Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blue Eternity Relaxes and Stimulates

Left to right: Manring, Oster, Weingarten last year
Last night I got more than I expected when I went to the 1400 Bar and Grill in Alameda, California to hear Michael Manring. Michael is one of the world's best fretless electric bassists, and he plays solo and with a variety of other interesting musicians.

I got there about 8 p.m. and found out that the music wouldn't begin until about 9:30 p.m. So--I sat and watched (without sound) a good portion of the London Olympics opening ceremony. I also started the first of two pints of Rye'd Piper, a strong, fragrant ale that 1400 offers on tap for a mere $5. When I heard a horn and bass tuning up around 9:15, I migrated to the rear of the 100-year-old facility to transition my attention to the music.

Blue Eternity, an ensemble of four fine musicians, puts out what you might call "Smooth Jazz" except that it is more than just smooth. Although the seven people at the round table near me continued with their animated conversation after the music started, I found myself riveted by the band's at times mellow, other times forceful music.

Trumpet and flugelhorn player Jeff Oster, the group's spokesperson and apparent leader, provided a clear and compelling part up front. I heard some of the great Jazz performers, such as Miles Davis, in his sound, and his own style, too. Jeff handed me his True CD to enjoy, which I will explore and blog about soon. Surrender is his latest effort, and you can find out more about it on his website.

The three other musicians are definitely not Jeff's "backup band"--all added significantly to the show. And Jeff, contributing something to the feeling of a jam, at times set down his horn and added incidental sounds from a triangle, metallic cup, or a small box that looked like a toy stove, all carefully placed on the end of his strategically located trumpet case. It all suited the mood.

Carl Weingarten, over to the left, made otherworldly sounds with his electric slide guitar, in open tuning and using looping, building a sonic orchestra of strings. Both as a perfect accompaniment for the other instruments and a thrillling soloist, he sounded like more than one guy. Carl kindly gave me one of his CDs during the break. Panomorphia is just the latest in a series of about 20 albums he's recorded over the last three decades. I look forward to exploring it and reporting back in a separate blog post.

Of course, I was there originally to hear Michael Manring, and he delivered, as always. We often think of the bass as a support, rhythm section instrument, and it does serve that function. Michael makes it do much more. While many of the selections were a mellow, trance-inducing sort, in a single droning key, a few times, Michael got things rolling and brought up the energy with his lightning-fast fingers on the fretless fingerboard. He uses various electronic effects, including something called an EBow, for extended sounds you can't get with just a pluck. He also started the second set with an extended solo performance that rocked the house, showing the tremendous range of colors and textures he can pull out of the four-string fretless bass.

After the show, I enjoyed a conversation with percussionist Tracy Tucker, who not only employed an amazing conga drum with an adjustable head (using a pedal), but sported some amazing tattoos on his arms. The theme was Indian spiritual, but also contained W.C. Fields' head. Whimsical, but serious too. Tucker helped keep the energy moving with his throbbing beat, coming closer to the foreground and then receding deftly into the background, maintaining the flow. He is also a shiatsu therapist, an area where he can influence the body in the same way his music affects the feelings and mind.

What an evening. Around 12:30 a.m., it ended and I rolled on home satisfied. A show at 1400 is an inexpensive and entertaining way to get out, and I will seek out the Blue Eternity musicians--separately and together--again. One memory--hearing Blue Eternity's last number and looking over to my left and seeing Sir Paul McCartney on three video screens playing "Hey Jude" in front of 2 billion people. The power of music.



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