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December 21, 2006

Heading: Tis the Season, The Hum by Bob Doran

It's that time again. The Season. Yes, the "holidays" are upon us (or, if you prefer, holidaze). Winter Solstice is Thursday, Dec. 21 (at 4:25 p.m. PST to be exact). It's the point when the Earth's axis is at its maximum tilt away from the Sun, which makes for the shortest day in the year, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. As long as mankind has paid attention to such things there have been celebrations around this transition time, and it's no coincidence that the big X: Xmas, is right around the corner. And of course there's Hanukkah (Dec. 15-23), Kwanzaa (Dec. 24), and Eid ul-Adha (Dec. 30), a Muslim holiday connected with Ramadan that I learned about when I went to the Arcata Post Office looking for stamps for our Christmas cards.

Funny story, true too: On my most recent visit to said Post Office, a crowded afternoon as usual, I was standing in line behind a couple who were buying one of the Mickey Mouse shipping boxes the UPS sells, presumably eliminating the need for gift wrap. There's a poster on the front counter showing all the available holiday stamps -- all of the above are honored except for Solstice (unless you count the secular snowflakes as symbolic of Winter) -- including a stamp with a very Christian portrait of the Madonna and Child by the Peruvian artist Ignacio Chacón.

The guy looks at the poster and says to his wife, "Now why in the world would they make a stamp with Madonna on it?" He's disgusted by the notion that the pop star would be honored in that way.

I had to intercede. "It's not the singer," I tell him. "It's a painting of Jesus and his mom -- that's the Madonna on the stamp, Jesus' mother."

"Is that right?," he replies. "I did not know that. Jeez, you learn something new every day."

Moving on to music this week, well, there isn't a whole lot since school's out and a bunch of clubs are on seasonal hiatus. There are a few shows however, including, for some reason I can't explain, a fair number by jazz combos.

A note came in last week from young saxophonist Anthony Diamond: "I am finishing up another quarter at Stanford and will be home over Winter break to play a few gigs," he wrote, adding. "I've been enjoying playing with the Stanford Jazz Orchestra and will be touring with them next summer in Europe." He went on to explain that the gigs all include bassist Shao Way Wu. Friday, Dec. 22, they jazz it up at Humboldt Brews with guitarist Dan Anderson filling out a trio. Saturday, Dec. 23, Duncan Burgess takes the guitar chair for a post-dinner show at Avalon benefiting the music program at Anthony's alma mater, the Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy. (You might think about getting an advance ticket for this one since Avalon is not that big.) Then on Saturday, Dec. 30, they're around the corner at the Pearl in a trio that includes drummer Pablo Rotter.

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Speaking of the Pearl, they have two jazz shows this weekend: Friday, Dec. 22, it's Pocket Jazz with guitarist Clint Warner (taking a break from the blues), Rick Nelson on keys, drummer Rob Anderson and bassist Chris Matheos. Says Clint, "The first time out was so positive that we are back by popular demand -- funky jazz fusion with some Latin spice." Then on Saturday night the Pearl has the Sam Maez Quartet delivering a taste of straight-ahead jazz.

Advance warning: One of the hot New Year's Eve tickets is the show at the Pearl featuring Humboldt's favorite bluesman Earl Thomas and the Blues Ambassadors -- it will undoubtedly sell out.

Back to jazz: Mosgo's in Westwood has Mr. Calamari's Jazz Machine (the jazzy version of Dr. Squid) on Thursday followed by a Friday gig by jazz singer Courtney Weaver.

The Barel Alexander Sextet is at Old Town Coffee Saturday night, and I have to admit I'm not familiar with Barel, so I'm just guessing that it's a jazz combo based on the sextet part.

Pianist Brian Post and bassist Tami Pallingston are down at the Benbow Inn most of the week playing "Blues, Bossas and Ballads," even on Christmas Day.

Also down SoHum way, is a sort of new band, or maybe just reorganized. As explained in a recent e-mail, "©ash ©ow is the newly revamped, revised and rebopped rendition of the once dreamy eyed idealistic hippie SoHum eclectic electric minstrel band, The Non-Prophets, who have sold out and are bringing their 'hands-in-your-pockets' version of pure capitalist rock 'n' roll to Cecil's on Friday, Dec. 22.

Over the years the band had played so many benefits for non-profits they ultimately became The Non-Prophets. But no more! Lurching from the rusted hulk of a beat-up Toyota, a spokesperson for the band, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained, "Ya know, it's like, do it for the trees, do it for the kids, do it for peace, do it for some damn DA ... Where's the thanks? Where's the love? Where's the money dammit?" BTW, despite the new name, there's no cover at Cecil's.

Also in the rock-ish raucous vein, Fickle Hillbillies play Friday at Six Rivers, and no, despite what you might guess from their name, this is not a bluegrass band, more along psychedelic jamrock lines. Some of the members are also in the Dead tribute band The Ripple Effect, and concert photographer John Chapman is one of the guitar players (check out some of his work at If I remember right, the band got its start jamming at John's place on Fickle Hill, thus the name.

More rock: Saturday, Dec. 23, at Six Rivers, an all local triple bill with neo-punkers The Social Ills, alt. garage band Bella Dramatic, and Humboldt's finest alt. cover band, The Professional Superheroes.

Remember The 3 Heads? The rock/pop outfit formed in Eureka then headed for the bright lights of L.A. to make it big. The Heads have a new CD just out, something they call The Holiday EP, although it's certainly not a Christmas album (one of the songs is titled "Holiday"). Anyway, they're back in town this Saturday playing a show at the Indigo that I'm told is a celebration of someone's birthday. Actually it was Colin from Strix Vega who told me when he showed up at a holiday party in my 'hood. The Strix boys are opening the show and they're a little bit jazzed at the prospect of playing at Indigo since it has a real stage and all. His bandmate Andy reiterated the sentiment in an e-mail that came in as I was writing this.

Andy adds, "We've been enjoying some time off from a busy schedule, and we're slowly working on new material and booking more out-of-town shows. We've been finding when we're on the road that a good amount of people have heard of the Humboldt music scene -- quite impressive. So the scene up here is doing something right, and it's helping us get people out to the shows.

"Hopefully the impending winter weather is treating you well, and I hope readers aren't giving you a hard time for the 'potty mouth.' Take care ...."

No, no complaints re: my bad language; lots of comments, however. And thanks for asking.

A note came last week from Gini at the Metro asking for my "Top 5" list for the year to be included in some in-store display. "Please (if possible) limit your selections to items we could actually carry in the store (so no download-onlys, bootlegs, mash-ups, etc). The plan is to generate interest in said titles and hopefully result in some sales."

OK, that leaves out the Richard Thompson live recording I've been listening to (thanks, Dan) and a bunch of tracks I've pulled off various MP3 blogs. Here's what I came up with:

Coolest, swampiest and dubbiest CD sent to me by a publicist: Brightblack Morning Light (self-titled), the semi-major label debut for the band that sort of started up in Arcata. Saw them play for free at HSU and hung out with them for a little the next day at the Farmers' Market, which made me realize their coolness is not just an act -- they're for real. The record is kind of like one long song, but that's fine with me.

Favorite album purchased at a show: Brett Dennen -- So Much More. Folk/pop singer/songwriter who exudes sincerity -- and he truly is a nice guy. Stop by his MySpace and hear his topical web-only Christmas offering: "The Holidays Are Here (And We're Still at War)".

Next big thing: Corinne Bailey Rae (self-titled). Jazzy singer from England who could be the next Norah Jones, and that's not so bad. Discovered her song "Put Your Records On" on some MP3 blog, next thing I knew she was popping up everywhere.

Most amazing vocals: Camille -- Le Fils. This French chanteuse has a thoroughly modern sound. One song, "Ta Douleur," hooked me when I heard it on Charlie Gillett's BBC-London radio show. Finding the CD wasn't easy, but now it's out on Real World/Narada, an American label.

Best box: Tom Waits -- Orphans. A 3-CD set I thought about buying for myself, but got for my birthday from someone who knows just what I want. Dark, deep, the opposite of easy listening, it's a collection of orphaned songs, outtakes and tracks from compilations, but mixed with new songs. Just "The Road To Peace," his dead-on dissection of the eye-for-an-eye nature of modern war, makes it pretty much worth the price of admission.

That's five. I would probably have included Dylan's Modern Times, but I don't own it yet (hint, hint). And I have to add one more, well, two, even though they weren't released last year. I checked my iTunes counter to see what I've actually listened to the most. The Golden Morning Breaks and Everyone Alive Wants Answers are a pair of semi-ambient discs by someone who calls herself Colleen (her real name is Cecile Schott). Loopy organic samples woven together create warm soundscapes hinting at stories untold. It's the perfect background music when I'm working at my computer and want to drift along. Nothing is really answered, but that's OK by me. Did I generate any interest? If so, buy someone some music for whatever holiday you prefer. And have a merry happy!

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