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Live Reviews

Steve Turre's Sanctified Shells Band

By Published: April 10, 2003
Yoshi's at Jack London Square
Oakland, CA

Neither rain nor sleet nor lines around the block will deter the true jazz junkie from his due deliverance, and so it was last night at Yoshi's. Expecting to see an empty house, I was surprised to enter a bulging room of soggy, but eager patrons. They had braved the elements to hear highly acclaimed Steve Turre's "Sanctified Shells", featuring Coltrane-veteran saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and trumpet virtuoso Jon Faddis. The full band consisted of thirteen pieces: four trombones, two reeds, two trumpets, two percussionists, bass, traps, and piano. The entire horn section had a staggering assortment of "sanctified" conches — ladies-in-waiting by their side.

As has become customary for many popular jazz groups, the musicians were sartorially resplendent — in this case, wearing dashikis — with the signature-pony-tail-chin-beard-wire-rim-specs-Turre leading the charge, outfitted in gold-hued-Kente-cloth-bordered-white and matching lizard skin shoes. His signal conch, a tessellated 18-inch loudspeaker-of-the-sea, stood at the ready and commanded the eye. Pharoah was royally clad in black velvet and unpharaonically crowned in a cream-tone reversed beret. Faddis was bedecked in pastel lavender, while the others wore matching patterned dashikis and an assortment of interesting hats. There is the obvious utilitarian function for this African styling: it provides the musicians with the lebensraum to get down.

The rhythm section merits its own mention. What was actually a considerable draw for me was the presence of maestro Andy Gonzales, unsurpassed NY Latin Jazz bassist, and co-founder (along with Manny Oquendo) of Grupo Folklorico Experimentale Y Nuevoyoriquino and Conjunto Libre. Andy is an arch groovemeister, who consistently lays down a solid and cien porciento bailable Latin motif, much like a good Salidor does for the rumba. The international drum section consisted of Jamaican Dion Parsons on traps, Cuban Pedro Paulo Martinez on Conga, and Senegalese wild man Abdu M'Boup on dun-dun and djembe. Young Martinez did a fine job, amply displaying the de rigueur " Mano secreto " technique of modern Cuban congueros. Pianist Steve Scott, mildly reminiscent of early Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), nicely rounded out the rhythm section. The man who stole the show for this reviewer, however, was M'Boup. Abdu, all bone and sinew, long, tangled hair and flashing eyes, appeared — like Odwalla — and thumped a message from the ancestors that quickened the blood of all. Sharp, contrapuntal reports with curved, blunted stick on his well mic'd dun-dun added furied intensity, excitement, and exclamation to both solos and arrangements. He "rocked" the band, often catapulting it into inter-galactic-groove-hyperspace. He was the Mac Man; he had the candy.

The set commenced with introductions and a previously unrecorded tune of unannounced name. Unlike days of yesteryear, Pharoah, with his big mellow tone, played far more inside than I had ever heard him. It led me to suspect that the once raging fire-in the-belly had softened to lambent, glowing embers.

The musicians proceeded through a well-architectured and eclectic set: an upbeat, highly arranged intro tune, a salsa tune, bolero, jazz standard, and a textured, high-energy finale. While bright moments dotted the set, it was the final piece, in three movements and entitled, "African Shuffle," which left the audience in a sweet sweat. The piece began with a choir of conches from the horn section. The second movement began with a rapid mano secreto solo by conguero Maritnez, and intensified with him chanting from Santeria, " A Ko Mando a So Gna Gna Volo ", " Baba Fumilaye " and " Ague, Ague." The chanting concluded with Martinez launching into a blistering rumba clave with his left stick on the wood of the drum, while his right hand deftly soloed on the skins — reminiscent of early Giovanni Hidalgo. The final section was the actual melody: Turre's "Killer Joe"-like conception of an Africanized shuffle based on an unusual 6/8 Nanigo rhythmic groove. During the ensuing solos, I heard many soulful horn quotes, ranging from "Work Song" to "Moanin'"—all consistent with the piece's melodic structure.

Much of the juice of Turre's music stems from his abilities both as an arranger and innovator. He effectively uses varied conch shell voicings—which can sound like chorded train-whistles hollowing the night air and rushing past graveyard thistles—blended with other horn combinations to produce his unique and otherworldly tonal excursions. Turre is able to simultaneously blow two conches, in keeping with the family tradition of his reedman brother, Michael, who can simultaneously, and to fine effect, play two reeds—ala "The Junkman" Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Faddis was his ever hard-blowin', upper-register, razzbad self. Trombonists Josh Roseman, Aaron Johnson, Stafford Hunter and reedman Dan Faulkner rounded out the horn section.

It must be said that there was a glaring and disturbing omission from the performance: given all that fine trombone power, coupled with a blazing Latin rhythm section, there were no monias! (I.e. two or more trombones soloing simultaneously over the rhythm section) — Hay que tocar la monia! — (You have to play monias!) All in all it was a performance well worth hearing, although the sauce would have been missing a key chile pepper without the presence of Abdu M'Boup.

Website: www.steveturre.com



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