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The Hum by Bob Doran

April 15, 2004


Jazzy folk and folky jazz [photo of The Bills]

HIS REAL NAME IS CHRIS FRYE, BUT HIS FRIENDS CALL him Bill. His bandmates are also all known as Bill, although they all have other names. Confusing? The simple answer is that we're talking about a band called the Bills, formerly known as the Bill Hilly Band, although there is no one named Hilly.

"We don't like to confuse people," claimed Frye, calling from Victoria, B.C. "We like to make people happy." And don't confuse them with Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, who play at Frontierland in Disneyland. "That's one of the reasons we changed the band name to the Bills, but also it was because we do so much more than hillbilly music. The band has done very well with the old name, but it was time, after seven years, to become the Bills."

The music they make shares old timey mountain music's acoustic roots, but Frye is right in saying it's more than that. Their disc, All Day Every Day begins with a variation on a tune by Shostakovich, string band style, then moves through tasty takes on jazzy folk and folky jazz into an Italian tarantella and German polka (in one track), touching on East-Euro sounds and, yes, more mountain music, but perhaps the Canadian Rockies rather than the Appalachians. The range is wide and it's all good.

According to Bill, "We were a band with a lot of professional musicians who, at first, thought of this as sort of a side project. But the response grew and grew. There was a casual nature to it, but we took it seriously. The casualness was more about not having any boundaries on what we were doing."

Not to bring back the confusion, but Bill Guitar, aka Chris, also plays with Bill Mandolin, aka Marc Atkinson, in the Marc Atkinson Trio, a Django-esque instrumental jazz trio in which Marc plays guitar and Rev. Bill Bass, aka Glen Manders, plays bass. Got that? If not it will all become clear when you hear the Bills and the Marc Atkinson Trio in concert at Dell'Arte's Carlo Theater Tuesday, April 20. They will make you happy.

CenterArts has back-to-back mega-shows coming next week. Sunday, April 18, at the Van Duzer, it's 10-time Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin, master of a vocal style that has no name, it's his own thing, a smooth a cappella amalgam of jazz, folk and classical choral styles. You might remember him for his hit, "Don't Worry Be Happy," but fact is he's much deeper than that. When I think of McFerrin what comes to mind is a moving tune from his Medicine Man album called "Common Threads," originally written for a documentary about the AIDS quilt. No words, just Bobby singing "la-la, la-la, la-la-la, la-la," but in a way that relaxes me in an instant and takes me to some sublime place.

The next night, Monday, April 19, it's jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood at the Arcata Community Center. Of course "jazz trio" is kind of an understatement. Organ player John Medeski, drummer/percussionist Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood came out of New York's outside jazz scene and somehow brought the outside inside, adding a groove funk feel that won them fans in the jamband circuit, although they are not noodlers. Medeski's use of the Hammond B-3 organ inspired legions of modern organ trios, but this one is the original.

Thicker Than Thieves returns to Humboldt from San Diego Thursday, April 15, for another night of rockin' ska funk at Mazzotti's, with resident reggae DJ High Grade Sound opening. The following night TTT hits SoHum for another wild night at the Riverwood Inn (and yes, it really is on Friday; my apologies to anyone who missed Norton because of my inadvertent error). SoHum rockers N*P*K open the Riverwood show.

Placebo shows just how eclectic they can get this weekend with two shows: First, on Friday, it's the return of that cool garage blues band, Turbo 400, plus a couple of Bay Area garage punk combos, Juvinals and Teenage Harlets (who BTW are guys, not girls). The blast of rock is paired with underground hip hop by Z-Man and 8-Bit, all of this providing a soundtrack for Arts Manila! featuring work by noise/visual artist Mike Sargent.

Saturday at the Placebo it's psychedelic cowgirl folksinger Jodie Marston, local singer-songwriter Mike Conway, lo-fi psych-pop stars Shaking Hands, plus something different: Will Oldham's guitarist Robert Arellano, reading from his new novel, Don Dimaio of La Plata.

Did you miss that big reading at CR? Perhaps you just want to hear more from some of the poets who read there. Stop by the Booklegger in Eureka Friday, April 16, where Jerry Martien, Jude Nutter, Celia Homesley, Daryl Chinn and Dan "Zev" Levinson read from their work -- and bring along a donation for California Poets in the Schools.

Looking for somewhere to dance the night away? Friday at Six Rivers Old Town the Joyce Hough Band plays for the salt `n' pepper crowd. Saturday, same place, it's AfroCuban salsa by Ponche!, plus, from San Diego, Agua Dulce, playing less traditional salsa with touches of funk and Santana-esque rock. (Agua Dulce is on their own at 6-Rivers OT Sunday night.)

Metalheads and headbangers can choose between two shows Thursday, April 15: Entheogen, Delinquent Order and Dragged By Horses are at the Schooner. Cougar brings heaviness down from Portland; they're joined by one-man "electropunk" band Gonken, aka Jason Chamberland. Most of the music Gonken created for his latest, Self Pleasurevation, was done using multi-tracking on a computer. On the road? "A lot of the backing tracks are loaded on a mini-disc player," he explained, "then I do a lot of improv noise and toy keyboard parts and fills and I sing. Someone told me it's like karaoke from hell."

More metal at the Alibi Wednesday, April 21: kings of gore metal Exhumed plus our own Entheogen, who also play the night before, Tuesday, April 20, up on campus at the annual KRFH Battle of the Bands. As usual we're talking about a ridiculously wide range of styles, from funk to punk, indie rock to post-rock, metal to pre-rock: Brother Dog, Bump Foundation, Datura Blues, Delinquent Order, Entheogen, Ginger Brown, the Ian Fayes, Mad River Project, Old Man Clemins and Population Reduction. It all starts at 6 p.m. at the Kate Buchanan Room; just five bucks gets you in.

Female Fun and Culturama take over Rumours that same night for an underground hip hop extravaganza featuring Z-Man from 99th Demention/Sacred Hoop, Mikah 9 from Freestyle Fellowship, CVE and Cypher 7 from Afterlife/Project Blowed, DJ Brooklyn Science from Hip Stop Records plus hip hop painter Forest Stearns of E2 and, of course, Mr. Culturama himself, Thanksgiving Brown. BTW, there will also be an instore at the Hip Stop in Sunny Brae that afternoon.

Meanwhile reggae peeps will be celebrating 4/20 at the Bayside Grange with a "Gathering of Jah Tribes" featuring Kin Dread, Toni D. and Friends, Bianca Monki, Amber Nill and the Celtic Circle (I'm guessing these are not all reggae bands) plus bellydancers, a hemp fashion show, a ceremonial smudge and sacred drum circle. It's an all-day thing, starts at 2:30, ends at midnight.

There's more eclecticism Wednesday, April 21, at Saffire Rose, where Matt from Monosyllabic Records (and formerly Nap Attack) presents Anna Oxygen, a one-woman band from that indie rock haven Olympia, Wash., singing energetic neo-new wave tunes while accompanying herself with a strap-on keyboard/guitar thingy. Joining her, Mighty Bells and Stereoprimer, Matt's own one-man band. You get a free comp CD with admission; if you're lucky it's the one with that fine duo from McKinleyville, BHG.


Bob Doran



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