The dissemination of music can take some odd, unexpected paths. For our purposes here, take the genre of Afrobeat. Until his death in 1997, Nigerian Fela Kuti, who invented the genre and named it, was for many years pretty much the sole purveyor of the form, which was performed by sprawlingly large bands that improvised their way through groove-heavy, eminently danceable songs that often lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and fused polyrhythmic percussion and horns, hypnotically repetitive patterns of jazzy funk and stick-it-to-The-Man political lyrics.
There are several outfits keeping the Afrobeat flame burning in Kuti's absence, and one of the foremost practitioners is the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, who have performed twice in recent years at Solar Culture Gallery. Among the attendees at one of those shows were two Rincon High School jazz musicians, drummer Arthur Vint and saxophonist Mike Moynihan. It was the pair's first exposure to Afrobeat, and, as Vint wrote in a letter to me recently, "It kind of blew our minds."
Vint and Moynihan were so inspired that they decided to gather a bunch of fellow jazz musicians with the intent of creating their own Afrobeat band. In the fall of 2004, that group, The Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra, was born.
In keeping with the big-band tradition of the genre, the Stegosaurchestra numbers 11 members: Vint on drums, Moynihan on tenor sax, Andrew Collberg on shekere, conga player Beyah Rasool, keyboardist Trevor Smith, bassist Evan Runyon, guitarists Connor Gallaher and Garett Keller, Mick Burton on baritone sax, Andrew Halchak on alto sax, and trombonist Tim McDonnell. And, unlike the political bent from which Afrobeat was sprung, the group eschews vocals entirely. Again, from Vint's letter: "The only thing we don't have is a vocalist, but that kind of defines our sound and sets us apart from the rest. When Fela Kuti pioneered Afrobeat music, he saw it as a political force. His politically charged lyrics were just as important as his music, but they also both stood on their own. Our approach to Afrobeat music is more as another avenue to play jazz than (to) change the world. Our songs are based around instrumental solos, and we try to let everyone stretch out and play. We focus on grooving and ... letting the music speak for itself."
In February, The Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra competed in the final round of the Arizona Daily Star's John Lennon Songwriting Contest Battle of the Bands--open to any performer or band between the ages of 14 and 18, enrolled at the time of competition at a Tucson metro-area high school--and ended up beating out the other six finalists (one of which was Stegosaurchestra member Collberg, who has justifiably made a name for himself recently as a fine singer/songwriter), to win the whole kit and caboodle. Vint describes his shock at winning the contest: "We weren't a rock band. We weren't anything 'mainstream.' We were playing instrumental Afrobeat music. No catchy chorus, no complex chord changes, just fun dance music. That's pretty frickin' cool."
The Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra's self-titled debut CD will be released this week, and it's pretty frickin' cool, too. It's fairly obvious listening to the disc that it's a pack of jazzbos and not Africans playing, but that's part of the charm. It sounds exactly like a dozen or so impressionable high school students, each one exceedingly talented, applying their no-doubt rigorous jazz schooling to a form as open-ended as Afrobeat. And they're damn good at it, too. Although improvisation is employed at points, the really dazzling things that stand out are the multipart arrangements in the songs--the songwriting, in other words--and the sheer talent that effortlessly pulls them off so impressively.
When all is said and done, the album is as much about funky American jazz as it is Afrobeat, but really, when something is this fun to listen to, genre classifications seem to dissipate, to become superfluous. This is truly great stuff, and it becomes almost freakish when you consider these guys are all teenagers. So much cooler than being on the student council.
The Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra celebrate the release of their debut CD on Wednesday, Jan. 3, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Lungs Geronimo Lungs open this all-ages show at around 8 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, call 884-0874.
Why the hell isn't the Phoenix-area duo Less Pain Forever already famous? That's the question I asked upon first seeing them perform about seven years ago, when they went under the unwieldy but hilarious moniker Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product (Les Payne being a real-life Arizona resident whose greatest claim to fame was gracing a calendar put out by the Phoenix New Times). It's a question I continue to ask every time I see them perform.
They've taken a rather unpredictable route in the years since their formation, the most bizarre being the purchase of an RV, which they utilized as not only a touring vehicle, but also as a place to call home. They've had a few scrapes with being discovered, such as a weekly residency at a highly regarded club in New York City; they've also broken up at least once along the way. With the upcoming release of an album recorded by some industry bigwigs, 2007 may bring fame for these boys yet.
I Know What It's Like to Want to Dance was recorded at Sonic Youth's Echo Canyon studio in Manhattan, with that band's engineer, Aaron Mullan, behind the boards; it was mixed by Christopher Fudurich (Nada Surf, Jimmy Eat World); and it was executive produced by Ryan Page, a Los Angeles-based film and music producer who's best known for his work on a documentary about synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog. The album will be released on Accretions Records in January (though copies will be for sale at this week's show).
Anyone who's seen Less Pain Forever perform live will tell you they're unlike anything else out there. Singer/guitarist James Karnes stands to the left on the stage, playing a souped-up bass/guitar combo, while Christopher Pomerenke sits at the center of the stage, simultaneously playing drums and keyboards while singing. They usually wear goofy costumes, and it's hard to take your eyes off of them. Which might be enough for some acts. And which makes it all the more remarkable that, as the new album testifies, the music is just as fantastic.
If you listened to I Know What It's Like without knowing how it was created, you would be won over by the songs, which combine the quirky pop of early XTC, the complex changes of Frank Zappa and the humor of They Might Be Giants. But on the new album, the humor serves as a vehicle to express some heavier topics than the duo usually tackles. The first song, "Throw Your Babies," for example, opens with a whimsical a cappella chant that could come from an age-old nursery rhyme, but turns into a parable of sorts about the perils of becoming a teenage mom. And it still manages to be a hella fun tune.
Do yourself a favor and go see the Bloat Holiday Show, headlined by Less Pain Forever and including performances by Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout and The Bloat Orchestra, on Friday, Dec. 29, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. The festivities begin at 9 p.m. and will only set you back five bucks. I'll be the one in the corner muttering, "See, I told you so." Call 622-8848 for further details.
The band that each generation seems to love as much as the last, the Violent Femmes bring their tales of adolescent angst and woe to the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Dec. 30. Andrew Collberg opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 in advance, $25 on the day of the show. For more info, call 740-1000.
Mash-up master DJ Reset, best known for releasing the first commercially available mash-up ever ("Frontin' on Debra," a hybrid of Beck's "Debra" and Pharrell and Jay-Z's "Frontin'"), stops in at Level Bar and Lounge, 4280 N. Campbell Ave., Suite 37, for a 10 p.m. set next Thursday, Jan. 4. Admission is $5. Call 615-3835 for details.
For information on all the New Year's Eve goings-on, be sure at check out the New Year's Eve Guide that appeared in last week's issue. Here's wishing all of you a happy, healthy and safe new year.