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[whitespace] Sista Monica Old Time Religion: Sista Monica's new CD is peppered with funky grooves.


Mixing Up the Holidays

Now's the time to deck the halls with local CDs

By Rob Pratt

LET'S GET RIGHT DOWN to business. Buy a dozen copies of Estradasphere's just-released Buck Fever for the holidays and give one to anyone you know who's a music fan. Scratch that. Make it two dozen copies and give one to anyone who has ears.

Littered with musical snatches of everything from opera to death metal, and heaped with instrumental virtuosity and compositional wit, Buck Fever is like a post-postmodern musical landfill. Estradasphere piles up castoffs from the past millennia of musical history--from Renaissance madrigals to Gypsy dances to bebop flourishes to Latin-jazz montunos to death-metal grinds--and paves over them with prankster humor and lots of mischievous intent.

Like a band of little brothers playing with volatile chemicals, the members of Estradasphere may blow the musical landscape to smithereens, but they'll have hours of undie-wetting laughs doing it. That's a good thing. Really.

Buck Fever is one of the finest albums from a Santa Cruz band in years. The pace is relentless but not without reflection--as if the band, in charging ahead at breakneck speed, periodically stops to wonder what it might have trampled along the way. Estradasphere is mostly an instrumental outfit, so the lyrics on Buck Fever are minimal. What does find its way into the mix is loaded with puns and double entendres. Case in point: "The Dapper Bandits" sketches a noirish tale of private detective Dick Danger.

More Music for Maniacs

IF PUNK music can have royalty, then in Santa Cruz, Good Riddance holds the crown. For most of the past decade, the band has produced archetypal Santa Cruz punk: hitting as hard as a northwest swell booming from Pleasure Point's first peak and as wary of America's political-economic regime as a Green Party convention.

This year's Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit (Fat Wreck Chords) follows up a pair of fantastic albums, 1999's Operation Phoenix and 2000's The Phenomenon of Craving. Any of the three document the very best of Santa Cruz skater-punk and stand as living proof that a band that's been around for 15 years can remain forceful and relevant.

One of the newest bands to earn a burgeoning crowd of local followers, the Sneaky Creekans use a musical formula drawn from many of Santa Cruz's favorite dance bands of the past. On this year's For the Time Being (self-released), anthemic pop vocals soar above infectious ska-pop and ska-punk grooves and tell of the kind of youthful tribulations that have remained the stuff of pop music since the teenager came of age in the 1950s.

The Creekans have come a long way since the band's debut on 1999's Bobo. Where the first album was rangy and raw, For the Time Being has nicely developed songwriting, sure playing and clean (though flat) audio production.

Mettle, Not Metal

WITH THE regularity of the Olympic games, jazz organist Steve Czarnecki turns out CDs every couple of years. His just-released latest, Soul Rendezvous (Piano Man Productions), sets the gold standard in Santa Cruz jazz. The culmination of several years of honing the Hammond organ-based "soul-jazz" sound of the late 1950s and '60s, Soul Rendezvous shows off Czarnecki's total mastery of the idiom.

For the CD's seven originals and four jazz standards, Czarnecki's Soul/Jazz Quintet, featuring vocalist Nate Pruitt, plays with a laid-back ease that recalls classic sides produced by Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine, or by Richard "Groove" Holmes and Gene Ammons.

Anyone who has followed the career of Santa Cruz blues-diva Sista Monica knows that she peppers her funky sound with a hands-in-the-air gospel sensibility. For Gimme That Old Time Religion (Mo Muscle Records), Monica goes back to her church-choir roots for a truly inspired album of gospel standards.

Producing the album was a labor of love for Monica, who formed and led a gospel choir for the effort, then recruited a fine, churchy band to back up the singers. Also from Monica this year, Live in Europe (Mo Muscle Records), recorded during the Belgium Rhythm 'n' Blues Festival, lets gives the world a listen to what Santa Cruz audience have known for years--that Sista Monica knows how to turn it out in the studio, but she only really gets down in front of a big crowd.

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From the November 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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