HIGH IN THE SIERRAS WE TASTE THE GOOD LIFE
-By Dennis Cook
It was during the JP Cutler Band's Thursday afternoon performance that a major difference between High Sierra and other music festivals became apparent. Folks reclined on the lawn and really listened in a deep way to the extended Eastern-leaning interlude that opened Cutler's set. His sound - a heady descendent of Ritchie Havens and cult folkie Exuma - requires an attentive space to fully blossom, and he got it. Throughout the weekend, this kept happening. The braying and hooting that usually competes with the music at other festivals was nearly always at a bare minimum here. It allowed us to drink in the delicate dance of Chris Thile and Mike Marshall's mandolin duo, the majestic interplay of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, and the often hushed and haunted Two Gallants. In no small way, this respectful attitude expanded the experience for both audience and performer, providing a crucible for many hugely affecting musical journeys impossible amongst the usual hubbub.
Marshall & Thile :: HSMF 2005 by Dave Vann
THE NESTING INSTINCT
Everywhere the eye falls at High Sierra, there are little shantytowns amongst the cow piles and grassy knolls. Decked out with twinkling Christmas lights and elaborate tapestries, there's a homey quality to the campgrounds that intertwine with the stages. One is surrounded by archetypal images like mermaids, urban Bodhisattvas, fairies, and smiling Buddhas. A great deal of care goes into the fairground decorations, and that attention to detail extends to the attendees' encampments. There's a roughhewn beauty to these temporary abodes, which adds to the general magic loose in the high mountain air. Instead of just traipsing through and leaving a pile of empty bottles and potato chip wrappers, there is the feeling of something more tangible to the temporary habitats erected here. This is a lifestyle for thousands, and the gypsy prettiness of so many camps announced the undisguised pleasure many feel in being present for this joyous celebration. Even with so much music to enjoy, you could still find people relaxing in the shade of their RV's, caught up in daydreams and animated conversation, freed from the bustle of their normal routine, able to engage with the NOW in a profound way.
HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn
BILL FRISELL BAND
Is this jazz? That's the genre you'll usually find Frisell filed under, but listening to the layered textural fog he conjured up with his stellar band, all I could think was, "These are the essential ingredients that make music a gift of the gods. Frisell borrowed freely from country, rock, ambient freefalls, and plugged-in jazz to create some of the most gorgeous, emotionally resonate music many of us had ever heard. Joining his always fascinating and dynamic electric guitar were Jenny Scheinman (violin), Greg Leisz (lap and pedal steel), Viktor Krauss (bass), and Matt Chamberlain (drums). Collectively these master musicians have played with Critters Buggin, Alison Krauss, Carla Bozulich, Neal Casal, and many more. Each brings a wealth of unique experience from their extensive studio work. What emerged in both their Friday Late Nite and Saturday afternoon sets was a hallmark of High Sierra – sound beyond classification but saturated with feeling. Their set-closing rendition of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" brought more than a few of us to tears, serving as both a reminder of the "damp dirty prisons" of the world and a celebration of our temporary "home in the valley." It was tremendous in every sense.
Bill Frisell :: HSMF 2005 by Grace Dunn
HATS OFF TO JESSICA LURIE
Whether doing James Brown proud with the UK's New Mastersounds or stompin' a brass hole in the sky with Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, saxophonist Jessica Lurie, this year's Artist at Large, lived up to her stated goal of creating "joyful music chaos." Whenever Lurie popped on stage, things jumped to the proverbial next level. Physically petite but possessing a big, bold sound, she blows with a seemingly endless inspiration that recalls Joe Henderson with the flexibility of Wayne Shorter. She can find her way in every type of music, which she exhibited in her lusty, Studio 54-esque romp with the Dead Kenny Gs and later that same day in a hypnotic late night groove with Les Claypool. This audio wanderer clearly inspired her compatriots all weekend long. Look forward to even more new horizons when her latest album, Licorice And Smoke, arrives later this summer. In it, she demonstrates her growing skill as a vocalist alongside her saxophone talents.
Jessica Lurie with Meltone :: HSMF 2005 by J. Bahr
Acoustic music has a strong presence at High Sierra. Unfurled in a tintinnabulous range, the plucked and the bowed gave these days a smiling sway. Highlights included the Hot Buttered Rum String Band's barn-burning Saturday night gig with luminaries like Peter Rowan and Chris Thile, the down-home "oomph" of Larry Keel and Natural Bridge that lit up Thursday evening, and both of ThaMuseMeant's fantastic morning sets, where their vagabond reveries defused abuses of power with humor and feeling that set our hearts flying like a little pretty bird. There's a palpable charm to music that can be made anywhere, anytime that spread from the stages into the campsites, where folks picked and grinned over acoustic guitars and battle-scarred fiddles. The performers this year did double duty – entertaining us with their skill and passion AND inspiring us to pick up our own instruments.
Late Nite Pickathon :: HSMF 2005 by J. Bahr
SUPER DEE CHOOSES THREE
PERPETUAL GROOVE: ALL NIGHT LONG
The PGroove boys came to High Sierra and they brought it! Their first of two sets was the Late Nite in the Tulsa E. Scott building where they "opened" for Tea Leaf Green. When I arrived (second song) they were heavy in the middle of "Get Down Tonight" by KC & The Sunshine Band. It was the perfect late night set: a short, five-song setlist with enormous "get down" jams that sent people out into the night sweaty and tying to catch their breath. PG's second High Sierra set came the next night in the Vaudeville Tent in a nice 10:15 p.m. slot that proved to be the place to be all weekend. As a PG enthusiast, this was a ridiculous set of music with a "Sundog" opener and an inspired "Long Past Settled In," which led into a frenetic "Digging in the Dirt" – a signature PGroove cover of the angry Peter Gabriel classic. The absolute kicker, though, was when the crowd ROARED for more, and the band came back with a mind-blowing cover of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." What a perfect cover for a festival with lyrics like "Life is good wild and sweet" and "Feel it in your heart and feel it in your soul." The entire tent was on FIRE! No, YOU give it up for Perpetual Groove!
Brock Butler - Perpetual Groove :: HSMF 2005 by J. Miller
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN JAPANESE KIDS GROW UP ON JAM?
Meltone is a four-piece band – guitar, keys, drums, and bass – that plays quirky jam music. Sound familiar? It should because Meltone is a band that is doing nothing new... that is, if they were coming from American soil. Meltone comes to us from Japan. This is a band from the other side of the world that has watched our American Jam culture grow, picking out elements that spoke to them and mirroring them back to us. Watching and hearing them proved the theory that music is THE universal language. Musician at large, Jessica Lurie, sat in for a stretch, and the entire crowd was all smiles as they listened to music they've heard a hundred times over yet it was somehow refreshing again. It was a truly heartwarming High Sierra moment when bassist Takuya Fukano asked the crowd, in his literal English, "Please let us come back." They went straight from the Vaudeville Tent to the roof of their RV to rock for the masses some more. Arigato!
Meltone :: HSMF 2005 by Dave Vann
What would a High Sierra review be without a mention of the man, the legend, the freaker, Skerik? Skerik was a member of at least three bands at the festival this year - Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, Les Claypool, and The Dead Kenny G's. The DKG's – also featuring Skerik's partner in mayhem Mike Dillon and Jacob Fred's Brian Haas - had an absurdly early set one afternoon where they screamed at us with their music for an hour. Skerik made sure to tell everyone that they are not necessarily suggesting that we go out and kill Kenny G, "but... if something were to happen," they were there to help. To be honest, the two Les Claypool sets did very little for me as most of the jams seemed pointless and uninspired. The real Skerik treat of the weekend was The Taint – an innovative 7-piece horn/wind band accompanied by Joe Doria on keys and John Wick on drums. There are a good number of "punk-jazz" originals (which can be found on their 2003 ropeadope release), but what I love the most are the thoughtful arrangements of old goodies like "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and "Close To You (They Long to Be)" by The Carpenters. All in all, while it was a quick visit to Quincy for Skerik this year, he accomplished what he needed to do: fill the minds and souls of music lovers with the truthful and non-commercial music they deserve.
Skerik with Dead Kenny G's :: HSMF 2005 by G. Dunn