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Whatever It Is We Do 

Plays Monk plays jazz, Fishtank Ensemble and other choices

They’re back. The Redwood Jazz Alliance , that is. The collection of jazz educators and fans intent on bringing a wider range of improv music to Humboldt started with two concerts their first season. The RJA kicks off a more ambitious six show season Thursday, Sept. 27, with two shows at the Morris Graves Museum by the Bay Area-based trio Plays Monk . That would be drummer Scott Amendola (who also plays with Madeleine Peyroux and his own Scott Amendola Band), bassist Devin Hoff (from Nels Cline Singers with Scott) and clarinetist Ben Goldberg from Tin Hat, New Klezmer Trio, etc.

The Plays Monk moniker indicates the repertoire: tunes by the late great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Amendola knows Monk’s eccentric music pretty well. He was in TJ Kirk, a ’90s quartet with Charlie Hunter that focused on tunes by Thelonious (T), James Brown (J) and Roland Kirk. Plays Monk came together almost by accident a few years ago when Scott called Ben to see if he wanted to do a gig.

“He said, ‘Devin and I have been doing this Monk thing as a duo, maybe we should do that.’ I said ‘OK,’ and we just started doing it,” Amendola recalled. “We put a record out and that led to more gigs. It’s simple: We just love playing Monk.” It’s challenging music approached from an unusual perspective. As Scott notes, with just clarinet, bass and drums, “You have no chords, no chordal instruments, no piano. It’s about taking this music he wrote and deconstructing it to make it our own ... We play swing grooves and include elements of traditional jazz, there’s definitely a throwback to that, but it’s mainly about deconstruction, making it a little more sparse, but dense in our own way, through whatever it is we do.”

This is a week of many choices: Elsewhere on Thursday, a house concert at Das Gasthaus with acoustic shoegaze by The Stragglers (from Sacto), Estereo (from S.F.) and Humboldt’s own Andrea Zvaleko .

Choose from music on two floors of HSU’s University Center Friday, Sept. 28. Downstairs: Midlake , a lush, melodic alt. folk/rock band from Texas, shares the bill with songwriter/vocalist Maria Taylor of Azure Ray. Things should be livelier upstairs in the Kate Buchanan Room with Afrofunk by Afromassive , plus WoMama ’s world fusion.

Fishtank Ensemble offers a different sort of world music Friday at Muddy’s Hot Cup: East-Euro folk mixed with gypsy jazz, flamenco, Swedish folk, klezmer and more, played on fiddle, accordion, guitar, bass, musical saw and Japanese shamisen, among other things. If you liked Vagabond Opera or Luminescent Orchestrii, you’ll love these folks. (Fishtank also plays Thursday at Beginnings Octagon.)

The original Sugarhill Gang is at the Red Fox Friday. The Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap single to cross over to top 40: “I said a hip hop, the hippie, the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop ...” Were they hip hop originators? It’s debatable (and hotly debated), but they’ll tell you they were.

Joyce Hough from The Country Pretenders sent me a reminder that the band is playing deep country at the Jambalaya Friday, noting, “We’re hoping our more mature fans will notice the earlier time (9 p.m.). Most music at the Jam has been starting at 10 — a bit of a deterrent for some older folks.”

Saturday marks the first ever Northtown Block Party in the parking lot behind Big Pete’s Pizza. The eclectic line-up includes funk from Moo-Got-2 and The Bump Foundation , metal by Ashes , Brazilian drumming by The Janky Mallets and electrojazz by Plush Fuzz .

Of course that’s simultaneous with the big Bluegrass and Beyond fest down SoHum way. (Details in this week’s Calendar.) Another choice Saturday: the last of’s Old Town Fall Concerts at Clarke Plaza with young TV stars Steel Toed Slippers , the sultry Sari Baker accompanied by guitarist Mike Craghead , modern westerners Kent Stephenson Band and Strix Vega , playing their first gig in months and introducing new drummer Chris Jaster (formerly of Que La Chinga, currently with Dragged by Horses). ( DbH plays the Alibi Tuesday, Oct. 2, way too late for Joyce.)

Saturday at the Jambalaya (not too late) it’s Portland’s indie folk rocker Casey Neill and The Norway Rats . You may remember Casey as a guitar-slinging eco-activist folk/punk songwriter working his way up and down the coast playing for one cause or another. Well, he’s evolved, stretching his protest repertoire into songs of life, love and death, adding Celtic elements, working with a band more often than not. His latest disc, Brooklyn Bridge (years in the making) shows how far he’s come. Not that he’s abandoned his activist roots: The show at the Jam is a benefit for the Northcoast Environmental Center.

Meanwhile at Mazzotti’s it’s straight-ahead reggae with the All the King’s Men tour, featuring David Morrison aka Star of David from The Abyssinians, Jamaican guitarist Tuff Lion , plus Tony Moses , Luv Fyah and a back-up band featuring Celebrity Hornz .

Mobile Chiefing Unit rolls out its new CD Dreams We Have Today at Red Fox Saturday — a mix of psychedelic jamrock and reggae with a social conscious.

United We Stand is the theme of the Humboldt Pride Festival Sunday. Expect speeches by Mayor Harmony Groves and others after a parade to the Arcata Plaza, with bellydancing by Shoshanna and Ya Habibi (on a break from the weekend’s Redwood Coast Bellydance Festival) and music by The Raging Grannies, WoMama,The Broken Hearts and The Ravens . (BTW, The Ravens plays late Saturday at the Alibi with Portland’s Pure Country Gold , who are not a country band by any means.)

Sunday afternoon in Eureka it’s Woofstock , a festival for dogs and their humans with Kulica and classic rockers Iron Butterfly — yes, the guys who brought you “Inna Gadda Da Vida” (well, the rhythm section anyway).

Another choice: Over at the Graves Sunday afternoon, pianist Darius Brotman and guitarist Duncan Burgess play cool jazz: standards and such.

Sunday evening Grateful Dead percussion wiz Mickey Hart returns to the Van Duzer with Global Drum Project , formerly known as Planet Drum. The name’s been changed for some contractual reason, but this is the same international array of drummers assembled 15 years ago: Zakir Hussain , Sikiru Adepoju , Giovanni Hidalgo and Mickey doing trippy, worldly things with rhythms and electronics.

It’s comedy night at the Jambalaya that night, but don’t expect the usual sort of stand-up. Neil Hamburger is what you might call an anti-comic with bad jokes, bad timing and missed punch lines that are part of the act. (Note: Heckle at your own risk.) He’s on tour with Pleaseeasaur , a mock karaoke/lounge superhero with cheesy music and cheesier costumes whose tongue-in-cheek comedy, like Hamburger’s, is an acquired taste.

Sunday at the Red Fox it’s a solo show by John Mullins , guitarist from the jamband ekoostic hookah, plus keyboardist Rob Barraco , who played in an East Coast Dead cover band called Timber Wolf (until he got bored), then in The Zen Tricksters (where fans were often less interested in the original tunes than in the in Dead covers), then for a few years with Phil and Friends (Phil being Dead alum Phil Lesh), in The Q (Phil’s quintet) and for a couple of years in that little jamband called The Dead. Barraco just released an album, When We All Come Home , where he plays his own songs sharing songwriting chores with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and chances are those are what he’ll want to play at the Red Fox.

Rob is actually in Humboldt for another show, a Monday gig at the Arcata Community Center by Dark Star Orchestra , perhaps the ultimate Dead cover band (for the uninitiated, DSO recreates entire set lists from Dead history), where he took over the keyboards chair from the late Scott Larned. There may be some irony in the fact that Barraco passed on more gigs with Phil for steady work with DSO.

Same time Monday the ever-bluesy Earl Thomas sings at Curley’s for KHUM’s Back Porch Live (“live” as in broadcast live). I wouldn’t expect Dead covers, but you never know what Earl’s got in his deep bag of tunes.

While Earl’s laying down soul and DSO is getting all trippy for the Deadheads, elsewhere in town Monday, at a place known as the Firehouse, Humboldt’s internationally renowned dronemasters Starving Weirdos host a show with two somewhat likeminded duos. First: Portland’s Yellow Swans , with Pete Swanson yowling and toying with electronic gizmos and Gabe Saloman attacking guitars plugged into electronic thingamabobs. Also: Brooklyn’s Mouthus , who record for Thurston Moore’s label Ecstatic Peace!, with Brian Sullivan (howling guitar) and Nate Nelson (primal drums). Bring cash for merch — ask about the collaboration LPs. And don’t forget Thurston is coming to Arcata soon (Oct. 26) with Scorces , a duo with Christina Carter (from Charalambides) and Heather Leigh Murray (from Ash Castles). That one’s at the Depot.

And looking forward to next Thursday, Oct. 4, choose between two legends: Mountain music man Arthel Lane “ Doc” Watson is at the Van Duzer, while Frederick Nathaniel “ Toots ” Hibbert and his band, The Maytals , bring soulful reggae, rocksteady and ska to the Indigo Lounge.

The Toots show is a People Productions thing. On the horizon for Peeps: an Oct. 25 show with Snoop Dogg at the Muni. Tickets on sale Monday.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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

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