Last night I went to see some music in generes you probably don't expect me to enjoy, and came out pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed them.
As I said I would, I popped into Caroline's to see Julie B, pretty much by herself. I really have got to get out and see her heavy prog combo, the Quark Quintet. She's really learned to play her voice as well as her keyboard, and writes the right kinds of songs to showcase this talent. I'm not a fan of singer-songwriter-y stuff though, but these are songs that can hold up under the weight of a full-blown prog band and its about time I expose myself to that. Still, Julie can work a small room wonderfully, not overhwhelmingly, and the songs work because they're well-crafted pieces to begin with.
My only comment: seems to me if you're going to play a jazz club, you had better be ready with more than one remotely jazz tune to cover. She apologized as she introduced her jazz cover, like she was anticipating some hardcore jazzbo snorting "Oh, look at little prog girl trying to move into our world." But there was none of that going on and therefore nothing to apologize about the fact that it might have been a "common" song for such a seemingly purist jazz joint like Caroline's. Does a band at the Cactus Club ever get booed off the stage for breaking into "Teenage Lobotomy" or "Pretty Vacant"? No, they don't. It’s a sign of respect for the clientele that you at least do something you know they're gonna recognize, if not like/love. And you really can't go wrong with a standard, especially one Julie renders as well as she does "Someone to Watch Over Me." But you've got the chops, Julie, so be sure you can break out a few more to pull in the jazz fans and curious that inhabit a joint like this.
Up next was a band I didn't even know was playing, The Flying Calarco Brothers, with drumming virtuoso John Calarco and his overlooked brother Frank, (who looked like a cross between Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen). They played late 70s, early 80s jazz fusion, and here's how good they were: I stuck around and listened to them for a few songs desapite two huge factors: 1) I was dead tired and still wanted to stop in at the Cactus Club to touch base with somebody and 2) I generally loathe jazz fusion. Kind of. Sort of. Here's where I'm coming from on this: There were a few jazz fusion records from that period which I actually love and still listen to. Anything by Jeff Beck (especially Live with Jan Hammer -- who doesn't love "Freeway Jam"?), anything by Stanley Clarke, and get this -- that one Pat Metheny album with "San Lorenzo" on it. But the thing about jazz fusion is that it teeters dangrously on the edge of middle of the road-ness: not reckless enough to be the rock that the jazz is fusing with, not experimental enough to be the jazz the rock is refining itself to be. Very few people get it right, and most of it thusly ends up as corporate cocktail party music or soundtracks for Aaron Spelling soapoperas. The Calarco brothers, with Drew Rittgers on Chapman Stick get it right. Probably because John Calarco is such a hot drumming commodity that he's got plenty of outlets to play, so this is a band he can do whatever he wants to and it won't ruin his career, and he can take some chances and really go up into another realm and therefore the passion is there. And we all know the difference between good and great is passion. That's my guess, but whatever it was, they drew me in with hypnotic rhythms, dorky little melodies that took on a sense of danger once established, and how often do you get to see a Stick player around these parts? How often, period? They even introduced Rittgers by emphasising lack of hair on his head, pointing out that only bald guys are able to play the Chapman Stick. And it's probably true. Quick, name all the Stick players you know of. This Drew guy I just told you about and Tony Levin, right? But they were good: they drew me in and I found myself actively listening and enjoying them. This just reinforced my musical philosophy: I've often said that while I have my favorite genres, I enjoy music that's played well by passionate musicians, no matter what the framework. And when I find myself liking music in a genre I hate, that's when I know I'm in the presence of players.
And I did pop into (speaking of) the Cactus Club just to see what Karaoke at the Cactus Club would be about. Go back and read that phrase one more time, say it out loud (slowly) and let it sink in: Karaoke At The Cactus Club. No, it wasn't an evening of ironic smirking. There were non-regulars there, the (and until this point, I didn't know it existed) hardcore karaoke crowd. They mixed nicely with the normal Cactus clientele of tattooed and pierced and goateed tweeners, X and Yers. I walked in right when some regular guy with a Axl Rose gritty voice was belting out some new-metal hit I wasn't familiar with. He was followed by some perfectly middle class dude who did some country version of "Let's Stick Together" which probably sounded way better than (whatever Nashville producer thought would be a good idea to take a classic soul hit and water it down with) nu-country blandness. No, this guy put the soul back in it, whether he intended to or not. Caught one final memorable young, blonde, tattooed, dreadlocked thang channelling Grace Slick for "White Rabbit," albeit a bit flat on the long notes. I was still exhausted though, and having satisfied my curiosity, went home to start resting up for the Reverend Horton Heat.