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The Hum by Bob Doran

Aug. 5, 2004


Photo and headline of Element 37

THE SEEMINGLY endless stream of improv bands out of Boulder, Colo., continues unabated, with the ambient/jazz/funk/rock trio, Element 37, making a first-time visit to Six Rivers Brewing next Thursday, Aug. 12.

E-37 guitarist Derek VanScoten explained that the band name comes from the rare alkaline metal rubidium (Atomic weight 37), chosen because it ignites spontaneously in air, a property he hopes his trio shares.

The band got its start after VanScoten and his old friend Will Gaw, a drummer, landed a regular gig playing at the Player's Club, a Boulder nightspot. "It was like a workshop, a place to get ideas together. We basically started out as an acid jazz combo, but have been moving more towards a songwriter-based direction."

The indefinite term "acid jazz," coined by some long-forgotten journalist, caught me off guard. What does it mean beyond instrumental jamming? VanScoten mentions Charlie Hunter, and like Hunter, he uses a number of gizmos on his guitar to bend the sound.

(A quick side note: The Charlie Hunter Trio will be at the Garberville Theater Aug. 19, playing tunes from their excellent just-released Ropeadope disc, Friends Seen and Unseen -- more on that next week.)

"We incorporate a lot of atmospheric effects and loops; I use a series of amps and guitars to generate different sounds from song to song, or even in the middle of a song," the guitarist continued.

The band's promo photo shows VanScoten clutching a dog-eared notebook, obviously something precious. What's in it? "It contains most of my lyric ideas; the first page is filled with song titles; it's things that pop up at any moment. In fact there was one day I had this idea when I was outside in the rain, there was no other paper around, so I jotted it down in the notebook. After I wrote it down, I had to go inside and throw the whole thing in the microwave, the ink was starting to smear." Fortunately the thing is not bound with staples, or unwanted spontaneous ignition may have resulted.

The local sub-elemental improv band Nucleus celebrates its four-year anniversary at Muddy Waters on Saturday, Aug. 7. The coffeehouse has not had much music over the summer, but will open that night just for the Nuke boys. What have they learned in the four years that took them back from Arcata to their hometown, Ithaca, N.Y., only to realize that Arcata was their real home? "Haven't learned a damn thing," said drummer Pete Ciotti, adding, "We've learned to live off bread and water in poverty. No, just kidding. We've learned a lot of good things, how to play better music, for one."

The band has spent the summer woodshedding and building a studio/practice space at their new place in Arcata. "We have our equipment together, and are starting to learn the computer programs we're going to use to master all the material we're getting ready to record. The new album will be even less of the jam thing and more rock `n' roll -- straight-ahead songwriting rock -- the direction we've been going towards for the last year and a half. We're still trying to achieve that ultimate rock album."

The Eureka Summer Concert Series on the Boardwalk rocks on for two more Thursdays: This week (Aug. 5) it's an R&B band, Soul Syndicate (not to be confused with the stellar reggae back-up band); next Thursday, Aug. 12, the series ends with the fabled Battle of the Bands, ending a summer-long promotion run by local rock station Power 96.3 FM.

As you might guess, the finalists who got enough votes from listeners to make it to the final showdown are both rock bands. Nobody's Star is a young semi-hard rock four-piece from Eureka, with Maegan Bates (who admits to being a Hanson fan) supplying vocals. When I say semi-hard rock, I'm referring to their guitar sound, and it's mostly in comparison to their competition, Top Dead Center, who have a considerably harder sound, thanks in part to their 16-year-old guitarist who, judging from the video clip posted at, grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix records. TDC's Web site does not provide much info; they seem to be from Eureka and they share management with Jimi Jeff and the Gypsy Band (playing this weekend at the Playroom). Not coincidentally, TDC shares a bill with Jimi Jeff at Clam Beach Inn next Friday, Aug. 13. Incidentally, while TDC in playing in McKinleyville, Nobody's Star will be on the road, for a short, ambitious jaunt to S.F. and L.A.

You can also catch Nobody's Star at Old Town Coffee Friday, Aug. 6, another indication of their softer side, since the coffeehouse normally books folksingers -- case in point, Eileen Hemphill-Haley plays there Saturday, Aug, 7, during Arts Alive!

Over at the Graves that night, the fine R&B/soul/blues band ShinBone, offers what is billed as a preview of the upcoming Blue Lake Blues Festival (Aug. 21 at Perigot Park) -- unfortunately since ShinBone had to cancel on the fest.

SoHum-based singer/songwriter/keyboard player Karie Hillery makes a rare NoHum appearance playing indie pop with New Age tendencies at Shorelines Gallery during Art Alive! Saturday, then heading east for the Ruth Lake Summer Festival, a benefit for the Humboldt Trinity Recreation Alliance and the local firefighters. Joining her at the fest, Mad River Project and California Backwoods.

The Placebo continues its low-key summer concert series Saturday, Aug, 7, with a vanload of underground rappers from Portland, Ore.: HIV Wolves, Sleepyhead and Shambles plus members of the local hip-hop outfit Optimystic Populists.

From what I hear, the Arcata Summer Arts and Music Series, Sundays on the Plaza, has been a little light on the arts booths, but the music has been great. (My mom especially liked the Bayou Swamis, who played last Sunday.) This Sunday (1-3 p.m.) the band is Superhelix, a local combo (briefly known as Brother Dog) who, believe it or not, just came off a tour with 311, Medeski, Martin and Woods and the Roots. According to Superhelix vocalist, Rick Elliott, who called from somewhere in the Nevada desert, the band played eight shows with 311 and company (on a side stage) across the Midwest and on the East Coast and a few on their own, all thanks to a well-connected new manager they hired down in L.A.

The band essentially evolved out of Arcata jam funk band Green Street Music, although Elliot explained that the new sound draws in a lot more elements. "We try to switch it up. We do a little bit of everything: a lot of rock `n' roll, hip hop, funk, jazz, reggae, metal -- we thrown it all in one bag, mix it up and see what comes out."

I'd love to hear them, but the truth is, it will have to be some other time -- I'll be elsewhere -- specifically I'll be in the hot sun at French's Camp "rumba skanking" with Bayanga at Reggae on the River. The muy caliente 10-piece outfit from Puerto Rico hits the stage just before 1, mixing traditional bomba rhythms with jazz, reggae, AfroCarribean and Brazilian sounds on a self-proclaimed mission to unite the world through music. I'm sure they'll fit right in at Reggae, an event dedicated to love, respect and unity. Perhaps I'll see you there.


Bob Doran



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