribbons/ From outstretched arms/ Paint a room red with regret." It's pretty strong stuff, but any black metal band worth its trench coat can be sinister; Ludicra has the good sense -- and top-notch musicianship -- to break up the violent, wrenching passages with beautiful interludes. The band's secret weapon may be second guitarist John Cobbett, who knows exactly how to temper Ludicra's explosive menace with delicately restrained playing. Drummer Aesop and bassist Ross Sewage also help take the complex sound to the next level. The group's combined assets all work together to devastating effect, most notably on epics such as "Userpent" and "Heaped Upon Impassive Floors." These are the kind of songs that can't help but raise the question: If misanthropy can fuel music this powerful, how bad can hate really be?
Nigel Pepper Cock
If you've ever wondered what would happen if you crossed a raging speed-metal assault with a funny back-story and a smattering of gay porn, well, your answer has arrived. The way the band tells it, Nigel Pepper Cock started out as six ordinary Stanford frat guys who were forever altered by a mysterious man they met on the way back from a righteous Spring Break party in Palm Springs. If the band's records are any indication, that man's message was this: "Get your asses to San Francisco and start a larynx-ripping punk-metal band. Name your first single '"Fresh White Reeboks Kicking Your Ass,' and have it be about how Gary Coleman and Mr. T once saved you from Camaro-driving Nazis. Then put out a punishing full-length CD with lots of photos of penises on the inside and a song called '"Cherry 2000' about having sex with robots. Got it? Good. Now, can I have a hit off that bong?" The desert dude spoke, and apparently the boys listened. Taking new identities as Deuce Labia, Oliver Klosoph, Yancy Peters, Captain Cum Socks, the Crackwhore, and Mick Jag-Off, the bandmates became the notorious Nigel Pepper Cock. In concert, the group has been known to dress as NAMBLA Boy Scouts or the Village People. The sextet's full-length debut, The New Way (out on Oakland's Life Is Abuse Records), requires a lyric sheet to understand the bizarre yarns the band is spinning -- which may be a bad thing or the CD's saving grace, depending on your point of view.
Ever wish for three smoked-out, schizophrenic scoutmasters to lead your musical mystery troop into a dark forest with no map? cLOUDDEAD makes that wish come true. With last year's eponymous debut on Mush Records -- actually a collection of six previously released 10-inch EPs -- this Cincinnati-raised, East Bay-based crew blazed a trail through swirling layers of sonic sludge and stream-of-consciousness sputtering. On tracks with esoteric titles like "Bike (1. Dead Dog)," "Bike (2. Cold Lunch)," and "Jimmybreeze (1. Lonely Monkey)," vocalists Doseone and Why? harmonize dadaist dream-journal entries and humorous shout-outs to dead presidents who don't show up on dollar bills ("Grover Washington is way underground!"). The MCs tend to begin songs at a metronomic clip, as if their words were marching backward, eventually gathering momentum until reaching Pentecostal crescendos. Meanwhile, beat-maker Odd Nosdam blends kitchen-appliance sonatas, multitracked boom-baps, and lullaby ambience around the rappers' lines. The result of this stunning technique turned out to be immediate international acclaim for an aesthetic akin to, according to the Anticon Web site (www.anticon.com), "what doing Whip-its sounds like." Three foreign tours, two new 10-inches, and innumerable side projects later, cLOUDDEAD is on every indie hip hop seeker's map. The genius here is that as impromptu as the music seems, the group is unified by a singular and inimitable vision. To believe that these cats actually planned this sound is to be forced to re-examine not just where hip hop music -- and society, for that matter -- is going, but where it couldgo. The merit badge for making a bad trip beautiful goes uncontested to cLOUDDEAD.
For a dozen years now,the Coup has hovered above hip hop's rank and file like a raised fist. Known for its revolutionary politics, the duo is loved for the heart and humor in Boots Riley's lyrics and the smoothed-out-funk-meets-Yay-Area-crunk of DJ Pam the Funktress. In Riley's rhyming parables, it's the personal that's political. Since the Coup's 1993 debut, Kill My Landlord, Riley has illuminated the lives of ghetto ugly ducklings and lovable hustlers -- illustrations of, rather than rhetoric about, the need for a just economic system. The duo followed up Landlordwith 1994's Genocide and Juice, a response to rappers with their minds only on their money. 1998's independently released Steal This Album captured both Riley and Pam in gorgeous stride, setting character-driven tragicomedy to some of the tastiest beats in the game. On the unforgettable "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," a boy's once-flashy role model ages into a hooptie-driving has-been, while on the soulful "Underdogs" Riley renders poverty so vividly it will catch a listener's breath. Then came last year's Party Music on 75Ark. The controversy over the album's cover, shot well before 9/11 and featuring the duo detonating the World Trade Center with a guitar tuner, threatened to overshadow some of the Coup's best work yet. As the original artwork was changed and Riley answered calls for his head, fans raved about the bouncy beats and lyrical sophistication on songs like "Nowalaters" and "Wear Clean Draws." Even the catchy, uptempo "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" turned out to be jestful fun, listing silly booby traps using dollar bills as bait. While the Coup's anti-capitalist message may hurt its album sales, there are few Bay Area artists who've proven more fearless or forward-thinking -- lyrically or sonically.
Gold Chains (aka Topher Lafata) threw down the gauntlet on last year's self-titled debut EP on Tigerbeat6, on which he dared to steal the foundations of Stereolab's "Crest" for the track "Rock the Parti." That song was not only one of the year's best dance floor anthems, but it also served as a shot across the bow of an increasingly moribund hip hop scene. Live, Gold Chains made good on his parti-rocking pledge. With his trusty laptop pumping out imaginatively sequenced beats, the artist roamed the stage like a panther, breaking shuddery dance moves and lacing his geeky odes to Roland 808s and portable DATs with San Francisco shout-outs. "Rock the Parti" -- and the EP as a whole, which included tongue-partially-in-cheek numbers like "No. 1 Face in Hip Hop" and "The Wonderful Girls of Hypno" -- was a crossover microhit, a glimpse into a boundaryless world where hip hop gets jittered and juiced on the spliced rhythms of electronica. The Gold Chains sound reverberated outside of San Francisco limits as well: Lafata toured an adoring Europe this spring, and has been written up in Spinand XLR8R. Recently, the rapper kicked things up a notch with the Straightfromyourradio EP. On hot booty tracks like "I Treat Your Cootchie Like a Maze," Gold Chains carefully lays out his repertoire of smooth moves, while the off-kilter electro explosion of "Let's Make It" and the disco thump of "Mountains of Coke" prove again that he has few peers when it comes to rocking the parti beats and rhymes.
Of all the different labels that have been glowingly affixed to Hamsa Lila's sound, none fits better than "healing music." Melding the ancient forms of Morocco's Gnawa music with a timeless blend of trance-y chants, brass and woodwind instruments, and percussion, Hamsa Lila delivers mesmerizing art that works like an energizing salve, lifting tired hearts and mending wounded souls. Featuring the diverse talents of Vir McCoy, Brett Jacobson, MJ Greenmountain, Schroeder, Sarita Pockell, Andrea Vecchione, Nikila Badua, and Timi, the group can go from reverent to riotously jubilant in the space of a single jam. The ensemble has also become known for its adventuresome collaborations with dazzling players from around the world. Recent guests have included members of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Spearhead, and the Hassan Hakmoun Band. Whether alone or with illustrious visitors, Hamsa Lila has the same effect on the audience. Bystanders caught up in the group's rhythmic call-and-response chants -- comprised of Arab, African, and Native American chants mixed with unique texts -- can't help but dance. Despite the band's short life (it played its first show in May 2001), Hamsa Lila has already managed to weave its whirling, hypnotic spell at gigs throughout the western U.S. In the Gnawa language, lila refers to a music-infused ritual where participants reach a state of purification and healing, making Hamsa Lila the perfect name for a group dedicated to providing a musical cure for the world's ailments.
It's easy to lose oneself in the folds of Henri-Pierre Koubaka's African music. One of the Bay Area's most accomplished practitioners of the Mandingo style, Koubaka is a natural performer, able to mesmerize and energize crowds with a single strum on his acoustic guitar. A favorite of audiences at the Freight & Salvage and Ashkenaz clubs in Berkeley, Koubaka takes listeners on an aural journey to the West African countries of Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Congo every time he plays. Perhaps best known to local fans for his radio shows on KALW-FM (91.7) and KPFA-FM (94.1), Koubaka spent years working as a DJ and musician in Dakar before moving to San Francisco. Now, when not performing solo, Koubaka leads the celebrated group Ksaumai Bare (which means "Peace in Abundance"). The band features percussionist Babou Sagna, choreographer Marietou Camara, guitarist Ze Manel, and guitarist/ balafonist Mohamed Kouyate. The ensemble's melodies are a complex blend of ancient and contemporary song, which has led to gigs opening for big-name artists such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Angelique Kidjo, Habib Koite, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens. Koubaka's unforgettable presentation of secular and spiritual music has also earned him invitations to perform at a number of festivals, including the Pleasant Hill Smash Hits Festival and the San Jose Jazz Festival.
It's a well-known fact in the salsa world that wherever Orquesta Charanson bandleader Anthony Blea goes, dancing erupts. The extremely talented violinist -- and pied piper of Charanga music -- has been immersed in his craft since picking up his instrument at the age of 8. Just three years later, Blea was awarded a full scholarship to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His next move was to New York City, where he continued his rigorous education at the Manhattan School of Music. From all this training, you might expect a stuffy classical player. But Blea's love of Charanga pushed him away from Mozart and Beethoven, and toward the slinky, shimmying rhythms of Brazil, Cuba, and Africa. While in New York, Blea had the opportunity to sit in with such giants as Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Orquesta Broadway, Charanga America, Charanga '76, and Tipica '73. Fortunately, Blea left the Big Apple for the more temperate climate of the Bay Area, where he founded Orquesta Charanson. The group lets Blea follow in the footsteps of the legends he got to know while living and playing in New York, offering lively Afro-Cuban originals and a host of old favorites. Thousands of salsa aficionados across the Bay Area can attest to Orquesta Charanson's renown. In fact, recent gigs have reportedly been so packed that late-arrivers had to wait hours to get a spot on the dance floor!
If Jenna Mammina had decided in 1986 to move to New York instead of San Francisco, the Michigan native might well be taking the country by storm, much like Norah Jones is with her hit "Don't Know Why." As it is, the sultry, husky-voiced Mammina has slowly and steadily carved out a niche for herself in the national jazz singer scene, with a reputation for making any song she interprets -- from Led Zeppelin to Tom Waits to classic Duke Ellington -- both convincingly passionate and thoroughly her own. And while it's a stretch to say that Mammina is substance to Jones' style, there's no mistaking the greater depth and maturity in her voice. On her new album, Meant to Be, Mammina transforms Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" into a poignant song of loneliness and betrayal, somehow managing to convey the sexual undertones without sacrificing any of her dignity. Later on, she tackles the Waits number "Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You," bringing out the song's pathos and emotion while avoiding tripping on its cleverness. As with most of the covers on the CD, Mammina owns the emotion so thoroughly that you may not realize the song isn't hers.
Rova Saxophone Quartet
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Rova Saxophone Quartet, one of the Bay Area's most innovative ensembles. Founded in 1977 by Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt, and Steve Adams, the group was one of only a handful of saxophone ensembles, and it brought to the field not only a wealth of compositional and improvisational talent, but also a determination to increase the available repertoire for such units. (Bruce Ackley replaced Voigt in 1988, but the group's name, an acronym for the names of its founders, remained the same.) Hardly a purely jazz project, Rova combines composition, structured improv, game-based play, and flights of free music. While much of the band's music is composed by its own members, the foursome has commissioned work from artists like Terry Riley, Alvin Curran, Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Kronos Quartet, and Fred Frith, greatly expanding the body of music available for saxophone quartets. Rova's impact ranges far beyond the stack of scores and discs it's recorded: The ensemble toured the U.S.S.R. and Romania in 1983, long before the Iron Curtain fell, resulting in the 1984 documentary Saxophone Diplomacy. Rova's live appearances include more than 30 European tours, stints alongside the likes of Anthony Braxton, and a 30th-anniversary performance of John Coltrane's Ascension album at the Great American Music Hall in 1995. The avant-garde poet Clark Coolidge even "remixed" Rova with The Rova Improvisations, a 1994 book based on the group's music. Immortalized in aluminum, notation, and verse, Rova's impact on contemporary music is irrefutable.
Scott Amendola Band
It's appropriate that Scott Amendola covers Nick Drake's "One of These Things First" on his band's eponymous debut album, released in 1998. Like the narrator of that song, who wistfully sings that he "Could've been a signpost, could've been a clock," Amendola could've been just about any kind of percussionist. In some respects, he already has been: The 33-year-old New Jersey native anchored a Grammy-nominated jazz album (1997's If Four Was One) with the now-defunct T.J. Kirk, a band that included Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard, and John Schott; from 1993 to 1998, he was a steady member of the Charlie Hunter Quartet, appearing on the groove-funk combo's most popular major-label LPs. But Amendola's also proved himself as an experimental, improv-oriented drummer, playing most recently with L.A. rising-star guitarist Nels Cline in several ensembles, including the free-form noise group L. Stinkbug and the bluesy, thrash-oriented Nels Cline Singers. In addition to these ongoing projects, you might catch Amendola serving up beats for his straight-jazz trio or for S.F. singer/songwriter Noe Venable. Then there's Amendola's lifelong fascination for straight-ahead, blood-and-guts rock 'n' roll, which manifests itself in everything from his song selection to his hyperkinetic style to his penchant for turning the most abstract moment into a butt-churning, hip-swaying groove. In fact, it's Amendola's unusual ear for melody that really sets him apart from most Bay Area drummers, and makes his insistence on playing his own music with his own band more than just a percussionist's pipe dream. With another album set for release this winter on the Cryptogramophone label, Amendola will no doubt prove that he doesn't have to choose to be "one of these things" -- he can be all of them.
Last year at the SF Weekly Music Awards, eXtreme Elvis lost twice. Not only did his own band miss out on the Lifestyle award, but Pink & Brown -- of which he was pretending to be one half -- went down in the Punk category. If anyone deserved two awards (and two entrees and two desserts and two bottles of wine), it was Elvis, who's literally one of the biggest performers in the city. But if he was nonplussed, he certainly didn't show it -- which is lucky for all bystanders. By now, Big E is well known for throwing his weight around, along with his urine and feces, a few chickens, any stray beer bottles (his or yours), and loads of nitrous oxide containers. He has pissed on people for smoking cigarettes and pissed off folks by whizzing on pool tables; he's ordered audiences to give him massages and joints and golden showers. At a recent show in Los Angeles, after eE tried to grab a lady's beer, the woman got so incensed that she attempted to ram her bottle up his ass. eXtreme Elvis causes extreme reactions. After all, it isn't every day that you have a 250-pound, nude, sweaty man with big sideburns and a very small penis try to sing "Suspicious Minds" while giving you a bear hug from behind. But there's more to Mr. Pelvis than meets the eye, ear, and nose. Sure, he's outrageous, but he's also a masterful performer, a wise social critic, and a hell of a singer. (If, however, he offers you eggnog, check to make sure he hasn't urinated in it.) His band is full of talented musicians who make their "livings" in experimental noise-rock bands, and who follow his every whim with an impressive joie de vivre. If he tells them to get naked, they strip; if he suggests they play Gang of Four's "Anthrax," they blast into it. As eXtreme Elvis writes on his Web site, www.extreme-elvis.com, "Every generation gets the Elvis it deserves."
The list of hallowed San Francisco events that the Phenomenauts have graced with their zany, high-energy presence goes on for pages. From after-show parties at the venerable Fillmore to VIP rooms at the California Music Awards, the intergalactic space-travelers have brought their magic to some of the Bay Area's most prestigious halls and clubs. Never mind that the band's post-show performance at the Fillmore took place busker-style on the sidewalk in front of the venue, or that its impromptu set at the awards show was cut short by security guards asking the Phenomenauts to leave. These are small details in the life of a group that lives, loves, and rocks on the grand scale of the cosmos. Founded officially in 2000, the act has its roots in Space Patrol, a polka-themed '80s cover band that played all its songs on homemade instruments. These days Commander Angel Nova, Corporal Joebot, Major Jimmy Boom, and Captain Chreehos use more traditional instruments, but their mix of pop, psychobilly, and rock 'n' roll is anything but normal. Decked out in bizarre astronautical outfits, the band members enliven their shows with such "Phenoma-gadgets" as the Thera-Helmet (protective headwear outfitted with a theremin) and the Streamerator (a leaf blower modified to launch streams of toilet paper into the crowd). The group's first full-length, Rockets and Robots, has been received phenomenaut-ly by radio stations and audiences all around the Bay Area, perfectly capturing the chaotic fun of the act's live shows.
Project: Pimento adds an exciting new wrinkle to lounge music, enlivening classy cocktail-hour tunes from the '40s, '50s, and '60s with the out-of-this-world vibe of the theremin. That instrument -- the only one in the world played without being touched -- is handled deftly by Robby Virus, and its quavery Space Age sound gives a fantastically fun twist to the Project: Pimento catalog. Live, the group has been known to put its jazzy spin on such classics as Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer," the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice," Henry Mancini's "Moon River," and the surf favorite "Miserlou." Project: Pimento singer Lola Bombay has a smoky, captivating set of pipes (and a burgeoning career as the leader of the acclaimed Lori Carsillo Quartet). She's supported by upright bassist Maker's Mark, drummer Top Shelf Rich, and guitarist Absolute Michael. The group is currently hard at work on its debut album, which will feature Tony Hatch's "Call Me," along with the Adler/Ross chestnut "Whatever Lola Wants" and the Shirley Bassey standard "Diamonds Are Forever." But fans don't need to fret that Project: Pimento's recording schedule will keep it off the stage. The studio time hasn't slowed down the band's tireless gigging pace one bit: From Bruno's to Cafe Du Nord to the Hemlock Tavern, Project: Pimento brings its bewitching lounge music to a venue near you. Smoking jacket and evening gown optional.
Call and Response
Call and Response first broke on the Bay Area scene in 1999, bringing hope and joy to weary pop fans all around the world. The quintet's critically acclaimed, self-titled debut from 2001 was one of those few-and-far-between records that sent everyone -- friends, family, neighbors, small children passing on the street -- racing for the record store as soon as he heard it. The reason for Call and Response's demographic-crossing popularity was obvious: The sexy piece of bubblegum pop had some of the sweetest, bounciest melodies crafted since the Jackson 5 left Motown. The combination of Dan Judd's staccato guitar, Terri Loewenthal's rubbery bass, Jordan Dalrymple's crisp drumming, and organists Simone Rubi and Carrie Clough's peppy, harmonizing vocals was like a party in a jewel case -- breaking it out at barbecues and other shindigs tended to elevate the mood to near-illegal levels of happiness. In the year since Call and Response first came out on Kindercore Records, the band has rereleased the CD on the larger Emperor Norton label, toured the West Coast, and fielded requests from record labels in Europe. Mostly, though, the ensemble has been eagerly planning its next record, test-driving some of its recent creations in clubs around the Bay Area. The group's new material expands on its trademark sound, incorporating an electro feel to some songs, while fleshing out instrumental parts across the board. Call and Response hopes to have its sophomore album finished by early next year, at which point the good ship will set sail again, spreading its infectious brand of love and happiness everywhere.
If someone had set off a bomb at the photo shoot for the inside cover of Bart Davenport's self-titled solo debut, much of the East Bay music scene would've been decimated (and Amoeba Music in Berkeley would've needed a major restaffing). Having been an integral part of the local band milieu for almost two decades -- as part of mod-revivalists the Loved Ones, soul-stirrers the Kinetics, and countless other outfits, and as co-founder of Cafe Du Nord's "Monday Night Hoot" -- Davenport knows a lot of top-notch musicians, and many of them appeared, on tracks and in photos, on his LP. But even with a mountain of guest stars (members of Cake, the Mommyheads, Subtle, Call and Response, Cars Get Crushed, and Dave Gleason's Wasted Days), the record is far mellower and more minimalist than his past retro-rock efforts. "Beg Steal Borrow" is effervescent summertime pop at its finest, floating along on kazoo toots, organ buzzes, and pretty vocal harmonies. "New Cool Shoes" and "Mannequin Bride" are as simple and affecting as the best bossa nova and British folk; both use only an acoustic guitar to get their beatific melodies across. "Sugar Pie 1 & 2" feels like a transmission back to Earth from a lounge bar on a spaceship, its drowsy synths hugging the Latin percussion and Davenport's luxurious vocals. But the highlight may well be "Terri's Song" (a reference to Call & Response bassist Terri Loewenthal), in which the singer has the opportunity to "play like Joni Mitchell and move like Michael Jackson," as his former Loved Ones bandmate Jon Erickson once suggested. That juxtaposition becomes even more apparent (and enthralling) at live shows, since Davenport's performances have more charisma than hipsters have vintage vinyl. Since his album's release this past January, Davenport has played shows with Mates of State and the Walkmen in the Bay Area, toured the East Coast with Noe Venable and eXtreme Elvis, taken a West Coast jaunt as the opener for Norway's Kings of Convenience, and completed a series of well-received solo gigs in England. Bart Davenportsees European release in October, just as the vocalist is set to start working on his next LP.
"I guess I'm trying to make music that's not really there," explained singer/songwriter Etienne de Rocher in a recent interview. Listening to his pop-flecked acoustic soul, it's easy to understand what he's talking about. Boasting a songwriting palette that utilizes everything from crispy old-school drum machines to electric sitar sounds, de Rocher exists in that no man's land where inventive bedroom pop meets R&B. Imagine Shuggie Otis covering Elliott Smith and you've got a good idea of de Rocher's reach. With that expansive approach to songwriting, it's no surprise that the Alabama native grew up absorbing a medley of musical styles. Having spent his college years listening to a mind-opening array of hip hop (especially groups like A Tribe Called Quest), de Rocher produced early experiments blending his beat-based influences with rock's dirty shimmy. After putting out his Lazy Bones EP in 1996, de Rocher continued to refine his sound, moving in a more folk-rock direction. Over the next few years, he became one of the young princes of the San Francisco scene, developing a reputation through his frequent gigs at Cafe Du Nord. The self-released Sipsey Cane CD, recorded from 1997 to 1999, chronicles de Rocher's growth as a musician, featuring such standouts as the psychedelic grind of "Fast Train" and the beautiful groove of "Out to Sea." The musician has been hard at work on a follow-up to Sipsey Cane for the past year, hoping to release it in early 2003.
Here's an inspirational story Hollywood would do well to option. In 1989, John Dalton came down with bacterial meningitis, a disease that tends to mess people up very quickly, resulting in everything from brain damage to death. Dalton ended up with enough limb damage that the surgeon had to remove his legs and fingers; luckily, the doctor kept the musician's life intact. As a tribute to the never-say-die force that staved off the killer disease, bassist Dalton and the Angry Amputees now school your face with some of the catchiest punk rock in the Bay Area. Led by singer and guitarist Stacey Dee, the band delivers blistering tunes like "Harlot," "Bitchshot," and "Ass for Tonight" (which includes Dalton's heartwarming sentiment, "I need your ass, baby, just for tonight"). Aiding Dee and Dalton in their razored onslaught is lead guitarist Erik Brim, whose shredding licks have been known to reduce audience members to awe-struck tears. What Brim is to the axe, JoAnn "Rawk Mom" Gillespie is to the drum kit, mercilessly pounding the skins like a woman channeling the pissed-off spirit of Keith Moon. And, topping Moon, Gillespie sings and drums -- at the same time! With an eponymous seven-song CD out on the band's own I'm Stumped Records, the Amputees are exploding across the San Francisco rock scene in a furious blast of undeniable riffs, mosh pit-inducing choruses, and crusty, snarling attitude. Now that's inspirational.
Bottles and Skulls
Trying to pigeonhole Bottles and Skulls' music is an exercise in futility. The band -- which came to San Francisco by way of Augustine, Fla. -- has been known to call its brand of balls-out hardcore "white trash goth" and "melodic metal." But whatever handle you want to use, the low-pretension, high-energy thrash perpetrated by Alpha Boozer, Jersey Land Phil, Kringle, and Johnny Fuckin Hildo is impossible to ignore. Dirty and distorted, drunk and mean, the Bottles and Skulls noise is a scream-along riot, a cross between early Suicidal Tendencies, T.S.O.L, and Replacements. Bottles and Skulls songs don't so much start as explode outward, yanked into screeching existence on peals of Kringle's feedbacking guitar and Land Phil's roiling drumming. Meanwhile, Boozer's gruff, nihilistic vocals address all the subjects near and dear to a punk's heart: getting wasted, getting laid, and getting into fights. It may sound like a simple formula, but few bands in recent memory achieve it with such gnarled aplomb. The act's 2001 full-length, Never Kiss the Wasp, has been hailed as one of the best things to happen to the San Francisco punk scene in ages, and it hit No. 1 at KUSF-FM (90.3) after several weeks in heavy rotation. The group followed that up with the March 2002 release of the "I Am No One, He Is No One" single, as well as the June reissue of its high-octane Amped the Fuck Up EP. Hardcore, hard rock, punk -- call Bottles and Skulls whatever you like, but we're just glad the group calls San Francisco home.
Being Fracas singer Joe Franke isn't always an enviable responsibility. As the centerpiece of one of the Bay Area's most powerful punk bands, Franke has certain, uh, obligations. These include expending more energy and vocal fortitude than a busload of Marine boot camp instructors; perpetually lugging a ton of equipment around the country with guitarist Dan Tollbooth, drummer Lonnie Lyver, and bassist Tim Ryan; and, sometimes, if the mood is right, breaking a bottle over his forehead and letting blood coat his face and chest. It may not be the soundest of medical practices, but the occasional onstage bloodletting is perfectly in keeping with Fracas' take-no-prisoners approach to musicmaking. The band is loud and tight, with a Misfits-esque appreciation of the dark side of the human heart. The group's latest LP, A New Host of Torment, out on Alameda's Calendar of Death Records, is exactly what the title intimates: pure pounding energy that makes you want to ram cars into things and rip scabs off of old wounds. Song titles include the uplifting "The Dead Look Dead," "Suffer Alone," "Kill Me," "Open Your Hell," and "All That Remains Is the Howl." It's a testimony to Fracas' pummeling songwriting that the most lighthearted track on Torment is a cover of the Dead Kennedys chestnut "Too Drunk to Fuck." Let the blood pour.
A lot of people believe John Dwyer to be the savior of S.F.'s underground rock scene. Since he moved here from Rhode Island in 1998, he's served as one half of Pink & Brown (the bodysuited musical grenade nominated for an SF Weekly Music Award last year), guitarist for noise-rockers Dig That Body Up ... It's Alive! (with Total Shutdown's Nate Denver), and the sole purveyor of experimental folk in OCS. But the group with which he's had the most impact is Coachwhips, a trio of raunchy blues-rock wranglers. The band, named after a snake with a skin pattern that looks like a whip, initially started because Dwyer wanted to play guitar in a simple outfit, without any fancy gear. His roommate John Harlow found an old drum kit rotting away in their back yard; though he had no previous musical experience, Harlow began to jam with Dwyer. Hearing about the racket, their friend Mary Ann McNamara asked to join on tambourine, although she too had no prior know-how. The resultant Coachwhips sound is just as raw and dirty as you'd expect considering its trashy origins -- albeit far more fun and far less aromatic. On the threesome's debut, Hands on the Controls, and second LP, Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine(both released this year on local label Black Apple), Dwyer plays chunky, barely-in-control, blues-splintering riffs, while Harlow and McNamara lay down a chugging, propulsive beat. Dwyer sings through a messed-up mike, his ornery vocals coming out distorted and powerful. Song titles like "That Bitch Is Gonna End Up Dead" and "Sex Like a Seesaw" tell you all you need to know -- or can make out -- about the lyrics. This isn't a thinking man's band anyway: It's one you feel deep down in your gut. As Dwyer once said in an interview in the East Bay Express, "If there's a little bit of caveman or cavewoman in you, you're gonna love it."
Of all the terrific art-punk bands bursting out of the Bay Area in the last year and a half, Erase Errata stands tallest. The Oakland/S.F. quartet -- vocalist/trumpet player Jenny Hoysten, drummer Bianca Sparta, guitarist Sara Jaffe, and bassist Ellie Erickson -- formed in December 1999 as a result of a jam session at Hoysten and Sparta's warehouse space. From the get-go, the Erase Errata sound was evident: angular guitar riffs with as many points as a porcupine, a rhythm section that moved from jazz sprawl to disco thump, and a vocalist who drew comparisons to both Captain Beefheart andBikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna (most likely a first). After a single on Jaffe's Inconvenient label, Erase Errata released its debut LP, Other Animals, on Troubleman Unlimited in late 2001. Recorded over three days, the record's propulsive rhythms recalled early '80s no-wave punk acts 8-Eyed Spy and Y Pants, while also distilling the SoCal fury of the Minutemen. Several trumpet-inflected numbers brought to mind the heady work of Dutch group Dog Faced Hermans (which Erickson's high school band once opened for), while other tunes captured Captain Beefheart's off-kilter blues bastardizations. Jaffe's guitar playing is incredibly complex -- more viscerally than intellectually -- and Hoysten's lyrics feature a wealth of odd characters and hiccupy non sequiturs. But the band's secret weapon may be Erickson and Sparta's supple rhythm machine, which makes the herky-jerky rhythms seem perfect for spasmodic dancing. Since the album's release the group has opened for Sonic Youth, the Ex, and the Mary Timony Band; it has also contributed to both Kill Rock Stars' Fields and Streamscompilation and ToYo Records' Science Single series, and shared a split 3-inch CD-EP with fellow SF Weekly Award nominee Numbers. And just to show how much synergy there is between the band's punk and funk sides, an Erase Errata remix record featuring electro luminaries Adult., Blectum From Blechdom, Kid606, and Matmos is scheduled for release by next January. This is one punk band you can do more than pogo to.
There's been a lot of hype about the "new new wave," a coterie of bands that set the way-back machine to 1984, reconstructing the synth drone and cold dance rhythms of the past while wearing their big brothers' floppy haircuts and skinny ties. It would be a shame if Oakland trio Numbers were lumped into such a category. While the threesome does use synthesizers, craft robotic rhythms, and sing about the chill of technology, the musicians aren't style mavens. In fact, one of the songs on Numbers' debut LP, Numbers Life, released this summer on Tigerbeat6, mocks the über-hip, as Indra Dunis yelps, "Standing by the pop machine/ Looking so good I could scream/ Bangs are short, pants are tight/ I'm too cool to say hi." Not surprisingly, the members of Numbers -- drummer and vocalist Dunis, guitarist Dave Broekema, and keyboardist Eric Landmark -- originally came from the Midwestern, anti-fashion "no wave" scene. In the mid-'90s, Broekema and Landmark performed in a group called Xerobot, which played spastic bursts of noise that seemed intended more to injure listeners than to amuse them. While touring the Bay Area in 1995, the players found the music scene to their liking; two years later, they moved west. But San Francisco wasn't keen on Xerobot's music, and the group soon broke up. Eventually, Dunis convinced Broekema and Landmark to try out some new songs, and Numbers was born. For this band, however, the intention was fun instead of fission, as Dunis' bouncy beats spurred listeners to dance. The songs -- on Numbers Lifeand a recent split CD-EP with Erase Errata -- recall such '80s underground rockers as Devo, the Contractions, and Gang of Four, but contain their own unique touches. Dunis' halting singing says almost as much about being shy as her lyrics do, while Broekema's guitar and Landmark's homemade "buzzerk" organ catch each other in a snarl as tight as a Victorian corset. The band rises to a new level in live performances, inspiring audiences to draw mustaches on their faces and shed their pocket tees. Numbers isn't a revival band -- it's a whole new way to rock.
Ledisi can do it all. Born in Louisiana to a mother in an R&B band, the esteemed vocalist (who eschews her last name, Young) sang with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra at the ripe old age of 8. When her family moved to Oakland soon after, Ledisi (which means "to bring forth" in Nigerian) continued singing in a wide variety of combos and styles. She studied opera and piano at UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program as a teen, then got a high-profile gig in 1990 with Beach Blanket Babylon, the long-running S.F. satirical cabaret show in which she still performs. In the early '90s she tried on a new style, supplying vocals for acid-jazz band Slide Five, before opting to go her own way by forming Anibade (her middle name) with keyboardist Sundra Manning. The latter group quickly gained a reputation for its sultry mix of R&B, soul, funk, and jazz, as well as for Ledisi's seductive, fluid vocals. The band was asked to play with a veritable who's who of modern soul, including D'Angelo, the Roots, Eric Benet, Morris Day, Angie Stone, the Average White Band, and Tony! Toni! Toné! With fans clamoring for recorded material, Anibade taped a demo of a tune called "Take Time," which scored significant airplay on KMEL-FM (106.1). Frustrated by the subsequent major-label runaround, Ledisi self-released her first solo album, Soul Singer, in early 2000 on her and Manning's LeSun Records. The disc garnered critical huzzahs, most notably for the gripping account of a sexually abused daughter, "Papa Loved to Love Me." In February of this year, Ledisi issued her second effort, Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue, which includes vivid reinterpretations of such jazz standards as "'Round Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," and "In a Sentimental Mood." While recent throat problems have slowed her down a bit, Ledisi's still a powerhouse performer -- one whose skills know no boundaries and whose art just keeps getting better. Grammy nominee India.Arie said after seeing Ledisi play in New York, "I just had to bow down to her expertise."
Acclaimed vocalist Kim Nalley cites Dinah Washington and Dianne Reeves as her favorite singers, and it's easy to see why. Like those greats, Nalley is at home in a number of genres, gliding effortlessly between jazz, blues, and R&B. Her great talent is in making whatever she sings her own, a skill Nalley honed in a short but impressive career that has included everything from pop and opera to swing and big band jazz. Nalley's prodigious skill as a chanteuse has led to her working with the likes of Marcus Shelby, San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, and legendary Jazz Messengers pianist James Williams. Nalley's expressive voice -- at times recalling Washington's or Billie Holiday's -- has only improved over the years, and her extraordinary ability is plain to see on her latest release, Need My Sugar. Produced by the singer herself, the CD features Etta James pianist Dave Matthews, along with celebrated bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Kent Bryson. In addition to a version of James' "At Last" that must be heard to be believed, Nalley turns in delightful takes on "September in the Rain" and "Goin' to New York." When not tucked away in the studio, Nalley keeps busy with a jet-setting schedule of concerts. She has performed at a host of international jazz fests, including the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, the Monterey and Tokyo jazz festivals, and the Lincoln Center Midsummer Night Swing in New York City.
Whether Raw Deluxe is in its free-flowing improvisational mode or working through the sweaty structures of its awe-inspiring catalog, the quintet is always a sure bet for a good time. With a musical history that stretches back to the Bay Area's late-'90s acid jazz and hip hop scene, the band has spent almost five years building a reputation for expert guitar work, energetic horns, and propulsive organ grooves. Comprised of Chris Spano on drums, Chris Arenas on bass, Matt Fleming on the electric piano and organ, Tony Jurado on sax, and Jason Collins on guitar, Raw Deluxe released its acclaimed debut EP, Back to the Jungle, in 2001. XLR8Rmagazine promptly hailed the effort as "killer jazz-funk," and the band reeled in a host of awards that year. The six-song disc -- especially the awesome single "Get Some" -- whetted the appetites of many funk fans. Raw Deluxe intends to deliver its bootylicious follow-up sometime in 2003, after the group comes back from its current West Coast tour. Of course, the group may never return: Like true road warriors, Raw Deluxe has been gigging nonstop in support of Back to the Jungle. For this boombastically fun live band, the stage is a home away from home, especially when the ensemble's playing with such popular acts as Marginal Prophets, Boomshanka, Mission:, and the Breakestra. Wherever Raw Deluxe is, it can always be counted on to cook up a savory mix of danceable tunes. If you like your funk steaming, try it Raw.
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