The Hum ~ 4/12-18 ~ Organic Mastery

When I was in high school, I was a member of a campus club called the Junior Statesmen of America. We had statewide conventions and regional meeting, but mostly got together and talked about the issues of the day, things like the seemingly endless war and conflicts over immigration. This was the ‘60s, so at the time that meant bombs over Southeast Asia, deportees, United Farm Workers and the like.

One Friday night in 1967, I’d planned on going to a regional JSA confab in the East Bay. My friend Chris Wilson picked me up in his parent’s car and suggested a change in plans. Would it be okay if we skipped the meeting and instead went to the Fillmore Auditorium? The Butterfield Blues Band was playing and their album East West was one of my favorites, so of course I said yes.

Paul Butterfield was sharing the bill with the Charles Lloyd Quartet, a jazz combo that I didn’t know much about that was recording a followup to their surprise hit album Forest Flower, a record that sold over a million copies. [Note: You can listen to Forest Flower in the background while you listen to my interview with Charles. Try it.]

Love-In: Live at the Fillmore came out later that year. Both albums opened new doors for me and for jazz.

“It was an interesting time,” said Mr. Lloyd when we talked last week in advance of his Tuesday, April 18 show at the Van Duzer. His band back then introduced a young pianist Keith Jarret who was taking the tunes into space while Charles wailed on his sax and flute. “FM radio was cross-pollinating, you know — they’d play our stuff and then Howling Wolf and then the Grateful Dead and all that kind of stuff. It was organic, not controlled by the toll keepers.”

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels play Tuesday at the Van Duzer Theatre

Fifty years later, he’s still at it, playing music you wouldn’t necessarily call jazz. His latest album released last year with a band called Charles Lloyd and The Marvels features guitarist Bill Frisell, master of the sublime laid-back lick.

“We have a simpatico,” said Charles. “You know he’s eclectic and likes a lot of music, so we play all kinds of stuff and have a good time. We go exploring every night and we don’t come back the same. We’re not normal guys… And we have Greg Leitz playing and he’s the greatest pedal steel player walking the planet.” (Leitz comes more from the Americana side and has collaborated with Frisell for years.)

On the record, Lloyd and the Marvels open with Dylan’s classic anti-war anthem “Masters of War,” taking me back to my ’60s-era JSA days, while they take the tune new places. (They’ve also recorded a version with Lucinda Williams on vocals.)

They explore Charles’ back-catalogue, and throw in some curves with special guests Willie Nelson (another anti-war tune, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”) and Nora Jones. (They unfortunately won’t be along on the Arcata gig.) The overall feel is one of spiritual serenity and joy.   

Charles Lloyd: Arrows Into Infinity_Trailer from Dorothy Darr on Vimeo.

“We kind of get up and graze through the meadows and the herbs and have a good time,” said Charles. “It’s not factory made; I like homemade stuff — organic — I don’t want any pesticides. We shouldn’t be polluting the planet. This is a small planet we live on… We’re just passing through.” He suggests, “Tell the sensitives up there in the woods to come check this out. I think it might be good for us all.”

“Sensitives?” I wondered. Charles explained, “You know the sensitive souls who’re living on the planet, who care about it, and want to know what the hell’s going on. What I’m saying is, I’m trying to bring something in the music that will change the molecules in the atmosphere, that will make people jump up and realize that it’s their birthright and they don’t have to go for the okey-doke.”

Okay, I know who the “sensitives” are. They’re my friends who still yearn for peace and love. You know who you are. You should hear this music.

Down the Road

The night before, Monday (the 17th), Arlo Guthrie returns to the Van Duzer stage on his “Running Down The Road” tour, a “flashback-inducing, mind-expanding show” that comes on the heels of his Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour drawing on Arlo’s back catalog including tunes from Arlo (1968) and Running Down The Road (1969), songs you know about pickles, motor-sickles, littering, the draft and the “Group W Bench.” He’ll probably play at least a couple by his dad, Woody, who wrote "This Land Is Your Land," (which IMHO should be our national anthem). Arlo’s touring band, Shenandoah, includes several longtime running partners, and Woody’s grandson Abe. (He’s also Arlo’s son.) Expect a bit of family history in this show.

My old friend Lila Nelson is back in town for a concert at the Arcata Playhouse Saturday evening. It’s hard to believe it was almost a decade ago when Lila and her husband Ian moved away from their place right around the corner to relocate to Oakland and later headed on to Italy. When Lila’s not kept busy raising their daughter Viva to be an international citizen, she has been writing songs (sharing them at least occasionally). She’ll share some new ones and some old ones at the Playhouse, where she will be joined by her sister Sienna and Playhouse Mistress Jackie Dandeneau, fresh from their appearance in Women of the Northwest. Expect a reunion feel as Lila checks in with many old friends.

Experiments and ceremonies

If you follow this column, you know about the Constellation concert series put on by Ben Funke showcasing eclectic experimental music. The latest is Wednesday (April 12) at the Miniplex featuring Ensemble Economique, an internationally acclaimed musician who’s basically unknown in Humboldt. Home base in Manila, when he’s not jet-setting to Europe on one tour after another. E-E is aka Brian Pyle, aka Jakob Sweden host of a radio show on KHSU (called Los Ensemble Economique), an explorer of experimental soundscapes. In the mid-oughts Brian was one of the Starving Weirdos, primarily with Merrick McKinlay (of the Goat and Minor fame) but also with others like Vinnie DeVaney (of Fogou fame) and Steve Lazar (of HumCo Planning fame) among others.

When that band disbanded, Brian kept going, crafting an act that involves mystic looped guitar and keys run through a laptop, mostly on the ambient side. (This is not EDM.) He’s released a slew of records; this show is actually a release party for his latest, In Silhouette, which just dropped (as they say in the biz).

Sharing the Miniplex bill is Jim Haynes up from SF, who is returning to the Constellation series for another “sonic and visual performance,” what he describes as an exploration of the “properties of corrosion.”

“Specifically,” he says, “I have focused on how decay parallels and relates to the perception of time when cycles of activity collapse into stasis, and how that stasis can rupture when any number of pressures are applied. These result from a cross-contamination of ultrasound detection, shortwave reception, surveillance camera observation, moribund radiophonic exploration, and/or electro-magnetic disruption.” Note: this experiment in analog, not digital. You have to see it to understand.

This weekend the Miniplex does what it does best, showcases esoteric music and films. In this case it’s material from a record label called Sublime Frequencies, “a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers.” Label co-founder Hisham Mayet will be in town Saturday to show films he’s made and to spin records for what Merrick calls a “Crucial Dance Party” (at 10 p.m.) featuring “club bangers from Syria, Iraq and other regions we're not supposed to like.”

Earlier that night and on Sunday, Hisham will screen and talk about two films he made, Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast, shot in Benin (aka the Slave Coast) and “Oulaya's Wedding,” made at a wedding ceremony for the eldest daughter of one of the members of Group Doueh, an amazing band from the Western Sahara. (Films and Q&A Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.)

Hisham Mayet of Sublime Frequencies

I’ve been a Sub Freq fan for years, drawing heavily on their catalog for Fogou, a KHSU program I co-produce with Vinnie DeVaney . I spoke with Hisham awhile back and he explained the label’s genesis. "In essence Sublime Frequencies really came to fruition because of 9/11. That was the catalyst — no two bones about it," he said. Born in Africa but raised mostly in the U.S., he saw a fear and loathing of outsiders, particularly Muslims, running rampant as it does now.

"We were disgusted by all of it. We still are,” he continued. “We don't believe the line the government's telling us, the imperial retribution culture that's been ingrained in everyone. The thing is, there are human beings all over the planet creating the same kind of human art and communication. We hope our label is the antidote against the malevolent forces, the military industrial complex, the media, the corporate oligarchy that make up this country.” (We need one.)

Your Arts and Music Syndicate (aka YAMS) presents an evening of funkiness at the Miniplex Friday with Wicked Man, an Oakland-based experimental funk fusion combo, and a couple local bands, Velvet Touch with “indie soul” and Peach Purple who play “minimalist heavy funk.” Saturday YAMS pops up at the Jam with three local indie bands: Al Gorgeous ("progressive indie-rock) Faint Young Sun ("jangle pop") and Dimboi ("bedroom indie"). 

Thursday, Absynth Quartet plays their “fire-breathing indie grass” at the Redwood Curtain Brewery Company, celebrating their seventh anniversary (that’s RCBC’s, not AQ’s). “It's also Thomas Jefferson's birthday,” AQ notes, without suggesting costumes. RCBC is partying all weekend to mark that 7th Anniversary (see below).

Party on RCBC!!

 Saturday afternoon at RCBC, they have Freshwater 450, who I've not heard before, then after the sun sets, a fine all-star local Pink Floyd cover band named, Money, after one of my faves from the post-Syd Floyd.

It’s easy being green

You may have noticed, this is Humboldt Green Week. All over the county this week, we’re “celebrating all things GREEN” as we lead up to the cannabis holiday 4/20. Tons of events are associated with HumGreen including a pair of EDM shows Good Friday with Booty Shakin’ Music by MiMOSA and ILL-ESHA at Humboldt Brews, while Purple Couch has “future bass and chill trap” at the Jam with Soohan and locals Av8triX and Jason Burress.

Saturday and Sunday the action moves out to Redwood Acres for Cannifest, something like a county fair of our “green” future with vendors of all sorts, a job fair (Sunday) canni-games and music everywhere.

Among the musicians you can see Saturday: Nac One, The Dubbadubs, Sun Hop Fat, Prezident Brown, Diggin Dirt, Object Heavy with Charli 2na and The Polish Ambassador (not appointed by the current administration).

Easter Sunday, Cannifest continues with Kingfoot, BluEnglish, Ghost Train, Fishbone, The Velvet Touch, Phutureprimitive, Gappy Ranks and Afrikawedance. There’s much more to the fest and Green Week, pick up a guide, they’re out there.

Is this the future we’re planning for Humboldt? I can’t say, but it’s coming one way or another. As Charles suggested, be prepared to ”graze through the meadows and the herbs and have a good time.” Why not?