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Born to shine 

by Tiina Teal


Him who knows it, feels it." Quoted from the late Bob Marley, this statement invites us all to be united under the collective emotional umbrella that life and music offers our hearts to experience. Compared by many, not so much stylistically as spiritually, to the master Marley, prodigal son BEN HARPER brings his cauldron of earthy musical brews to the Fox on Monday.


A perpetual concert favorite around the globe, Harper recently released a double-live disc, Live From Mars in March to document the intensity of his shows and satisfy fans eager for a hard copy of his infamous stage performances. Live From Mars appropriately captures Ben and his band, the Innocent Criminals, at their fiery best with a liberal sampling of songs from each of his four album releases. The disc is also interestingly free from overdubs, creating the raw, intimate atmosphere that one can only achieve in a concert setting. In addition, three cover songs are included: Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," the Verve's "The Drugs Don't Work" and "Whole Lotta Love" from Led Zeppelin. These help pay partial tribute to the diverse influences evident in Harper's music.


Diversity seems to always have played a large role in Ben Harper's life and music. Having grown up in the bohemian suburb of Claremont, Calif., he experienced both the liberalism and prejudice in the community that came to shape his views and talents. Raised on delta blues, folk and classic rock, he incorporated them into his own eclectic style of music that caught the attention of blues patriarch Taj Mahal. Harper quickly garnered a huge, somewhat underground following by incessant touring and opening up for a variety of acts, such as Pearl Jam and the Fugees to (believe it or not) Marilyn Manson and Metallica.


But his music also transformed into a subtle catalogue of gospelized resistance, peaceful rebellion and protest-era lyricism. From the title track of his 1995 release, Fight For Your Mind to the rasta-inspired lyric of "Jah Work," Ben Harper connected not only to the acoustic, slide guitar, blues-loving set but also to the disenfranchised, socially aware and inwardly hungry music lovers both young and old. His musical heroes and performed songs range from the obvious (Jimi Hendrix) to the smooth stylings of Bill Withers, the soul-funk of Sly and the Family Stone, superstitious maestro Stevie Wonder and jazz queen Nina Simone.


Harper's 1999 album, Burn to Shine, brought about an instrumental shift in his trademark lap-guitar style. Like Dylan turning traitor when he electrically plugged in, Harper opted for one of the first times to play electric, harder-edged tunes. But if anything, his popularity increased and added a new dimension to his live shows. Recently listed in Spin magazine's "Top 40 Most Important Artists," Ben Harper could very well be, like James Brown, the current hardest working man in show business.


With hundreds of concert dates and festival performances annually, he still finds time to make appearances on other artists' albums and side projects. He has worked with John Lee Hooker, Beth Orton, Rahzel from the Roots and Gov't Mule. Harper also recorded songs for tribute albums to the Jam, Bruce Springsteen and Mississippi John Hurt while also playing at the Tibetan Freedom and One Love Bob Marley tribute concerts. All of this and without glossy pop-star styling, without an aloof, too-cool stage persona and without a self-created "trendy" image or caricature.


From traditional blues to human beatboxing to aching, lover-man spirituals and '20s jazz, Ben Harper's music seems to have forged a bond with his listeners that few modern artists can claim. In a world full of deceptive advertising, slick marketing packages and lip-synching teenagers, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals offer an authentic, real and soulful concert alternative.





Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals play the Fox on Monday, May 21, at 8 pm. The show is sold out. Call: 325-SEAT.





Hepcat Happening


If the name CHRISTOPHER MOYER rings a small bell but you can't quite place it, chances are you've seen him with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra. He's the one playing lead alto sax, rising for a solo, smiling and bowing with a hint of the showman when the applause comes. Occasionally you'll see him pinch hit on clarinet or flute, but mostly he's wielding his sax with the sure grace of someone who's spent half his life in the company of this melodious brass contraption.


This Friday night, however, Moyer will not only play the sax, he will sing. Perhaps even break into dance. You just never know. His concert "The First Time," is just that, his first solo show in more than 20 years of performing, and his spirits are bound to be high.


"We're going to town," he laughs. "We're pulling out all the stops for this one." For the past year and a half, Moyer has been writing and recording music for his new CD, also entitled The First Time, which will be released at the concert, in addition to fine-tuning every aspect of the "Big Band Bash" evening, from the inclusion of dancers to the date itself.


"The reason I picked that date is that May 18 is, of course, the anniversary of Mt. St. Helens, but that's only part of it," he explains. "I was rehearsing at the Opera House that afternoon, it was my first concert with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra, and we were to play with Dizzy Gillespie that night. I was just so excited, I could hardly stand it."


The May 18 concert was rescheduled later that year, and although the SJO never had the opportunity to play with Gillespie, who died in 1993, Moyer still honors the memory of the late jazz musician with a reference on the CD to the Gillespie standard, "Night in Tunisia."


The show at the Fox will include dancers from the Silver Spurs, some traditional Dixieland jazz pieces and a full big band of familiar faces.


"The band is all from Spokane, and they're really the cream of the crop," he says. "Some are SJO members, some are pop musicians. I hand-picked this group."


While Moyer has often been a featured instrumentalist with the SJO, and has performed with everyone from the Manhattan Transfer to Bob Hope (including orchestra gigs when big shows like Annie Get Your Gun and The Secret Garden have come to town), he's never had the chance to sing onstage.


"I've always wanted to be a sort of Mel Torme, Harry Connick Jr. kind of person. This concert represents what I'm up to right now in my musical career -- singing, playing, the whole mixed bag."


The CD was recorded over four or five nights at the Fox Theater, and as far as Moyer knows, it's the first CD to be recorded there.


"The Fox is in pretty good shape, and the acoustics are really amazing. Part of what we're doing with the CD and the concert is to make a contribution to the Symphony's efforts to fix the Fox."


As a longtime Spokane native, Moyer's desire to help the Fox stems as much from his love for the building as it does from his recognition of what being a "big fish in a small pond" has done for him artistically. The concert is an official "Lilac Festival Event" and Moyer, who marched in the parade as a high school student, says that Lilac Festival representatives will be on hand selling buttons and soliciting donations Friday night.


"So much of what I've done as a performer, and what I've done artistically, I can honestly say I've been able to cultivate by living in Spokane," he says. "I have a history here. The education I received, the music programs and opportunities I've had here, I wouldn't have had living in a bigger city."


--Sheri Boggs





Christopher Moyer performs at the Fox


Theater on Friday, May 18, at 8 pm.


Tickets: $14.50-$22.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
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