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Villain Vanguard and Father Figures: A Lesson in Duality

I’ve been mad busy with developments for The Crisman Show, and asked my favorite new music writer, Laurel Johnston to help me pick up the slack on the blog front.  Here is her review of a show I put together at Andy’s Bar in Denton featuring Fort Worth’s Villain Vanguard and New York’s own Father Figures.

When asked to attend the Father Figures show at Andy’s on Sunday night, I was told that the Brooklyn group played ‘zombie jazz’. The description stirred my curiosity and fondness for all things macabre, and I couldn’t wait to hear the specifics of such a genre. 

Villain Vanguard performed first, a band that wore many hats and changed them with ease. At first, I thought they were primarily a funk band. Then I heard traces of reggae, hard rock, Middle Eastern influences, psychedelic guitar and vocal effects. The lead singer was not only a solid guitar player but also toyed with a small drum machine. His hand motions were naturally expressive but not over the top, and they only enhanced the message he was trying to get across. His gestures coupled with his use of dynamics and phrasing made him a charming and engaging front man.

   The rest of the band’s skills seemed very evenly matched, and I really enjoyed the uncommonly cohesive feel of a band spanning so many genres. Every member of the group played their lines respectfully of the other members’, and they played so seamlessly together that it was almost difficult to pay attention to the individual lines until someone took a solo. The first solo I heard was that of the bass player, and he jumped into the melee with such vim and vigor that I felt sure he would break a string. Both the drummer and guitar player held down the rhythm section with the bassist, each of them playing peppy solos and fills at opportune times. The keyboardist doubled as their trumpet player, playing both instruments at once with surprising dexterity.
  I would love to see Villain Vanguard play a larger venue, or at the very least a Friday or Saturday night show. I have a feeling they would only be more compelling in front of a larger, more appreciative audience. They’re the kind of band that keeps you on the edge of your seat, poised and ready for their next musical thought. What they need is a hungry audience ready to eat everything they serve up.

  Father Figures took the stage next, holding up the same pillars of energy and enthusiasm that Villain Vanguard had carried throughout their set. Consisting of two saxophones, a keyboard, drums, and a string bass, Father Figures has a standard recipe with a not-so-standard result. Like the opening band, this group dabbles in many different genres but maintains their solid jazz foundation.

   Some people hear ‘jazz’ and run screaming in the other direction. Father Figures is the type of band that could coax unbelievers into the light, blinking and gasping in awe at what they see and hear. They are a group that seems to revel in duality, being equally attractive to jazzheads and non-jazzheads alike because they blur the line between jazz and everything else without diluting the message. They tiptoe through spectral, psychedelic lands and race through a forest of fusion with the aplomb of classically trained musicians. Father Figures’ members have taken what they learned in school and extrapolated that information to the furthest corners of music as is humanly possible, yet they don’t tip over the edge into the realm of nonsensical noise.

   As soon as I heard the drummer lock into a groove with the keyboardist and bass player, I recognized that signature New York jazz sound. Adding two sax players only added fuel to their already-crackling fire, and the musical repartee between the saxes was an absolute riot. If I could sum up their sound in a small phrase, I would say that Father Figures plays ‘a freight train of thought’. Their music mirrors the complexity of the human spectrum of thought and emotion, leaving no stone unturned as they barrel onward through their own psyches and into ours. 

   Like the fictional (?) creatures that lent their name to their musical style, Father Figures straddles the division between tangible reality and the intangible dream world. It’s as if their feet are on the ground but their heads, hearts, and fingers are in the clouds. As they grasp for gossamer strands of a musical phrase, they remember us mere mortals and graciously offer us a much-needed view of the possible worlds above us. I am determined to follow this group to see what new panoramas they will treat me to; after all, everyone could use more Father Figures in their lives.

Guest Blogger, Laurel Johnston, is a musicophile based in Los Angeles.


Pup Culture: More MTL Love from Pork Pie Jazz

True to Montreal’s general awesomeness, Jenn Hardy from Pork Pie Jazz recently asked me to write a guest post for her oh-so-savvy music blog (they really know how to do it in the QC).  Since Montreal has played a critical role in my road life with Snarky Puppy, I figured I would air out some thoughts presently making their way into my book, Pup Culture.  I’d like to share an excerpt of this article with you (read the full story here).  I read it, and it’s not too bad.  Please help me flesh out these thoughts with your questions and musings — and for the love of god, help me make sure this book is as useful and informative as it is entertaining.

The most beautiful part of living in our hyper-connected, always-on world is that we can now connect with each other in ways that were virtually impossible even a few short years ago.  As musicians and fans have learned to find each other through tools like Facebook and Twitter, new practices have emerged for artists to put down stakes in cities they do not live in—and in some cases, have never been to. Whenever anyone asks me what Twitter, I tell them my favorite matchmaking story of Snarky Puppy and Montreal.

Last year, Denton/Brooklyn-based band, Snarky Puppy was planning out their Spring Tour crawling from our North Texas home base through the Deep South and up the East Coast.  Ready to expand through Canada, bandleader Michael League arranged for the Pups to teach a clinic to the savvy Vanier students en route to their usual gig at the Rex in Toronto.  This was all coming together right about the time I had met a few key Quebecoise Tweeps that I felt would appreciate Snarky’s particular brand of cerebral dance music (your brain will dance, that’s just what happens, and it’s certainly not for everyone).  I offered to procure a stage for the Pups by way of my Twitter contacts – namely Anthony Imperioli, Joey Vescio, and the fine folks over at Filter Box Media.  Within an hour a modest army of tech-savvy music fiends assembled to help me secure the right venue and alert the proper authorities that Montreal’s favorite new band is rolling through town.

By zeroing in on cats I knew would dig Pups, I saved weeks worth of blind inquiries to clubs and built on the critical foundation of music students and sharp ears inherent to Snarky’s core following.  The culmination of the University crowd and the budding following online snowballed with each trip the band has made – a challenge testament to the infectious nature of this music.  When finding the fans online, one must consider personality and cultural nuance specific to the city in question.  You can’t just blindly flier the streets and hope that the right ears will happen along.  Perhaps especially those with the nameless styles that you have to hear and experience live to really appreciate the massive level of talent and energy Snarky Puppy generates.

Continue on Pork Pie

Your comments are welcome, let’s pick each other’s brains.


Whatcha Gohn Do With All Them Gigs?

Forgive my elusive blog routine, it’s been mad around here the past two weeks.  We lost my primary jazz stage in Denton when Cold Fusion “unexpectedly” shut down, leaving me with over a month’s worth of orphaned gigs.  I had handled the booking the first three weeks the club was open last summer before taking the Pegasus gig, and it was one of my first stops when I later left Peg — the club owner was notoriously difficult to work with, and I wanted to ensure the only jazz stage in Denton not go to waste.

Oddly enough, a business cannot run solely based on what’s happening on stage.  Even Bernard Wright, Ambrose, and Taylor Eigsti couldn’t save that joint.  Oh well, on to the next!

My incredible assistant, Diane, and I immediately set to make the most of this situation.  I have to say, Denton has served me well by stepping up and letting me play with our best clubs.  Hailey’s, Boiler Room, and the Harvest House have opened up their schedules enough to take in a little more jazz.  Herding cats has never been more fun!  Now instead of one cave-like club (that no one wants to hang out in anyway), we get to infest everyone’s favorite spots.  Behold the onward progression of sound — muahahah!

I am particularly excited about what Hailey’s and I are up to.  They are letting me have my way with their bad ass stage most every Wednesday night for the Nica Presents Lounge Series — and the timing couldn’t be better.  Considering Riprocks has shut down their live music on account of young families moving to Fry Street and complaining about the noise level.  This is a bummer, as Sol Kitchen and Bastard Sons of Skoalfield always put on a great show perfect for Denton’s hardcore mid-week hang.  Wednesdays are our Fridays.  We go hard.

To prove to you that I’m not jerking around with this Wednesday business, I offer up Hatch and Sweatervescence on a well-lit silver platter.  The evening will also serve as  Hatch’s CD release party , so you know we’ll  have oh-so-many albums to get into your psycho-funk lovin paws.

Kicking off the night is a little project I found whilst trolling senior recitals at UNT.  I was impressed with Sweaters’ bandleader Tyler Mire’s compositions — anyone willing to write a song called “Nord Storm” is basically guaranteed my ears for at least five minutes.  They’re green as a band, but not as musicians.  With school winding down this week, you can rest assured everyone will be ready to listen to music and drink heavily.

God bless Denton’s Hump Day.

Watch the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards tonight, OR…

Melissa McMillan of New Vintage (photo by Michal Garcia).

I won’t lie, the last Denton festival gave me a few anxiety issues.  Going into Festival Mode in your hometown is a bizarre phenomena — face it, the way you behave at a music festival should probably function differently than when you are going about your day-to-day small town business.  Not in Denton (or rather, not for me.  Jupiter House seems to be rather stocked with “normal” people “working” and such), and certainly not during Arts and Jazz Fest.  I am presently huddled at a coffee shop, fliers piled high beside my computer and Odwalla, Trombone Shorty playing in my ear again, while a stack of tonight’s shows wait for my attention.

Allow me to make your life all easy and fonky-like with a bossy list of musical options just for you.  Your ears will thank you (and your ass may follow).

5:30 — Park yo self at the Jazz Stage in time for Keith Anderson and Full of Soul — whom you can also catch at the Boiler Room after Chick (probably around 10.30).  Here we have some Bobby Sparks, Jason “JT”  Thomas, and Todd Parsnow action and you have no excuse whatsoever to end this day before hearing these tasty Dallas morsels play.

7:00 — Stay put for the One O’ Clock Lab Band.  These guys are especially fun this time of year, with many inches from graduating and all of them under loads of ridiculous pressure inherent to the fires of the North Texas Jazz Program.  This is a good thing, it puts a nice edge over the ensemble.  This year’s Lab is on fire, fresh from a Grammy-nod tour through the West Coast (excuse me, Double-Grammy-nod), and a healthy amount of time spent with Lyle Mays — and they’re opening for Chick Corea!  That’s a good head space for a musician, and it will be fun to see how it translates through their particular energy.

9:00 — Chick Corea. Remember how excited everyone was that the Flaming Lips were playing NX35? Well, everyone else is that excited about Chick.  The hippies are even rumored to return (they’ve been steadily migrating to Kerrville and the Bay Area for the past year or so).

May as well mention now that this whole festival is free. After Party’s are another story, but it’s not like you can go to bed right after seeing Chick Corea.  Here are your Square-shaped options:

Cold Fusion Jimi Tunnel (Carly Simon, Arcadia) will be hosting a little after party, including a few of his friends in town for the festival.  Expect an intimate, listening room vibe high on energy and impressive name-dropping.  212 East Hickory at Industrial (across from Dan’s).

Hailey’sKatsuk (Spoonfed Tribe) and Backside Pick will be throwing down some dirty funk (because that’s what happens after a festival, no matter what style you play).  122 West Mulberry.

Boiler Room:  Catch Keith Anderson if you were still stuck in traffic at 5:30, and for the love of god, make sure you are there ’round midnight.  New Vintage hasn’t played in a minute and that shit has gotten tight!  They’ve been writing new tunes, practicing their asses off, and have added Graham Richards’ budding hip-hop sensibilities (that’s him on one-armed keys at the end of the new Freeway and Jake One album, The Stimulus Package).  It’s going to be a massive show, I cannot believe they made me wait a year in between playing shows.  Jerks. 101West Hickory.

The Nancy Botwin of Jazz: A Dealer’s Perspective

Now that I am back in the realm of the blog, I have taken the liberty to spend time offline getting my ever-transitioning life in order.  As such, I have broken multiple rules by not posting more than a couple times so far.  You’ll have to forgive me, I will get better as my new routine feels its way to the surface. As these boxes gradually unpack themselves and my new projects come to light, I will keep this space fresh with my musings and discoveries.

For those of you still wondering what the heck I’m doing with my days (hi, Mom), I’ll give you a brief rundown to catch you up to speed.  You can expect further coverage on these topics here and through a handful of freelance gigs I’m pawing at.

The good news is that the flow of music information has not slowed down with my shift in focus.  So many of you have been kind enough to send your warm wishes, inquiries, and general demands that I not disappear, I feel a sense of responsibility now to music lovers as well as musicians.  Thanks for all the support and for keeping me on my game, and for making sure I know I’m not the only one obsessing over jazz and the jazz-inspired.

Pup Mischief

Pup fans are keeping me busy as the boys weave their way up the East Coast.  The boys were in the studio at Jefferson Center in Roanoke this week with Jason Marsalis and the Muppet-friendly John Ellis.  Very soon we will have three new Snarky tracks to use for our own devilish devices (let me know if you need suggestions).  I’ve called them a Katamari of sound on more than one occasion, because no matter where they travel, they pick up the most talented musicians and region-specific vibe to add to their increasingly complex-yet-danceable dimensions.  Tad Dickens was on hand in Roanoke to tell us how their show at Blue 5 went.

Mike and John also swung by WSLS-10 to talk to this Sweater Vest who had never heard of John Ellis (but I bet he would totally dig Puppet Mischief for its playful accessibility and cheerful use of the sousaphone).  If you are in New Orleans this weekend, you can catch John and Jason at the Doublewide’s Puppet Mischief album release party on Saturday night at the Blue Nile.  I won’t be back on Frenchman for a whole ‘nother week (mew hew, see you at Quarter Fest).

Come here to me, New York.

We had our first official Nica Presents show at the Green Elephant in Dallas featuring Michael Bellar and the As/Is Ensemble and Fort Worth’s Worcuzza.  The whole idea behind these shows is to cross-pollinate Jazz heads from around the globe with our world-class local cats.  Like many of my new favorites, I saw As/Is at Winter Jazz Fest and jumped at the chance to help put this show together.  We had a packed house, and yes, it was mostly packed with an SMU frat party that I did have to regulate a bit when the crowd yelled at the stage (come to my shows and give my musicians your money, fine;  but do not yell at them, thank you.  It gives me a headache).  Apparently the Brah didn’t feel the Rhodes was “spicy enough” to dance — some people just don’t know how to listen with their hips.  What can I do?  Overall, the night was a success.  Musicians got paid, fans found something new to love, and I got to yell at a guy wearing boat shoes in public.  We’ll be back at the Green Elephant on May 28th, go ahead and mark your calendar for some spicy Cajuns in Dallas that night (hint, hint).

Turns out those little stars I wished on in New York were packing quite a punch, because only days after the first Nica Presents, Alto Sax man Brian Girley informed me that he’s been playing with Ambrose Akinmusire and Taylor Eigsti and they have formed a thumping super Quintet along with Jason “JT” Thomas and Yuka Tadano!  Now I’m presenting a two-night special in Denton featuring some of the most sought-after (and emerging) young jazz artists on the planet.  I don’t even want to breathe when Ambrose plays because I want to be able to hear his breath fill every nook and valve it can reach until it wraps itself around my ears and pulls across my mind.  Damn. That’s gonna be a good week.

And Taylor!  I have never seen anyone play the piano with such pure joy — except for Shaun Martin, really (but that’s a dirty, move-yo-ass kind of joy).  Taylor plays those keys with a such childlike exuberance, you can’t help but smile along.  Maybe Grammy’s do make people happy.  Everyone I know who has a couple under their belt whistles a cheerful tune — or maybe the Grammy’s are just another manifestation of these artists who clearly find purpose and fulfillment in play.  All I know is I want to listen.

I do hope you can join us on April 20th and 21st in Denton.  We will be resplendent in rare form.


As you can see, I’m not dicking around with this jazz business.  When I said I’m gonna bring you the goods, I’m gonna bring you the Real Goods.  I’ve taken over the stage at Cold Fusion once again, and my first order of business was to get Bernard Wright’s Trio back to Denton.  Done and done.  He’ll be playing with the fierce-yet-so-sweet-to-me Wes Stephenson (bass) and the ever-smooth John Caruth (drums) on April 6.  Since I’ve relocated from Dallas, I’ve missed my Monday jaunts to see them at Pussy Cat Lounge — can’t have that!  We’ll see you on Tuesday.