& & by Randy Matin & &

Oh my Lord. Oh well. Here we go again," is about all Chris Shinn can predict for the future of his new band, UNIFIED THEORY. Twice before, Shinn has been this close to stardom, and each time the record company that was poised to launch his career crumbled, folded and disappeared. Along with the Aug. 15 release date for Unified Theory's self-titled album came the announcement that Universal Records, for whom the band records on the 3:33 Music label, has again changed corporate hands.

As much as the expression "here we go again" indicates that Shinn and company may be in for a white knuckle ride, it also strikes a positive note for Shinn's bandmates: former Blind Melon guitarist and bass player Christopher Torn and Brad Smith who believe they are, once again, in fine musical company following the heroin overdose death of Blind Melon's singer Shannon Hoon. The new band plays Ichabod's on Friday.

Knowing better than to try to repackage Blind Melon, the Seattle-based Torn and Smith spent several years, as Shinn describes it in a telephone interview from his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., "searching for a singer, a band or anything they could believe in."

Shinn, a supple alto and songwriter, had no intention becoming a replacement for Hoon. "I wasn't about to become the guy that everyone hated. I've worked too hard to do what I'm doing. And in our early meetings we had some loose conversation about Christopher joining my band."

While Torn and Smith were mourning the loss of Hoon, Shinn, now 25, was also going through trying times. He'd first had a development deal with Chrysalis Records, at age 19 after moving from Charlotte to Los Angeles, that gave him the budget to hire a band and record demos under the group name Celia Green.

Then Chrysalis folded, as did Shinn's next label affiliation. And if that wasn't enough, Shinn's house burned down, wiping out all the band's equipment and the new tapes that they were just about to deliver to Virgin Records.

"Talk about setbacks!" exclaims Shinn, who sports dreadlocks and favors high-heeled shoes and fashions by Diesel.

Named after a psychologist who proved in the '60s that all humans experience lucid dreaming, Celia Green issued two promo-only EPs, the latter of which was passed on to Thorn by a mutual friend.

Over dinner and sake at Yamashiro in Los Angeles, it was decided that Shinn would go to Seattle for a week to meet Smith and see what the trio could come up with. Album cuts "Passive" and the dreamy "Cessna" were the first to pop.

"Once we realized we were going to be a band, we took a little honeymoon down to the Bahamas. That was a really beautiful time for all of us," says Shinn, whose seafaring father lent the lads his schooner for the voyage from Florida to the islands. "We got a lot of closure on big issues and continued writing."

Made buoyant by aquatic imagery, the song "Fin" was born in the Bahamas. "That song defines the band in every way. Like 'Passive,' it's got all our different movements from heavy to soft and the kind of dreamy vibes we were going for. Kind of a 'Back to Zen,' thing," says Shinn who was raised on his mother's Bruce Springsteen records and his father's preference for playing George Jones at top volume.

Following the honeymoon, the future began to look hazy for Unified Theory, with Thorn leaving to tour and record with the band Live, and drummer Dave Krusen still on the road with Candlebox.

"At first I thought it was going to take a year to get our album together, and I even considered moving back to L.A.," says Shinn. "But Christopher was willing to give up his gig with Live if we wanted him too. So every day he was in town we would cram every minute in and do something on the record."

Doing things piecemeal at Thorn's Lucky Dog home studio and Smith's Stankface, the album came together with Matthew Steer filling the drums chair on three songs, Smith doubling on the organ, flute, bells and horns and Thorn adding strings, mellotron, mandolin and lap steel. The ever ambitious Smith -- dubbed "Hobby Guy" by his bandmates -- also found time to record an unreleased solo album Brokendown Jalopy from which comes Unified Theory's first single "California."

Taking its name from the unproved and unfinished Unified Theory that Einstein was working on at the time of his death, Shinn says, "If there is an overall theme to the band, it's that we try to have everything in order. We are going for an album like [Pink Floyd's] Dark Side of the Moon. The kind of record that you go home and kick back by the fire with headphones on. When you listen to it from top to bottom, everything should make sense up to the very last word."

& & & lt;i & Unified Theory and Stigma play Ichabod's North on Friday, Feb. 16, at 9:30 pm. Cover: $7. Call: 328-5720. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & Good Vibes & &

& & by Mike Corrigan & & & &

Each year, Moscow, Idaho, becomes -- for a moment -- the center of the jazz universe. Of all the festivals in the world dedicated to this distinctly American musical form, the University of Idaho's LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL has the distinction of being the only one in which bona fide jazz greats have the opportunity to sit down with music students and directly share their experience. It's without peer. It's huge. And it's happening at the U of I campus, Feb. 21-24.

The annual festival (now in its 34th year) draws thousands of students from all over the world, jazz aficionados from far and wide and some of the music's most stellar names. Jazz luminaries who have participated in past festivals include Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Wynton Marsalis, Gerry Mulligan and Sarah Vaughan.

Students from all over North America and from as far away as Japan will be descending on Moscow to partake in the copious musical feast. And while the nights are filled with concert performances, the days are filled with instruction, mentoring and competition.

"It's going to be another record-setting year," remarks Festival Director Lynn J. Skinner. "They'll be coming in by bus and plane and filling up every available space in town."

This year's lineup features, among dozens of others, the Ray Brown Trio, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Joe Lovano and Paquito D'Rivera. But it is vibraphonist and bandleader Lionel Hampton himself (along with his New York Big Band) who is the creative heart and soul of the festival.

Hampton has been a major figure in the world of jazz performance since the mid '30s. He began as a drummer, but switched to the vibraphone at the suggestion of Louis Armstrong with whom he performed and recorded. In 1936, Hampton was officially "discovered" by Benny Goodman and would go on to play with many of the top names in jazz, either as a sideman with Goodman, Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson, or as leader (beginning in 1940) of his own big band. His talent, unbridled enthusiasm and impeccable showmanship have made Hamp -- now in his eighth decade of performing -- a much loved and widely recognized giant of the genre. He will be at the forefront of all the evening concerts.

Of the four festival performances, one is of special note. The All-Star Concert on Friday night will be a special tribute to the late Al Grey, a jazz trombone legend and frequent participant in the festival. The concert will be performed by an 11-piece instrumental ensemble featuring Hampton on vibes, Bill Watrous, Carl Fontana, Benny Powell and Mike Grey on trombone, Clark Terry on trumpet, Benny Golson on sax, Hank Jones on piano, Russell Malone on guitar, Christian McBride on bass and drummer, Jeff Hamilton. Featured vocalists will be Lou Rawls and Ethel Ennis.

"This is very important to the festival," says Skinner who is pleased to announce that Grey's entire collection has been donated to U of I's International Jazz Collections. "Al Grey gave so much to the students, his friend Lionel Hampton and to the jazz fans around the world."

Few festivals are truly deserving of the title "not to be missed." Thanks to the dedication and giving spirit of Hampton and nearly 80 of his peers in

& & & lt;i & The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Concerts are held in the University of Idaho's Kibbie Activity Center on Feb. 21-24. Wednesday and Thursday night's performances begin at 7:30 pm. Friday and Saturday night's performances begin at 8 pm. Tickets: $18-$28. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & Motor On, Velvet Alex & &

& & by Mike Corrigan & & & &

Though currently residing in the San Francisco area, the four members of VELVET ALEX originally hail from the Beehive State -- Salt Lake City, to be precise. The human components of this band include guitarist Mike Doran, drummer Sean Higgins, bassist Michelle Minchey and singer Cameo Bown. When they first hit the road a couple of years ago, they found that instead of a liability, the fact that they were from a town not normally thought of as big musically actually helped them get gigs. And when people came out to see them play, any and all potentially lowered expectations were instantly met and exceeded.

"I can't believe you guys are from Utah," became the mantra.

Velvet Alex is coming to Ichabod's on Wednesday night (they also play at John's Alley in Moscow on Thursday) to support their new full-length CD, Not the Only Alien. The album, like everything the band undertakes, is a product of the member's strict adherence to the do-it-yourself ethic and an all-consuming dedication, both emotionally and monetarily. They've survived and advanced by scrimping, saving and pouring every nickel they earn through day jobs back into the band and recording. To avoid the Bay area's notoriously high rents, for instance, the foursome eats, sleeps and works within the confines of a 32-foot motor home. The same motor home they use for road tripping.

Their story is easy to nail down. Defining their sonic signature? That, on the other hand, is a decidedly slippery affair. For lack of standard pigeon-holing terminology, I'll venture a few of my own. How about groove-pop with a dash of electronica. Maybe trip-hop rock. Or, new wave a go go?

Or how about you go check them out for yourselves?

& & & lt;i & Velvet Alex plays Ichabod's on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 9:30 pm. Cover: $4. Call: 328-5720. Also at John's Alley in Moscow on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 10 pm. Cover: $3. Call: (208) 882-7531. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Fridays, 5-8 p.m., Saturdays, 4-8 p.m. and Sundays, 3-6 p.m. Continues through Jan. 1
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