Party in the lobby
The eclectic SnoCore Icicle Ball brings a diverse bill of jamming talent to Senator Theater
Tour busses lined up on Fifth Street, just around the corner from the Senator Theater, last Thursday, as four bands and their entourages descended upon Chico for the SnoCore Icicle Ball.
Ozomatli, an 11-piece ensemble consisting of horns, percussion and outright fun, had good reason to have a bigger spring in its step than usual. The night before, the L.A.-based band’s Embrace The Chaos won a Grammy Award for best Latin/rock alternative album.
Ozomatli arrived on-stage in stirring fashion via the theater’s center aisle, blowing horns, beating percussion instruments and pressing the flesh with the crowd.
On stage, the party band was energy personified, offering the almost-full house ska, funk, hip-hop and New Orleans sounds, all with a Latin salsa flavor. The band visibly had fun, with the guitarists and horn players performing some casual dance steps in unison. The fact that the guys were not in costumes and the steps were not choreographed made the dancing extra charming. And with the message, “We’re here to spread the love … of human peace and dignity,” Ozomatli proved irresistible. The Senator’s sound—sometimes muddy, sometimes echoey and cavernous,—detracted only slightly.
Ozomatli’s fusion of danceable big-band sounds included offerings from Embrace The Chaos: “Dos Cosas Ciertas,” “Lo Que Dice,” “Tímido.” The band also sampled its eponymously titled debut album with “Como Ves,” “Chango,” “Eva,” “Cumbia de los Muertos” and “La Misma Canciên.” An out of character but totally enjoyable cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” added to the fun.
The set ended even more outrageously than it began. During the band’s final number, it invited scores of concert revelers onto the stage. Then, one by one, Ozomatli climbed down off the stage and paraded back up the center aisle to re-group in the lobby, drumming, banging and chanting for about 10 more minutes, much to the audience’s delight. Following Ozomatli’s performance, a couple of hundred people left, either unaware that Karl “Diesel” Denson was still to come or satisfied that their music itch was scratched. Either way, as one fan correctly said between sets, “He’s got a tough act to follow.”
Denson, a former Lenny Kravitz sideman, immediately took over with his commanding stage presence, powerful saxophone prowess and supporting cast of players. Taking a stance at center stage, muscles rippling under a thin, skin-tight red polo shirt, Denson stared straight ahead as he blew and played innovative passages with such power and intensity, it was amazing that his band (electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion) could keep up the blistering pace.
Weaving a never-ending danceable groove of tenor and alto sax sounds fueled by his appreciation for past superstars like Miles Davis and Maceo Parker, Denson stands out as a performer who’s ready to carry the jazz sax world into the new millennium on his own shoulders.
Denson’s Tiny Universe, led by his scintillating sax, took jazz and added funk, R&B and hip-hop to a place his jazz forefathers never visited. And his flute mastery was no less impressive. All of the set selections were long, jamming numbers and included “Elephants Are Big as Hell,” “The Answer,” “Satisfied” and “Groove On.” Although all selections began gently and fairly subdued, they mostly steamrolled into soul-cleansing epics.
Denson’s Tiny Universe draws not only jazz aficionados, but also a following in Bohemian jamband circles. The band encourages non-commercial audio taping at its shows.
Opening the night was Saul Williams, widely known for his politically charged poetry. He gained national notoriety in 1998 as the star of Slam, an independent feature film in which he played a jailed marijuana peddler.
Wearing a “New Yorkers for Jesse Jackson 1988” T-shirt, Williams spewed fiery, sharp-tongued prose at the crowd with unbridled passion. His offerings, backed by deliberate jungle and trip-hop beats brought on by a sonic lead guitar, electric cello and drums, inspired the approximately 100 people who had made it to the show on time. His vocal readings included “Om Nia Merican” (I’m the American), “La La La” and one that often repeated this more-than-politically correct question to the Lord, “Dear Goddess, can you hear me now?”
Blackalicious, a California hip-hop outfit led by dual freestyle rappers Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) and Gift of Gab (Tim Parker), followed.
Aside from the obligatory calls of "What’s up Chico?" and "Get your hands up!" the group showed some uniqueness. The two rapped and rhymed without glorifying violence, drugs or degrading women, which is notable alone. The duo’s diverse raps were augmented nicely by three back-up singers (one male) and a DJ who supplied interesting samples that acted as excellent mood-changing bridges between songs.