In February of 2006, my wife and I went to Yoshi's in Oakland to see the Mingus Big Band play. My two favorite Mingus Big Band (and by extension, Charles Mingus song) are "Song With Orange" and "Moanin'" So, you can imagine my glee when they opened with "Moanin'" and closed with "Song With Orange." I forget completely what was in between, but did it really matter? The show was unbelievable, it was amazing.
And the Adam Theis April 18, 2009 completely and totally BLEW it away. No joke. Not even close.
I first heard of the Bay-Area born Adam Theis last year at another SF Jazz show. This one was headlined by the always unique Bjorkestra, a jazz orchestra that plays the music of Bjork. I mean I'm not a Bjork fan by any stretch of the imagination, but these guys took her music, pulled it apart, recontextualized it, and made it amazing.
Their opener was the Realistic Orchestra, headed by Theis. I wouldn't say they stole the show, because Bjorkestra was great. But they were definitely sick. With a lot of funktification of songs. So, he was on my radar. I later found out that a friend of mine knew Theis from his Sonoma State days, many moons ago.
Anyway, I was fairly bummed heading into the show. I had gotten tickets for 6 people, including my wife and 4 other people. All 5 of them, for various reasons, found themselves unable to make the show. Although I found 2 people to take tickets, they showed up late to the show. So, I was driving into SF by myself. I was saving seats by myself.
Not the most auspicious start to the most incredible musical experience of my life. The show was at the Palace Of Fine Arts and it was open seating. So, I got there about 30 minutes early and snagged great seats in the 5th row near center. Very close to the action!
The band in question was quite the interesting instrumentation. A 60 piece orchestra, including a fully functioning jazz big band, a huge string section, two drummers, two keyboardists, and a DJ! It also had fronting vocals of about 6 singers, including rapper Lyrics Born. Yes, it was packed up on stage.
Adam Theis is the Don, if you will, of the Jazz Mafia. The Jazz Mafia is about 3 or 4 different groups (Realistic Orchestra; Shotgun Wedding Quartet) that play together all over the place. He brought all these players together (and there were a lot) for this show. It was huge. It was magical. He may not have composed or arranged every note. But to manage all the people in that group must have been incredibly difficult. And mucho credit just for putting the show together! But there was so much more than that.
If the second half was anything like the first half, I would have left, said Adam Theis and his crew were really good and that would have been that. The first half was really good. It had a great mix of vocals and the band. Lyrics Born didn't really do much at all, actually. One song "Blea v. Tolling" had a violin cutting contest. The two main violinists tried to outplay each other. It.was.sick. They were some times when it got a little out there, but generally it was a perfect blend of the band with the singing. And it had everything you could want. Straight ahead jazz. Lovely singing. Rapping. The classical violin part. All mixed together into one delightful gumbo. A smorgasbord of music.
So, yea, if the second half was like the first, it would have been a very good night. But the second half was NOTHING like the first half. NOTHING.
The first song was the most disconcerting. It was an Astor Piazzolla piece. It was only disconcerting, because it was such a picture perfect cover of the piece. That, in and of itself, is a fairly impressive feat. Take the Tango Legend's music and arrange it for 60. They even had a dude on the bandeon.
My only problem was that I have all the Piazzolla albums. I've heard all the songs. I've heard them all straight ahead. It's not a big concern. I thought they might recontextualize it by funktifying it or something like that. Taken it to that NEXT level. This is a REALLY middling and inane critique, but it is how I felt.
So, anyway, the next song was, well, beyond comprehension. I don't know how it is for others, but for me when I listen to music, I want it to provoke emotions within me. And the truly greatest moments are where the music makes me feel truly glorious. If I'm lucky a song or solo has a few moments that reach these soaring heights.
The song was called "Love Song" by vocalist Joe Bagale. It's a soul ballad. But not just any soul ballad. The soul ballad to end all soul ballads. It was like steroids took steroids and then this soul ballad took those steroided steroids. I know that it must seem like I love to prance around flexing my musical ego with an array of odd and estoeric interests. But I have a huge soft spot for soul ballads. The syrupy, the better! And man was this one syrupy!
I even found it online, but am hesitant to direct you guys there. You'd think I was crazy (more so). Because it sounds so pedestrian online. It's not even in the same galaxy! But with the backing of a giant orchestra and the energy that a live performance brings, it was a totally different situation.
It controlled me emotionally in ways a song had never really controlled me before. I felt like I was going to cry from the beauty. It just grabbed me with a Rumsfeld-esque "Attention Grasp" and wouldn't let go. Each dizzying climax was more amazing than the last. I wasn't alone as people literally starting screaming along to the song and dancing some in their seats. And when it was all over, I sprung immediately to my feet and started clapping wildly. In my head, the conversation was one of the oddest ever. One part of my was screaming "UNBELIEVABLE" over and over and over. The internal narrator was telling me that I was acting so....genuine. I mean to physically express enjoyment over the musical experience???? That's what the "plebes" do! But all my arrogance, all my ego, it was all broken down by that song.
You want to find music that makes you feel good. If a song makes you feel happy, you like it. If a song makes you feel ecstatic, you love it. And if a song makes you feel positively fucking INVINCIBLE, it is one of the greatest experiences of your life.
The next song was plodding, it was slow, it seemed like a funeral dirge. But it was exactly what I needed to calm down. Like a post-coital cigarette, it gave me the chance to relax before the last two songs of the night.
The second to last song was the big rap numbers. Lyrics Born, one of the two named artists, had not done much to that point. A few verses in the first half, really. This was his time to shine. And look, I'll be honest, I don't know much about rap music. But the whole group brought the energy on this. This song had the entire audience on its feet dancing. A 1,000 person audience of people who had, ostensibly, come to see jazz music up on their feet. Dancing in their seats. Dancing in the aisles. An array of rappers, rapping along to 2 drummers, a DJ, a huge big band, and a string section. They even had the jazz musicians taking solos during the rapping. That was fairly awesome, sax and rap duet, as it were.
It was a call and response tune where Lyrics Born would implore the audience to rap along with him. It worked. Period. I wish I had a better appreciation of rap music to help explain the song, but I lack the necessary context.
The last song might have been even better. It was a really funkified version of some old cop show theme song ("Streets Of San Francisco"). People rapping along, taking turns to the funky beats. It was different than the previous song, because here, instead of Lyrics Born being the lead, all the rappers were involved, trading 4s or 8s or whatever they do. The people were still dancing and I was there along with them, boogying down with my scarf in what I can only assume was an embarrassingly awkward manner.
At its peak, the music of the night was like a spinning top. Chaos controlled just enough to keep it going and upright. Dramatically close to toppling over into something bad. But dramatically undulating over and over and over and over. With over 60 different musicians on the stage, you are going to get a cornacopia of musical sounds going at the same time. The potential for disaster was there. But the top never fell over. And that was the most amazing part. The complex melodies seemed to simple. Simplex as it were. No matter what made up terms you use, it was white hot American awesome.
Where to go from here? Well, a smaller chunk of the Orchestra (the Realistic Orchestra) is playing a few shows in the month of May. They are playing at the Independent. I forget exactly when that is. But they are playing at the Downlow right in downtown Berkeley on 5.22. The 20 piece orchestra is doing the music of James Brown and Stevie Wonder. This should be truly amazing. Here is the schedule with all the information.
You should try to support your local artists and musicians and come out. It will be a fun time! And I promise NOT to write a 400,000 word screed about that concert afterwards.
Mack is going to take the Browns to the Superbowl (that.......came out wrong):
NEW YORK, NY - Former Cal football player Alex Mack was selected Saturday by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft with the 21st overall pick. The first center taken in this year's draft is the 23rd player in Cal history to be selected in the first round and only the fourth offensive lineman. His selection at No. 21 overall is the highest a Cal offensive lineman has been drafted since Tarik Glenn was taken at No. 16 overall by Indianapolis in 1997.
"Playing in the NFL is a dream come true and I am thrilled to be a Cleveland Brown," said Mack. "I am so thankful to Coach Mangini, Mr. Kokinis, Coach Warhop and the rest of the Browns' organization for choosing me. I am also honored to have the chance to be able to play in front of some of the best fans in the nation. I know that the draft is just the first step, and I am eager to start working so I can be ready to contribute in 2009."
"We're really proud of Alex," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "It's very well-deserved. He's meant a lot to our program, and he will be a great professional. He's a guy that works very hard and provided a lot of stability, guidance and leadership for our program. I'm just really proud that he came back for his senior year (in 2008) and it all worked out. It's great for him because of winning the Draddy Award and then now being selected so high in the draft. It couldn't happen to a better person."
"I'm very happy I came back for my senior year," added Mack. "It was probably one of the smartest decisions of my life. I'm very grateful for the people that pointed me in the right direction."