BACK IN THE GROOVE: NBC recently canceled its long-running late-night interview program, Later, and with good reason. With its latest host, a no-talent kiss-ass named Cynthia Garrett, the show had become virtually unwatchable. Before her, the host spot was occupied by a revolving door of weekly guests that made the program a hit-and-miss affair at best. But the show's original host, the wildly talented interviewer and über-mensch Bob Costas, single-handedly made Later the best interview show of its kind on the tube, probably ever. Over the past several weeks, NBC--perhaps in an effort to further embarrass Garrett--began running old Costas reruns from the show's early '90s run, nearly all of them music-related. In one of the most fascinating of the bunch, Costas spoke with the late Bill Graham, the man who, by opening the Fillmore West theater in San Francisco in the 1960s, put the Bay Area rock music scene on the map.
Through the course of the interview, Graham revealed that, initially, he wasn't a fan of the multitude of bands he hosted. Names that are now taken for granted as legendary--the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and the Big Brother Holding Company, to name a few--never really rang his bell until he got to know the artists as people; it was only then that he was able to truly appreciate their music.
He was a jazz fan, he said, but because he saw his theater filling to capacity regularly, he recognized an opportunity: If the Dead were selling out the Fillmore, why not put a couple artists on the bill as support that the kids hadn't been exposed to previously? Thus, a new generation would be introduced to the likes of Miles Davis (who did, indeed, open for the Dead at the Fillmore), Chuck Berry, Little Richard and a host of other artists including poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg.
At the time, it wasn't that huge of an anomaly, with underground FM radio during the same period juxtaposing wildly disparate artists, playing them back-to-back. But now, with music essentially divided up into micro-genres, it's rare to find a bill that will take risks by feeding the crowds entertainment that they're simply not used to witnessing. (Think about it: Can you even fathom a poet opening for a rock band in 2001?)
Occasionally, though, we're treated to such an event, the Radio Limbo benefit last weekend being a prime example. And does anyone remember the bizarre lineups that used to play at the Downtown Performance Center on a regular basis? I'd wager that, if anything, people's tastes are getting more diverse these days than they used to be. I work part-time at a local record store, and I'm often amazed at the combination of CDs that people will bring up to the counter--Uncle Tupelo, John Coltrane and Outkast, for example--in one fell swoop; not so many years ago, that just didn't happen in my workplace.
Another outgrowth of this open-minded trend is that people who used to only listen to jam bands--the Dead, Phish, String Cheese Incident, et al.--have glommed onto just about anything that will make them dance. Springing out of the acid jazz movement of the '90s, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe is one such band.
Acid jazz was a melding of beat-heavy DJ/dance culture and traditional jazz, thus making for a highly danceable new form of jazz. After catching a break playing with Lenny Kravitz for several years, saxophonist Karl Denson became one of the spearheads of the acid jazz movement by fronting the Greyboy Allstars. When that group went on hiatus, Denson started his own combo, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, which seeks to introduce jazz--much as Bill Graham did 35 years ago--to a new audience of folks raised on spinning at Dead shows.
The band specializes in a funky, completely legit form of jazz that appeals to virtually anyone who can't help themselves from dancing when they hear a good groove. Are they a jam band? Who knows? Who cares? Go check them out for yourself, and you decide; even if you never thought you'd pay to go see a jazz band.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe plays the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, January 26. The show begins at 8 p.m. with a set by locals Good Question. Advance tickets are available for $10 at all Zia locations. For more info call 798-3333.
CROSS CULTURAL: Back from yet another extended European tour, Tucson-by-way-of-France's Amor Belhom Duo will perform their unique brand of minimalist avant-pop to a hungry local audience this weekend. This time around the duo will also be pairing up with Joey Burns and John Convertino (that's Calexico to you, bub) for a set by their new project, ABBC, which recently issued a full-length album, Tête à Tête, on Wabana Records. The performance, which also includes a set by DJ Bonus, takes place at 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. For more information call 884-0874.
GETTING PHUNKY: With rap-metal hybrid bands monopolizing new rock radio these days, and accusations flying as to who's "real" and who's posing, one name that's gone missing from the hullaballoo is Phoenix's Phunk Junkeez, which released its self-titled debut album on Ichiban Records all the way back in 1992
The boys have just released their fourth album, Sex, Drugs and Rap N' Roll, on their new label, Uncle Scam, a division of Trauma Records. Though they've charted 200,000 sales of their previous releases, they have yet to break through in the way that most veterans of their sound have managed to do. With any justice, Sex, Drugs will remedy that situation.
The Junkeez have never claimed to be anything but a good-time party band, and the new record only reinforces that notion. They haven't gotten any harder to try to gain street cred or airplay, but the tunes should do just fine on their own. With guest spots from Sen Dog of Cypress Hill and SoCal reggae dudes Common Sense, plus at least one Fred Durst dis, this should be the record that finally puts their name at the top of the rock-rap list. As the Junkeez' frontman, Soulman, puts it, "What we do is music for everybody. We don't come with any message except 'have a good time.' There are enough rock stars; what we need are entertainers." Amen, brother.
Catch the Phunk Junkeez along with Voodoo Glow Skulls and Pasta Rocket at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, at The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave. The show is all-ages, and you can get more information by calling 629-9211.
BACK TO BASICS: After fronting thinking-man's metal band Sepultura for 13 years, singer/guitarist Max Cavalera broke away to form Soulfly, which sports a pummeling thrash-groove that incorporates the tribal energy indigenous to his native Brazil. The band's latest release, Primitive (Roadrunner Records), features guest appearances from members of The Deftones, Will Haven, Slayer and thrash-god Sean Lennon (yes, that Sean Lennon). Prior to kicking off a tour with Pantera and Morbid Angel that will take it well into 2001, the band will perform a one-off gig at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $20 at all Ticketmaster, Wherehouse and Robinson's-May locations, or by phone at 321-1000. For more info on the show call 798-3333.
GUIDED TOUR: Bay Area moody Ramona the Pest will bring its highly regarded sound, which has been compared to a less-bluesy PJ Harvey and a less-ethereal Cowboy Junkies, to town this week in support of its latest release, Little Knives (Kingtone Records). The tour doubles as an information-gathering excursion to compile a do-it-yourself city-by-city tour guide for today's touring indie musicians. If you have any suggestions for the book in regards to the Tucson area, send 'em along via the band's website (www.ramonathepest.com) or tell 'em in person when the band performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 26, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Uber Alice opens the show, and you can call 670-9202 for further details.