Kudos to local avant-garde music promoter/performer John Sharp for last Tuesday’s show at Springwater featuring the indescribable Argentinean group Reynols. Working in conjunction with the venue’s booker/manager Kara Nicks, Sharp programmed a bill of intriguing, if not always accomplished, way-out music.
Headliners Reynols have earned some renown due to the fact that vocalist/drummer Miguel Tomasin has Down’s syndrome. They’ve appeared on Argentinean national TV and have received a fair amount of press in their homeland as wellremarkable considering that they rarely perform live and that most of their records have been released in other countries. But in interviews, the other two members of the group, Anla Courtis and Robeto Conlazo, make it very clear that they genuinely consider their collaborator a visionary, and not some sort of naïve artist whose talents are to be exploited. “Miguel doesn’t [only] have Down’s syndrome,” the band told one interviewer. “He is just the messiah. He don’t know it, and also he is not interested at all about it, but he is the messiah of a new state of human mind and consciousness.”
All this might sound a bit heavy or overwroughtuntil you’ve actually heard or seen the band and realize that these men are serious. Many of their compositions, such as “10,000 Chickens Symphony” and a rock opera about fish, originate with ideas from Tomasin. The group is currently touring the States, prompted in part by an invitation to participate in an event staged several weeks ago at New York’s Lincoln Center by respected avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros. Tomasin was unable to make the trip, so at each gig Courtis and Conlazo have made sure that he is represented somehow in the performance.
In Nashville, a photocopied picture of Tomasin was taped to a chair at center stage. On either side of the chair stood the other two members, each with a guitar in hand. They cut imposing figuresboth wore sunglasses, but Courtis sported long, shaggy hair and a white T-shirt while the closely cropped Conlazo was dressed entirely in black, right down to his leather gloves. Each created an awesome wash of noise on his guitar, with the sonics building and retreating in sometimes ear-splitting, sometimes subtle ways. At one point, the effects-laden instruments sounded more like a chorus of droning bagpipes.
Granted, such music isn’t for everyone, but for the small, captivated crowd at Springwater, it was pretty transcendent. Such deliverance is, I’d argue, what defines the best live improvised musica collective moment of release so powerful that performer and audience alike lose sense of time and place.
It formed a striking contrast to some of the acts who’d gone on earlier. John Sharp, under the moniker Mr. Natural, teamed up with another musician, Praying for Oblivion, for a brief set. With the former creating stabs of noise on a steel guitar and the latter generating murky pings of sound on a Yamaha synthesizer, the music was at the least interesting. But Praying for Oblivion’s fascistic-looking outfit (complete with arm patch and plastic face mask) and his overly dramatic stage moves were downright awkward to watch; it was the sight of someone trying his hardest to make an impression.
Reynols didn’t have to try to do anything; their mere presence made a statement. When Conlazo put down his guitar mid-set to grab a handful of rocks from the Springwater parking lot, it was an act that seemed full of mystery and meaning rather than contrivance. So, too, when he decided to lie down onstage, the sound of his guitar still droning and ringing all around him.
Moments like this don’t happen often in Nashville. And I guess most people probably don’t care whether they happen or not; such groups are never going to attract an audience of more than 25 people, as was the case last Tuesday at Springwater. But that handful of people who witnessed Reynols’ set walked out of the club slightly transformed, their understanding of the possibilities of art a little broader than before.
Pop, soul, R&B, and rock fans probably don’t know guitarist Louie Shelton’s name, but they’ve certainly heard his fluid licks. Shelton’s been featured on countless pop, soul, R&B, and rock dates since the ’60s. His glittering résumé includes contributions to Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown,” the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and songs by The Monkees, Partridge Family, and Carpenters.
A guitarist since the age of 9, Shelton worked his way up from small clubs in Albuquerque to stardom in Los Angeles. After more than two decades as a West Coast session ace, plus another 12 years in Australia, he moved to Nashville in 1996. Besides establishing a studio here, Shelton recently inked a distribution deal with Lightyear Entertainment for releases on his Nuance label.
Though he’s a virtuoso soloist whose influences include such guitar greats as Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Johnny Smith, Shelton is gearing Nuance’s releases toward the contemporary/smooth jazz audience, as well as fans of pop and light country-flavored instrumentals. The label has recently issued two new releases: one spotlighting Shelton’s own compositions, the other highlighting several of the city’s best session pickers and players. Shelton produced both CDs.
Shelton’s Urban Culture, his third Nuance date, features a great supporting crew: bassist Victor Wooten, drummer Pat McDonald, and saxophonists Jim Horn and Jeffrey Scott Willis. The best cuts, among them “Boogaloo,” “Shirade,” and “Uptown,” recall the funky flavor of ’60s soul-jazz, minus the Hammond organ. Although most songs are tightly arranged with minimal solo space, Shelton’s fluid, bright licks provide some standout moments.
The other Nuance release, Nashville Guitars, gathers several A-list session types for a mix-and-match date spotlighting divergent approaches. Personal favorites include Reggie Young’s “Exit 209,” Boomer Castleman’s “Fender Bender,” and Shelton’s “High Roller.” While the music sometimes becomes overly slick and mechanical, there are a few flashy tunes that recall the glory days of country boogie.
Both these releases are available in local stores, and represent expertly produced, well-played pop material; they’re superior to much of what comes down the smooth-jazz and/or easy-listening pike. Catch Shelton in action this week, Sunday at the new Borders on West End Avenue.
Making a show
Congratulations to Great Big Shows booker/promoter Rick Whetsel, who scored a hat trick Labor Day weekend with three hugely popular shows: the Floating Men’s sold-out 10th-anniversary stand at the Belcourt, the Get Up Kids at 328 Performance Hall, and the Franklin Jazz Festival. The first two each drew more than 700 people, and the Jazz Festival brought in big crowds for headliners Arturo Sandoval and Cachao. The Cachao show in particular was a marvel, as the Cuban bassist/bandleader and his 14-piece orchestra filled the steamy night with sultry Havana rhythms; the night only got hotter as sweat-soaked dancers crowded the foot of the stage. Please, more jazz shows of this quality.
In the racks
New record releases in stores this week:
Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl (Nonesuch) For her follow-up to 1995’s superb Wrecking Ball, Harris wrote or cowrote all but one song; her collaborators include Guy Clark and Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff, with vocal support from Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews.
i5, i5 (Giant/Reprise) Britney Spears’ favorite opening act drops its debut record, full of routine teen-pop, slightly redeemed by some Spice Girls style sass and eclecticism.
Rickie Lee Jones, It’s Like This (Artemis) The jazz-pop singer-songwriter releases her very own covers album, featuring such diverse source material as Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” and Lerner & Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live.”
Eliades Ochoa, Tribute to the Cuarteto Patria (Higher Octave World) The Buena Vista Social Club guitarist pays homage to the 61-year-old Cuban group the Cuarteto Patria.
Original Soundtrack, Almost Famous (Dreamworks) Those of us salivating over the prospect of Cameron Crowe’s latest film can whet our appetites with this well-chosen soundtrack, featuring wonderful lesser-known tracks by such ’70s stalwarts as Todd Rundgren, The Who, and (for the first time ever licensed for the screen) Led Zeppelin.
Tabla Beat Science, Tala Matrix (Axiom/Palm Pictures/Rykodisc) Fantastically strange meeting of the minds between ambient funk doctor Bill Laswell and U.K. drum-and-bass pioneer Talvin Singh, known stateside as Bjork’s collaborator.
Tom Tom Club, The Good, the Bad, and the Funky (Rykodisc) Fourteen new tracks from the dance-funk alter ego of Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, featuring covers of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s dub classic “Soul Fire” and Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.”
The Twilight Singers, Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers (Columbia) Afghan Whig Greg Dulli takes time off from his day job on this side project to see what happens when beat happy electronica meets a Stax/Volt vibe.
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