Oct 7, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 40

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Tower of Power pulls out the funk, the Dead Kenny G's turn in a psychotic jam session at Jazz Alley
Tower of Power pulls out the funk, the Dead Kenny G's turn in a psychotic jam session at Jazz Alley
By Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

Mild-mannered Jazz Alley was transformed into a rocking disco when Tower of Power rolled into town for four days, then into a raucous jam session for a one-night, ones-set show by the Dead Kenny G's. Two more different acts could not be imagined.

All of the seats were filled for Tower of Power's performances last weekend. A few walk-up patrons were lucky to be granted seats at Thursday evening's late show, but otherwise the house was packed to the rafters. As the audience waited for the group to begin, I couldn't imagine how the small stage would hold all ten members of the band. They made it work, of course, and easily got the crowd clapping along to a song from their new album, "Eastside."

The music tempted us to get out of our seats. Early in the set it proved to be too much for one couple, who did a few turns during "Just Enough and Too Much"; they were joined by others on the de facto dance floor as the next song started up ("To Say the Least You're the Most"), although I'm not sure how the people seated behind them felt about it. Actually, most of folks up front were already standing and shaking their booties. Although it wasn't quite a mosh pit around the stage, it did resemble a dance club more than the sedate, supper club I've come to love. Believe me, the sight of five guys working their horns - on their knees, no less - in such a small space is not one I'll soon forget.

TOP had everyone clapping as they swung into their hits "You Ought to Be Havin' Fun" and "Don't Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream." Singer Larry Brag had the audience in the palm of his hands for most of the night, except when he handed the mike over to band leader Emilio Castillo on the contagious "Diggin' on James Brown." As they finished with their ultimate anthem "What is Hip" and left the stage, we quickly brought them back for an encore, chanting "T-O-P, T-O-P." I know, you're kicking yourself for missing it. Luckily, the Tower is back every year. I can't think of a better place to partake of TOP than at Jazz Alley, where there's not a bad seat in the house.

The Alley followed its successful weekend with a rare Monday night show featuring the trio the Dead Kenny G's. These guys barely fit on the stage, too, but it was mostly because of the number of instruments they brought on board. Many in the small audience looked forward to their unpredictable, at times psychotic jamming. Meanwhile, it seems I was anticipating a more punk sound than the Dead were prepared to deliver. I know, I recommended that you give these guys a listen-to, and I apologize if it wasn't your cup of tea; most of the time it wasn't mine, either.

There were bits that definitely worked for me. Every once in a while the guys would hit a groove, slipping and sliding between a breakneck, manic frenzy and a moodier, mellow equilibrium. Unfortunately they'd lose the groove - or purposefully drop it - again. I'm not sure if it was because of my fuzzy head (was it only a coincidence that my sinuses started to drain during the show? I don't think so), but I found myself wishing they'd pick it up again, or just drop it altogether. And let me tell you, while I love funky instruments, a little of the melodica (a teeny organ that gets its air power from a straw-like tube you blow through) goes a really, really long way. I was over it by the end of the second tune. Clearly I'm more middle-of-the-road than true free-jazz fan; although I appreciate improvisation, for me the set was too uneven.

While saxophonist Skerik had a lot of fine moments, I think I'd attribute the successes the trio found to percussionist Mike Dillon, who at times I thought would surely bust a skin. I'd find myself wishing they'd end the groove they were on - when my ass began to notice the seat cushion, for instance - and then Dillon's drums would kick in and it would suddenly all be good again. Keyboardist Brian Haas opened solo for the group, playing an original composition and a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes. His most successful piece for me was an interpretation of the Beatles' tune "Happiness is a Warm Gun," although some of his embellishments seemed over-thought, swallowing up the originating song. All in all, my evening with the Dead Kenny G's left me with a pounding head and watering eyes, although that may be the cold medication talking. Kudos to Jazz Alley for taking a risk.

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