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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2008/01/24
by John Zinkand

2007: A Jamfans’s Year in Review

As another year of great live music in our grassroots jamband music
scene begins, I find myself looking back to all of the live music
adventures I enjoyed in 2007. While I kept mainly to the bands that are
staples for me, I also branched out to discover a few new bands and
musicians. It seems there is a never a drought in this scene as more new
music keeps coming each and every year. There were new festivals and shows
to enjoy as well as new artists. The variation and different styles in
this scene keep it interesting and always offer something new and
different. That’s one of the things that are so great about the jambands
scene – it takes from almost every genre of music to offer an unparalleled
variety. And while the mainstream usually dismisses jamband music by
labeling it long-winded, boring, or as meaningless noodling, it obviously
is much more than that for the fans. When I look back on 2007, I feel very
fulfilled from all the improvisational music I was lucky enough to witness
unfold in a live setting. For me, albums are interesting and enjoyable,
but the live setting is of almost religious importance and provides the
most satisfaction.
I kicked off the year of 2007 at the quintessential little jamband
venue here in Portland, OR known as the Goodfoot Lounge (aka The Foot).
This cozy little room has evolved into the primary venue for jambands in
this town. From small local bands almost every night of the week to the
bigger headliners (not too big, though, as the venue only holds about 150
people), if you are looking for live improvisational music, nine times out
of ten this is the place to go. For New Year’s Eve 2006-2007, a few
friends and myself checked out the Goodfoot All-stars. The band includes
Scott Law, Tye North, and Asher Fulero, all very common faces at this bar.
They played some rollicking tunes including Stevie Wonder and Jerry Garcia
covers. They welcomed guests like Arne Livingston formerly of the Living
Daylights on bass to come up and play with them. It was a festive way to
kick off the year and felt like a family reunion of Portland jam
From there things rolled right along. In February some notable shows
included New Monsoon with Blue Turtle Seduction at the Doug Fir, Bobby
Previte’s Coalition of the Willing at the Goodfoot, and Assembly of Dust
with Honkytonk Homeslice at the Doug Fir. New Monsoon’s high-energy rock
and roll and soaring guitar solos lit up the room. Their sound has matured
over the past few years and they always provide a rollicking good time.
Bobby Previte’s band with Skerik on sax and Reed Mathis on bass was a great
little show. Bobby’s rock steady drumming backed by these two guys was a
great and unusual show. They tackled jazz standards as well as music that
was much more "out there." A unique and intimate show, to say the least!
Assembly of Dust filled up the Doug Fir on their first ever visit to the
Rose City, and we hope they return soon. My friend Jack does sound for
these guys (he used to do sound for my college day favorites from Beantown
Jiggle the Handle), so it was a treat to see him, as well. Honkytonk
Homeslice co-headlined the show with their mellow brand of more blue-grass
oriented tunes. One notable show I missed was Hawaiian Ukulele maestro
Jake Shimabukuro on my birthday. I had no idea how popular he was, so
planned on just buying tickets to the show at the venue, but alas it was
already sold out. I’ll be sure to get tickets ahead of time for his next
The live tunes kept coming in March. A small bit of travel was
involved to get my live music fix this month. The most memorable shows were
Raq down in Eugene and Moonshine Still over in Hood River. Raq played
Eugene’s fine all ages venue known as the Wow Hall. It’s all ages upstairs
with a 21+ section downstairs. The vibe is always heady in this very
jam-friendly venue. Raq played a great show to the less than packed room.
They whipped the audience into a frenzy with their extended keyboard and
guitar solos and made us laugh with their witty banter between songs. The
Moonshine Still show in Hood River was great, but as it turned out wasn’t
very typical for this band. The guitar player and vocalist fell ill and
could not be there for this show (and for much of the tour and a few weeks
later bowed out of the band completely), so the music was quite different
than what I had expected. They played all instrumentals that were heavy
and had an almost prog-rock feel. While the room was nearly empty, the
wounded band gave it their all and the music was extremely enjoyable for
those in attendance.
The Spring came along with warmer weather and a few good shows, as
well. In April The Greyboy All-Stars played with Toots and the Maytals
opening. Toots may be getting on in age, but his energy is boundless. He
danced, grooved, and worked the crowd like the pro that he is while
churning out one great reggae tune after another. The Greyboy All-Stars
were up next and they had the room dancing non-stop as Karl Denson, Robert
Walter and the gang played some great groove-jazz and the enthusiastic
packed house in the Roseland Theater danced along. Then at the beginning
of May, none other than the master of bass Mr. Victor Lemonte Wooten came
to town with his solo band for a sold out show at the Aladdin Theater. My
buddy Jack was doing sound for Vic as AOD was not currently touring, so it
was great to see him again at this show. Victor’s bass playing is always
astonishing and this show kept that trend alive. My personal favorites,
Umphrey’s McGee, were up next for a much-anticipated show in June at the
Crystal Ballroom. The show was off the hook and included a 20-minute
Utopian Fir opener that stretched all sorts of limits. The energy never
slowed down for the entire show and Umphrey’s melted many faces on this
night. I also checked out O.A.R. later that month on my girlfriend’s
birthday. While I am far from an avid O.A.R. fan, she sure is and the
people in attendance definitely were as they sung along and danced
feverishly to their beloved jam-pop band.
The summer wind came blowing in along with some tasty live music
options. First up in July was Umphrey’s McGee and the Disco Biscuits at
the Trancegression Festival in Colorado. None of my friends were able to
get time off for this event, so I flew out there solo. I rented a mini-van
and headed over to Denver to catch Umphrey’s play the Ogden Theater on the
Friday night before the start of the festival proper up in the mountains at
a local ski resort. They kicked off the start of the festival weekend with
a powerful show and the entire weekend was great. I slept in my mini-van
instead of renting a condo as I was going solo, and that turned out to be
an interesting experience. The weather was great and the line-up was
eclectic, but I unfortunately had to leave early due to work obligations.
At the end of the month I checked out the private party/music festival in
Oregon known as The Black Sheep Family Reunion. This invite only camping
fest on private land in the Coast Range Mountains of Oregon was an
incredibly good time. We camped and partied with our friends and enjoyed
heady tunes from bands like old school jazz-guitar master Melvin Sparks and
up and coming jammers The Bridge. My buddy "Big Paul" Wolstencroft
(formerly of Jiggle the Handle) was playing keys for Melvin, so it was
great to hang out with him after the set and watch the fire dancers.
Other tasty summertime shows included Garaj Mahal a the Fez, Skerik’s
new band McTuff at the Goodfoot, and my first Brett Dennen show at the
Crystal Ballroom. Garaj Mahal put on a high-energy show of tight,
middle-eastern tinged jazz-fusion. While this show was not quite as well
attended as their shows here in the past, the band was in fine form and the
crowd was very tuned in, resulting in a great show. Skerik’s new band
McTuff pays homage to keyboard-groove jazz of the late 60s and 70s, and
this show was excellent. They played song after song of grooving keyboard
jazz in the vein of Jimmy Smith while Skerik added great accompaniment on
his sax. My favorite musical discovery of 2007 was up next, Mr. Brett
Dennen. I had first heard Brett on a mix CD I got in my Relix magazine.
Having not read the name of the artist when I first heard the song, I
assumed the singer was an older African American woman. Turns out I
couldn’t have been more incorrect. Brett is a redheaded young man in his
mid-twenties! He is not my typical music as he is a singer/songwriter and
there is not much of what I would consider jamming at his shows. But he is
a gifted songwriter who is full of passion and has an incredibly unique
voice. I can’t wait to hear what Brett offers next.
Fall and winter came along with the rains and a few more choice
musical offerings to close out the year. In October Raq returned to the
Great Northwest for a show at the Fez and Lotus and The Bridge teamed up
for a show at the Hawthorne Theater. November brought the newest
incarnation of Zappa Plays Zappa at the Roseland Theater and the John
Butler Trio with Brett Dennen opening at the Crystal Ballroom topped off
the year in December. Raq’s second appearance in the Northwest was very
unexpected but very welcome. They kicked down some big time energy with a
shred-fest at the Fez. Their sound this time around was even heavier than
the last and bordered on the edge of metal music. My neck was still sore
when Lotus and The Bridge came to town, actually. I had never seen Lotus
and was pleasantly surprised by their sound. They play a trancier type of
music, but produce it with traditional instruments instead of turntables
and laptops. The Bridge played a set of straight ahead jam rock and
entertained the packed house. Ray White was a welcome addition to Zappa
Plays Zappa and Dweezil and the gang impressed all in attendance with their
spot-on covers of Frank’s complex music. The last show of the year for me
was the John Butler Trio with Brett Dennen opening. I was psyched to see
my favorite new singer/songwriter again and he fit nicely opening for
Butler. The Crystal was packed and excitement was in the air when the John
Butler Trio took the stage. Butler’s slide guitar playing and unique sound
that takes from varied influences such as reggae, rock, and soul was an
entertaining way to finish up a great year of live music.
2007 was a great year for live music and there are no signs of the
tunes slowing down in 2008. I already have tickets for Umphrey’s Mc Gee in
Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. I’m also going to the sold out Phil
Lesh and Friends shows coming to the Crystal Ballroom this month to
celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead shows there in 1968.
I’m sure this year will provide new discoveries of great live music to
explore, as well. One never knows what’s lurking around the corner in this
scene, which is part of what makes it so great. May the year be prosperous
and the tunes come in fast and furious for everyone. Have a great 2008!

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