Iowa City musician Ben Schmidt has been on the Eastern Iowa scene for a while, releasing two critically-acclaimed self-released albums– Write It Down in 2002 and While You Were Sleeping in 2005. His press releases draw accurate comparisons to John Gorka, Jesse Winchester, Kelly Joe Phelps and Leonard Cohen.
Ben is releasing a new album titled Silt which draws its inspiration from post-flood experience– the songs are from the perspective of people who have experienced personal “storms” — physical, emotional and spiritual and what remains when those waters subside. The album is pretty much a one-man affair with Ben recording vocals, guitars, bass, drums and electric piano. Assisting one the album is Nate “The Count” Basinger from the Diplomats of Solid Sound on organ, piano and accordion, Steve “The Chief” Hayes on drums, Lori Lane on harmony vocals and Larry Mossman on mandolin.
I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Silt, and I found myself focusing on his lyrics. Ben is a masterful storyteller and his deep, smooth voice provides the perfect narrative match. His style recalls some of the great classic singer-songwriters and anyone who is a fan of Lightfoot, Croche and Taylor should find Schmidt a complimentary listen.
To gear up for the promotion of Silt, Ben along with Larry Mossman are taping a Java Blend show with Ben Kieffer today (2/5) at the Washington St. Java House in Iowa City which will be aired on Friday 2/26 and Saturday 2/27 on Iowa Public Radio.
Ben will also be performing a show at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Saturday 2/6 as a CD release show. Ben will be joined by Dustin Busch on guitar, Steve Hayes on drums, Lori Lane and Larry Mossman on mandolin. Dustin Busch will be opening the show with his hill country blues-influenced music. Doors will be at 8PM and tickets are $11 in advance and $15 at the door and available through IowaTix.
The original Works Progress Administration was part of FDR’s 1939 New Deal initiative which put millions of people to work in the darkest part of the Great Depression. This spirit of community and creativity is carried in the philosophy of a band that takes its name.
Works Progress Administration is a supergroup of sorts– an “expanding collective” according to the band’s website. At its core it is Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and solo, Sean Watkins formerly of the excellent Nickle Creek and Luke Bulla who spent time in Lyle Lovett’s band. On record the band includes Sean’s sister Sara from Nickle Creek, Benmont Tench from Petty’s Heartbreakers, Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions, ace sessionmen Greg Leisz and Davey Faragher. Faragher was a founding member of Cracker as well as part of Costello’s Imposters. Works Progress Administration is a continuation of the collaborative nature of the relationship between Philips and Sean and Sara Watkins of Nickle Creek. Philips, the Watkins and Pete Thomas were also in the group Mutual Appreciation Society which recorded an album in 2000 and was released by Sugar Hill in 2004.
Even though WPA is a collective effort of its members, it’s clear that this band is really leaning on Phillip’s songs since he’s provided half of them. Sean Watkins, not content to stay at the bench, has contributed three standout songs (love “Paralyzed”!) and Luke Bulla’s “Cry For You” is an easy favorite of mine and would seem to have a lot of potential to be a highlight live. Seeing this group play CSPS in Cedar Rapids would be a real treat!
WPA will be at the pearl in the crown of New Bohemia in Cedar Rapids known as CSPS on Tuesday, December 1st at 8PM. Tickets will be $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
Click Here for the Works Progress Administration’s Website where you can see other tour dates and stream the new album.
Click Here for the Legion Arts / CSPS website where you can get information on how to get tickets.
Listen/Buy Works Progress Administration. This band is independent– meaning no record label. If you like what you hear please support this band by buying their album!
Next Tuesday night, October 27th, folk and blues singer-songwriter Chris Smither will be making a stop at CSPS in Cedar Rapids during his Fall tour in support of his new album on Signature Sounds Time Stands Still which came out on September 29th.
A collection of stripped-down orignals and a few choice covers by Dylan, Knopfler and Frank Hutchison, Time Stands Still was recorded in an astounding three days and captures the immediacy of his live show.
Chris’s songs have been recorded by artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, and Donna Krall. It was Raitt’s recording of “Love Me Like A Man” for her 1972 album Give It Up that marked the beginning of a long-standing working partnership. Diana Krall covered this same song in 2004 for her album The Girl in the Other Room.
The show will be at 7PM next Tuesday night (October 27th) and tickets are $18 in advance and $22 at the door. Don’t miss this opportunity to see this acclaimed songwriter and performer at the amazing CSPS!
Click Here to listen to “Surprise, Surprise” from Time Stand Still.
Next weekend– 10/18– we see a couple of female singer-songwriters both making their debut in Cedar Rapids and at CSPS. While both take a distinctively different approach to their art, they both are utilizing a business model that involves direct contributions from their fan base.
Melissa Greener is described as an up-and-coming singer-songwriter with “quirky and literate songs” and compared to the energy often attributed to Ani DiFranco. Based in Manhattan, her goal is to move back to Austin, TX where she lived and worked for a time and considers home. For her sophomore release Melissa is fundraising at different levels with the goal of completely paying off the recording she has completed which will allow her to be debt-free and able to focus on the business of touring.
Opening for Melissa is Margaret Stutt who performs as Pezzettino (“Little Square”). Like Melissa, Margaret is also doing a direct-to-fan type of self promotion and sales. Someone who seemingly doesn’t need to sleep, she is a constant stream of activity and creativity. To fund her tour of houses and art spaces which has her stopping in Cedar Rapids for two nights, she has been taking donations and requests for songs– mostly cover tunes– where she deconstructs the song in question, rebuilding the song in her own distinctive way and making a video for the song. Sometimes dark and moody, sometimes quirky and funny, but distinctly Pezzettino these pieces are generally created and completed within a day! Margaret is a classically-trained pianist (at least until she was 12), but her instrument of inspiration is the accordion. She takes the squeezebox to task with her very personal and emotional songs on her release Lion and the follow up Lamb to be released in 2010 will be a more subdued affair.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see two these two up-and-coming artists. The show will be at 7PM at CSPS. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Because the show is on Sunday, it starts early, it will end early for all you concerned with getting up for work the next morning!
Pezzettino is pressing a very limited edition (300 copies), random color vinyl 7″ single of “You Never Know” with artwork by Milwaukee artist Dwellephant. As Margaret says, the b-side will be a surprise because, “you never know,” right? Click Here to learn more and order one!
On Easter Sunday evening, April 12th, Marco Benevento performed at CSPS in Cedar Rapids in his trio with Reed Mathis on bass and Simon Lott on drums. The tour was in support of Marco’s latest solo release Me Not Me, which is also his second solo release. Sunday night was the last night on a brief tour that included stops in Chicago, Des Moines, and Minneapolis. Unfortunately, a mixup about the show start time had me miss the first of two sets. Apparently shows at CSPS start an hour earlier on Sunday nights (note to self!). I wasn’t aware of Marco’s fairly extensive career leading up to his latest release, but I had been giving Me Not Me pretty heavy rotation leading up to the show. Me Not Me is a collection of original songs and an insteresting and eclectic selection of covers from artists as wide-ranging as Leonard Cohen and Led Zeppelin to My Morning Jacket and Deerhoof.
The second set started with “Atari” and was followed by “Twin Killers” and a really smart “Mephisto” that ended with an impromptu vamp of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls.” It was clear that the trio was in rare form and were having a really good time on stage and probably looking to wrap up the tour on a high note. After the show was over, I got the opportunity to sit down with Marco and talk a bit about his music. Marco was a fun and very laid-back interview. He’s a guy who has very specific ideas about his art and it was a very enlightening conversation. I followed Marco and the guys back to their hotel so they could get checked in, and Marco and I sat in the lobby for the interview while they waited for the hotel shuttle to take them to dinner.
playbsides: Prior to Me Not Me, I hadn’t heard any of your albums and I wasn’t sure what to expect with the album based on the descriptions online. Your combination of piano jazz and indie rock sensibilities is very unique, but there was something about the piano parts that I completely latched on to. Parts of it remind me of my favorite classic jazz piano from guys like Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck or Bill Evans– I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. It isn’t like Bill Evans covered My Morning Jacket!
Marco:Maybe it is the “pop” sensibility– if I may go so far as to say that.. The Bill Evans stuff– even the way he voiced the melodies– like “Waltz for Debbie” for example is almost a pop sensibility. Like, the focus on the melody and the chords underneath it– yeah.
There is a gray area there. There is a line between the rock and jazz pianists– like the George Winston and the Bill Evans– there is a line that is sort of thickening and widening and becoming this gray area and a lot of pianists are landing in there– like EST, you know Esbjörn Svensson Trio— check them out a really cool trio– the use effects on the drums and the bass. The piano player is incredible… actually he just passed away– a freak scuba diving accident.
While doing some research trying to get caught up on your career, I noticed that it seems that a lot of people represent you as this “jam band” pianist. But, my observation watching the show tonight was that you are taking the traditional jazz piano trio and kind of flipping it on its side a bit with the circuit bent toys and in the same fashion that the great jazz trios were performing “standards” and putting their improv on it, you are taking newer songs and doing a similar thing.
Yeah, it’s definitely based on tradition, you know and playing other people’s songs– the pop music of the day and doing what you want to it– whether it be rearranging it or soloing over it or producing it in this cool way– overdubbing stuff on it.
At first blush it could seem like the circuit bent toys could be perceived as “gimmicky” but it’s clear from tonight’s show– when you don’t turn that stuff on– your trio has the chops!
Yeah, there is definitely the musicality there. We said that even tonight. Simon said, “Yeah there are so many options, there are so many different places you guys can go– we could stay in like a Creedence Clearwater type jam– a funky sort of thing, or we could go into a sort of psychedelic “free” section, we could go into odd meter. Interplay– kind of a jazz harmony, soloing– where we take turns soloing– that’s also in other music, like Rock, too. But, yeah it’s really fun to do– to really connect with the audience like that, because when they here a tune they know from another band it really draws them in more because they can relate to it.
Yeah, like with your version of “Friends” by Led Zeppelin, you pull the main hooks from the song, but the rest of the song is completely different and new. Yeah, it’s like the way that Miles Davis covered “Guinnevere” by Crosby Stills and Nash, have you hear that one?
[Davis’s 18-minute take on “Guinnevere” was recorded in 1970 during the sessions that would be used on Big Fun, and released on a compilation called Circle in the Round that was originally released in 1979 and is currently out-of-print. -ed]
It’s killer. I need to dig that out again– I haven’t heard it in a long time! It’s cool to hear other people’s interpretation of a song, like if it’s really minimalistic, stripped down approach, and it becomes a completely different song, “I don’t even recognize that song at all!” It’s like Brad Mehldau— the way he does “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” the Paul Simon song. Have you heard that?
I know the Paul Simon song, but not Brad Mehldau’s version.
It is this incredible improv over some changes– they get really experimental for a while and then by the end of the tune– if my memory serves me right– they just play the melody– and then that’s it! It’s like this really long thing, and you’re like “what’s going on?” and then it’s in seven– this completely other time signature– then they just do the melody [sings] “it’s 50 ways to leave your lover” and then it ends!
I guess you need to bring it back around, huh?
Well, they didn’t even start there! (laughs)
I’ve covered “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, too.” I went to Brad Mehldau’s house, actually, and got a lesson with him. I sat down at his piano, and he was just doing some stuff in the kitchen, and he’s like “ah, just go sit down!” I was psyched to be there, you know? I sat down at the piano and there was a sheet of paper at the piano, and I’m like “I wonder what he’s working on?” I had been playing a lot with Joe Russo (of the Benevento Russo Duo) and we had been covering “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” actually for a while as part of our set– so I look up at the sheet of paper on his pianio and it says “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” So he comes back and tell him that I play “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and he’s like, “How do you play it” and I’m like “we play it pretty straight” and he says that he wants to play it with his trio. It’s so funny when someone comes up with the same idea you have– you know, when like an idea drifts through everybody.
It seems that the choices of covers on Me Not Me really run the gamut, how did you arrive at the covers you chose?
A lot of them we favorite songs, really. Like the My Morning Jacket song– the first time I heard it I was driving– I think it was somewhere around the Midwest– it was just a perfect song at a perfect time. I’d actually wanted to make a record of covers for a long time. The idea came to me in 2000 when I moved to New York, and it is finally coming out now. It didn’t take us long to record the album, but a lot of the covers I’d been playing for a while, like the Leonard Cohen cover I’ve been playing since 2000. We took two days to track it, and then I took it home and overdubbed some stuff on it.
Speaking of covers, I like your version of “She’s Not There” by the Zombies.
A lot of the songs we cover are songs that move me. The way we play “She’s Not There” harmonically is how the song appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume 2. It was a piece done by some DJ that used samples of “She’s Not there”– so our version is actually a cover of a cover.
Coincidentally, the Zombies are back together and will be performing a concert of Odessey and Oracle along with some other music by Rod Argent like “Hold Your Head Up” its an anniversary of that album.
[The 40th Anniversary shows took place in the UK in April -ed]. Oh, really? That’s cool! So, do you ever get concerned that you’ll get pigeonholed as doing covers?
No, I like doing covers. They’re gorgeous songs and I like playing them. Of course, I like playing my own original music, too! So, no I think it’s a great way to connect to people, because it makes them want to check it out even more, right? I like to shake it up, though. Some shows will be mostly original songs, with maybe one cover. It also depends on how long the show is, if we need to stretch it out.I did have a moment when I was editing the album when it hit me– “Wow, these are all cover tunes.” I’m glad I have the three songs I do have on there of my own. But, it’s really inspired me to write more other music and not spend as much time searching for covers. I’ve been writing a lot of more upbeat almost electronic sort of circuit-bent poppy sounding stuff. We played one tonight.
What is that track called?
It’s now called “Greenpoint” we included it on the bonus disc that we included if you did the pre-order– there was a live version of it on there. It’s a new way of composing music for me– more loopy, repetitive almost monochromatic.
I like how you’re using the circuit bent stuff as an extra element to what you’re doing rather than the main element. While I can appreciate what some musicians are doing with circuit-bent–
It’s a wild horse, you know, and it’s hard to ride. If you don’t have a volume pedal, or delay or a way to really finesse it when using it live some times it comes off as a mess. When I first started using it– a couple of times it just was not musical. But, over time, I figured out how to bring it in here and there– otherwise it becomes this blanket that is way too thick.
You’re using it as kind of a way to color the music.
Right. It also ends up adding another section to a song.
For me anyway, some of the circuit bent music out there I really can’t get into. I guess, at the end of the day, I really need something to hang my attention on – there needs to either be a strong beat, or there’d better be a melody. Sometimes it gets a little difficult to swim through those waters.
(laughs) Right, right. And variety for me is important in a show otherwise it gets to be too one-dimensional. It’s important to have these moments in the songs where you can freak out to get into this different color for a second. But sometimes it can get to be almost an indulgence– like you might want to alienate yourself from the audience when my whole thing as a musician is about entertainment. People actually left their house to come here so I don’t want to burden them with anything… they’ve got to escape, you know? It’s important for a listener to just lose it. And then, in order for them to lose it you have to give them something to grab their attention– some melody, some simple chord changes. But also music that grabs myself. When I watch someone else play, I really like it when I can tell that they really love what their doing, first of all– and, you know when your a kid and you’re in church and everything seems funny that you can’t stop laughing– that feeling that “this is SO much fun!”
It’s funny that you mention that. Earlier, Simon came out with this grin on his face, and I asked him, “What are you smiling about?” He said, “Nothing, it is just really great to play these songs!”
At that point, the driver showed up and Reed, Simon and Marco wanted to get some food, so I let them head out after thanking Marco for taking the time to talk to me.
Recently Amazon listed its 100 Greatest Jazz albums of all time list, and maybe not surprisingly the majority of the albums were from the halcyon jazz years of the 50’s and 60’s. This lack of more recent releases was a criticism of the list. Why, for example, does Kind of Blue— an album recorded over 50 years ago– continually show up as the best? Many of the releases on the list were groundbreaking at the time, but certainly stood the test of time to become standards. When I look at current jazz, most of it is derivative of different periods of jazz history. I’m not suggesting that Marco’s new album will stand next to Kind of Blue as a classic, but it is the mix of his unique approach to his music while recognizing the jazz tradition that would seem to me to be the right formula for longevity.
The Minneapolis band which formed in 1988 describes themselves as “four people who can’t seem to use containers, auto parts or power tools in the intended manner.” Their live shows could be considered performance art and the bands influence from Japanese “Taiko” drumming pre-dates touring Broadway troupes like “Stomp!” and The Blue Man Group.
This weekend Savage Aural Hotbed will be bringing their show for a two-night engagement at CSPS in Cedar Rapids– Friday April 24th and Saturday, April 25th. Both shows start at 8PM and tickets are $13 in advance and $16 the day of the show.
Following the shows, the band will be holding an open drum jam and folks are encouraged to bring drums, homemade drums or junk instrument along to the show.
It’s rare for Cedar Rapids to get this kind of performance– so don’t miss this opportunity!
Click Here to visit the Facebook event for Friday Night
Click Here to visit the Facebook event for Saturday Night
Click Here for the Legion Arts page on the Savage Aural Hotbed show and how you can get tickets.
On Monday, January 26th Sherry and I went to see the Curumin show at CSPS. I was pretty interested to see this show. Curumin is part of the next generation of artists on on the seminal Bay Area Hip-Hop label Quannum. The first generation were primarily Hip Hop acts: DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Lateef and Blackalicious, and while the label still signs Rap and Hip Hop acts they have also signed artists who don’t neatly fit into that category: ApSci is closer to an electro act and Honeycut is damn near a synth pop band. One of the labels latest signings Curumin brings a fusion of hip hop, funk, soul and Brazilian styles playing equally the parts of producer and performer.
The show was one of the more spirited shows I’ve seen at CSPS– certainly a departure from regular diet of stripped-down folk-singer songwriter shows I usually attend there. This was also the first show I’d seen that used the actual stage at CSPS. Usually the small acts are on a set of risers on the floor in front of the stage. This fact alone invited some folks to actually get out and “express themselves physically” in Mel Andringa’s words from his funny introduction to the group.
The crowd was somewhere around 40 people and was an interesting mix of people– some of them were “regulars” at CSPS and in support of the organization hit most of the shows, but there were also some new faces and some that I expect were students taking advantage of their inexpensive ticket price.
The theme of Curumin’s latest album Japan Pop Show is his love of record collecting down to the mocked-up record art in the CD liner notes. At times Curumin would shout out “vinyl!” or “Does Cedar Rapids love the vinyl?” At least this reviewer does! Curumin brought two other guys to help reproduce the layered sound of the album. It was an interesting combo, really. Curumin took turns on the trap, the cavaquinho (the electric ukelele-type instrument) and MPC. Lucas Martins (who contributed to Japan Pop Show) played bass and MPC, and Marcelo Effori played drums, percussion and MPC. The fact that they all had MPC sampler/sequencers as an additional instrument allowed them to reproduce much of the sampled parts of Japan Pop Show.
The show centered primarily around Curumin’s two albums– Japan Pop Show and the previous Achados e Perididos, but also threw in a couple of covers including a very well-executed Roy Ayers song “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and a Nina Simone cover “Mr. Backlash Blues” which he introduced by calling it an American standard and that “it’s good to be here in the United States and be able to play this song” which was met with audience approval. He also threw in some reggae covers for good measure and a few bars of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to show his American influences, although likely missed by the bluehairs that split less than a half-hour into the show.
This tour is only Curumin’s second in the US but you wouldn’t know it based on his comfort on the stage and his ability to warm up a conservative Midwestern Monday night crowd. Halfway through the set he had folks on the floor dancing and we even got a breakdancer!
I suspect that the crowd wasn’t near what he had seen in San Francisco where he was joined on stage by other acts from Quannum with a hometown crowd for the label, but he still put on one of the best shows I’ve seen at CSPS. Talking with some of the other folks at the show they were very impressed and were new fans of Curumin and his pastiche approach to Braziliana.
Earlier that day Curumin and his band recorded a set for Daytrotter in Rock Island so I’m looking forward to that and will be posting about that as soon as they post it. I had an interview with Curumin which I will be posting today.
This might be as close as a Quannum artist will get to Cedar Rapids…
While touring Brazil, Chief Xcel of the formidable Blackalicious fell in love with the locally released Achados e Perdidos and quickly signed Luciano Nakata Albuquerque who performs under the moniker Curumin (KOO-roo-mean). Achados e Perididos with its pan-continental mix of salsa and funk was re-released on Quannum in September 2005 to critical praise– quite an achievement for an artist who sings primarily in Portuguese!
In October, 2008 Curumin released the much-anticipated follow up JapanPopShow— the title of which is a nod to his split Spanish and Japanese heritage. JapanPopShow picks up where Achados left of with its strong samba-soul vibe and warps it with the heat of afro-beat, dub and experimental funk with refreshing spritzes of tropicalia. At times it reminds me of Air or Gilberto Gil in it’s easy casual feel. The Quannum collective jumps in to lend a hand on some of the tracks– Herve Salters from Honeycut, the Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel from Blackalicious and Lateef. Frankly a brilliant and original album. I especially dig Curumin’s testament to his love of 45RPM records “Compactu.”
So, Cedar Rapids will be warmed with Brazil’s ambassador of samba soul in the dead of winter on Monday, January 26th at Cedar Rapids own CSPS! The show starts at 8PM and tickets are $13 in advance and $16 the day of the show.
According to his press releases, Curumin typically tours with a couple of musicians and each took the stage armed with an MPC sampler providing live beat manipulations combined with live instrumentation. Curumin also switches between live drums and cavaquinho which is like a ukelele.
Don’t sleep on this, folks– it promises to be a head-bobbin’ evening.
Click Here to visit the Facebook Event for Curumin at CSPS.