Kind of a natural mix
Home At Last emerges from the ashes of Davis’ late, lamented, fluid-jamming Uncle Harlen’s Band
There’s an old musicians’ joke that goes something like this: Did you hear what the Deadhead who ran out of pot said?
“Whoa, like this music totally sucks.”
Of course, it’s easy to buy into the prejudice that jam-band music—to ears hooked up to brains not marinated in massive amounts of cannabis or other drugs—sounds like brain-fried noodling. There are some truly crappy jam bands. And there are some very good ones. A few of them live right here in our part of the valley.
Or, in one case, did.
Uncle Harlen’s Band was a local favorite for those live-music fans who like to see a bunch of guys onstage stretching out and exploring the nooks and crannies of a song. A little over a year ago, the Davis-based band disappeared.
Turns out Jeff Coleman, who sang and played keyboards for Uncle Harlen’s Band, and Sean Lehe, the band’s guitarist, had relocated to the Bay Area with the hope of getting something going down there. According to Coleman, the two decided to ditch the Uncle Harlen’s name and start with a new name once a suitable rhythm session could be found. “We felt like starting something new was the way to go,” he explained, “so that everybody felt like it was their baby, not just them joining our band.” Hence Home At Last, which also happens to be the name of a song from Steely Dan’s 1978 masterpiece, Aja.
They had an idea of who that drum and bass combo might be, after Coleman saw a band called Wayside playing at the High Sierra Music Festival in the summer of 2002. “My initial thought was, ‘Wow! This rhythm section is unbelievable,’” he recalled, “'but I’m not into the whole band.’”
Bassist Mark Murphy had come to California by way of Chicago and a Midwest-based group, the Freddie Jones Band, which had a few records on Capricorn Records, the same label that was once home to local phenomenon Cake. Drummer Lucas Carlton played in some Bay Area bands, and both Murphy and Carlton have played in Bizar Bazaar, a jazz-funk combo that plays the Boom Boom Room, John Lee Hooker’s old club in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. The four fell together, after Wayside fell apart and a mutual friend of Coleman and Carlton introduced them, and started practicing at a rehearsal space in Oakland. That’s where Coleman ended up living, after initially moving to San Francisco; Lehe lives in Albany, just north of Berkeley.
Coleman said that any allusions to the jam-band phenomenon didn’t originate with the band’s members, who never consciously set out to be a baby-Dead band. “We don’t look at ourselves that way,” he pointed out, “but certainly we’ve been embraced by that scene. And that scene has come to embrace lots of music.
“For us,” he added, “it’s just sort of natural. Sean and I have always loved improvising and loved jazz but also loved Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so it’s just kind of a natural mix.”
This summer, Home At Last recorded its self-titled debut CD at a Davis studio. The CD will be available this weekend at the band’s gig at Marilyn’s at 12th and K. It features seven songs, which vary from “Fig’s Groove,” a pastoral jam that illustrates jazz guitarist Pat Metheny’s influence on Lehe, to “Desolation,” which has a more pronounced hoedown feel, to “IBC,” which sounds a bit like Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” stretched out and re-imagined by a Southern guitar band. Four of those songs can be accessed at the band’s Web site, www.halband.com.
What was paramount in the development of Home At Last was process. “We’re sort of a touchy-feely band,” Coleman explained, “and we like to have long conversations and talk about things. And from the beginning, we decided we were going to focus really, solely on the music—learning the songs that Sean and I happened to write in a given week and then letting the band take on its own identity based on what comes out of that.”
You can hear what Coleman, Lehe and company came up with this Saturday.