Confluence, Part 2: Roosevelt Collier and Electric Kif at CJH Wanderlust
A confluence of events occurred two nights in a row, one I could not have predicted. The confluence was so delightful. I put no stock in the concept of “best” or “greatest”; I fully support “favorite,” because everything is personal.
Over the course of Friday evening and Saturday evening, I heard three artists perform my favorite ever sets from each. I know that recent memory often trumps older ones, but I’ll stand by this. Confluence, Part 1, dealt with Joe Marcinek and Brock Butler at Dunedin Brewery.
Saturday, November 21, we attended a Clearwater Jazz Holiday event at the open-air Station Square Park, part of the CJH Presents Wanderlust series that has been going on for weeks. Clearwater Jazz Holiday, usually a four-day festival in October, met the same fate as every other event: not this year. The evening’s music was provided by the Roosevelt Collier Band and by Electric Kif.
We highly recommend this experience, with several caveats. The tables are all properly spaced, and there is plenty of room to move around. The amenities as you enter include a complimentary small appetizer and an adult beverage of their concoction. Most of the tables are on a level slightly above the level of the stage, so sight lines are not perfect further back. The sound in the courtyard was nearly perfect, although the vocals were a little low in the mix. Beverage options are limited but adequate. There were two food vendors (or one with two options). The choices were again limited. [WARNING to vegans and vegetarians: Eat before you go! There is nothing for you to eat except desserts (which is appealing but not filling).]
First up were Miami jazz fusion quartet Electric Kif. This is a superb group, and they put on a master class in that genre; I’ve never heard them sound better. They opened with “Three Views of a Secret,” a composition by the late bass phenomenon Jaco Pastorius, who was from Miami. The song begins slowly, but by its end they had built the heat. Next they blew up “Actual Proof,” a great Herbie Hancock tune from Thrust. There are few bands that can channel Hancock as well as these men, especially Jason Matthews on all manner of keyboards.
They slowed things down a bit with “Separator” before bringing the tempo back up with “Little Louie” from the band’s 2017 album Heist. The rhythm section of Rodrigo (Digo) Zambrano on bass and Armando Lopez on drums is incredible; they can do anything. Matthews was again a swirl of synths and electric piano. Next they romped through the Weather Report song “River People,” another Jaco Pastorius composition with that tell-tale bass intro. Zambrano crushed this, and guitarist Eric Escanes took the Wayne Shorter slot and had his best solo (so far) of the night.
Matthews asked us if it would be OK to play some songs from their newest album Jefe. Rousing approval led to “Tastemaker” and then “Radio” from that excellent album. “Tastemaker” is jazz fusion personified, so deep in the pocket. “Radio” begins with such a great groove and pulsating keyboards. Finally, they tore the roof off the sucker (well, they would have if there had been one) with Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” This is as great a “cover” version of a song as you will ever hear; Electric Kif makes this one go stratospheric. They are so locked into each other that the jam simply explodes. Brilliant set.
[ELECTRIC KIF: Three Views of a Secret, Actual Proof, Separator, Little Louie, River People, Tastemaker, Radio, Digo-isms, Hang Up Your Hang Ups]
Electric Kif was scheduled to end at 7:00, but they went over at least 15 minutes. They could do that since they were also going to playing with Roosevelt Collier; they have collaborated many times. The instant Collier and the Kif boys began, there was a distinctly different vibe in the air, in the very best way.
If you are familiar with a Roosevelt Collier show, it usually just involves some outstanding jamming. Sometimes songs emerge, but just as often they are just new improvisations, and Collier does that as well as anyone. This show was different, because it was structured. Collier had provided a setlist, and that is what they played. And it was AWESOME. As good a show from him as I’ve ever heard.
From those opening notes of “Sun Up Sun Down,” it was clear our great evening was about to get even greater. The arrangements were tight, and Collier always makes sure that his bandmates get plenty of space, and that’s what went down all night. He gave great solo time to Lopez and Zambrano on “Happy Feet.” For the first three songs, Collier played his pedal steel guitar; he has few peers anywhere. A great surprise emerged as the rumbling intro to The Allman Brothers Band’s “Hot ’Lanta” turned the temperature waaaaay up. Collier and Escanes ripped this one up! Lopez got another shot during the drum section. and Matthews did his Gregg Allman thing.
Collier then moved his pedal steel to the back and grabbed his custom (non-) lap steel; normally, this is played sitting down, but he had this guitar built so he could stand up to play. Anthony AC Cole, often a bandmate of Collier, came out to sing. He is a fine vocalist, drummer, and tenor sax player as well. As they started, everyone recognized the unmistakable sounds of “What’s Going On.” Cole has a delightful penchant for singing whatever the heck he wants in addition to a song’s original lyrics, and it always works well. Escanes had a fine solo here; then it was Collier’s turn.
Next up was a soulful tune, “Make It Alright,” with Matthews first on electric piano. Minute by minute, the song heated up into a scorching jam with Collier and Escanes again trading back and forth. Cole returned for a spirited “Move On Up,” the magical tune by the late Curtis Mayfield. Matthews danced on his synths.
Collier had spoken to us all evening about how glad he is to be back on stage and exhorted us to get up one last time for “Them Changes,” the Buddy Miles classic. And they rocked OUT! This was killer. Of COURSE we wanted “one more song”! They chose James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now” to send us all home happy and exhausted.
[ROOSEVELT COLLIER: Sun Up Sun Down, Happy Feet, Hot ’Lanta, What’s Going On, Make It Alright, Move On Up, Them Changes; E: Ain’t It Funky Now]
Be sure to check the CJH Wanderlust schedule for upcoming shows, including Joe Marcinek and Friends on December 12.