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Roy Hargrove Is Coming--Look Busy!

Anybody can claim to be a bandleader, but I dig how Roy Hargrove isn't afraid to walk right up to the various members of his quintet and watch them intently while they play. Not like he's staring 'em down or anything--you know, he nods his head and occasionally yells "Yeah!" But he's got a little bit of sass to him when he crowds them, too, like "What have you done for me lately, alto saxophonist Justin Robinson?" And damn if the guys in the band don't seem to play just a little bit harder when he's standing there, like "Uh-oh, there's the boss! Better make this extra good!" Productivity: through the roof!

Still, Hargrove's show at the Kuumbwa last Monday got off to a slow start with way too much soloing early on--one extended solo, in fact, after another. Some call this virtuosity; I call it noodling. I can't stand it in jazz. I can't stand it in rock. I can't stand it in oompah-pah music. Especially an upright bass solo. Nothing against the very talented Dwayne Burno, but for the love of God, if rockabilly music has taught us anything, it's that bass solos should be no more than 45 seconds long, and should involve someone jumping up onto the bass to provide some actual entertainment while they're happening. Whatever happened to one nation under a groove?

Anyway, once Hargrove's players got some cross-play going, they were fantastic. Hargrove and Robinson played off each other particularly well--I know it sounds kind of snooty when people talk about instrumentalists having a musical conversation onstage, but for once I knew exactly what they were talking about. It kind of blew my mind a little bit, to be honest. Me, the musical Neanderthal who once considered writing a cover story called Jazz: I Don't Get It! That's progress, people. Hats off to Hargrove!

Steve Palopoli

Mirah's Got a Brand New Band

First let me just say that the Mirah show last Thursday night at the Teen Center was my first visit to the venue, and I can't help but gush a bit about how cute that place is. For those who haven't been, the ground floor is laid out like a fat capital letter "I," with the stage at one end and two balconies pinching the middle of the room into a fat aisle. Besides being able to lounge on couches, play pool or check your email at the computer stations up there, you can get a decent view of the stage area from atop the balconies, which are connected by a small bridge. It's like a hip little tree house too cool for a fire pole, but I would have put one in anyway.

The sound was good, but this was not a difficult show to manage soundwise. Basically it's all about her voice--as long as it's loud and clear above the little amp she has for her guitar, everything's fine. With most of the audience sitting Indian-style on the ground as they did, a network of tin cans and strings would have worked almost as well as a microphone, with the added bonus of the true tree house feel in full effect.

Indeed, Mirah would probably make an excellent kindergarten teacher, thanking everyone as she did for coming to the show and being such a good, attentive audience, and not really doing much at all to embody her own "Randy Pony" tour, besides mentioning the corresponding panties on sale in the back and playing "Murphy Bed" and "Make It Hot."

She played a lot of songs from her new album, Come On Miracle--a good listen overall, but it's getting progressively easier to tell what's coming from Mirah and what's coming from her producer Phil Elvrum, who we hear once again trying to produce away the familiar tempos and strumming patterns that confine her songwriting. Usually this problem is more pronounced at her solo live shows, which is what made the inclusion of a band--violin, bass, upright bass, more guitar and drums--so refreshing.

In a way, the solo format makes so much more sense for an indie rocker, what with all the let's-all-realize-our-own-vision DIY politics involved. Having a backup band inherently creates a hierarchy of creativity where Mirah's in charge, but is that really such a bad thing? She can't help it if she's got an incredible voice and knows how to write good songs.

Mike Connor

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From the May 26-June 2, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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