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Published: 1999/02/15
by Charlie Dirksen

KVHW: Live In Concert

Throughout 1998 fans of improvisational rock raved about KVHW, and hopefully you’ve heard the good news already. A band this great needed a live CD and needed it NOW, despite the band’s infancy. When would the live CD be released?! What glorious jams would it contain? Would it attract even more loyal fans, hell-bent on hearing if not seeing every show?

On December 31, 1998, KVHW released its first live CD. Everyone who craves improv that sounds like melodious, composed music is likely to enjoy this disc. It features the magical, soulful, and captivating sounds of Steve Kimock’s guitars, Bobby Vega’s bass, Alan Hertz’s drums, and Ray White’s rhythm guitar and vocals.

Kimock and Vega have a long history playing with ZERO, and their work in KVHW, though not always as psychedelic as their prior efforts together, is gripping in its technical magnificence. You might remember Ray White from many of Frank Zappa’s groups. Since Ray impressed the notoriously perfectionistic FZ with his guitar and vocals years ago, he’s likely to energize you as well. Alan Hertz is a young, spectacularly talented drummer, and is equally sure to inspire.

The liner notes state that the disc’s six “simple” recordings were made using vintage mics at two gigs played a month apart in Sebastopol, California. Though you won’t hear any fully digital multi-track soundboard mixes, the sound quality of these tracks is excellent DAUD quality (small rooms, great mics). KVHW’s music is some of the finest improvisational rock the world has ever heard. This band will likely make you reconsider your musical allegiances, and may even realign your Being to soar in tune with the sounds created when the universe began.

The first track, “Five B-4 Funk,” recorded at the Sebastopol Community Center last October, is an instrumental ten minute funkalicious journey in five time. Kimock rips licks off mellifluously as the entire band rages furiously around him. Though this version isn’t as long and fierce as the one from Cafe Tomo on December 11, or as bewilderingly Bacchanalian as the awesome October Chester’s version, it is nevertheless likely to thoroughly twist your hips AND your mind.

“Spring Water,” the next cut on the disc, has apparently become KVHW’s anthem. Played at nearly every show, it continues — since its first performance last April — to turn people on to the band’s sound, despite what some have called weak lyrics. Every version is stunning in its uniqueness, and a few have stretched to nearly a half-hour in length. Ray White’s tenor vocals complement this ten minute 9/28 Powerhouse version well, and Kimock shreds his guitar so mightily that a string or two eventually twang out of tune.

The third track, “Hillbillies,” also known as “Hillbillies on PCP,” is — as the title suggests — rowdy and dangerous. The tune features a thrilling, terrifying opening segment, always with sizzling fret-work from Kimock. Some have likened the gentle, mellifluous middle section of this instrumental to the jam segment of “Franklin’s Tower” by the Grateful Dead. In this ten minute 9/28 Powerhouse version, Bobby Vega and Alan Hertz brilliantly rage on bass and drums. The concluding section returns to the same intense theme of the opening, yet with even greater passion and fearlessness.

“Nine/Ring Around the Moon” begins with a stimulating composed section in nine time. The middle segment is a bluesy, wistful, spiritual groove, featuring improvised, labyrinthine riffs of Kimockian genius, and Ray White’s gorgeous vocals. They provide a relaxing, introspective recess not only between this song’s two ripping segments in nine, but also within the context of the entire CD, which is, overall, quite a spirited ride.

“Why Can’t We All Just Samba?” is an enchanting, harmonious, easily danceable instrumental that often contains intricate, spidery soloing on dobro from Kimock in the opening measures. This festive version, performed for over ten minutes last October, is no different. The mics captured every nuance of the instruments, and, as a result, your auricular nerves are likely to relish Samba’s serene, sonorous sounds.

The sixth and final track, “Point of No Return,” is a 22 minute improvisational odyssey that must be experienced to be fully understood. You are likely to give thanks to GOD ALMIGHTY that this jam is on CD, and is yours for easy replaying. To think that KVHW pulled this off (and many other jams like it) in the first year of its existence is beyond comprehension. Many bands, in particular the Grateful Dead and Phish, have performed awe-inspiring Masterpieces of Improvisational Rock over the years. But they’ve all had the added dimension of a keyboardist, and often more than four players. All of this praise for this version of “PoNR” is not to suggest that there aren’t any sour notes in it. There are several after Kimock (yet again) shreds his guitar out of tune. But this 22 minute adventure is a revolutionary, tempestuous beauty.

A feast for the ears, the mind, and the soul, KVHW’s first live CD is a must for anyone who takes improvisational rock music seriously. Listen carefully, and — even if you’re not a musician — you will probably learn something. You will be able to purchase the CD soon at KVHW.Com. You may never hear a more musically entertaining live CD from an improvisational rock quartet, unless KVHW blesses us in the future with another live disc that bests this one.

Rumor has it that KVHW is in the studio this month, preparing a release for 1999. Let’s hope that it captures the majesty of KVHW’s power at least as well as this disc does.

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