Raisinhill and Jaafar | The De La Luz Performance Space | Carrboro, NC | 04.06.03

It was a night of new experiences: two groundbreaking new bands playing Chapel Hill's newest performance space.

The De La Luz @ Temple Ball, is technically in Carrboro, next door to Chapel Hill. Local scenester Rick Rameriz opened the venue about six months ago, seeking to create a space that would both inspire and nurture the musicians who played there. Decorated with murals, tapestries and photos of musicians (all for sale), De La Luz instantly became the best venue in town. The front part of the space is the Temple Ball Art Gallery, which features paintings, indigenous art, glassworks and more. The ticket price even includes free micro brewed kegs (while they last).

Local act Jaafar was first to the stage, erupting into what the band’s website accurately describes as "Middle Eastern jazz, Arabic funk fusion." Bandleader and acoustic bass guitarist Troy Cole explained that Jaafar was an old Islamic name meaning "forgiveness," which is closely related to one of the 99 names of Allah. He took the name while on a six-month trip to Egypt. Upon his return he formed Jaafar, a band that seeks to combine the spirituality and ethereal nature of Eastern culture with the driving force of Western rock, as embodied by such acts as John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jaafar is a fluid experiment, alternating between acoustic and electric performances with a varying cast of characters playing with the band.

Jaafar displayed its influences proudly, opening with a scorching rendition of Jonas Hellborg's "Death That Sleeps in Them," from his 1995 album Octave of the Holy Innocents. Pat Madison's screaming sounds on his six and twelve-string double-neck electric guitar blasted through this explosive number, tearing down any walls between cultures that continue to keep people apart. The original "Divine Duality" led into a cover of "Meeting of the Spirits," which was the very first song on the very first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame. Drummer Nathan Logan, who also plays with Squirrel Nut Zippers spinoff band Jackie O. Pillbox, got his workout for the week, as uber-percussionist Ned Percival added counter-rhythms and texture throughout. Vishnu Gangadaran's intricate keyboard playing rounded out the quintet. Their set wrapped up with another original called "Ifrica." Jaafar is keeping the spirit of fusion alive, infusing it with a modern vitality. If you like your musical styles varied and without boundaries ("You got your jazz in my peanut butter!") treat yourself to an evening with Jaafar.

Next to the stage was Raisinhill, a new band bursting out of Bridgeport, Connecticut and quickly making waves throughout the country. Raisinhill exists in that strange universe between rock and jazz, where each takes its turn as lead influence, shaping and warping the music into something unrecognizable. Their sound teeters on the fence, wailing with full intensity one moment, settling back into a melodic groove the next. The songs are more epic, multi-faceted compositions than simple chord changes to jam over. They work the textures of the tune, jamming on feel, intensity and thrust, rather than just running through notes. Guitarist John Kasiewicz takes a similar approach to his own instrument, at times soloing over the frantic groove, at others holding back and playing only what the song desires. Longtime Phish fans will be interested in two tenuous connections. Kasiewicz studied under Trey's mentor, the infamous composer Ernie Stires, and played with J. Willis Pratt and We're Bionic, a band that opened for Phish and also featured drummer Jon Fishman sitting in on stage and in the studio. Kasiewicz’s style on guitar is unique in that he never seems to stop soloing, even while playing rhythm. He plucks, bends and colors the notes, rather than simply strumming full chords. In fact, I'm not sure he played one regular chord voicing all night.

They opened with "V.S.S." which led into "Nameless," a perfect embodiment of the band’s songwriting schizophrenia. Setting the mood with some echo-laden guitar melodics, it blossomed into a huge open-ended jam, going far out into space before returning to restate the theme. "Poses" then led into "Detroit," a slower song that nonetheless has plenty going on inside.

Raisinhill, which is rounded out by stand-up bassist Brian Anderson and drummer Jay Bond (his name offers too many potential jokes to pick just one), are such talented musicians that there's plenty to listen to even during the slow songs. Anderson's pulsing bass rhythms and Bond's jazz-inspired breakbeats and driving hi-hat make the disparate elements of their sound come together naturally. The quiet and loud parts don't just offset but compliment each other, leading organically to each new section. The differences in volume and intensity are not simply for dramatic effect, but rather in service to the song. Even the composed sections feel like improvisation when the band is constantly turning on a dime.

Anderson's funky bass opened up into a surprise jazz-groove version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." (As spooky as that song was in the '80s, I think we can all agree that Michael Jackson is even scarier now.) They followed with "The Ridge," which also highlighted Kasiewicz's guitar pyrotechnics, repeating lines while improvising on effects. The amount of sound these three musicians produce has to be heard to be believed. It's easy to fill up soundspace with lots of effects and toys, but aside from some echo and other minimal effects on the guitar, all of the sound comes naturally from their instruments. The intensity cranked up and up until bursting into an anthemic climax, and then back into the original theme, reminding you that they never lost their place, even if you did. At this point, I began to seriously wonder how they were able to remember all of the parts to these songs. If I tried to keep all that stuff in my head, I'd forget where my apartment was. Soundman extraordinaire Dave Brown had the notes bouncing crisp and clean off the stage as the band played "Lookout" and then "Maker's March" to close out the first set. Anderson bowed his bass on this last one, lending a grounding effect to a song that was alternately spacey and earthbound.

They returned for the second set by stating, "We're Raisinhill and we're a rock band," before launching into "Killin'," which features Anderson screaming, "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me!" (Note to young bands: profanity-filled scream-alongs are the perfect way to re-energize an audience after a setbreak.) They followed with "The Road Song" and "Tippy-Toes" before playing a new instrumental they've yet to pick a title for. The audience was invited to suggest titles, of which the most appropriate may have been "Ritalin," due to the band's attention-deficit manner of songwriting.

"Wendy" was dedicated to fast-food guru Dave Thomas, and led into the thrashing rock of "Mr. Dirt" and "El Divorcio." Anderson brought back the bow for a "reharmonization of the Connecticut state theme song" called "Sweet Dreams," which wrapped up the second set. They dedicated the encore to the screaming maniac in the front row who pleaded, "What, are we supposed to just go home now?" They broke into "Soul Jive" and then played "Junior," which was one of the hottest songs of the night. The furious funky descending chords and thick choppy effects left everyone's head spinning as the sound died down and the lights came up.

Raisinhill is currently touring in support of its self-titled debut CD. They've just been added to the The Gathering of the Vibes festival, and plan to tour extensively this summer. Look for them in your town soon. These raisins are ripe and ready for consumption.

Words by: Paul Kerr
Images by: Todd E. Gaul
JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 4/22/03]

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