Snarky Puppy | The Troubadour | 8/2/14 [PHOTOS]

Ever since Snarky Puppy beat my favorite neo-soul band of 2013, Hiatus Kaiyote for the Best R&B Performance Grammy this year, I had to look them up and figure out who they were.

I’ll admit … the first video clip  supporting their release of “Family Dinner- Volume 1”. It was Lalah Hathaway singing a song titled “Something” … and she harmonized with herself… let me say that again … SHE HARMONIZED WITH HERSELF!!!

That video was mind blowing, and I’ll have to admit the music, separate from the mind-blowing vocal gymnastics performed by Lalah, was pretty damn good.

Based out of New York, the band is led by Michael League, a Grammy Award-winning bassist. It’s players are part of collective that features nearly 40 musicians. They affectionately refer to themselves as “The Farm” and for this evening, they had 9 of them play at The Troubadour.

With the 10 players cramped on the stage, their music, which is a fusion of jazz, rock and funk, was loud and funky. I won’t lie, though … if you were hoping for some vocalists to jump onto the stage to join them for a song or two, you would have been disappointed. It was an all instrumental set with only the audience singing along with the chants on a song … the name of which totally escapes me, but you can see the video below.

I’m not one to complain though. When you have that many talented musicians on stage, it’s easy for me to get lost in some robust, Grammy Award winning music.

How to Dress Well’s “Repeat Pleasure” (Part 1 of 3 “What Is This Heart?” trilogy) (Official Video)

Tom Krell p/k/a How To Dress Well.
Tom Krell p/k/a How To Dress Well.

I’m a fan of Tom Krell’s music. Performing under the stage name “How To Dress Well”, his music has always has always resonated a sadness or longing in me. Whether its his airy falsetto, or the generally dark lyrical topics of his compositions, his music always makes me want to lay on a coach and contemplate life, love, at other personal topics.

When I saw him perform at The Roxy earlier this year, Tom performed “Repeat Pleasure” and noted it was a song about controlling emotions even though you know that “if you do something once, you’ll probably do it again”. He also noted that it was perhaps the most “poppy” songs he had had ever written.

That being said, I suppose one would have expected a music video with an airier, light hearted mood, but I think if that had been done, it would have been so out of character for Tom, his fans, myself included, would have said, “Huh?”

Tom’s music video for “Repeat Pleasure”, which is apparently part 1 of the “What Is This Heart?” (the name of his forthcoming album) trilogy, will pull on your heartstrings. It seems to tell the story of a young man who’s grandfather is gravely ill, and his efforts to take him somewhere familiar before passing. The video is appropriately “How To Dress Well”, and I fully appreciate Tom’s creative vision for his music.

Thruster! | El Cid | 1/31/14

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I was already excited to watch Atomic Ape do their thing at El Cid, but when Jason Schimmel messaged me that the band performing after them would blow my mind, my curiosity got piqued. I typically take statements like that with a grain of salt, but knowing how extraordinarily talented a musician Jason is, coming from him, that statement carried with it a lot more weight. A week before the date of the gig, I started my google research.  

From allmusic.comTim Young is one of the most creative guitarists out there. Best known for his work with Wayne Horvitz and Zony Mash, he’s been creating a very original style with his mastery of tone and effects and the near-complete absence of clichéd guitar licks. Thruster is his power trio project with bass player Kaveh Rastegar and ubiquitous Seattle drummer Matt Chamberlain […] Guitar fans will surely be impressed, but this is an album worth checking out for anyone interested in good instrumental rock.”

The more research I did, the more the musical dweeb inside of my brain started to squeal. Matt Chamberlain has worked, or toured, with Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Morrissey, Fiona Apple, David Bowie, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, John Mayer, and the list goes on. Kaveh Rastegar is a founding member of the Grammy nominated new music quintet Kneebody and has worked with, or written for, Cee Lo Green, Bruno Mars, Sam Sparro, Antibalas Afro Beat Orchestra, Joshua Radin, and the list goes on. Timothy Young has performed with, recorded with and/or produced the following artists: Beck, Rufus Wainwright, Belinda Carlisle, Dave Palmer, Fiona Apple, Nikka Costa, Lucy Woodward, Mike Patton, Stan Getz, Sophie B. Hawkins, and, again, the list goes on.

Thruster!’s performance, like their resume, did not dissappoint. Like a well oiled machine, the band performed a set that any lover of rock and roll would have appreciated. Tim’s superb lead guitar playing skills was mesmerizing accompanied by Matt’s succinct rhythms and Kaveh’s steady bass. Jason Schimmel joined them for a song which only added another layer to their already full sound. May favorite jam from their set is at the 5:26 mark of the video below. It’s so hard, dirty and uplifting at the same time, I couldn’t help but make a stink face throughout it.

It seems to me that these guys don’t necessarily get to play together on a regular basis due to their being in high demand for other gigs, so being able to catch their artistry as a collective live was a special treat that I’m glad I got to be a part of.

Unfortunately, the Flickr slideshow below is not currently available on mobile devices. If you are on a mobile device, please click THIS LINK to get redirected to the set of photos.

Atomic Ape | El Cid | 1/31/14

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What do you get when you combine progressive rock, Balkan folk, Klezmer jazz and surf rock? Atomic Ape.

Formerly known as Orange Tulip Conspiracy, the 5 piece band led by Jason Schimmel performed a gig at El Cid on January 31, 2014 to celebrate the release of their latest album, “Swarm”. The intimate venue was packed (capacity 104), and those that were in attendance were treated to a musical barrage of styles and musicianship that is, in my opinion, both unique and unparalleled.

If you’re looking for simple, pop tunes, you should move on. If Atomic Ape’s music is anything, it is definitely not simple. The compositions and arrangements crafted by Jason Schimmel (who has previously played for Estradashere and still occasionally with Secret Chiefs 3) are about as masterfully complex as they come, as evidenced during their live performance with seamless transitions into different rhythms, themes, and styles within any particular composition.

But however complex the music may be, it is all still accessible, as long as you are willing to let the music engulf you. I was consistently amazed with the ways in which the band melded the aforementioned styles to create a sound wholly their own. Not only that, but each player was given time to shine with stand-out moments to demonstrate their individual musical chops. Guitarist Tim Young, who played next with Thruster!, and accordionist Max Wipple, each joined Atomic Ape on stage for a song or two.

Ingenious music like this doesn’t come around very often. If you missed out on their recent tour, I highly suggest picking up a copy of their latest album (which, I may add is superbly produced and mixed) to hold you over until they perform in your neck of the woods.

Unfortunately, the Flickr slideshow below is not currently available on mobile devices. If you are on a mobile device, please click THIS LINK to get redirected to the set of photos.

Terrace Martin | The Virgil | 1/22/14

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A tip for any avid concert goer living in Los Angeles: ALWAYS  find a concert or two to go to during Grammy Week. During the week immediately preceding the awards ceremony, amazing musical talent from all over the world flocks to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of music, whether to attend the ceremony as a nominee, to perform in the city of angels to showcase their own musical abilities for the throngs of A&R, talent agents, talent managers, critics and fans who happen to be in town to celebrate music with them or to just play gigs with their friends. Continue reading

Jose James | The Del Monte Speakeasy | 3/13/13

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Earlier this year, a friend of mine posted a video clip on Facebook of a performance by a singer named Jose James. I liked what I heard, and started googling him and his music.  When I stumbled upon his amazing cover of Freestyle Fellowship’s “Park Bench People”, I nearly lost my mind.  I mean, I grew up with “Innercity Griots”, and I have always preached how that that album is in my top 10 list of best and most influential hip-hop albums of all time.  What made that album so groundbreaking was how it pushed the limits of hip-hop (at the time), thematically and musically, especially using live jazz instrumentation, courtesy of members from The Underground Railroad (I even got to meet Onaje Murray– who kills it on Freestyle Fellowship’s version of “Park Bench People” in high school once, but that’s another story).  Needless to say, I was feeling what Jose James was doing with his music and the fact that he picked one of my favorite hip-hop songs to cover earned him some mad respect.

While I was watching some of the video clips on Youtube, I noticed that Youtube had a tiny little caption in the video description that showed where he would be performing in Los Angeles next.  I clicked through the link trying to see how much the tickets were, but apparently the show had sold out. Apparently, it was a KCRW promoted concert, and to my dismay, they had just featured Jose the day before, and tickets for the show sold out immediately. Slightly disheartened, I simply “liked” Jose’s Facebook page for updates on when he’d be in town in the future.

Facebook.  Some people can’t stand it.  I can’t live without it. About a week after trying to get tickets, I get a notice on FB that a second show had been added.  I logged on and purchased tickets.  FYI, the ticket for this second show also sold out. Thank you, Facebook.

It had been a tough couple weeks leading up to the show.  Work had been overwhelming, and it seemed that everybody I was working with was heading to South By Southwest to work on various projects. I’ve never been to SXSW, so I was a bit envious.  But since everyone was in Austin, TX for the music festival,  I got a little reprieve from phone calls and emails to enjoy myself for the evening.

When I got to the venue, I picked up my wristband and got stamped at the door. The performance venue was downstairs in a dark basement with low a ceiling. My guest and I roamed the venue looking for a good place to stand, and we ended up basically where we started off, by the entrance, close to the stage right.  The show was scheduled to start at 10pm, but the bouncer at the top of the stairs told me that he started around 11 the night before.

The later it got, the smaller our little space got.  People kept filing in, and the temperature of the room started rising.  You could feel it. Note to self: bring a small handheld fan for the next show I attend there.  The air-conditioning was on (so says the venue), but you couldn’t tell.

A blurry shot of Jose and Takuya.
A blurry shot of Jose and Takuya.

Close to 11:00pm, the band the took the stage. One by one, the band members took the stage. Kris Bowers (keyboards)Solomon Dorsey (bass)Takuya Kuroda (trumpet) and Richard Spaven (drums).  Each member introduced themselves to the audience through solos, and after a good 10 minutes of jazz instrumentals, Jose joined them on stage to sing “It’s All Over Your Body”, the first track of off his latest album .  That song is about 5 and a half minutes long, but they jammed out for at least 10 minutes. It seemed to me that the audience truly understood the musicality of the gentlemen on stage. Each of them was truly skilled at their respective craft.

The room was getting hotter and hotter, and if you came in wearing a jacket or a sweater, you weren’t wearing it anymore. You could feel the the body heat coming off of the person standing next to you. You would think that the temperature would be unbearable, but no. Girls were shouting out Jose’s name with each line he sang, and bodies were swaying to the rhythm.  If anything, people were sneakily pushing their way towards the stage, immersing themselves in the sweltering heat.  The music was that good.  No one wanted too leave their spot (at least where I was standing).

Another blurry shot of Takuya.
Another blurry shot of Takuya.

Jose has preached his musical root as being set in Jazz.  He’s a tremendous “classic” jazz vocalist, as his duet album with Jef Neve, titled “For All We Know”, clearly showcases, but his talent and stylings are so much more that traditional jazz.  Like Freestyle Fellowship, he takes a genre and stretches its boundaries.

People have compared vocals to D’Angelo and Bill Withers.  People say that he evokes the 70’s soul of Gil Scott Heron. As cliched as it sounds, he’s Jose James.  His performance showed me that he is his own style … meaning, if you heard his voice on the radio, you’d probably be able to tell that it’s him and not some other singer.

I usually try to take video clips of a handful of songs of the concert I go to, but after the show I realized that I had only taken clips of three songs.  It was the kind of show where you didn’t want to watch it from the tiny screen of a cell phone.  I was no more than 15 feet from the stage.  I was going to soak it all in with my own eyes.  Luckily, the three videos that I did take were of some of the highlight I took away from the show.

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I had seen Robert Glasper earlier this year, and it just so happened that the music of “Vanguard”, one of my favorite songs off the album, was written by him. Jose wrote the lyrics.  Great song. 

Jose covered Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”.  A great song.  A great voice. 

It was 1am when Jose closed his set with “Do You Feel”, and people started to leave. It’s almost understandable. Almost. After all, it was a Wednesday, and people have 9-5 jobs.  The show was already over 2 hours. I, technically, have a 9-5 job. BUT he hadn’t played “Park Bench People” yet.

After a bit of cajoling from the faithful who moved forward to take up the space from those who couldn’t hang, Jose came on stage and started to sing a cappella a Marvin Gaye medley of “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me”.  What he did with the medley blew my mind.  The voice is an instrument, but what he did with his instrument left me amazed. He became the human record player, scatting lines making it sound like a DJ was spinning records.

“What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me”, with their strong social commentary, segued brilliantly into “Park Bench People”, a song about the ravages of homelessness. He continued the scat passages of “Park Bench People” like he did with the medley and made those songs … for lack of more poetic words … his bitch.  He took a song that I already loved, and left me amazed with his performance.  Close to 1:30am, Jose and the band wrapped it up. 

IMG_0339I was able to tell  Jose before I left that I was amazed by his set, and that there was nothing I appreciated more in the world than good music, but upon retrospect the concert itself was a one of a kind experience.  To experience that kind of musicianship, in that venue, with the heat, and skin, and vibe, excitement, and movement … Before I left him and his band alone, I was able to get Jose and Takuya autograph my 12” single of “Park Bench People”. IMG_0337

They say that listening to good music is like having sex. On March 13, 2013, in the crowded, sweltering basement of the Del Monte Speakeasy in Venice Beach, I left a concert drenched in my own sweat (and probably the sweat of others), my feet and legs aching from the physical exertion of standing for over two hours. I was physically and emotionally spent, but absolutely in awe of the performance that I was lucky enough to catch. When I got to my car, I sat there smoking a cigarette just to relax for a moment.

Yeah … I needed it.

Autographed 12" single of "Park Bench People".  #Treasure
Autographed 12″ single of “Park Bench People”. If you want to see some other music treasure I’ve collected, click through this link.