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December 17, 2004

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Keyword News [Richie Sambora]

New jazz gig kicks it out; Mastermindzz at benefit

The current trend of “unplugged” acoustic concerts and recordings can be traced back to 1989 when Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed the previously electric Bon Jovi hit, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” on acoustic guitars at the MTV Video Music Awards. It wasn’t long until MTV developed a regular show based around the idea.

New jazz gig kicks it out; Mastermindzz at benefit

Scott Prinzing

Walkers Grill’s decision not to continue offering live jazz on the weekends has been a big blow to jazz fans in Billings. ECQ has still been performing at least once or twice a month on Thursday nights at the Carlin, but it was nice to have Walkers’ varied combos from around the state. (And don’t get me started on the loss of a nonsmoking venue.)
But there’s a new gig in town. For the past month, a group calling themselves 4 or More has been playing in the lounge at High Stakes Casino on Grand Avenue each Tuesday night. The four musicians play more bebop than jazz and pop standards. They invite friends to come sit in for a song or a set, and really kick it out.

Last week I heard bopping renditions of Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca,” and Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” among others. Hot stuff!

The leader of the pack is drummer Matt Devitt. Known to many from his various roles in local music, Devitt plays percussion in the Billings Symphony Orchestra, drums in the metal band ENDever, and teaches many of Billings’ up-and-coming drummers at Hansen Music.

Devitt even teaches established drummers like Loopian Zu’s Pat Epley, who was at last Tuesday’s gig. The Tuney-winning Epley is primarily self-taught but began taking lessons to hone his technique after Devitt grabbed the Best Drummer Tuney in 2003. Devitt must be teaching well, since Epley won back the award in 2004.

The group’s guitarist, Steve Devitt, Matt’s father, pointed out that his son is the leader of the band. The younger Devitt plays his smaller jazz kit with sticks rather than brushes, as he hands out charts and plots out the arrangement before each song: “You take eight,” to tenor player Joe Massman. “Then we’ll trade fours.”

Turning to bassist Mark Bryan, “You want a solo? Dad?” A trumpet player whose first name was Jared was sitting in last week. “Wait,” Devitt says, tossing him another chart, “This copy’s in B-flat.”

Massman also sings baritone and bass with the BSO Chorale and Rimrock Opera. Bryan is half of rockers Dirty Jones and has played jazz and blues with ECQ, Jared Stewart and Dale Renee.

Their initial gig was to last a month, but has been extended another month, so head over to 18th and Grand on Tuesday nights for a no-cover, smoky night of jazz.

Da Mastamindzz

This town may not be known for its hip-hop, but there are definitely fans out there. There are also rappers. The live rappers and the audience just need to connect. Creating a scene has been attempted before, for a few months at the Rum Jungle a few years ago, and both the Carlin and Casey’s have the occasional live MC.

Last Friday there was the spark of a connection when the Montana State University-Billings Native American Club held a benefit show with new hip-hop duo, Da Mastamindzz. About 100 young people turned out for their debut, helping raise funds for the club’s spring pow-wow.

The night included a rap contest as well as a dance contest.

I had just driven back from Bozeman that night, so I arrived midway through the proceedings in time to catch the tail end of the rapping competition. It was entertaining to see them free-style their boasts and good-humored insults, but the vocals were a little lost in the mix, as the beats were pretty loud. The winner disappeared into the crowd with his plaque, so I didn’t get his name, but will include it next week if I find out.

The dance finals included two talented teenage girls, Amber and Daisy, and Chris Kelly, who dances with Da Mastamindzz. While all three had distinct styles, the crowd favorite was Amber. They each got an award.

Copies of Da Mastamindzz’ new CD, “From the Ground Up,” were available for $10. The disc features 14 original tracks by Ill Will and Ofey. Each does a few solo tracks and the CD is augmented by someone named Survere. Look for a more detailed review soon.

Storyhill at the 11

Celebrated acoustic duo Storyhill packed the 11 Café as I’ve never before seen it last week with over 80 fans old and new. In what would normally be called standing room only, Storyhill had several fans reclining on the floor at the foot of the stage for a satisfying show that lasted 21/2 hours.

With a set list that drew from each of their half-dozen studio albums together, Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson also introduced five new songs to a very receptive audience.

The evening was full of good humor, plenty of spontaneity, and much more great music than the $8 cover charge could hope to cover. After the third encore, “Things I Love,” from their 1992 debut CD, Chris and Johnny’s voices were starting to strain, and we let them off the hook.

Opening with their longing for home anthem, “Absaroka Air,” it was a sort of homecoming for this Bozeman duo that formed in Minnesota, where Hermanson still lives. They did a weeklong tour through Montana in support of their forthcoming CD, “Duotones: A Tribute to the Duos of the ’70s.” They played two tracks from the disc – available at the show, but not yet in stores – Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Ceclia.”

The show was so full of those memorable moments that everyone there will have a favorite: a passing train to set up “Trembling Tracks,” Johnny’s capo launching off his guitar after a story about tossing Chris’ out into the audience a few nights earlier, a discussion over how this was the first, second, no, third time they’d played in Billings, and many more.

A call for requests brought out shouts for a dozen songs, but they settled on “White Roses,” “What Was Wrong,” (my request, thank you, guys!), “I-90,” and a traditional evening closer, “Steady On.” Bookending the show with that song and “Absaroka Air” almost puts chills down my spine as I write.

Actually, it just did.

Check out www.storyhill.com to see what I’m talking about.

Unplugged metal at the FOE

The current trend of “unplugged” acoustic concerts and recordings can be traced back to 1989 when Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed the previously electric Bon Jovi hit, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” on acoustic guitars at the MTV Video Music Awards. It wasn’t long until MTV developed a regular show based around the idea.

Many bands and solo acts had best sellers by releasing those sets on CD (Alice In Chains, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Nirvana, Rod Stewart, etc.). Other bands have released their own collections without the MTV endorsement (Godsmack, Heart, Page and Plant, Tesla, Yes, etc.). But many rock bands have incorporated acoustic sets in their shows over the years, ever since Led Zeppelin immortalized the concept in “The Song Remains the Same,” the 1976 film documenting their 1973 world tour.

It’s about time the idea was realized here in Billings. This Saturday night, the F.O.E. will be the setting for an unplugged show with some of the Magic City’s hardest and heaviest: Back to Ruin, ENDever and Loopian Zu.

Maybe the Zu aren’t the hardest, but they can be very heavy. They also have some experience with acoustic performance.

It should be a very interesting show. Hopefully someone will record it for posterity. It could be an event of historical importance someday.

What I’m tuned in to

• On my turntable: “Phil Spector’s Christmas Album,” ’63

• In my tape deck: Charlie Daniels, “Christmas Time Down South,” ’90

• In my Discman: Stevie Wonder, “Someday at Christmas,” ’67

• In my VCR: “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown,”

• In my jukebox: Cheap Trick, “Come On, Christmas,”’95

Posted by riesambo at December 17, 2004 11:35 AM