featuring Chris Wood, Skerik, Brian Seeger and John Ellis
Scott Amendola Band
SFJAZZ Spring Season
Regency Ballroom | San Francisco | 03.27.02
I knew from listening to Stanton Moore's latest and second solo release, Flyin' the Koop (Blue Thumb Records/Verve), that I'd be in for a treat listening to Stanton and his group play the first of two nights at the beautiful and ornate Regency Building Grand Ballroom in San Francisco (adjacent to the old Avalon Ballroom!) as part of the SFJAZZ Spring Season of amazing live music events. I was not mistaken!
For this tour, his group on the excellent record was all on stage except for Karl Denson (sax) who is on tour. John Ellis held down the second sax position and played fabulously all night long. The band was Stanton on his old Gretsch kit plus some drum machines, loops and a big marching band bass drum set to the side with a second kick pedal; Chris Wood (MMW) on upright and electric bass; Brian Seeger on hollow body Gibson jazz guitar and, at the end, a beautiful old pedal steel rig (for the marvelous "Tchfunkta" from Stanton's stellar debut release "All Kooked Out" (Fog City Records); and "certified freak" Mr. Skerik, on baritone and alto saxophones behind a small mountain of electronics effects boxes and wires.
You can't possibly hope to describe music like this. Just get out there these last three nights of this tour, listen to it, see it, feel it and let it seep in and you'll surely see what I mean by this.
This group provided us with a full spectrum of jazz and some psychedelic rock thrown in for some spice, all at the hands of some musicians who are real magicians. They indeed produce magic, not simply music.
Chris Wood, switching from incredible upright bass wizardry to blazing funky electric licks, tossed in some bow work (on "Tang the Hump" from the new CD), some alien electro echo licks and great slide electric bass work. He locked the groove down with Stanton all night, and the two appear to have built quite a musical repertoire after only the studio sessions and a few live appearances. (Don't miss Wood with MMW on 04.20 at the Warfield; Steve Bernstein will direct the horn section!)
Brian Seeger was superb, playing some slide Hawaiian-esque rock on one song, I believe the second to last number, a raging version of "Good Times Bad Times" (Led Zeppelin) introduced by king kook Skerik saying "You want some jazzzzzz?" (and then saying "there is smooth jazz", riffing on Kenny G briefly... "there is jazzy jazz"... then launching in to the Zep classic); some straight up James Brown-style funky licks and incredible melt-down psychedelia at the end of "Tchfunkta" on the pedal steel. I see why, now, Stanton has been playing with this guy for a long time now (Moore & More in New Orleans and some short tours). He is really good. He played with his eyes closed much of the time, clearly enjoying himself, and was a joy to watch play.
Skerik provided excitement galore, playing incredible tenor and baritone sax, doing some wild amplified throat singing in to his sax mic early on and then towards the end, wailing in to his sax mic, with effects (vocorder like device, I suppose), a haunting and unearthly segment that I marveled in. This was all great stuff, but really only the more novel side of Skerik's estimable trick bag which included rock solid jazz chops, quiet cerebral squonks and all manner of fiery blowing madness.
I have loved Skerik's lighthearted and hilarious comments at show after show (see Great American Music Hall, 09.08.98 tapes and Skerik's political rhymes related to Monica Lewinsky). This time Skerik came out first thing and said "Jello Biafra will be out here in a second... with his law firm", in reference to events in the news of the day. Hilarious!
Shortly after that, on the tune "Sprung Monkey" (not sure if this is Stanton's tune) he set the tone nicely for this evening when a few minutes in to the tune, one that started subtly, he pointed a finger to the front crowd and spoke: "Bruce Gordon. I hear you talking. The band can't play quiet when you're talking" (Hey, Bruce, you're famous now!)
Generally the crowd was good, respectful of the music, clapping along at the end jam on "Tchfunkta" at Stanton's prodding and staying relatively mellow throughout the quieter passages (except for I think on "Let's Go", a more jazz-oriented tune during which, at the beginning of the number, the crowd fairly erupted into chatter above Wood's delicate bass riffs).
John Ellis played wonderfully all evening. I'd seen Ellis twice in December with Charlie Hunter's band and already knew that he is excellent. In this format he seemed to rise to new heights not seen over those two performances, though they were outstanding. Ellis, using absolutely NO effects, side-by-side with Skerik's miniature sound lab all a jumble on the floor, was no less incredible, and I love Skerik, one of my very favorite saxophonists on the jam scene along with Karl Denson and Jessica Lurie of Living Daylights. Ellis broke loose completely with long blaring, ducking, punching, funky bebop runs and playing flute on one tune and later a short bit on a small wooden ocarina-like device he had hung around his neck.
Stanton Moore. Galactic often becomes Moore's band on any given night at a Galactic live performance. With the exception of the few moments where Skerik momentarily hijacked the band, and maybe one monster Wood run on upright and some free jazz-like solo moments (where Wood was clearly in the spotlight) this was Stanton's band and evening.
Moore played superbly all night long. He is no young lion of jazz and funk, he is a young MONSTER! He never came out from behind the kit to pound on the stage with his sticks or rap on the mic stands as he does sometimes with Galactic. Nor did he use a lot of looping and electronics, a bit at the beginning of the set and later in the evening, on the end of "Tchfunkta", leaving a big loop laying out on the stage, pervading and echoing throughout the room in a deep heartbeat groove. He played a lot of straight-up jazz and some great funk and bombastic rock drumming on "Good Times Bad Times", working his Gretsch kit like an expert, tune after tune. Though in many respects he is years away from his mentor Johnny Vidacovich (Astral Project) or one of his drum heroes, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste (The Meters, Zigaboo and his New Aahkesstra, Zigaboo's Funk Revue), the Galactic factor and I suppose Moore's boyish sex appeal among the young women that are Galactic fans, Moore is already a seemingly bigger draw than these decades older drum masters.
I have a friend who tries to define music a little too intellectually and can perhaps lose his readers. So I will use the lingo of the young folk of today, many of whom up by the stage front (the so-called "rail") were at least twenty years my junior: "The guys got sick for us last night... SICK!" I'd mentioned to someone that day that if they played "Good Times Bad Times" it would be predictable, as they'd played it in Santa Cruz the evening before. They did play it. It was predictable. But it was no less amazing, in fact, it was incredible.
A detail worth noting is that much of the very best stuff, without insulting any of the incredible quintet, I hope, was when two members were side stage or offstage and a trio played. Wood, Skerik and Moore provided one of those highlight segments in a night of highlights, Skerik, Moore and Seeger another. Seeger and Ellis provided some percussion on the end part of "Fallin' Through the Floor", the tune on both the CD and played fourth this evening, the one with the Wild Magnolias vocal samples, showing Moore's New Orleans roots. One of the other highlights for me was when the crowd took a real beating on the major league dual sax attack blasting from the stage from Ellis and Skerik, on "Tang the Hump", I believe. An epic Skerik solo at one point just made me think, "the music flows through this guy." Does that make sense? If you were there or if you've seen Skerik play, you probably know what I am talking about.
The encore psychedelia bit at the very end was yet another highlight for me. Stanton's loops melding with Skerik's effects and Seeger's acid pedal steel licks were nothing short of beautiful.
Stanton, in saying "Good Night" to the crowd, noted that he was honored to be on a bill with the Scott Amendola Band, and thanked SFJAZZ for putting together a "drummer night." He did note that "Not enough of you were out there" and told people to get there early the next night. He mentioned that the Scott Amendola Band were "killin'", and they truly were. That group was Todd Sickafoose (bass), Jenny Schienmann (violin), Eric Crystal (saxes), the frenetic yet beautiful guitar work of Mr. Nels Cline and the totally under-appreciated drum work of local drum kit treasure, Scott Amendola. They do play locally, although I'm not sure where Crystal is from, and Schienmann resides in New York. Go hear these people! "59th Street Blues", with its huge crescendo, was my favorite in the set, but I loved the last quiet tune, "Rosa" which lost the young chattering crowd.
Surely this will rank, along with that Great American Music Hall show by Moore & More in 1998, among the best live music highlights for me for the next three or four years in to the future.
Get out there and see this band. This was a five star show, hands down, even without two of my very favorite songs from the new record, "Hunch" and "Launcho Diablo." Thanks Stanton and guys, SFJAZZ, JamBase and you wonderful people who assembled for this wondrous night of magic!
From my stage set list:
Let's Go *1
Tang the Hump *2
Fallin' off the Floor *2
Amy's Lament (2)
not on stage set list: Good Times Bad Times *4
Tchfunkta (3) *5
(1) song is "Magnolia Triangle" (James Black)
(2) not played, per Brian Seeger
(3) "Tchfunkta" is from the Moore release "All Kooked Out" (Fog City Records)
*1 - Seegar/Charles Dennard
*2 - Moore/Walton/Denson/Wood (Walton = Skerik)
*3 - Stanton Moore
*4 - Stanton Moore (I think)
*5 - Page/Jones/Bonham
Scott Amendola Band Setlist:
Last Chance (Make Your Move)
My Son The Wanderer
59th St. Blues
JamBase | Bay Area
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