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A Cappella Cage Match

Scheduling can be a real hassle, and unfortunately, you never know what else is going to go down the night you book a gig. Most Fridays there's at least one concert whose crowd gets cut in half by another gig across town. It's an inevitable part of this damned Julian calendar we all keep adhering to. Anyway, once again scheduling raised its ugly head on May 20. Local singing group MAYIM booked the Kuumbwa for a night of singing, while a few yards away, SOVOSO took the stage at the Attic and trotted out their tunes.

SoVoSo makes you wish that you went to a church with a better choir. While most choirs barely manage to eek out "A Joyous Song Unto the Lord," SoVoSo soars (whatever church choir the members of SoVoSo sang with must have been a wonder to hear) and is unafraid of mentioning Jesus' name, even in this bastion of goddess-inspired secularity. Opening up the set with PSALM 23 (the one with the shepherd and the valley) was a gutsy move. Not exactly a hand-clapper.

One of the most beautiful SoVoSo moments was when the group invited a dancer to perform with them. Instead of taking the stage, the dancer climbed a rope and performed amazing feats of grace while suspended above the audience's heads. For five minutes, the singers were all but ignored as this small and lithe woman made gravity her bitch.

Mayim, though in the same genre as SoVoSo, sounds completely different (it was interesting to bounce from one show to the other to compare the two ). Whereas SoVoSo is a mixed choir drawing from mostly R&B and gospel sources, Mayim is all female and doesn't seem to specialize in a single genre.The three women in Mayim take the "world is their oyster" approach to putting together a setlist. Songs from Hungary were mixed in with Native American chants and tunes from the INDIGO GIRLS.

One of the most wonderful Mayim moments was when BARRY PHILLIPS came out onstage to add some instrumental backing to the group's sound. Usually seen with a cello, Phillips initially took the stage with nothing by a BODHRAN and a shaker in hand. Rather than playing the frame drum like any other Irish bandit with too much whiskey in his reel, Phillips' left hand tapped out BOLS like a tabla player would do, while his right hand added some hits even as he kept the shaker going. Is that the sort of thing that you learn from RAVI SHANKAR? Phillips also brought out the cello for a few tunes, and somehow, some way, he made a SINEAD O'CONNOR song palatable. Unbelievable.

Hop on the Bandwagon

JASON MORAN is one of the best pianists of his generation and he deserves equal credit for his incredible control of the instrument and his truly intelligent choice of music to play on it. His latest record is based upon the relationship between jazz and the blues, and it's one of the most interesting things that BLUE NOTE put out in the last year.

Whether reworking the soundtracks to old Russian movies, reimagining field hollers or throwing down a JAKI BYARD stride piano song, this man and his group, THE BANDWAGON, are absolutely riveting.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this show was the slide guitar work of MARVIN SEWELL. While most jazz players have their head caught up in altered dominant scales and the latest AL DIMEOLA chromatic lick, Marvin was all about the blues. His playing was earthy, raw and more than compelling. He even made his guitar outshine Moran's considerable melodic skills during a few tunes.

Slides should be mandatory equipment for guitarists. With them you can mimic the cello, get all gritty on the bass strings and make weird bird chirping noises over the pickups. In the hands of a player like Sewell, a slide proves that it's not the notes that you play but how you get there that matters.

Peter Koht

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From the May 25-June 1, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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