Spock is Dead (just as Bach is dead)

That is the exploration that awaits you! Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

Leonard Nimoy

 

Yes, Spock (aka Leonard Nimoy) has passed on to the other side. While it saddens me to realize this, it also makes me feel old. As a matter of fact, I passed an arbitrary milestone on my recent birthday. I now fall into the capriciously dictatorial category of “elderly”. Yeesh!  It is just another affirmation that I need to seize every moment. Carpe diem! Talking about birthdays, Leonard passed away on mine. Talking more about birthdays, I have noted that several of my friends in and out of music, but especially in music, are Pisceans along with me. I puzzle over this. Part of me, the logical part, recoils at the validation of astrology. Yet, there have been numerous confirmations, coincidences, and connections in my life that are only explained with this supposed pseudo-science. But despite my logical side, I am one to leave the door open to many things – hey, it is how I have stayed youthful in my general outlook – a Peter Pan syndrome, perhaps. But I most certainly think our human brains are sorta, kinda, limited, you know? Our ability to know and understand “IT ALL” is rather tiny compared to the universe of everything in the time/space continuum. So perhaps, just like fairy tales and religions, astrology attempts to explain what we don’t yet understand. Just as humans attributed to demons what we now know to be bacteria and viruses, perhaps someday we will have a better understanding, and will say “Aha! That is what we tried to explain through astrology!” Until then, as Kiki Dee once sang, “I’ve got the music in me!”

So I’ve been seeing a lot of live acts in our local community in my limited time since I last posted here. And let me tell you, they have been great! Such talent we have here in San Diego!

Stardate Saturday, February 14, 2015, Valentine’s Day

Blue Velvet

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Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday this year. Blue Velvet plays most every Saturday night at the Caliph. We spent our evening there, listening to the finest lounge act in Southern California, with Kevin Cavanaugh on vocals and keyboard, Maggie Taylor on vocals, and Normandie Wilson on vocals. I swear that every time we see them perform they get better and better. New songs, and new ways to perform old songs. Now that they are down to two female vocalists, Kevin has taken more singing parts and many of their older songs have been rearranged. And it is all for the better!

Stardate Sunday, February 15, 2015

Robin Henkel and his Horn Band with Whitney Shay

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This group never disappoints. Robin is one of the best country blues guitarists I have ever seen. Whitney is one of the best interpretive singers in the blues/rhythm and blues genre I have ever Whitnessed. Sunday night after Valentine’s Day, the group performed for free at Lestat’s in Normal Heights. Robin and his band, consisting of Robin on guitars and vocals, Jodie Hill on double bass, Troy Jennings on baritone and soprano saxes, David Castel de Oro on tenor sax and clarinet, and Gary Nieves on drums, started out the set with Mose Allison’s “Your Molecular Structure” and led right into Diane Krall’s “Stop This World”. After a few other numbers, some rather avant garde, Whitney joined in with Duke Ellington’s “Kissin’ Bug”. Whitney sang several old R&B numbers like Little Esther (Phillips’) “Double Crossing Blues”, Etta James tunes, including “Dance with Me, Henry” (written by Johnny Otis, Hank Ballard and Etta James) and the group ended with Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”.  Each instrumentalist took their turn soloing in various songs, and Whitney’s gutsy, bluesy singing was just what the old head needed. It was a wonderful evening of blues and jazz.

Stardate Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tomcat Courtney

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Thursday night is Tomcat’s night at Proud Mary’s Southern Bar and Grill. We had not seen him for quite a while so we went the third Thursday in February. We had desserts and listened to some Delta blues played by a true legend. Tomcat is 86 now, and still going strong. He keeps a rhythm by tapping his foot on a little wooden block while he plays guitar, harmonica, and sings. Between songs he told stories about his time with Lightnin’ Hopkins, his main influence. Tomcat, as a child, learned to tap dance by listening to the trains crossing the bridge near his home in Texas, and imitating the rhythm. He then left Texas in the mid-1940s, while he was still in his mid-teens, to tap dance in the circus. While in the circus, he learned he could sing. After seeing Lightnin’ Hopkins, he decided he wanted to sing and play guitar. He still writes songs, as well as playing many of the old standards. Two self-penned songs we heard that night were “Sundown San Diego” and “Railroad Street”. He also played one of my favorites, “Cook My Breakfast”, an old Lightnin’ Hopkins tune.  I got to talk to Tomcat when he was taking a break, and got my picture taken with him. It was quite an honor to meet him.

Stardate Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kawehi

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Okay, Kawehi is not a local, but I have anticipated seeing her perform live for a long time. I would not have known about her at all had it not been for my former guitar instructor, Tony Janfolone, Sr., posting one of her videos on Face book. When I saw she was going to be playing San Diego at The Loft, I had to get tickets. And I am so glad we did. There were actually four acts performing that night. The first was a very local UCSD campus performer, Tojou (Jake Espinueva), who did “beat box flute”. He was only on about 15 minutes, and I was anxious to see Kawehi, so I was glad when he was done. It was interesting, but just not what I was waiting for. Then a local group, On Fifth, consisting of Shereen Fahrai and Fedra Ramirez on vocals and acoustic guitars did another 15 minute set of acoustic folk. Nicely done, but a weird fit for what Kawehi is noted for. They would have fit perfectly at a 60s peace rally. A longer set was given to Zoya Music. Zoya Mohan, born in India, raised in Southern California, and graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, was a bit in the folk idiom, but also her music had a world beat flavor. She at one point cited Ani DiFranco as an inspiration for one of her songs – which did not get past me unnoticed, since I enjoy the music of DiFranco. It was an interesting set, and I picked up her CD which had all original tunes, and it did not disappoint. One song that stood out in her performance was her self-penned tune, “Fire”. She was accompanied by her band, flautist, Frankie De Rosa, and percussionist, Robbie Simmons.

Then Kawehi came on. Now, let me explain a little. Kawehi is a loop artist. She plays midi keyboard, guitar, ukulele, and looping station, also setting the beat via beat box. She is amazing to watch, precise in her timing, angelic in her singing. She started the set with Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” of all things – pretty edgy stuff to begin your set with. She did her self-penned hit “Anthem” as well as a number of other self-penned songs and a cover of Gary Jules’ “Mad World” on solo guitar and voice followed by a mash-up of several pop tunes including “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Put a Ring On It” by Beyonce, “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled’s “All I do is Win” and others – even a Brittany Spears song. She also did a solo ukulele song with vocals in Hawaiian. Ending the set with Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” was such a far cry from her opening number. Hers was a terrific performance; witty, enthusiastic, up-beat, and just plain fun to watch and listen to. After the show, Kawehi met any and all who wanted to meet her, autographing CDs (and kissing them) and posing for photos.

Stardate Friday, February 27, 2015: the date of my birth, the day of Spock’s death

Taryn Donath Trio

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I have previously written about Taryn Donath and her amazing keyboard talent. For my birthday, I wanted to see her trio at the Speakeasy in the Gaslamp. We got there early, and I’m glad we did since many seats were reserved in this small venue, but we managed to get some decent seats where we could see all three players: Taryn Donath on keyboard and vocals, Troy Jennings on saxophones, and Matthew Taylor on drums. This was an evening of delectable jazz and jazzy blues; Taryn and her band mates did not disappoint in the least. Taryn’s keyboarding was jaw-dropping – while the set was primarily instrumental, her selected vocals captured the essence of the bluesy lyrics. Troy was exceptionally hot that night – even more so than when we saw him with Robin Henkel weeks before, and Matthew was spot-on all evening with some fabulous solos of his own. You can tell when a band is really connecting with each other by the look of pure joy in their eyes when communicating. They had this; sax solo feeding off keyboard solo, and drums feeding off both and holding it all together. They played standards like Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” as well as some of Taryn’s self-penned songs, including a hypnotic version of her CD title track “Gardenia”. Gardenia is a beautiful song and while performing it, Taryn had a look of ecstatic surrender on her face as if the music was really playing her. I got to talk to band members during breaks. What a fun group! And Taryn put my review of her performance at the Adams Avenue Street Fair last year on her home page! I’m honored.

Stardate  Saturday, February 28, 2015, Planet Earth/Crossing Over to Infinity

Shadowlight & !ZeuqsaV!

“Songs of the Seeker: A Journey into Wonder”

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At the Moxie Theatre, the Saturday after my birthday, Nancy and I journeyed with electric violinist, Jamie Shadowlight, and visual projection artist, Xavier Vasquez, with assistance from Mikan Zlatkovich, into a world of wonder and beauty. Recording and photos were prohibited but we did get a photo with Jamie afterward. This was experimental, multimedia artistry – totally improvised and yet a cohesive, flowing “path” to a final purified resolution. During the past several months, Jamie and Xavier had traveled to the desert, the ocean, the mountains, and the city to provide a variety of beautiful video clips that were mixed, processed, and altered to coincide with Jamie’s electric violin, using a delay and wah pedal. Jamie had found that the sound of OM could be made on the violin using the low 5th C string. With it she was able to imitate the sound of OM such as heard by Tuvan throat singers. Using harmonics she was able to make the sound of Tibetan singing bowls – in fact, at one point I could swear it was Xavier who somewhere in his lap top and electronics had a singing bowl or a recording of such. The room was darkened – and the only light was focused on the projection screen onstage. Jamie sat in the dark onstage to our far right, and Xavier sat in the dark to the far left. Not until the end did I notice that Mikan was in the aisle above several seats using some form of hand-held device to assist with the production. I still am not sure exactly what he was doing. This was a one-of-a-kind performance, never to be reproduced the exact same way however, there was sort-of a promise that they could do various other mixes with this. In fact, Jamie asked Xavier and Mikan to “jam” another improvisation using the video clips. The room was darkened again for a five-to-ten minute encore. In the video clips of the main production Jamie was wearing red, in search of meaning and spiritual purification. In the live performance she was in white signifying the quest had been accomplished. Beautiful, mesmerizing, psychedelic, awesome, are mere words to attempt to describe this amazing happening.

This performance reminded me of the performance of BIOME (Allen & Patricia Strange, and Frank and Boots McCarty) at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Student Union that I witnessed in or around March of 1972. Patricia Strange played violin while the others used electronics and obscure percussion to produce an other-worldly performance that set me on the path to exploring electronic and avant garde music, and expanding my musical horizons in general.

Stardate Friday, March 6, 2015

Jamie Shadowlight

A Jazz Exploration of The Beatles

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At 98 Bottles, we were privileged to be in the presence of musical greatness: Jamie Shadowlight on violin, Mikan Zlatkovich on keyboard, Mackenzie (Mack) Leighton on contra bass, Richard Sellers on drums, and special guests Carmelia “Toot” Bell and Arnessa Rickett on vocals. They did a jazz treatment of some of the more popular Beatles songs, such as opening number “Come Together”. There were beautiful interpretations of “Lady Madonna”, “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and more. Their version of “Blackbird” was haunting, subtle, and evocative, complete with pizzicato violin, droning synth/keys and softened rhythms with drummer Sellers using mallets on the set and bassist Leighton laying down a repetitive line to glue it together. “Norwegian Wood” had a long building group improvisation that kept me on the edge of my seat. “Eleanor Rigby”, to me, was the highlight of the night and they really kicked it into gear. Jamie stepped out to let the trio rock out on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” including fantastic solos from each, but Seller’s solo was simply scrumptious – keeping the obtuse lyrical rhythms going in this solo was a sight to behold. They closed with Toot Bell and Arnessa Rickett contributing vocals to “Don’t Let Me Down”, followed by an encore “All You Need is Love”. All performers were in top form. “A splendid time was guaranteed for all.”

Stardate Saturday, March 7, 2015

Blue Velvet

Kevin & Normandie’s Birthday Bash

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I will end this returning back to where we began. Two of the three members of Blue Velvet (Normandie Wilson and Kevin Cavanaugh) share the same birthday – March 7. It also happened to be a Saturday night, which is Blue Velvet’s standing gig at the Caliph. While I had to get up early to leave for Atlanta the next morning, and we lost an hour for Daylight Savings Time, “wild horses couldn’t drag me away” from these dignified proceedings. Blue Velvet was at their best, and the place was packed with adoring fans, many of whom were other artists from the San Diego music scene. While we didn’t stay long, we got to visit with several people and had a wonderful time.

Since then, I have been to Atlanta and returned. We went to see another great artist, Liz Grace, at Proud Mary’s on Friday the 13th. I will have more to say next time on that. Plus, I have made some new musical honored mentionables that deserve some honorable mention. There is a lot happening in the local music scene – too much to see. I am still figuring out a way to transport myself to various venues within a split second, as the crew of the Enterprise once did. But alas, Spock is dead. And I have come to the end of this journey. Live long and prosper.

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