Though this Friday night's performance by DESAFINADO will be the first big local gig in recent memory for Spokane's best (okay, and probably only) Brazilian jazz ensemble, the group has by no means been lying dormant.
"We've been playing on and off all winter, and we toured last summer on the coast," says Desafinado saxophonist and tireless jazz booster, Gary Edighoffer. "We've also played a lot of festivals in the Northwest and we're taking off on a couple of trips this summer."
Desafinado has been a Northwest fave for the last six years, thrilling audiences all over the region with its invigorating take on authentic Brazilian jazz and other rhythm-intensive Latin musical styles: samba, bossa nova and bolero. The nine-piece group -- incorporating some of the area's finest musicians -- includes Edighoffer, (sax and flute), Laura Landsberg (vocals), Pam Meyer (flute), Nate Wickham (trombone), Andy Plamodon (trumpet, flugelhorn), Paul Landsberg (guitar), Eugene Jablonsky (bass), Paul Raymond (percussion) and Rick Westrick (drums).
The show this weekend at the spacious, jazz-friendly Neville Auditorium in the Spokane Valley should seem like old times for this merry band of Latin groove-addicted renegades -- and for local jazz aficionados used to catching Desafinado's regular performances at Spokane's previous (and by now legendary) jazz club, Hobart's. The concert/dance will also serve as a CD release party for the group, celebrating the completion of its much-anticipated self-titled debut album.
"We actually recorded it a couple years ago," Edighoffer admits. "And through just a lack of time on my part, couldn't get all the production finished until now. We're really proud of it."
Desafinado contains Brazilian jazz classics arranged by the group in a more contemporary style, as well as two original compositions. The album effectively captures the experience of a live Desafinado performance beginning with the "Batucata Intro" (and later, the more complete version, "Batucata For Tom"), a lively percussion-heavy piece meant to invoke the atmosphere of Carnival a la Rio de Janeiro. Landsberg's smooth and sultry vocal style shines on "Promises" (a Basia Latin pop tune arranged by the band) and "Corcovado" (a tribute to Brazilian master, Antonio Carlos Jobin). Even Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is given new treatment by the group's expert hands.
Brazilian popular music was initially brought to the United States in the early '60s and popularized by American jazz players such as Stan Getz.
"That's what we have tried to do," says Edighoffer, "that is, blend Brazilian rhythms and harmonies with American jazz. The real thing about Brazilian jazz for us is -- though it's under the big heading of Latin jazz -- it's a lot more harmonically interesting than salsa. For a jazz player, the chord progressions and the melodies that are inherent in Brazilian music are so much more involved and inspiring. To improvise over it is very challenging. Not to put salsa down, but from a performance standpoint, Brazilian is much more satisfying."
Of course, it's not the technical aspects of Brazilian music but the emotional content -- the passion of the players and their ability to reach the listener at a very basic level -- that's of primary concern to an audience. Latin music is romantic, sensuous and exciting. It compels you to rise to your feet and shake it. You cannot simply listen to this music.
"No way," agrees Edighoffer. "We're bringing in a dance floor, so it's part concert, part dance. There will definitely be room to move."
Though the performance is open to all ages, beer and wine will be available for the over 21 crowd.
Desafinado performs at the Neville Auditorium, 1445 N. Argonne, on Friday, June 8, at 8 pm.
Tickets: $10; $8, for students. Call: 891-0745.
Texas rebel MICHELLE SHOCKED wants you. Wants you to take a ride to the greener side and to remember the simple, uncomplicated, joyous pleasures and pains that make life, well, life. With her quirky yet easily palatable blend of folksy, Woody Guthrie-esque statements, swinging 1940s stylings and traditional American blues music, Shocked has proven herself to be an artist with courage, brains and consciousness. A defiant yet warm presence, dedicated to the purity of the artistic process and her own anti-establishment views, she has remained committed (sometimes to her financial and commercial detriment) to bringing her own version of art and music to the world. She'll be at The Met next Thursday.
Shocked was born Michelle Johnston in Dallas, as the eldest of eight children (one of her brothers being Matt Johnston of the band Wilco). Having spent her early childhood moving around to different Army bases with her stepfather and fundamentalist mother, she ran away in 1977 to live with her biological, sometimes-musician father. Here she was introduced to (and immersed in) the bluesy, country-folk sounds of Leadbelly, Townes Van Zandt and Big Bill Broonzy and began to write and play her own songs.
She moved to San Francisco in the early '80s and embraced the city's punk scene. The move also led to her life-long interest in political activism. She was arrested several times at protests (she would later use a photo of herself being restrained by riot police -- one that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner -- as the cover for the album, Short Sharp Shocked).
Shocked soon returned home to Texas. But her mother -- misinterpreting her unusual lifestyle choices and personality traits as signs of mental illness -- had her committed to a psychiatric hospital. After the family's insurance ran out, she was released. She emerged from the ordeal with a new last name, commemorating not only the shock treatments she received while hospitalized, but also her stepfather, a Vietnam vet who had returned from the war "shell-shocked" and forever changed.
"It was inspired by growing up as an Army brat myself," she revealed from the stage during a 1988 performance. "And feeling like I'd seen war, even though I'd never been to the front." These experiences also strengthened her leftist beliefs, which became deeply infused in her music.
Shocked traveled throughout the United States and became involved in various activist movements around the country. She even moved to Amsterdam and lived there briefly before returning again to Texas in 1986, where she was discovered and recorded at the famous Kerrville Folk Festival by English producer Pete Lawrence. The subsequent recordings were released as the Texas Campfire Tapes, which reached No.1 on the independent charts in England. She was immediately pursued by labels and eventually wound up on Mercury records. They issued her Grammy-nominated album, Short Sharp Shocked in 1988, which also garnished an MTV Best Female Video nomination for the song, "On the Greener Side." Her following two releases (Captain Swing and Arkansas Traveler) proved to be brilliant and diverse and featured collaborations with artists such as Pops Staples, Taj Mahal, Alison Krauss and Levon Helm. But Mercury was not pleased with Shocked's stylistic inconsistency and refused to support a proposed gospel-influenced record.
Angered by this squelching of her creativity, she filed suit against the label seeking to be released from her contract. She eventually won her lawsuit and began promoting her independently produced albums herself.
After battling the record industry heavies, she found a kindred spirit in the Hothouse Flowers' Fianchna O'Braonain and released the appropriately titled album, Artists Make Lousy Slaves with him in 1996. Shocked's contribution to the soundtrack for Tim Robbins' film, Dead Man Walking ("Quality of Mercy") cemented artistic comparisons to Bruce Springsteen (also on the record) and protest-era Bob Dylan.
Having no current label affiliation has left Shocked free to follow her unique muse. Dub Natural -- released this year and available only at live performances -- takes another complete musical left turn and reflects the more instrumental and dub-reggae influences she is currently exploring. The album is a dub version of a full-blown vocal project that she plans to put out later this year, tentatively titled Deep Natural.
Shocked is a storyteller, able to transform her own tragedies, triumphs and politics into intimate, often challenging music. And though she may not be able to tell you exactly where she's going, you're always welcome to come along for the ride.-- Tiina Teal
Michelle Shocked performs at The Met on Thursday, June 14, at 8 pm. Tickets: $18. Call: 325-SEAT.