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Horchata's Kung Fu Connection

[whitespace] Horchata
Christopher Gardner

Under a Bridge Musical Dictionary: The members of Horchata get in some prime freeway time in their San Jose stomping grounds.

Local band's genre-mix musical attack alienates some, galvanizes others

By Todd S. Inoue

FOUR MEMBERS of San Jose's spastic jazz-improv group Horchata are spread across a studio floor, taking their first step in confronting the band's multiple personality disorder.

"We're into weird solos and transitions," says alto saxophonist Reggie Webb. "Instead of jazz to jazz, we'll go from reggae to swing to ska to punk rock. And then we'll have a harmonica solo instead of a guitar solo."

The band is a musical version of Jenga, where blocks of genres are stacked on each other until the structure teeters toward the brink of destruction. Horchata's structure avoids crashing as the jam-tested musicians make the transitions subtle and complete.

Just to see where their heads are at, I ask the Horchata guys to assemble a fantasy concert docket. The fellas come up with the Boredoms, Minutemen, Mr. Bungle, Creamsickle, Eskimo. The harp player, Steve Delaney, mentions Deadhead favorites Phish.

"There is that hippie part of us," Delaney says.

"Don't say that," admonishes tenor saxophonist Jason Walker.

"Come on, you gotta admit it," says another.

"Everyone's influenced by different backgrounds," concludes trombonist Justin Rivera. "It's spontaneous combustion that's pleasing to the ear."

Horchata came together in 1993 through informal jam sessions that got out of hand. The core performed as Sacrilicious before adding horn players and arriving at its current roster (Reggie Webb, alto saxophone; Steve Delaney, harp; Jason Walker, tenor saxophone; Justin Rivera. trombone; Keith Brinkley, guitar; Ona Stewart, vocals, guitar; Dale Means, drums; and Brady Laucher, bass).

"It was never serious," says Rivera. "It was this jam session and people were kind of digging it. Then we started adding horn players. The music's good, and the shows have been fun. It's like having seven girlfriends, or seven boyfriends."

Symbolism ranks high in Horchata's songwriting bank. Two instrumentals ("Hot Carl" and "Bag Lunch") use coprophiliac slang to address low self-esteem. There are other topics like carbohydrates ("Beans and Rice"), soccer-playing downtown residents ("Harry Hempseed") and sensi ("Green Butter").

When the band concentrates on one format, they carve out good groove. "Speakerbutt III" is a mild funk-metal workout that closes out its six minutes with glorious acid jazz. The similarly funked-up "Harry Hempseed" is about Ona's brother, Harrison, one of downtown San Jose's most natural soccer players. Harrison arrives five minutes before a game, looking all ragged; when the whistle blows he creates bow-legged miracles. It's the sort of stoner magic that swirls the ingredients stewing in Horchata's melting pot.

"This is a bias, but I can imagine seeing a Horchata show being really ripped and digging it," says Walker.

"Being ripped is the only way anyone can enjoy our music, that's what he's saying," Webb humorously interjects.

"No! But it's dizzy, really crazy," Walker continues. "It's something new, and it may not be great, but it's something different. Check the stats. Look at the faces when we play. It's ear- to-ear smiles."

ALTERED consciousness may be the foremost inspiration in Horchata's world, but another inspiration is kung-fu flicks. The band's rehearsal space/house is nicknamed the Third Street Dojo. The cover of its debut CD, Right Upside Your Head (Little Lucky), pictures a Muay Thai kickboxer getting cracked in the cranium. Jackie Chan's Drunken Master and Wheels on Meals are big faves at the Dojo. After a couple of 40-ounce beers, the fellas turn into the Shaolin Monks of Brooklyn. They affect fake Brooklyn accents and spar in the front yard.

"We're all hopeless insaints," says Walker. "We're into kung fu. And golf."

And horchata, the drink. This beverage has been the band's savior on many Sunday mornings, when the previous night's overindulgence sent them kneeling at the porcelain altar.

"Horchata is a drink that takes care of your hangover in the morning," says Delaney. "It's so refreshing."

Just like the beverage, the band Horchata isn't for everyone, but if you try it, you might get hooked.

"We want to please the audience, but you can't make everyone happy," says Walker. "That's our eclecticism. I always like to think our music is for everybody because there's a little chunk of everything inside our music. You might not like one song, but there will be a little part you will like, even if it's one 30-second chunk."


Horchata, Creamsickle, Terra Nova and Vim play Friday (April 3) at 8:45pm at the Cactus Club, 417 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $6/$8. (408/491-9300)

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From the April 2-8, 1998 issue of Metro.

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