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Funky As Ever 

The Greyboy Allstars, together again, Citta di Vitti's jazzy soundtracks

The Greyboy Allstars. Submitted Photo
  • The Greyboy Allstars. Submitted Photo

The Greyboy Allstars first came together 15 years ago at the Green Circle Bar in San Diego, a club that's now gone like a cool breeze. A DJ who calls himself Greyboy spun funk, soul and boogaloo jazz records there. A scene developed and there was a call for live music. With the help of saxophonist Karl Denson, who'd played with Lenny Kravitz, Greyboy assembled an all-star combo drawing players from various area bands, among them guitarist Mike Andrews aka Elgin Park, bassist Chris Stillwell, drummer Zak Najor, and organist Robert Walter.

"The Green Circle was cool," recalled Walter when I caught up with him via cell at his relatively new home in New Orleans. "It was in a sort of crappy part of town, off the beaten path with no other clubs around. It was kind of a hipster bar where people dressed up. They had a few touring acts. Greyboy was the DJ, he played every weekend and also on Wednesdays. Wednesday was our night; he'd play before us and after, and we'd play two big sets."

Greyboy wasn't really in the band but served a role that Walter described as "spiritual advisor" and a "taste thermometer."

"He helped us avoid any tackiness in the style. He was all about a certain era of records, which was basically soul-funk and jazz records from, like, 1967-1972. That was the golden age that influenced us. So we got turned onto all this music, and from there we insinuated our own personalities into it and it became something else. But that's how it started, as a tribute to Prestige and Blue Note funky jazz records."

In 1995 the band released an album called West Coast Boogaloo with Fred Wesley from James Brown's band producing. The Greyboy Allstars took off, although when they hit the road, Greyboy typically stayed at home. Over time the various players spun off on what they deemed "sidecar projects." Elgin put a rock band together under his nom de plume. Walter formed a combo he called Robert Walter's 20th Congress, then there was Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. The Greyboy association ultimately fell by the wayside, as the various players became stars in the then-nascent jamband scene. Walter and Denson in particular became national stars in that scene.

Then a couple of years ago the Allstars decided to reassemble for a tour, then for an album, What Happened to Television?with Greyboy at the helm. It was a natural thing to do, and almost inevitable. Says Walter, "For me personally — and I don't know if Karl feels the same, but I have a feeling he does — doing those other things is great because I get to play more of my own music and push my aesthetic and all that, but as far as a band, I've always been trying to chase this sound, trying to have a band that sounds as good as this one. You know, there's something about the interaction of players and the democratic nature of the group that makes it easier and better sounding than other things. You might have some idea you can't pursue because we still go for a narrow aesthetic, but when you get in a room and start playing a groove, it just — it just sounds great."

It's true. The music sounds great, as funky as ever, kinda jammy and very cool. The Greyboy Allstars are now preparing for a spring tour (it's spring as of 5:58 p.m. Thursday), reassembling once more to hit the road with almost all of the original line-up (Najor has been replaced by drummer Aaron Redfield). A West Coast jaunt brings the boys to Eureka on Monday, March 24, for a show at Red Fox Tavern with an added bonus: Underground hip hop artist Busdriver opens.

Oakland-based jazz saxophonist Phillip Greenliefhas a new project going. He spent some time watching moody films by Michelangelo Antonioni,Red Desert, L'Eclisse and L'Avventura, all of them starring the stunning actress Monica Vitti. As he watched with the sound on mute, he composed spontaneous soundtracks. He then brought in a rhythm section, a duo known as duo B. with Lisa Mezzacappa on contrabass and Jason Levis on drums and percussion. The trio, dubbed Citta di Vitti, also performs compositions written by Nino Rota for the films of Federico Fellini. They'll be playing these soundtracks Saturday, March 22, at Avalon during the dinner hour and on March 23 at Muddy's Hot Cup during what would qualify as Sunday brunch. Make this music your own soundtrack.

Is anyone still playing ska? Well, yes. Boss 501, a six-piece comprised of Chico State students, plays ska and rocksteady along with primal reggae and dub at the Jambalaya on Thursday. Local feral jazz band Dogbone opens.

For roots and culture style reggae stop by Six Rivers Friday where Jamaican-born New Yorker Sister Carol, aka Mother Culture, brings in The Yellow Wall Dub Squad, a team of JA-studio vets, and special guest Ms. Annicia Banks. Humboldt transplant Elhadji (from Senegal) opens.

Also in the reggae mode and also playing Friday, Amha Baraka and the Living Man Band, led by a singer out of Washington D.C. via San Francisco.

The local rock 'n' rollerskate crowd gathers Friday at Aunty Mo's Lounge (formerly Indigo, Club West before that) for the Redwood Rollers roller derby team benefit art and dessert auction/rock show featuring heaviness from Dragged by Horses and Side Iron, very indie rock by Arrogant Hare and feminist punk by Kill the Switch.

Young rockers Steel Toed Slippers play at an Equinox election event Friday at Beginnings Octagon for apple grower/Supes candidate Clif Clendenen. STS also joins up with above-mentioned punkers Kill the Switch, post-punk rockers This Dying Wish and Portland psyche metal duo Palo Verde for a Placebo show (yes, all ages) Saturday at the Ink People space in the back of the Muni.

Later that night at the Alibi, it's more Portland metal with Facepilot (on the stoner rock side) along with Tacoma sludge rock duo Lozen. What, no local support?

Paul from the arty alt. rock band No Not Yet (whom I have not heard yet) writes to say NNY is playing Saturday at the Jambalaya with Tao Jonesers and the punky The Baby Arms. "Or, if you prefer," says Paul, "one really complicated band: No Baby Joneser Arms, Not Tao Yet."

Are you missing The Rubberneckers? Two of them, Clay Smith (the one who's not a journalist) and Brendan Otto play Monday at Big Pete's.

Across town Monday at theArcata Playhouse saucy comedy duo Cass King and John Woods akaThe Wet Spotsoffer a somewhat kinky sex-ed vaudeville/music review.

Since Leftover Salmon spawned and floated downstream a few years back, guitarist Vince Herman has turned his attention to a new project, Great American Taxi, pursuing a slightly less "polyethnic" take on Americana. For the current GAT tour, which comes to the Red Fox Tuesday, the band also includes pedal-steel player Barry Sless from the David Nelson Band, Phil and Friends, The Dead, etc. Added bonus: They're on the road with Colorado-based Victor Barnes, who offers "insurgent bluegrass" as the opening act.

Those in search of high-toned entertainment might want to take in the Tchaikovsky Perm Balletperformance ofRomeo and JulietTuesday*at the*Van Duzer. Is this the real deal? Well, the Russian dance troupe travels with a full orchestra instead of a CD player, if that's any indication.

Next Thursday, March 27, marks the 16th Annual Taste of Main Street, a mobile grazing party with nibblers ranging among 21 sites in downtown and Old Town Eureka. The night also marks the beginning of this year's Redwood Coast Jazz Festival, about which you'll hear much more next week. The kick-off is a Big Band Danceat the Adorni with music by Swing Fever, a quarter-century-old band from the Bay Area that swings on tunes by Duke, the Count, Gershwin, Porter and the like. Ready to swing? This is the start of a long weekend made for dancers.

I got an e-mail the other day from Folklifer/songsterJoel Sonenshein. He's coordinating ahouse concert featuringAudrey Auld-Mezera,an*Australian expat songwriter who lives in Bolinas (in Marin County) and sings like she's from the South instead of the land down under. She'll be in town next Friday, March 28, with ace*guitar player Andrew Hardin, who played for many years with Texas folky Tom Russell. The house concerts work like this: Joel sends the details out via e-mail to a hundred or so people. They pass it along to friends; everyone needs to e-mail or call to set up a reservation and to find out whose house the show is at. Having attended a few of these shows, I can testify that it's an incredibly intimate way to experience music up close and personal. Over the weekend Joel called me asking for help with a little disaster. Something went haywire in his e-mail program: All of his e-mail is irretrievably lost and so is his e-mail list. He's not sure who's coming to this show and he can't inquire. Now computers are pretty much black boxes to me — I can't fix his e-mail — but I can do this, post the house party man's e-mail address: Going to see Audrey? Were you on the list before? Want to be on it now? Drop him a line and help him resurrect his list.

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About The Author

Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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