Saturday, February 20, 2010

There and Back and all jazzed up


evil hammond
Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, Ok, please don’t tell me how wonderful the Residents show was. I’m still smarting that I couldn’t make it, especially when Marlavous called me at the last minute with a free ticket. But you can’t use a free ticket if you can’t get last minute child care either. So yes, while all the cool kids were at the Turner Hall Ballroom watching the latest incarnation of whatever cool performance art those guys came up with this time around, I sat home flipping between American Idol (and only 7 people put through on Tuesday? Bah! I hate Hollywood Week) and watching Lindsay Jacobellis wipe out at the Olympics.

That’s not to say I haven’t seen a lot of good music anyway in the past few weeks, and I seem to have fallen into this jazz kick. Except this is Milwaukee , and in Milwaukee, we twist it up. Case in point: Lovanova, a four-piece combo that at first glance, looked like a good reason for Paul Kneevers to finally haul that bigass Hammond Organ out of The Compound and play that mutha at Club Garibaldi’s on a cold February night. And so he did. It’s heavy, both in girth and sound, so heavy that running it through a Leslie amp is almost required to take the edge off. Lovanova describes itself as rock/lounge, but I think htat’s just because it’s hard to get a handle on them otherwise. Kneevers himself admitted that as he recruited musicians for this project, it took some time (as in months) to communicate his vision to them. There’s rock, yes (you can’t help that with Jeff Hamilton in the band, this time on bass), and “lounge” sounds a lot cooler (especially to my ears) than the smooth jazz that’s almost implied when somebody says “lounge.” Face it, is it a cool lounge with real hipsters, or some awful place where the clientele doesn’t realize that the Five Card Studs are in costume?

Fortunately, it’s the former: a very cool lounge, populated by people who remember going to see Jeff Beck on the “There and Back” tour; that’s how much skill Kneevers manages on his Hammond – despite its heaviness, you can still hear Josh Tovar’s wonderful, Beck-like guitar runs (played with as much passion). As such, I (along with the rest of the audience) was enthralled, both at the passion, musicianship, and oh, it was plain fun to listen to and enjoy a snappy cocktail to. Like Beck, I was there, and I’ll be back.

Later the same night, I couldn’t tear myself away from another wonderful Danglers set (a band which regular readers know I’ve begun to take for granted). “Never the same set twice” they advertise, and they’re right. Like chameleons, they adapt wonderfully to their environment and did so this evening, starting off with some classic jazz that seamlessly poured into their (getting to be standard) cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”. You couldn’t tell they were going from jazz to psychedelia, you just all of a sudden noticed they’d taken you there. But I had to leave about 50% through the set; I’d been up since 5 am on a Friday, and was running on fumes. The fact that I even stayed as late as I did was more of a tribute to my fandom for this band.

De La MUY Buena
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

A week later, that same chameleon-like magic struck again at Club Garibaldi, this time with a Latin twist. I’d seen DeLaBuena in a park before and written how much they really grabbed me by the end of a set. And they did it again – they are almost subversive in the way they start out their set with almost garden variety “Ricky Why Can’t I Play In Your Band” Cuban salsa, and as the night goes on, they’re slipping in syncopated jazz (in messed up time signatures), African beats, and by the time you’ve noticed, you’re already on the mothership shooting to some psychedelic planet in space, ready to ask Sun Ra how to say “Arkestra” in Spanish. This is a band that needs to cover Black Sabbath (this time it was War Pigs – again, with a full horn section, cantado en Espanol: Los cerros guerros! ) to bring you back to reality, before sending you home with a comforting and straight up rendition of La Comanchero.

Playing the Kora
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The whole night was a Haiti Fundraiser, this time for a group called Youthaiti. Opening the set was Yaya Kambaye, a pair of Senegalese brothers (and I believe one of them is living here in Milwaukee) who play the kora – a harp like instrument that most people would recognize by sound – it makes that sound you always hear in “world music” compositions. I marveled not only at their skill in playing it (not to mention what a beast it must be to keep in tune!) but at the skill they had in using these simple instruments along with drums to get a crowd both listening intently and eventually dancing like they were going to start singing in tongues. Members of DeLaBuena would join them occasionally to add more thythm and percussion, but I got the impression it wasn’t because they needed it, but more because the musicians simply enjoyed the camaraderie and universal language of rhythm. It was one of those things that reminded me what a special, undiscovered country the Milwaukee Music scene is. Only downer was the woman from Youthaiti who spoke before the music started. Youthaiti is doing some terrific work: they didn’t just spring up over the earthquake, they’ve been there this whole time and their goal is to build sustainable work and businesses in Haiti. The woman who spoke is obviously doing great work and she’s passionate about her work, but she arrived on stage with a microphone and asked for people’s attention. It’s a Saturday night at a crowded bar in Milwaukee, the slight dip in volume is what you’re going to get, girlfriend. Your disappointment that they didn’t all immediately hush up and turn their undivided attention to you like you were a priest about to deliver a sermon at a Lutheran church didn’t warrant your shouting to the crowd “Shut up! I have something important to say.” Get over yourself: you have a microphone in a bar, and that should be good enough. If your words are that important, people will listen and those who don’t want to don’t have to: they’re in a bar. That said, people who’ve dedicated their lives to helping an impoverished people build sustainable income and lives do tend to get a little preachy, and yes, Youthaiti is doing terrific work but remember, this isn’t church. It’s Club Garibaldi on a Saturday and people came to dance.
Earlier in the evening still, I'd popped into the Cactus Club to catch a set from Floor Model and the Hullmen. I needed a Floor Model fix, and before realizing I'd get preached at later, their no-bullshit approach helped later. The Hullmen are, as predicted, improving by leaps and bounds, in no small part thanks to their passion for what they're doing. That's best evidenced by their drummer, Bridget, who precisely piles away on her set while the melody is held down. Glad I caught them.
Coming up: my band, Loblolly, next Saturday night (the 27th) at the Circle A. More on that later...

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