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Headless Household

Nate Birkey


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Zen Horse Repair

Shelly Rudolph

Joe Woodard

Turnip Family Secrets


Brad Rabuchin

Brad Dutz

Fringe Deities

Jennifer Terran

Jeff Elliott

Richard Dunlap

Household Ink Records


issue: Dec. 15, 2005.

State Street

Head of the Class

NOT SOME BORING TRIO: Center Stage Theater underwent a sonic remodeling on Monday, as the Headless Household�with Joe Woodard on guitar, Dick Dunlap on keys, and Tom Lackner on percussives, plus close to a dozen talented musical aides�dropped its annual December dose of jazz eclectico. The blast-off was �Plaything,� an aptly titled Dunlap number that featured Lackner playing children�s squeeze toys before delivering the most adventurous drum beat ever imagined upon a plastic Playskool drumset. Woodard, his face frozen in the �look-what-I-made� smirk, walked around handing out various childish noisemakers, and the night�comprised mostly of songs from the new HH album Blur Joan�was rolling.
        Filling in for founding bassist Chris Symer was the rotating duo of Jim Connolly and David Piltch, and the role of vocalist was shared nicely between Julie Christensen�s voicebox and Tom Buckner�s singing sax. Rounding out the guests were Jeff Kaiser on trumpets, Bill Flores on pedal steel (perfect for �A World Without Polka,� one of the older faves), Tom Ball on harps, and, on elegant strings, cellist Claudia Kiser and violinist Sally Barr.
        The night�s 14 songs ranged from the twangy paced �3 a.m. Western� and the more pensive �Buffoons� to the R&B fun of �My Left Brain� and the frenetic �Blur Joan,� which showed off Lackner�s ability to produce a rapid rhythm that even crystal-meth heads could dig. And leading it all was Woodard, whose guitar mastery allows him to use his instrument as subtly as a conductor�s wand or to take center stage, using a slide to emulate sounds of a deejay scratching vinyl or plucking ever so tightly to evoke the internal monologues of a computer. What a weird, wonderful, wacky wreck, once again. Matt Kettmann

re: Headless Household, post-Polka

from Splendid e-zine

Headless Household
Post Polka
Household Ink

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Days of the Week"

 Like klezmer, polka has seen a recent spike in popularity thanks to its  inability to be dreary. The simple one-two-three rhythm and high-register horns and woodwinds of traditional polkas lead to flights of giddiness, not drudge, which may explain its appeal as a decidedly old-school antidote to the new American grunge. Although polka has always been an element of Headless Household's repertoire, guitarist Joe Woodard shepherded the band down the path of a polka-themed album over the past two years. The result is the aptly-named Post Polka, a mix of updated standards, skewed homages and deconstructions of the classic polka form.

Almost every song here benefits from unusual arrangement or instrumentation choices, veering closer to a Soul Coughing fever dream than a classical polka album. But while this isn't your grandparents' polka, it isn't Weird Al's pop-culture mockery, either. Headless Household are men who understand the need to balance irreverence with reverence, who realize that the clarinet can be ominous, who know that clowns are scary. You may laugh with Post Polka's selections, but you'll never laugh at them -- Woodard and his bandmates are too deft for that. Instead, you may find yourself charmed by the cabaret-style "Days of the Week", bobbing your head to the jazzy waltz of "Wyatt's Burp" and rocking out to the crunchy guitar and oompah oomph of "Here's to the Heimlich Maneuver". You may even find yourself aspiring to join the "polka party posse" of "Spencer the Polka Dispenser", accompanied by whispering backup singers and a blues harmonica. Or, if you're as disturbed as I am, you may find yourself unintentionally turned on by former Leonard Cohen collaborator Julie Christensen and the "Polkettes" as they vocalize an eerily seductive meditation on the pigs-as-love-metaphor in "Puck's Polka". (Never before has a woman punctuating her verses with a comely "oink oink" been so alluring...)

When Headless Household stray farthest from the polka blueprint, as on the delightful jazz-rock fusion of "Picture of Health", they produce the album's most impressive cuts. "Divertimental" is a semi-orchestral recasting of "Puck's Polka" as recalibrated by running the original sheet music through a computer program. And the string-and-xylophone heavy instrumental "Bolka" is a delightfully moving closer. And for indie head-scratchers everywhere, former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips lends his voice to a pair of tracks, including the Burt Bacharach-esque "Moderate Moderation".

It goes without saying that Post Polka is not for everyone. Not only do you need a healthy admiration for Eastern European music -- or at least a healthy indifference toward it -- to appreciate Headless Household's revisionist take, but a willingness to expand your horizons and a broad sense of humor will help immensely. Still, despite the relative taboo of polka itself among the "forget where you came from" generation, I'd recommend Post Polka to anyone willing to wrap their head around it. After all, when's the last time you heard an album that refused to let you down?

 -- Justin Kownacki

Post Polka

(Headless Household, Household Ink HI-133) I'm impressed that a terrific free-jazz ensemble would put out a polka album. These guys are really good; if only they leaned a bit more towards the polkas and bit less towards the free jazz, I'd like this album more. In spite of my rating, if you're interested in the nexus of jazz and polka, buy this CD. C [1-4-04]

--Barry Nostradamus Sher


(Santa Barbara Independent, 12-11-03)

Post - Mod Polkarama
Celebrating 20 Years of Headless Household
by D.J. Palladino

We can rock,� said Josef Woodard, my Arts writer colleague and guitarist nonpareil of that super-longitudinally blessed band�in business now for 20 years�wisely, whimsically dubbed Headless Household.
�Yes, we can,� agreed sound artist and keyboard-playing bandmate Dick Dunlap, waxing unusually gregarious as we huddled in his Mission-area studio, a converted carriage house that was the band�s birthplace back when a former Hollywood actress ran the country based on horoscopes. Perhaps only Ernie and the Emperors can claim more epic historical sweep in city music spheres.
�But it�s rock-ish,� explained Woodard, glancing around the computer- and keyboard-crowded room, smiling happily. �Everything we do is -ish.�
And now the usually fusion-ish four have gone all polka-ish, too. Co-starring the insistent, melodic drums of Tom Lackner and wondrously variegated bassist Chris Symer, Headless Household�s sixth album, entitled post-Polka, explores a seemingly lumpen musical realm with joy. One which they promise to perform with �clat and a lot of help from their musical friends at their annual holiday show at Center Stage next Monday night. �I take total blame for this one,� laughed Woodard, confessing at length his inordinate care for the one-two, one-two polka beat that originated in Germany but stretched across the American heartland and into Tex-Mex dancehalls. First motivated by the great former KCSB disc jockey Greg Drust�s once-weekly polka show, now heard on Internet radio, Woodard found it hard to shake the music. �I found myself bumping into Lawrence Welk on television and loving it,� he said. �Myron Florin was great,� said Dunlap of Welk�s famed co-accordionist.
Woodard even felt compelled to make an entire record of it. Though they have a few polka tunes in the repertoire, it wasn�t exactly a band slam-dunk. �When I first came up with the idea, these guys didn�t believe it would be an album,� said Woodard. But he remained faithful. In his witty and acute liner notes, Drust reports that Charlie Mingus once advised freely, �White man, study your polka.� This being Headless Household, they not only studied it, they took it apart and put it back together fixed-ish.
�Speaking for the elitist members of the band,� half-joked Dunlap, �I have to say it was a little scary. We agreed to do it, and then found out as a surprise we could do it pretty well,� he said. And it�s reflected in the approaches.
The disc opens with a favorite old Household song called �Days of the Week.� Sung by the glorious Julie Christensen, who once warbled backup for the meticulous Leonard Cohen, it freezes the correct amount of Kurt Weill�art song at the cabaret�then segues into �A World without Polka,� which takes Weill out into the stratosphere, stratocasting. The stage thus set, a number of fabulous music scene irregulars turn in depth-defying investigations of the form. People like Glen Phillips, Spencer Barnitz, Nate Birkey, Jim Connolly, Ellen Turner � and Bill Flores on pedal steel. �We even had Tom Ball on the record,� said Woodard of the popular country blues harmonica-man. �He heard a cut at the Riviera Studio and asked if he could do something on the record,� said Woodard. �And he sounds great,� said Dunlap.
Among the more remarkable departures into sonic space, however, is �Divertimental,� which was contributed by drummer Lackner. �It has a very interesting story,� explained Woodard. �Tom�s father [the late German novelist Stephan Lackner] once wrote a polka, called �Puck�s Polka��Puck was his wife�s nickname.� Lackner fils found the sheet music and the band recorded a version of the song, which is also on the record. But then Lackner ran the song through a computer program. �He deconstructed it, and gave it to us. It�s really beautiful.�
Household History
The Household is frequently compared to the likes of Steely Dan, Captain Beefheart, the Band, Ornette Coleman, and lesser known luminaries like the Golden Palominos and Penguin Caf� Orchestra, who all influenced, no doubt. In a way it all began with Woodard, who grew up in Santa Barbara and even played a lot of Bad Company in a garage band with Symer while attending San Marcos. After high school, the polymath Woodard began playing in bands while working toward a career as an Arts writer. (He writes fluently in languages as diverse as award-winning jazz criticism, film history, and contemporary art, in Santa Barbara as well as such national magazines as Downbeat and Guitar Player.)
During these twin pursuits, Woodard, who was breaking away from playing in Top 40 bands, met Dunlap while writing a cover story about sound artists for the L.A. Reader in the late 1970s. Dunlap had moved to the city with his wife Arlene�an up-and-coming star of the art world who painted�then suddenly became obsessed with noise. He and artist friends and a sound-on-sound recorder began experimenting on the edges of sonic frissons, using everything from long hollow tubes to rubber-band snaps. Lackner, who grew up between Montecito and Germany, was already spread impressively over the music scene. Nobody quite agrees who introduced whom, but by 1983 they were already gigging on the Mesa at Baudelaire�s. �Claire Rabe was a great supporter of what we were doing then,� said Woodard, referring to the much-lamented club owner and novelist who died last fall.
They began recording right away, too. �I�m the least of the musicians in the band,� said Woodard, �but somehow the one who writes the most. It�s my outlet,� he said, and I guess he means away from the arduous strains of writing about the arts. �I give them what I�ve got and then Dick fixes my mistakes,� said Woodard. The rest of the players in this open band are people from the music scene who draw themselves toward the group by either accident or inclination. �We�re always looking for excellent musicians who aren�t afraid to make fools of themselves,� said Woodard. Many of these motley virtuosos will be at the Xmas fest on Monday, December 15.
In the meantime, Woodard seems happy with the polka fix and happily the band has begun to move along, too. �Dick loves polka now,� said Woodard, laughing. �We�ve already recorded a couple of tracks for our next project,� he said. �But this next stuff will be a lot more normal,� said Woodard.
Of course, he probably means a lot more normal-ish.
Headless Household performs Mon., Dec. 15,
8 p.m., at Center Stage Theater. Call 963-0408.

(Santa Barabara News Press, 12-12-03)

Headless Household core group, from left: Joe Woodard (guitar), Tom Lackner (drums) and Dick Dunlap (keyboards). Not pictured: Chris Symer (bass)

Polka in the house


When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Center Stage Theater, upstairs in the Paseo Nuevo mall
Cost: $10 general; $7 students
Information: 963-0408 or

By Ted Mills

Headless Household may be Santa Barbara's worst-kept secret or its best-known unknown band.

For 20 years this quartet of quasi-jazz, post-post-rock musicians has been flying low, stealth bombing musical weirdness into our fair city with a handful of CD releases and a series of annual concerts at the Center Stage Theater. The drummer, Tom Lackner, comes from the great Lackner clan of artists who make their home here. Keyboardist and sonic manipulator Dick Dunlap is an award-winning composer. Bassist Chris Symer has been gaining a reputation among the South Coast music scene - especially since the Knitting Factory has opened up a space in Los Angeles. And guitarist and lead idea man Josef Woodard is a journalist whose work regulary appears in Scene and the News-Press. (Full disclosure: The band, in altered form, wrote a beautiful soundtrack for my short film in 2000.)

The Household make a sound located between uncompromising and twisted, guaranteeing their cult fame and obscurity. On Monday, the band will not only celebrate 20 years of Headlessness, but also promote its latest CD, "Post Polka," a collection of straight-up polka tunes and deconstructions thereon.

They're jazz fans, yes. Listen to their wild workouts on 2000's "Mockhausen." But, polka? Where did that come from?

"This polka bug may have started with the fact that I was born in Iowa and have German blood, which makes me predisposed to the oompah impulse," says Woodard, who had to slowly convince the others of this new direction.

And in fact, the polka has always been a part of the band, just very hidden. "Isle of Hugh," from its debut eponymous album from 1987, is a polka tune. "Pig in a Polka" is another, from 1999's "Items."

"I just love the defiant cheer of this music," he says, "and the musicianship you find tucked into those bright-colored upbeats. It has none of the angst, irony, or world-weariness of most pop music. That's a good thing."

Woodard is also quick to point out that polka is never that far away from us in Santa Barbara. "It's almost invisible, until you realize that much of what you hear on KSPE is the Mexican variation on the polka groove, through the styles of Tejano and Tex Mex. That's some of the most exciting accordion and trumpet and tuba playing you'll hear in public, in Southern California! Distorted guitars are way overrated: This is the real musical hot sauce."

The tunes on "Post Polka" are hot, yes, but also bathed in a cool, wistful, blue light. Headless Household, and Woodard's compositions especially, even when they're blazing head on, contain a melancholic tone. It's as if the joy within has since been and gone, and all that's left are the memories to sing about. This is balanced by Woodard's penchant for playful lyrics, hinted at from the song titles: "A World Without Polka," "Wyatt's Burp," "Splinkety Polka" and "Here's to the Heimlich Maneuver." Also of note is "Puck's Polka," a tune written in the 1950s by Tom's father, the late Stephan Lackner. Tom created a variation on the tune later on the album, called "Divertimental." Listeners might also detect the influence of Kurt Weill, whose own angular take on pop conventions shadow the CD.

"Weill is definitely one of my biggest heroes," Woodard admits. "Few people had such a clear grasp of how flexible popular music could be, and how it's possible to inject experimental harmonic ideas, polytonality and seemingly strange materials without skipping a beat or scaring away more conventional listeners. You can hear his influence on Bernstein and Bacharach and Zappa and Bill Frisell and too many American oddballs to mention."

That list of artists, give or take a few ingredients, makes up the primordial soup from which the Household arose in 1983. At the time, the goal of the quartet was to "play music that nobody else was playing in town." This was the time of the New Music scene in New York. John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne and Bill Frisell were playing gigs. The Knitting Factory opened. "Jazz was fusing with post-punk, avant garde noise, European cabaret, and any other inkling you could make fit into a package," Woodard notes. The Southern California jazz scene was awash in slick fusion. Headless Household set out to bring that New York sound to town and be anti-slick.

"I should say it helped that the beloved bohemian club on lower State (Street) known as Baudelaire's - run by Claire Rabe, who just passed away - partly made it possible. She gave us encouragement and a place to work out this evolving organism."

It took until 1987 for the band to release their first album, back in the days when there were no CD burners or cheap deals - vinyl was an expensive proposition. "I'm sure it helped solidify our identity enough to keep us plugging along all these years. Live shows are great to do, but recordings are forever," Woodard says.

Monday night's concert returns the band to the Center Stage Theater, a locale that has been kind to Santa Barbaran artists of all kinds. "We were getting tired of playing in noisy clubs with patrons who might understand what we were up to - or just as often not. We also wanted to be in control of the performance setting," he says. It will be their 14th appearance there, and Woodard fondly remembers the first concert, performed on a stage set for a current production of "A Christmas Carol," "a bleak London ambience offset by our strange amalgam of avant and Americana sounds"

As is typical with Household events and albums, the show will feature a who's who of Santa Barbaran musicians: trumpeter Nate Birkey, bassman Jeff Connolly, vocalists Glenn Phillips, Ellen Turner, Julie Christensen, and Allegra Heidelinde, bluegrass musician Tom Ball, saxophonist Tom Buckner and many more.

With so many guests, isn't the band worried that it'll be obscured?

"We've always had this problem of being into music and musicians and wanting to keep our identity flexible enough to include others in our strange, non-exclusive party," Woodard says. "It's the 'polka posse' sensation. We really should just see if we can do an album on a members-only basis, like we did in the beginning, when there was a lot more free jamming. Maybe that's the next one. But probably not."


(from the South Coast Beacon, 12-18-03)  

Still Headless after all these years

By Daniel Okamura
South Coast Beacon

Few bands could say they�ve enjoyed constant success traveling outside the beltway of commercial music. Nearly none could maintain an audience playing just one or two concerts a year, especially playing music that delves into discord. But whatever tools Headless Household has used to carve its niche seem to have created an enduring gravure as the band busily celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a new album, �post-Polka,� and three gigs within the past month and a half. Joe Woodard, guitarist and main composer for the group, sheds some light on the band�s eccentric success.

Daniel Okamura: How did Headless Household get started?

Joe Woodard: Back in the early �80s, we were four musicians doing various things and � we all felt that we wanted to create a band that was completely different from anything we were doing or hearing in Santa Barbara. � It was sort of a coming together of people, of experimental musicians who wanted to try something fresh.

DO: What has this year brought for the band?

JW: Well, this year is kind of a big year for us in that this album took a lot of effort � it basically took two years. � I�m really gonna send it out and see what happens with this one. I think it might have more of a commercial life than our other albums, which tend to be more eclectic and hard for people to get an easy handle on.

DO: There are certainly more vocal tracks on this album.

JW: That�s true, and we might get criticized for that by some people in the more experimental and the new music world. C�est la vie (laughs). I believe you can mix it all up and get away with it.

DO: (The polka tunes) sound like they could be in a Danny Elfman film score. Are any of you Oingo Boingo fans?

JW: It�s more a matter of being influenced by the same things that they were. Like, I know that they were big Frank Zappa fans, and that certainly describes us. � But I would say that � as crazy as they could be, everything was pretty neat, whereas we like to get sloppy at times. � It�s almost like dancing on the verge of chaos without succumbing completely.

DO: What changes has the band seen in the last 20 years?

JW: I should qualify that by saying that a lot of years, we only played one concert. � Part of it was our changing environment because when we started, there were more places to play this wacky stuff.

DO: Was Santa Barbara�s music scene more open then?

JW: I think so. I think we grew out of that. Like, there was this great little quasi-Bohemian club called Baudelaire�s. � And it was run by this poet and novelist, Claire Rabe, who just passed away a couple months ago. ... I think that was more typical of that era. It was just more open and liberal. You didn�t have to fit into a specific style or play dance music and so that suited us perfectly.

DO: So what keeps Headless Household together?

JW: It�s probably the sparseness of our creative time that we put into this. It basically happens in concentrated doses. � If we were playing this all the time, I�m sure we�d burn out. Members have quit before, only to come back the next week. I think that there�s something about this project that�s stubborn and it won�t die.

I�m hoping to get this music out there as much as I can while still understanding that some people will just be confused or worse. � I don�t want to be a bother to anyone, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are yearning to hear something new.

DO: There are a lot of collaborators on �post-Polka.� How did that come about?

JW: That was part of what elongated the process. � What was so exciting, what kept us going in that direction was that all the musicians loved doing it �cause they just don�t get a chance to do off-beat stuff, so when they do, they throw themselves into it.



re: Jeff Elliott, Different Jungles

L.A. Jazz Scene, January 2004


Different Jungles

(Household Ink)

Through multi-tracking, Jeff Elliott creates a whole brass section in order to interpret his collection of original compositions. He�s written pieces that explore various aspects of the jazz world, from close at hand to the other side. While touring with Flora Purim and Airto, he experienced the natural beauty of a jungle first hand. And while touring with Les McCann and Eddie Harris, he realized that jazz has to grow if it�s to survive. Put those two and two together, and you have an eclectic project that serves the fifty-year old trumpeter.

EIliott has added a rhythm section, a saxophonist, and several others to his formula. Each piece paints a different aspect of the music industry and of the world around us. "Denham Blues" soars eloquently along city streets, as the leader�s open horn is supported fiercely by tenor saxophonist Vince Denham, pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Randy Tico and drummer Mike Clark. Each shares the trumpeter�s sincere desire to extend jazz beyond bebop and swing. "Harbor Nights" struts confidently with a funk-driven backbeat, while "The Resurrection of Joey Crown" carries with it a detailed story and treasured memories of the way jazz was depicted on television some forty years ago.

�A Hard Win" contains traces of Miles; "A.D.H.D." recalls the fire and force of Dizzy; and "Weather Monk" flips along comfortably with bouncing rhythmic and harmonic surprises. From the contemporary scene, Elliott depicts the desert, the ocean, a dance club, and a rainforest. "Jungle River" flows smoothly and evenly through serene landscapes that contain hidden forces, which Elliott communicates convincingly via trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone horn and keyboards. Eddie Harris has left his thumbprint all over Elliott�s score, which has enabled the trumpeter to create a highly recommended project that exhibits the growth of jazz in all directions.

                --Jim Santella

                    re: joe woodard, between     

review in Splendid e-zine

In Between's final track, guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Woodard ponders "the unbearable art of traveling light, stripping down to just the things you really need." You could take it as a metaphor for the whole album, which applies a corrosive, surface-stripping intelligence to the souped-up pop standards by which we judge songs.

The tracks on Between seem slight and atmospheric on first listen, but blossom slowly. For instance, my initial impression of the album opener "Its Merry Way" was that while it was about songs that stick in your head, it was not one of them itself. A day or two later, I found myself humming it in the grocery store. Similarly, the cascading downward scale notes on the title track initially refused to coalesce into melody for me, yet later took on a kind of wandering inevitability.

In the best tracks, Woodard, guitarist in Santa Barbara's Headless Household, combines thoughtful, unexpected guitar playing, intellectually twisted yet painfully honest lyrics and heartfelt singing. These elements don't come together on every track, but when they do, the result is a slippery, undefinable charm. "Grown Men Cry", for instance, may be all mood and no melody, yet the waltz-time "Anthony Robbins" skewers the self-help guru with lazy Clem Snide precision.

Like Headless Household, Woodard blends and borrows genres -- folk, country, jazz and world -- with abandon. "News Flash", an ode to Toronto's boho Queen Street, puts a sleepy jazz bass line under the electric keyboards and tingling cymbals of sedated swing. Sax and xylophone tones build on the late-night vibe in a dark, seedy vision. The two "Cartilege" pieces (connective tissue, I guess) are more overtly experimental -- the first electronically manipulated, the second a jagged counterpoint of oddly tuned guitars.

Still, most of the tracks on Between are recognizable folk songs. They diverge from the standard with subtle lyrics and unexpected chord changes, yet they are still, first and foremost, songs. "Songs will come and go, they seize your mind just as if they own the joint," Woodard sings. That's true of many of the tracks on Between, but only if you give them time to take hold. -- Jennifer Kelly

--Santa Barbara Independent

re: turnip family secrets

feature in the SB Independent, 4-11-02

"who's hot," in the SB News-Press, 4-12-02

review in the Independent, 4-18-02

Santa Barbara News Press, Wednesday, April 17, 2002
By Starshine Roshell

NEWS PRESS Staff writer 
        Everything about the grownup musical fairytale "Turnip Family Secrets" is delightfully imaginative: an outlandish storyline, ingenious scenic design, golden story-book limiting and an inventive and flexible score that bends from sultry to sinister and bounces all the way back to snappy. Even the purple paper program smacks of fancy, promising scenes set "In the sky" and on "A vast and featureless plateau," and songs titled "Don't Treat Me Like an Idiot" and "I'll Pull Off the Giant's Nose." But audiences may need more than vivid imaginations to unearth the meaning of this anything-but-garden-variety play. It may take a heavy plow.

    Written by Michael Smith, the story is about a salt-of-the earth family that grows a mammoth turnip, moves into it, is besieged by an irksome giant and ultimately chucks the whole soiled situation for an extended European holiday. Occasionally absurd and frequently obscure, the short show seems to be a sort of parable about the thrill of pulling up roots, both those of the homegrown veggie variety and those that fetter us to our
family homes. At. its best, director Deanne Anders' experimental production is thought-provoking, funny and offers a good-natured elbow-ribbing at the somewhat bizarre conventions of children's theater. Here, larger-than-life characters tackle cliche-ridden dialogue with exaggerated volume and enunciation, blaring inane quips like, "Oh, yes, this is fine!" with staggering enthusiasm.
      Of course, stylized language and performances put emotional distance between the audience and the antics, ever-reminding us that the on-stage world is strange and unfamiliar. The notion is enhanced by dreamlike, even nightmarish, visual cues, including wildly original set pieces by Yadi Zeavin, a creepy blinking eye by artist Tiffany Story and an oversized papier-mache giant's nose by Richard McLaughlin. When combined with amplified snorting, the latter strikes a curious balance between wonderfully silly and scary. 

    Josef Woodard's music is perhaps the most inviting and engaging aspect of the production. Set to Mr. Smith's clever lyrics, which are sometimes drowsed out by Mr. Woodard's visible and capable five-piece band, the tunes employ the familiar rhythms of jazz, tango, rock, rap and even a passionate polka or two. The results can be meditative and haunting, or wonky arid whimsical.

    The music enhances the storytelling with complex chords and even screeching cacophony, and the band follows suit with sound effects like windy wooshing,clippi1y clops and the chilling clanks of a rattling metal toolbox. The four actors deserve high praise for their sheer willingness to go along on this wild ride. Especially game is Fred Lehto, who does wonders with the cryptic script and roots his character, Cal, in a wondrous wide-eyed optimism. His real-life wife Paula Re brings a lovely singing voice to her role as Cal's pragmatic better half, Bess. Geren Piltz's expressive body language and his visible enthusiasm for his role as their son David are mesmerizing.

    Further testament to the show's creative spirit is the casting of preteen Geoffrey Bell as both the stomping, roaring giant and the omniscient garden fairy in argyle socks and knickers. A sixth-grader, Mr. Bell gets extra points for his dedication to a story that left even adults in the audience scratching their beads and saying things like, "I think it's an allegory."
    Surely it's no accident, though, that nonsense found its way into this yarn. Toward the end, when Bess croons, "I used to think life made sense," it is clear that Mr. Smith wants to remind us bow positively confounding even the most humdrum existence can be.

    There are other turnip family "secrets" as well�vague messages about responsibility, surmounting colossal challenges, shrugging off the burden of possessions and answering the call of your heart. 

    But these lessons are buried pretty deep in the colorful flower bed that is the text You don't have to be a mental giant to find them, but you have to be willing to dig.

Zeniths of Zany
Turnip Family Secrets, at Center Stage Theater through April 21.

What could be weirder than a modern day fairy tale about a son who convinces his bumpkin parents to hollow out their farm�s biggest turnip and move on in? The answer: a musical play based on that very premise called Turnip Family Secrets, written as a labor of love by Michael Smith, composed with 18 original jazzy cuts by Joe Woodard, and directed with just enough confusing care by Deanne Anders.
From the very first scene with Bess and Cal�played by real-life couple Paula Re and Fred Lehto�it�s clear that this is no ordinary production, as the two peruse their garden that�s overflowing with turnips of enormous size, while singing frumpy farm songs about vegetables and domestic strife. The overzealous yet entirely dependent son David, acted exuberantly by Geren Piltz, manages to persuade his parents to inhabit the turnip, a 15-foot-tall red and white stage prop, and any sort of rural-based reality that existed prior to the big move is tossed deep into the giant hole left by the overgrown tuber. Throw in sixth-grader Geoffrey Bell�s exploratory yet destructive, giant and well-meaning yet intrusive fairy, and Turnip Family Secrets succeeds in playfully baffling the audience while passing along biting commentary on white, middle-class suburban life at the same time.
There are a few interesting stage conventions along the way, especially the upright bed scene between Cal and Bess that shoots far past any of the innuendo that�s strewn throughout the rest of the production. The extended scenes of darkness also tweak the theater-going experience, puzzling those who might actually think they understand the play, past any semblance of meaning.
In several post-production barroom conversations after opening night, it�s clear to this reviewer that confusion was exactly what Smith intended, as neither the actors nor the musicians really know what the play�s about anyway. Therein lies the bungled beauty of Turnip Family Secrets: You leave the theater not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or just walk home straight-faced, a muddled mind-set that can only be created by productions that are practiced in the art of confusion.

re: Headless Household

(get thee to the picturehole...)

"Headless Household still seems to think that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Clever without being obnoxious, laid-back without snoozing, their quick-dissolve electric studiohead jazz offers an alternative--not exactly a revolution, more a wink than a nod: We haven't given up, how about you?...Awareness won't get you to heaven, but in this case it gets you pretty far." --Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly

Hailing from Santa Barbara, California, Headless Household achieved regional cult status by the late 1990s, thanks to their quirky and eclectic kind of new music, their relentless live shows and a string of albums all released on the band�s own label Household Ink.

Headless Household was formed in Santa Barbara (Calfornia) in 1983 by Dick Dunlap (keyboards), Tom Lackner (percussion), Chris Symer (bass) and Joe Woodard (guitars), four friends sharing a taste for the unusual. Their first album (on LP), Headless Household, was released in 1987, but things didn't pick up until their third album Items (1996), still the band's best achievment. Items showcased all the eclecticism and creativity Headless Household is capable of. By that time, the four core members were regularly joined by a cast of guests including jazz trumpeter Jeff Kaiser, violinist Gilles Apap and ex-Toad the Wet Sprocket Glen Phillips. Free Associations (1999) saw the band heading into more commercial territory, but if this change of direction raised a few questions, they were quickly answered by the release of Mockhausen (2000), their most abstract and experimental record to date.

The fact that Headless Household releases its albums on its own record label, Household Ink, sure didn't help them get attention. But by 2000, they were starting to get exposure outside the regional press. � Fran�ois Couture, All-Music Guide


             re: the CD release of their 1987 debut, Headless Household

     Was it really 13 years ago that Headless Household released its first album? Santa Barbara's music scene was certainly different then�not  as commercially strong, no doubt, but  there were probably more places to play and more places to sponge up artistic ideas from fellow musicians. I certainly felt this absence when I saw Eugene Chadboume play two Thursdays ago to a very small crowd at the Roma. A few music freaks, a few musicians passing through, a few Chadbourne groupies ready to buy a baker's dozen of his indie releases. Out there music felt lonely and alone.

    Headless Household's 1987 debut feels warm, juices-flowing warm, friends-stopping-by-to-share-a-solo-or-riff warm. You can hear them finding their footing with each other here, developing their sound�an avant-jazz ready to jump into any Americana genre it can think up. Dick Dunlap's keyboards mark the least derivation from original intent�here, as usual, they fill in those empty gaps left by the other three, never really �there� until it jumps into the foreground. Joe Woodard doesn't sound like Bill Frisell yet, but you can hear how he was not too far away from his block even then, with his watery leads and sliding chords. It's also interesting to hear Tom Lackner's progressive drumming so high up in the mix�-but this was the �'80s after all. Ditto Chris Symer, whose bass and Chapman Stick aren't too far in style from Tony Levin. How they've all changed.

     Guests include Joseppi Scozzaro, playing accordion on "Isle of Hugh" (the one track with lyrics). Scozzaro was owner of Joseppi's, a much-lamented and sorely missed club where many musical adventures were undertaken�a space now occupied by The Madhouse. Kathy Kelly, who sings vocals on this dizzy polka number, was at the time working with Van Dyke Parks. She, like many others, came to Santa Barbara and stayed.

      Several albums and many annual shows later, the Household is still welcoming guests in the band's own subdued way. Check out where it all started.

--Ted Mills, Santa Barbara Independent, 12-14-00

                                                                                                re: mockhausen 

AMG EXPERT REVIEW: Mockhausen is everything Headless Household's previous album, Free Associations, was not. The latter was the band's most commercial release in 15 years of existence, but as the pendulum coming back only to go farther in the other direction, Mockhausen is a lot more experimental than any of their first five albums, something expressed in the title itself, a play of words on the name of Karlhein Stockhausen.

Mockhausen is anything but song oriented. Mostly made of collages, this material comes from outtakes, live recordings, found sounds, and free improvisations involving all members of the band and a few selected guests (longtime friends Jeff Kaiser and Dave Binney). This is a big change from the song-oriented, almost entirely Joe Woodard-penned Free Associations, best epitomized by the guitarist's new interest in turntables. Sounds collide and song excerpts overlap in a collage frenzy. Surprise and deconstruction are the two main concepts used, but the listener still has a few moments to rest his ears, like on Dunlap's beautiful piano solo "Elvin" or the jazz ballad closing the album. This is Headless Household at their most adventurous and their best. � Fran�ois Couture, All-Music Guide


Headless Household answers the unspoken (not to mention icky) question, "What if Negativland and a traditional jazz ensemble were in a terrible plane crash and the emergency room doctors decided to piece together four complete survivors from the bodies and parts found in the wreckage?"

Slapping genre tags on Headless Household has never worked, and Mockhausen is their least categorizable album to date. Though their music is supported by a framework of traditional rock/jazz instrumentation -- keyboard/piano, guitar, bass and drums -- you're just as likely to encounter turntable manipulation and aggressive trumpet-playing. "Opened House" sets the scene immediately, tossing the listener into a roiling melee of found audio, around which mutated, shambolic jazz and rock progressions flail and stagger. "For What Ails You" leans more heavily on its post-rock/fusion foundation, though found audio samples mingle at the feet of the melody. To their credit, Headless Household toss this stuff off effortlessly. Unlike Tortoise, whose compositions often seem to be held together by surface tension and intense concentration, the Household's work is looser, more robust and forgiving, and doesn't seem to take itself so all-fired seriously.

Individual Household members bring their own works to the table. Dick Dunlap gives us "Elvin (Palimpsest)", an unsettling game of cat and mouse for solo piano. Drummer Tom Lackner offers "Re-Opened House," an envigorating and rich tapestry of electro-acoustic percussion sources, filled with unique sonic "characters". And Joe Woodard, the guitarist/turntablist behind "For What Ails You", is also responsible for "Wintry (Invention)", a fairly straightforward, though distantly alien exercise in noir jazz, complete with torch song scatting. But the true joy of Mockhausen is hearing the quartet interact and improvise; these guys have been working together a long time, and it shows in the cohesive mental narrative of "The Feeling of Give".

Mockhausen works because the Headless Household never entirely lose sight of the fact that they want to entertain the listener. There are crucial vestiges of musicality -- hummable hooks, compelling rhythms or amusing samples -- in even the most experimental tracks. However wildly improvisational their music becomes, these guys play with their (metaphorical) eyes open, watching the audience to make certain they're enjoying the ride. This is a crucial distinction, as music in any genre misses the point when it is performed more for the players than the listeners -- a pitfall that the Household dodges.

I like to believe that Splendid constantly pushes readers to expand their musical horizons and try some less predictable music. As part of that bargain, we do our best to identify strong, reliable "starting points" on sonic roads less traveled. If you've been looking for that elusive path out of Musical Blahs-ville (or its suburb, Emo-Town), grab a copy of Mockhausen, sit down with your best headphones on and imagine yourself passing a big highway sign: "You are now leaving Predictable Indie Rock." You may never return.

Oh, and just ignore that plane crash debris in the background.

                                                                                    --George Zahora, Splendid


re: Free Associations

 "...The group�s third CD release is full of angular lines, tricky meters and �difficult� music that gives way to moments of raw, irreverent stretching (�Tiddly Wink�), modal jams (�Green Swipe Pattern�) and pure improvisational cacophony (�Surf Punctuation�). This impossibly eclectic mix suggests a strange meeting of Captain Beefheart, Ernest Tubb, post-comeback Miles Davis, the Band, Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Edith Piaf, with touches of Sonny Sharrock, John Cage, Bill Frisell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago thrown in. Music this wildly diverse can never be properly marketed in this age of specialization, but that doesn�t make it any less extraordinary. **** (four stars)

                                                --Bill Milkowski, Tower Pulse magazine, Oct. 1999                           

"Another scintillating release from this Santa Barbara combo, featuring a solid jazz foundation with avant-garde underpinnings. This deft combination produces a characteristically unique album that will please a wide audience with its variety and skill. At one moment, the Household sounds something like a magnificently orchestrated big band ("My Baby Left Brain") and with one quick nod of the head, an anarchical deconstruction of all musical elements occurs ("Laconics 1"), flinging the band into the corners of Knitting Factory experimentalism. And just when you think you've nailed the band into a stylistic pigeonhole, Bill Flores whips out the heavy duty steel pedal gee-tar and the Household goes 100% country, duet-style, with "Honey, I'm Home." ... The monstrous musicianship on this CD could squeeze your feeble brain like a zit, but instead, the group chooses not to will its awesome power upon you. Rather, they befuddle listeners with wry wit, harrowing humour and refreshing vivacity, creating a release that will certainly cure you of the overexposed rock ‘n’ roll blues."

--Andrew Magilow, Splendid e-zine, 7-13-99

(from blurb...) 

Hometown: Santa Barbara, CA, US 
"No, Headless Household is not an Industrial band. They sound like Miles Davis playing with the Kronos Quartet conducted by Sun Ra with occasional vocals by George Jones and backup singers from
A Man and a Woman. Wonderful and wonderfully bizarre. If and when Twin Peaks gets another stab at prime time TV, Headless Household would be the perfect band to play at the lodge.
Sounds Like: Ween, George Jones, Mark Isham, Kronos Quartet" 

Brass Tracks

Free Associations, A CD by Headless Household on Household Ink records

Headless Household make a free jazz noise that sounds like its name--no one of the four musicians (Dick Dunlap, Tom Lackner, Chris Symer, and Joe Woodard) reigns supreme over any one tune, more willing to cede that role over to their ever-changing roster of guest musicians.

Celebrating 15 years of adventurous genre bustin', Free Associations--a title that suggests the numerous musical friends who turn up at this household's door, as much as the improv style that courses through the tracks--is the Household's fourth album and yet another smorgasbord of strange delights.

Headless Household has a way of making Santa Barbara appear to have a happenin' avant-jazz scene, but that's only part of their plan. They can take vocalists Glen Phillips and Marjorie Extract and recast them as country balladeers ("Honey, I'm Home"), or turn Julie Christensen into a Seine-side chanteuse on the Michel Legrand meets po-mo blender "The Eiffel Tower Made Easy." They give Jennifer Terran her chance to front a swing band ("My Baby Left Brain"). Most of all, they can disappear and make believe Headless Household is a brass-led quintet. Blowin' across the entire album are contributions from trumpeters Tom Buckner, Nate Birkey, and Jeff Elliott (who does a fair impression of Miles Davis circa Live/Evil on "Green Swipe Pattern"), and saxmen Dave Binney and Buckner (again). There's also plenty of tasty piano work from Theo Saunders.

Frith-meets-Frisell guitarist Joe Woodard's connection to this fair paper is apparent--you've probably just read his column a page or two back--but who would've thought our own Angry Poodle would guest star on her self-titled track? Sounding like Laurie Anderson late for an appointment, guest vocalist Christensen reads a recent Trixie tirade against anonymity while the band jitters away. They then segue into a stomping Material-ish riff while Jeff Kaiser makes his trumpet yelp, tail between its legs.

What holds this all together is the cerebral spirit of experiment, and the rythmic backbone of Tom Lackner's drums and Chris Symer's bass. And while near the end of many tracks the band may run off, or rather saunter away, in all directions, they always find their way back home. Free Associations is an eclectic treat and a nicely twisted snapshot of our local scene.

--Ted Mills, Santa Barbara Independent, 12-17-98

Fifteen Years Headless

Santa Barbara's finest crop of mixed milieu musicians--Headless Household--is celebrating its 15-year anniversary with a show at the Center Stage Theater this Monday, December 14 at 8 p.m. ($10, or $7 for students or seniors).

The band without a parent is also the (right-brain) child of all four members, a truly democratic anarchy of competing ideas yet congruent concepts, working together in a spirit of sophisticated freedom--an evolving musical proof of the mathematical theory of chaos.

The sometimes jazz, art rock, cabaret, what-have-you band includes Independent writer Josef Woodard--whose project is more "Fringe" than his own column, and whose bandmates--pianist, synthesist, sample wizard Dick Dunlap, drummer and Local Hero Tom Lackner, upright bass and strange string-thing player Chris Symer--equal Woodard in left-of-center sonic shenanigans. They're a quixotic quartet, to say the least.

The latest Headless album--Free Associations--shows the skilled professionalism of these savvy players in their most mischievous moments, incorporating a range of fine musical guests, challenged beyond their usual scope. The surprisingly bold Brechtian folk tones of the usually tender tenor Glen Phillips meshes unique- ly with the plaintive slide of Marjorie Extract's vocals. Jennifer Terran glides over a scat blues, and Julie Christensen gets to sing in Franglais mode over mood-layering musical maestros Gilles Apap on violin and Nate Birkey on trumpet. Even our own angry poodle Trixie is lyrically lifted from in "The Angry Poodle." It's all a good stretch, fine whimsical stuff.

For a first-hand gander and up-front earful of the above diverse talents and more, find your way to the 15-year-young birthday party, the annual live performance at the Center Stage, where surprises can't not happen, and improvisation ripples through the fine semi-structured ensemble like peanut butter marble through chocolate ice cream. It's tasty and brings a guarantee of the unexpected.

--Duncan Wright, Santa Barbara Independent, 12-17-98





Fan Fair/Hypothyroid Dough Boy-1/3 A.M. Western (All the Whiskey in China) -3/ Expectators-4/ House Rules/ News Flash (Toronto Blues Society) 5-6/ Dance Peace / (Open Letter to) Manfred Eicher –5/ Ernesta/ In His Absence/For What Ails You (and Slight Rleturn)-4 / Pig in a Polka-2-3-5-7/ Nodding Up Front / Hefty Darlin’-2-5 69:55.

Dick Dunlap, kbds, sequences, samples; Tom Lackner, d, perc, ryl; Chris Symer, b; Joe Woodard, 9; Jeff Kaiser, peck h, tpt-1 only; Nate Sirkery, tpt-2 only; Glues Apap, vln-3 only; David Binney, asA only; Tom Buckner, ts-5 only; Jennifer Terran, vcl4 only; Ellen Turner, vcl-7 only. No location, December 1995.

"Headless Household is the core cooperative quartet of Dunlap, Lackner, Symer and Woodard. Various guests add to the eclectic musical scope of a startling project. "Fan Fair is a sample heavy, sequencer-intense mix that cross-fades into the rather flat funk of "Hypothyroid Dough Boy." Gilles Apap's violin carries the melodic lead of Woodard1s lyrical ballad "3 A.M. Western." The opening three performances reveal this cooperative's challenging scope ranging from fractal freescapes ('tExpectators") to New Age ballads ("For What Ails You/Nodding Up Front); from electronic experiments ("Dance Peace/In His Absence") to jaunty dirge fanfares ("House Rules") or ballads like News Flash" and "(Open Letter To) Manfred Eicher" with its uncanny recreation of the coo yet ush romanticism of the classic ECM sound. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the smooth relaxed groove of "Hefty Darlin'," a slick and loving demonstration of Headless Household's ability to play with a precision, depth, warmth and ease of feeling that can rival any other outfit in the professional mainstream. Lovely stuff.

    --David Lewis, Cadence, August 1998

"From Santa Barbara, keyboardist Dick Dunlap, drummer Tom Lackner, basst Chris Symer and guitarist Joe Woodard are quite a creative group. On this, their fourth recording, they include everything from free improv to straightahead jazz with creative asides thrown in that include comedy, Country & Western, electronic fusion, blues and progressive rock... it’s quite an enjoyable mix from this group of talented and creative musicians." --Jim Santella, L.A. Jazz Scene, April 1997



Headless Household / Items / Household Ink (CD)

"Like groups like Medeski, Martin and Wood, Headless Household's vision of jazz is one of expanding boundaries and eclecticism. Embodying the word fusion in its true sense, Items blends a variety of musical styles rock, funk, country, blues, 70's fusion, surf, polka . . . ) and wraps it up in a not-quite-round, not-quite square package labeled "jazz". This same cut 'n' paste mentality has propelled artists like Beck to success in the rock world -- it's just that Headless Household, true to their jazz underpinnings, do it live on acoustic instruments rather than in their bedroom with a sampler and a four-track (O.K., they do use a sampler once and a while!). For those who are looking for something new and challenging in jazz, this album is worth serious consideration. Rather than 'The Riffs of Parker from A to Z' (which is too often what you get in mainstream jazz these days), Items offers a jazz alternative that is alive and vibrant." --noah wane


AMG EXPERT REVIEW: The title of this album is the best possible description, not only for this particular release, Headless Household's third, but for the entire output of this strange band from Santa Barbara, California. Because Headless Household is all about eclecticism. The band plucks items from a very wide range of musical genres. The album opener, "Fan Fair," sounds just like... well... a fanfare, while the next song ("Hypothyroid Dough Boy") is driven by an angular funk rhythm with a little guitar melody very reminiscent of the theme song from the Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon. The song then breaks totally free, only to come together once again, this time topped by a dismembered solo from guest hornist Jeff Kaiser. The next tune, "3 A.M. Western," is a beautiful (and very tonal) country/jazz ballad and the fourth a free improv jam.

I won't describe the album track by track, but by now you should get the idea: whatever it is you just heard, there is absolutely no garantee the next minute will be in the same vein. On Items, Headless Household touches mainstream jazz, free jazz, western, polka, some very cheezy things and Zappa-like avant-rocking. The pool of guests musicians appearing on the album also has something to do with this ever-changing sound, adding to Household's basic guitar/keys/bass/drums instrumentation trumpet (Jeff Kaiser), violin (Gilles Apap), alto (David Binney) and tenor (Tom Buckner) sax, even some vocals on two tracks.

Don't think Headless Household lacks direction though. All this variety serves them well and the listener, although often surprised or taken off-guard, doesn't feel lost in Items. These guys know what they're doing and they do it very well. Fans of Frank Zappa and the likes, or simply those who appreciate not being able to predict what will happen for the next hour after the first two minutes of the CD, should definitely try to track this one down. � Fran�ois Couture, All-Music Guide


re: Inside/Outside USA        

"Santa Barbara's comically-inspired jazz-cum-anything quartet... fusion, country, folk, funk, surf, and even polka all mix together with just enough bite, humor, and variety to buck convention. Prime musical chops keep the irreverence focused... this household is all over the map; in terms of creativity and energy, the group is beyond category." --Roger Len Smith, Jazziz

All-Music Guide: On Inside/Outside USA, Headless Household fuse a wide range of styles to create their brand of rock: swing, bebop, blues and avant-garde, among others. � John Bush

"Headless Household’s singular brand of jazz is not so much free as it is amok. This Santa Barbara combo plays endearingly bizarre pop, bop, swing, and several other genres with impeccable musicianship and a sly sense of humor... `The Mayor’s Send-Off’ is a very nice piece of blue-mood lounge music with a smoky trumpet; `Rumba in Kuwait’ is an impressive exercise in avant-noise; `Wintering in Heaven’ deserves to be added to the repertoire of every nightclub crooner. An added bonus is `Woe to Him,’ featuring vocals by Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips. Recommended, but not for purists." --Rafer Guzman, East Bay Express

"Fusion's never been this bizarre. Headless Household combines good 'ol Southern blues-boogie, be-bop, swing and rock into a gamey stew served warm over a plate of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Golden Palaminos, Captain Beefheart, Savoy Brown, and onward...Wild."--Darren Bergstein, I/e

"A quartet from Santa Barbara, CA, Headless Household have been together for over a decade, and released their first, self-titled album in 1987. `Inside/Outside’ finds them teaming up with several guests, including Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, on 14 tracks of eclectic and moody mellow jazz and fusion. Ten of the tracks are instrumentals, and explore a variety of jazz atmospheres with occasional help from some horn players. The band members, playing, playing guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, are all solid musicians, but the strength of the album lies mainly in its variety—the songs each explore different shades of jazz, from light, dreamy vocal pieces to comedic musical jabs at James Brown and surf music, to somewhat more upbeat and eclectic fusion. For those into the mellower side of electric jazz, ‘Inside/Outside’ should prove to be an interesting and enjoyable listen, though not an essential release." --RW, Expose

"Following a private madness, they assemble (musical) nuggets into something great and, sometimes, even important. Using old and new instrumentation and technologies, Headless Household weave through tight turns and time-signatures" --B.H. Hart, Sound Choice

"It's hard to categorize these guys, though their music's playful, quirky, sometimes downright silly, sometimes quite soothing."--New Music Distribution Service Catalogue blurb


re: Nate Birkey, The Mennonite and ballads   


The Mennonite and Ballads
Nate Birkey | Birkey Music

Based in Southern California, trumpeter Nate Birkey has been affiliated with both the mainstream and avant-garde scenes since he finished his studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The leader, who released both albums this year, grew up in Colorado, where he began studying piano at an early age and "fell in love with" his father's trumpet in the 5th grade. Birkey's cohesive band has been together for several years, and has learned to anticipate one another's actions. The Household Ink label was founded in 1987 to support the new music band Headless Household. Birkey has appeared on several of their albums. An eclectic group, the band crosses genres to include whatever they wish. Their creative sessions allow for growth in the jazz world while remaining true to its roots.

The Mennonite

Nate Birkey's trumpet rings with a clarion tone, as his quintet interprets straight-ahead ideas. Acoustic, and derived both from jazz and blues traditions, his session favors original compositions. Birkey's sense of the modern mainstream includes light Latin reflections, moody trumpet daydreams, cohesive ensemble play, and a bit of adventurous growth. The album is a clear winner. Nods to Miles Davis are everywhere. Alongside Birkey's trumpet, his pianist, tenor saxophonist, and bassist carry a fair share of the melody. Each displays an honest respect for tone quality, and everybody solos. Samples are available from his web site. When the trumpeter steps forward, his ballad tone takes over. There are classical music overtones. Several of the pieces proceed suitelike, telling stories through their myriad mood changes. Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do" contrasts with the rest of Birkey's stellar session. The leader's vocal presentation with piano accompaniment leaves behind all of the favorable displays of attention to tone evident elsewhere. The title track - a loose, bouncy affair - adds guitars to color with a contemporary brush. Guest Joe Woodard elevates Birkey's straight-ahead piece to the leading edge. This is where today's jazz should be. The tradition remains intact, while familiar elements from rock, pop, and world music serve to provide an avenue for growth.

~ Jim Santella

A fool and his trumpet
BY TOM JACOBS, Santa Barbara News Press

Nate Birkey calls his two new CDs "Ballads" and "The Mennonite." The first title is self-explanatory. Understanding the other requires some knowledge of religious sects - and a bit of family history.

The Mennonite movement is a pacifistic Christian faith which dates back to 16th-century Europe and is widely practiced in parts of the rural Midwest. Among its adherents was the man who raised Birkey's mother.

She never became a practicing Mennonite, according to her jazz trumpeter son. However, Birkey has fond memories of the meals she prepared using the Mennonite Cookbook. He recalls them as being tasty but "very fattening."

Reminiscing about his mom and his Midwestern upbringing, Birkey created "The Mennonite," which became the title song of the CD. While the song is personal, its tone is hardly nostalgic.

"The title is almost tongue-in-cheek," he said. "The song is sort of funky. It has a kind of cool stoicism which is sort of Mennonitish, I guess."

Birkey, whose quintet will perform Wednesday night at SOhO, calls another of his new numbers "The Fool in the Tree." It's something of a self-portrait. The tree of the title is his family tree, and to his "very practical" Midwestern relatives, his life as a professional musician must seem peculiar indeed.

Reflecting his roots, Birkey is decidedly soft-spoken and low-key. He's also practical (a good Midwestern trait). When he went into the recording studio with his group in February, his plan was to record a single CD of his most recent material.

"I had booked seven days in the studio," he said. "We had most of the original material done - or close to being done - in three to four days. I had toyed with the idea of doing a 'standards' album; given the fact we had more time, we started recording some standards that I love."

Not surprisingly, those performances "weren't as thought out as the original tunes," he said. "With some of the standards, we had no preconceived idea of what was going to happen. A couple of tracks, like 'Nature Boy,' were kind of magical. They were born on the spot, in one take."

Some of Birkey's original compositions were created in a similarly spontaneous way. "There have been a few songs that have just come to me," he said. "I wrote them in one evening."

But 80 percent of the time, he added, writing music is a matter of "forcing myself to sit down and work. I essentially gave myself two months to write an album. I wrote six songs in a two-month period."

How does he work?

"You sit at the piano and start messing with melodies and chords. Once I have an idea, I pick up the trumpet and play the melody on the trumpet. I hear melodies better on the trumpet; I can tell if it feels right and sounds right.

"I have a computer and a keyboard, but that doesn't work as well for me. I use it for arranging and sequencing, but (to compose music) I prefer paper and pencil and sitting at the piano."

Birkey began piano lessons at age 6 in his native South Bend, Ind. "I see now that it was invaluable for me to have that foundation, but I hated practicing," he said. "When I started messing with the trumpet in fifth grade (soon after the family moved to Evergreen, Colo.), it just felt more natural to me. I didn't mind practicing trumpet. So I put the piano aside and started taking trumpet lessons."

Birkey's father, a successful architect, played trumpet as a youth. But he had essentially given up the instrument by the time Nate was born.

"He would occasionally bring it out when guests were over," Birkey recalled. "They'd have impromptu jam sessions. But he didn't practice.

"I don't remember my dad putting the trumpet in my hands and saying, 'Try this.' But I was always fascinated by it when he played. So I dug it out of his closet and tried it on my own. My parents noticed I was interested in it, so they encouraged me. They bought me my own horn after a couple of months."

A few years later, his high school band teacher told Birkey: "You need to listen to Miles Davis." The young musician dutifully went to the record store and picked out the LP "Sketches of Spain," mainly because he liked the cover art.

"I put it on," he recalled. "I didn't quite understand the Gil Evans arrangements. But when Miles was playing, I thought, 'Yeah. That's how I want my trumpet to sound - that sad, pining sound.'"

After graduating from high school, Birkey enrolled in the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. After one year, he dropped out. "Berklee is very intense," he recalled. "It's music, 24/7. There's nothing else, really. I wanted a lot broader education and a more typical college atmosphere."

So he moved to the other coast, enrolling at Seattle Pacific University, "a small liberal-arts college." After two years, he headed south to Santa Barbara.

"My sister, who had never really left Colorado, wanted a change, so she decided to move to Santa Barbara," he said. "She asked me to help her move. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, so I decided to tag along and live with her in Santa Barbara for a little while. This was in 1985."

She eventually returned home, but Birkey stayed, continuing his studies at UCSB and playing in a variety of local bands, including Spencer the Gardner, the Wedding Band and the Avant-Gardeners. He formed the Nate Birkey Quintet in 1997; with one exception, the band is still made up of the same players.

Birkey admits that, to further his career, it would probably make more sense for him to live in New York or Los Angeles. "I've considered it, but Santa Barbara is a hard place to leave," he said. "I'm able to make a living here (teaching privately and playing music). I'm 38; I'm getting to the age where I don't want to bus tables (to pay my bills)."

One advantage to being here is the opportunity to play with other superb local musicians. He is a huge fan of virtuoso violinist Gilles Apap, who performed on one cut of an earlier Birkey CD, "Indelibly You."

"I admire what Gilles has done," he said. "He doesn't allow himself to be pigeonholed. (Like him,) I want to try different things. I'd like to do a Gospel album - a tribute to my upbringing. I know all those hymns.

"Of course," he added quickly, "I'd mess around with them a little bit."

re: Nate Birkey, Indelibly You     birkeycd.gif (6225 bytes)

    "Birkey’s trumpet chops are strong, his playing is lyrical and passionate, and his tonal range is wide…. as was queried of Chet Baker, is he a trumpet player who sings, or a singer who plays trumpet? Birkey is adept at both…" –Frank Rubolino, Cadence

"Nate's latest offering is his most inspired to date, fusing a myriad of styles into a single expression of jazz excellence... With Indelibly You Nate has arrived as a world-class jazz musician, able to change any room into an atmospheric dreamscape or hard-bop cutting session." --Mark Fahey, S.B. Independent

"His biggest, boldest, most original statement as a musician yet."

--Steve Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press

Richard Dunlap, Ode to the Sistrum (Household Ink) (CD) 

It was strangely fitting: I'd just sent an e-mail to Splendid's writing staff, bemoaning the proliferation of cookie-cutter indie rock in our "to be reviewed" pile -- and the proportionate lack of edgy, experimental music -- when Ode to the Sistrum took its appointed turn in my CD player. And as experimental music goes, Ode to the Sistrum is one of the most enjoyable discs I've heard in ages.

Ode... is a companion piece to the art exhibition "Richard Dunlap: A Retrospective for Eyes and Ears", which ran last year in Santa Barbara. Both a visual and a sonic artist, Dunlap has also worked with Headless Household, whose music has been reviewed in these pages in the past.

Though they're sufficiently disjointed and discordant to encourage listeners to toss around the word "experimental", Dunlap's compositions fit fairly comfortably into the "modern orchestral" oeuvre. Dunlap seems to prefer the sensual pleasures of rich, full, bell-like musical tones and altered time signatures over bone-jarring explosions of metallic dischord, long silences punctuated by anonymous tapping, or other similarly audience-unfriendly creative indulgences. For example, Ode to the Sistrum has no compositions for broken glass, belt sander, raw meat and 17th century Spanish chair-leg-milling-machines. "Walk on Chairs" tosses a few audio samples in among its layers of edgy piano, but even the ensuing conflagration of jazz samples, piano, microtonal xylophone and other instruments retains a fundamental "musicality" -- there are recognizable melodies upon which newcomers can latch.

Similarly, "Passage (for Edie Rickey)" includes circular saw blades on its list of sonic elements, but there's nothing cacophonous about it. A heavenly concoction of bell-like keyboard and marimba tones, chorused vocals and elegant orchestrations, "Passage" challenges not with its basic sound, but its mountain-goat leaps between developing themes. Don't be surprised that it's gorgeous; this is, after all, music as art, and it's a mistake to assume that challenging musical art must by default be "ugly".

Other works of note include "Interplay", an angular duel between two pianos playing related, seemingly graduated progressions. Once again, it's unexpectedly musical, as is "Vox Flux", a chugging rhythm assembled from bits and pieces of manipulated vocals. The title cut is another winner; heavy on the rich, ringing tones -- it features xylophone, microtonal bell and microtonal piano -- "Ode to the Sistrum" divulges a frenetic percussive-bell narrative that'll send little electric currents through your skin.

Be aware that some of Ode to the Sistrum's more conventional melodies veer new age-ward. Though they never reach the saccharine predictability of Yanni territory, some listeners might find this -- and indeed the presence of any deliberate conventional melody -- offputting. Others will be seized by the urge to enjoy Dunlap's music in tandem with his visual art, and will wish that Ode to the Sistrum's production budget had provided for a CD-ROM multimedia presentation that would display visuals in tandem with the music. However, until that comes along, most listeners should be surprisingly satisfied with Ode... -- it's one of those rare discs that challenges while it satisfies (and vice versa).

                                                                                                                 -- George Zahora, Splendid e-zine

Brad Dutz / Heat the Grill Cook Loin / Household Ink (CD)

You might not expect it, but Los Angeles has a very active and vibrant new music/jazz scene -- one that overlaps, but is in many ways totally distinct from, the world of "industry" music and musicians. Brad Dutz is one of the many fine players/composers with an ear in both worlds, though Heat the Grill Cook Loin finds him exploring new music from a distinctly jazz-based perspective. Dutz is a percussionist, and on most of these tracks it shows -- all manner of percussion instruments (gongs, marimbas, tabla, kidi, bongos, rainstick, etc.) provide these tracks with a subtle but energizing complexity. Winds (flute, sax, trumpet, clarinet), acoustic bass and occasional guitar round out the ensemble. Dutz's music is a combination of written-out and improvised material, and his players easily switch from one to the other. The fixed/free switching technique helps keep the music from getting bogged down on either side, and clearly keeps the musicians involved and on top of their playing. Jazz fans looking for something non-traditional but "friendly" will probably enjoy this CD, as will anyone interested in pretty, pleasant, energetic instrumental music. 

                        -- irving bellemead, Splendid e-zine 

re: Dudley    

Public Nudism (1995) 

(the band's debut album, originally cassette-only, newly reissued on CD) 

"Ellen Turner, the primary force behind Dudley, has put together a collection of pop with a relaxing folk undercurrent. Turner's velvety, enveloping voice is reminiscent of Frente!'s Angie Hart in its sweeping sighs. In fact, many moments here recall Frente!, but without their determined quirkiness...every song on the album is quite solid, providing plenty of fine moments. Centering on the well-worn trials of finding/keeping/losing love, the often melancholy but never mawkish tunes highlight Turner's enchanting vocals..." 

-- rd, Splendid e-zine, 5-28-2000 

doin' jack (1998) 

Dudley / Doin' Jack / Household Ink (CD)

"The colourful, quirky, aqueous cover image on Doin' Jack seems to imply that something just as beguiling lies within the CD's jewel case. Does it deliver? You betcha. The tracking order allows the thirteen songs to be individuals while still composing a coherent whole with a plausible conclusion. Dudley's melodious soft-rock is imbued with shades of Edie Brickell, and atmospheric layers possibly inspired by a visit to the Cocteau Twins' Four Calender Cafe (particularly during the chorus of "Unrequited Triangle"). Ellen Turner's floating vocal drawl suggests she is singing an intimate disclosure to the listener. Her voice, paired with the emotional exposure of the lyrics ("I have eyes like yours that look right into me, But mine are not so kind, what do you see in me?" from "Eyes"), conjure a Sunday morning mood: either evoking the euphoria of waking up next to the one you love, or waking up to the emotional wreckage of a lover's revelations from the previous night. The slinking guitar, sometimes sparse arrangements and smattering of horn on tracks such as "Unrequited Triangle", "Saved my Soul" and "Prince Charming" solidify Dudley as a southern Californian experience to relieve bored ears."

                                            --Deirdre Devers, Splendid e-zine, 11-1-99

"Jazzy acoustic finger picking and a little brushed snare back up Ellen Turner's hazy, hushed vocals through light, breezy songs, best described with adjectives like plush, nice, deluxe, yummy and delightful."

--blurb from 

EVER SINCE I WAS A WEE LAD, I've admired Ellen Dudley Turner: her impulsive courage, her indifference to commercial trends, and (let's face it) her undisputable prettiness. But my hessian heart could never really identify with the soft, free-form music she played.

Until now. Turner's band Dudley (with Joe Woodard on guitar, Chris Symer on bass, and Tom Lackner on drums) recently wrapped up a year's work at Riviera Studios with engineer/producer Wayne Sabbak. The resulting CD, doin' jack, bulges with 14 tracks' worth of fresh confidence and self-realization.

Doin' Jack is sexy--something you might not expect of gentle, poppy, sometimes-jazzy folk music. But a slow, full appreciation of all your senses is sexy. Vulnerable self-honesty is sexy. And (Lord knows) so is a casual come-on for a little afternoon delight. They're all present here. So is the seedy underbelly: confusing sex with love, using it to putty up spiritual gaps (Luring Him OM, Eyes), hurting and being hurt by the mere desire for it (Unrequited Triangle). We're not talking about some embarrassing R&B grind; this is the absorbent omnipresence of libido in real life.

Ellen's voice is unmistakable: soaring anywhere her imagination desires, only to be pulled back, as if by gravity, to a softly conversational tone. The players and producer respectfully avoid getting too busy, and the open space is breathtaking.

--Dennis Tivey, "Positively State Street," Santa Barbara Independent

Are Our Oars Out? (1996) 

"The somewhat playful, folk-tinged, soft-side-of-alternative rock… a welcome break from the self-seriousness exhibited by other female singer/songwriters… intriguing, nightmarish side that peeks out from the lyrics once in awhile…" --Richard Singer, Option

"The record has moments of country warmth, off-time folk, and some of the most fragile musical moments you will ever hear on tape…this is a group of artists who paint and sculpt brilliant creations for the senses, and when you least expect it, get into your soul." --Frank Warren, San Luis Obispo Telegraph-Tribune

"...even as instrumentals, these songs are beautiful, and coupled with Ellen’s voice, it is indeed a rare beauty in this time of loud is more." --Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent

"A treasure trove of poetry and haunting images." --Steve Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press

re: Lean-To, Malarchitecture (HI 121)         malarch.jpg (35799 bytes)


LEAN-TO and their CD entitled MALARCHITECTURE (Household Ink 121). This music is more subtle and dynamically varied than the release above, reminding this listener of the writing of Bill Frisell1 and the execution of both the Pat Metheny Group and the 70's English Prog-Rock band, Hatfield & The North. The group is comprised of Brad Rabuchin (el g, g synth, ac g), Joe Woodard (el g), Bob Mair (el b), and Tom Lackner (d, perc), whose 13 quartet-generated compositions (Lincoln Logs/ Goleta Factor/ Memory Garden/The Beauty Of Nuts+/ Luxury Of Timet/ Gabriell Get And Stay Outi WigI Hungry Ghoststt/ #26/ Barter A Sambat/ Bring Grandma/ The Kindness of Strangers+% - 66:30) run the gamut from hard rockers to introspective ballads. The opening track, "Lincoln Logs," shows the Frisell influence in the melody and chordal structure plus the open, airy, percussive work. There are several vocal tracks: "The Beauty of Nuts" has a funky, fuzz-guitar, quasi-reggae intro leading to vocalist Ellen Turner's (+) knowing reading of the "surrealistic" lyrics (Airlo Moriera (*) clicks in on percussion on this track): "Hungry Ghosts" has a 'Ventures meet David Byrne" hm track with Bruce Winter (*1) adding his voice over Lackner’s marimba; Glen Phillips (%) joins Ms. Turner on the last cut, 'The Kindness of Strangers," a country waltz with burbling guitar - the lyrics are poetic and the vocal reading is sincere.

    Some of the music has a lilting quality, even when it swings. "Barter A Samba" builds off of Airto's insistent congas and the chunky guitar work. "#26" is an odd title for a piece that opens with a lovely acoustic guitar solo before moving into a soft, slow, rhythm a la Ralph Towner. There is "out' stuff, for example the shaky, squeaky, noisy, opening to 'Wig" that leads to an insistent fuzz-bass line surrounded by guitar interjections and splashy percussion. I like the quirkiness of the arrangements and odd sounds plus most of the songs have solid melodies and are not merely vehicles for showing just how fast these guys can play. If you enjoy improvisational rock music that leans more towards the esoteric, Lean-To is recommended.

--Richard B. Kamins, Cadence, August 1998

"It's as if rock-period Brian Eno and Frank Zappa at his kookiest were fighting over the radio dial. Lean-To offer up a unique, and not unpleasing, mix of the accessible and the avant-garde. A more grounded drummer would find them on poppier ground than they may want to inhabit."

                    --blurb from 

"Math rock meets fusion on this debut disc. I've been wondering about the title for a while now -- are they simply suggesting `bad' architecture, or is it a combination of malarkey and architecture? Because the latter, which suggests a sort of organized goofing off, is a pretty decent description of what you'll find on Malarchitecture. Tracks like `Goleta Factor' clearly owe a lot more to jazz fusion than indie rock, and occasionally veer perilously close to smooth jazz waters, but they also maintain a quiet intensity. You should crank the volume while listening to Malarchitecture, because it's silent and mannered and at lower volumes you won't hear everything. And it's very much worth hearing. You don't want to miss the sing-song quirkiness of `Beauty of Nuts,' on which Ellen Turner's simplistic vocals highlight the wonder of...well, nuts. `Barter a Samba' is one of those pervasive bits of music that makes you long for a vacation somewhere warm and sandy, while `Bring Grandma' is an entirely unexpected country-rock diversion. As a Rock Guy, I don't know how Malarchitecture will play with finicky Jazz People, but I enjoyed it thoroughly." -- George Zahora, Splendid e-zine


"The `architectural’ aspect of the CD's title is appropriate... Lean-To's debut CD gives an aural impression of a many-roomed structure, each doorway opening into a chamber peopled by thoughts, themes, and ideas, that mutate conspiratorially right before your very ears. A prevailing aroma of technique drifts from the internal kitchen of Malarchitecture, an aroma seasoned with melody blending avant jazz, rock, and atmospheric hybrid soul. The immediate impression this CD generates is the absolute joy of feeling in the hands of thoughtful melody. Joe's song and lyric writing style is a psychological celebration of the capacity music has to lead you from the heights of joy to smoky introspection.

The CD is populated by a who's-who of Santa Barbara "Best Bets" including Bruce Winter, Glen Phillips, Ellen Turner, and world-renowned percussionist Airto Moreira. Bruce Winters's moving vocal on the Lackner-Woodard cowrite, "Hungry Ghosts," sparks the imagination and soothes the soul into wondering about the essence of spirits with appetites."

--Mark Fahey, "Positively State Street," Santa Barbara Independent, 3-26-98

re: Brad Rabuchin, When Smart Dogs Go Bad (HI 120)        



When Smart Dogs Go Bad

(Household Ink 120)

Guitarist Brad Rabuchin bares eleven of his modern mainstream compositions before the public with his debut album. Supported by saxophonist Midy Suzuki, bassist Dean Taba, and drummer Keudall Kay, Rabuchin turns up the heat oh his electric guitar. The quartet smokes, as guitarist and saxophonist trade melodies, drummer Kay punctuates thoroughly, and Taba weaves the electric bass as a 3 r, lyrical voice. Tom Buckner and Chris Bleth guest on four tracks, adding bass clarinet and tenor saxophone respectively.

"Get Out and Stay Out" is an in-your-face up-tempo rocker with a syncopated rhythm that resembles hip-hop. "When Ginger Snaps" and the tide tune "When Smart Dogs Go Bad" include the two guest woodwind players, as the ensemble creates soundscapes that stretch the limits of modern mainstream jazz. Suzuki’s soprano saxophone is used on "The Glide," which employs smooth sounds in a quirky setting. Using alto and tenor for the rest of the session, the saxophonist serves as an ideal partner for the leader's melodic themes and improvised stretches. Brad Rabuchin's debut session is filled with excitement and thoughtful ensemble interplay. Highly recommended.

                --Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene, Sept. 1998


re: flapping, Flapping

Album Art

"Funny time signatures and sly vocals create gently drifting bubbles of sound that any listener would be loathe to pop. Brainy and original, with lyrical topics that teeter between psychedelia and simply the inner thoughts of an isolated musician."

--blurb from

"Montgomery Street is the new CD form the collective soul of the mysteriously monikered flapping, Flapping. It is an awesome collection of fat tracks that span the globe of musical interests. Joe Woodard shows up with an array of tone and approach on the guitar and some beautifully imagined lyrics. Glen Phillips vocally shows why he gets paid more than me in this world by turning out some w-w-wicked vocal acrobatics—is that Patti Labelle? Bruce Winter rounds out some beautiful harmony, and Tom Lackner again pulls an array of tones out of the drums. Check it out, get funky, get pensive, get smiley…"
--Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent

Top Cuts: Sort This Out, Lazy Susan, Doubly Doubting Thomas, A Burning House

…"Calling Matt" is an Andy Partridge type of pop song, and "Lazy Susan" tears a page out of the Sgt. Pepper era Beatles songbook… "Doubly Doubting Thomas", a heavy pop song ala Toad, and then another eerie age Beatles pop on "The Frogs Are Alive". Next is the gem of the disc, "Sort This Out", a quirky and disjointed pop song that will have you singing along by the second listen. "Back To The Station" turns up the speed a little with a heavier rock/pop sound, then "Without" closes the disc by dropping it back down with another with an eerie, mellow sound…Worth investigating if you're a modern pop, late era Beatles, or even mid-career XTC fan."

                                                             --Scott Pazur, CDreviews

"At their best, which is fortunately much of the time, this quartet makes really thoughtful guitar rock blending XTC, Toad the Wet Sprocket and some of those guit-pop bands form the Athens, Georgia heyday of yesterday. Try, for instance, "Doubly Doubting Thomas..." --Seth Berner, Portland, ME

"flapping, Flapping is (among other things) a side project for Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips. If you’re into Toad, "Montgomery Street" would be a good investment. Some songs, such as "Doubly Doubting Thomas" reek of classic Wet Sprocket, but this album’s big strength lies in the fact that with two other Flapping band members (besides Phillips) contributing material, no one song sounds quite like another (and the disc as a whole doesn’t seem a Toad knock-off). Furthermore, two of Phillip’s offerings, "Positively Double Negative" (alternative title, "Toad meets Funkadelic"?) and "Eye Wannabe Likes Lye" (and the Family Stone maybe?), reveal a fascinatingly funky side to the singer. Other nice tracks include the brit-pop tinged "Lazy Susan" and "The Frogs are Alive" and the just-plain-fun "Calling Matt" and "My Favorite Guitar (fruit)". --nw, Splendid e-zine

" their capable hands, flapping is not sloppy. It's four creative people jamming on top of a solid base of musical talent and inventive, push-the-envelope songwriting. The band is indulgent, but these indiscretions are always forgivable...the album warrants attention. It embodies the pop experimentalism and hooks of Sgt. Pepper with an ironic approach of anti-pop pop performers like Pavement and Liz Phair, and has layers that open up with repeated listening...What makes this disc truly worth its reigning sense of musical intelligence and maturity of lyric, qualities which are laid nicely in a nest of cheeky good humor and backed with truly kick-ass rock instrumentation." --Russ Spencer, Santa Barbara Independent

"Eccentric and fiercely eclectic, the Santa Barbara quartet known as flapping, Flapping, FLAPPING leaves a lasting first impression on its just-released debut recording, TEX. The independently-produced disc features 13 tracks that run the gamut from skewed, introspective balladry to quirky alternative rock and atmospheric pop. And though the band boasts three lead vocalists, there is a uniformity to the sound that keeps the proceedings from seeming disjointed."--Bruce Britt, Ventura Star


re: Jennifer Terran       

"A classically trained pianist, Terran concocts these weird songs with crazy lyrics that almost sound medieval. Also, you know how almost every album has the obligatory `thank you' list plus the lowdown on who played what instrument? Well, Terran has all that too, except that she sings her list. Her music is sui generis, and Terran can sing as well as anyone.'' GRADE: A-   --Bill Locey, Los Angeles Times

"Coming from an artistic family, Terran has been playing for a long time, but mostly in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara. Her songs are intense, personal and often downright goofy about you-name-it. But she has the voice to pull it off and sounds a lot like, well, Jennifer Terran." --Bill Locey, Los Angeles Times, Ventura Edition

"Jennifer Terran sounds as if her singing might be herself. It's not that she bleeds all over the floor, though she's plenty intense. Her songs (self-written and self-pianized) just seem to comes from a specific place, with strong melodies that take natural but unexpected turns. They're about love, hate, whatever, it doesn't matter, the only thing that does is that there was a personal reason for them to exist. To deliver them, Terran happens to possess a remarkable soprano, and a level of control over it equal to that of a young Joni Mitchell. Her album Cruel (Grizelda/Household Ink), with its clean, intimate arrangements and fine songs like the title one and "L.A. 101," is worth the search. She's just a singer from Southern California, but she shows that that can be something very interesting.       --Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly

"When I first heard this disc, I was captivated by the power of your voice and the songwriting..."

Chris Douridas, on KCRW’s "Morning Becomes Eclectic" (From an interview with Terran, 1-9-97)

"A deep, mystical and often disturbing journey into a complicated and troubled psyche, Cruel documents Terran's directed search for her center. What emerges is as ambitious and complete an album as any record released anywhere, far and away the best locally-produced CD of the year. The transition from an anguished yearning desire for success beyond mere survival to a place of confidence and inner peace is captured in a single moment: the segue between "Write a Song" and "Fat," which share a focus on the craft of songwriting. The dissonant minor-keys and bullhorn-compressed vocal of "Write..." push the tortured lyrics ("I'm gonna write a song today and with or without inspiration, I'm going to play it") toward resolution in "Fat," which swoops with the breath elegance of Joni Mitchell as Terran bristles with self-assurance ("Love is so fat/it's going to suffocate the rats/That brought you dis-ease.") The balance of the art-pop record is largely spare and minimalist, with Terran accompanying herself on the piano, frequently solo. But she's not stingy with the melodies, when the subject calls for musical beauty. Cruel is a resolutely compelling album of rare grace and uncompromising passion."

--Steven Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press

"Jennifer Terran doesn’t do a lot of things halfway... Cruel is an incredibly complex and heady document that exudes confidence while challenging boundaries. The result is a disturbing, intensely personal record, one that is difficult and challenging, yet eminently accessible."

--Steven Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press

"The album successfully captures the absolute originality of Jennifer Terran. Her musical ability seems virtually limitless. The production is an immaculate study in subtlety, rage, and grace, exploring all the possibilities of Jennifer’s verve, mapping the emotional content of the songs, and elucidating the soft dynamics inherent in Jennifer’s music... There is a quality to her music that is like that of artists such as Tori Amos and Jane Siberry. But there is no mistaking Jennifer’s individuality within this genre."

--Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent

"If you love Tori Amos, then J.T. will knock you out. Her voice is better, her songs have more beauty...piano-spun folk, along with her power delivery..."

--San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune

"Like a post-modern Janis Joplin with a degree."

--Andrew Broomhead, Santa Barbara Independent

"Terran makes P.J. Harvey sound like a choir girl."

--Santa Barbara News-Press



re: Jeff Elliott, Different Jungles    

L.A. Jazz Scene, January 2004


Different Jungles

(Household Ink)

            Through multi-tracking, Jeff Elliott creates a whole brass section in order to interpret his collection of original compositions. He�s written pieces that  explore various aspects of the jazz world, from close at hand to the other side. While touring with Flora Purim and Airto, he experienced the natural beauty of a jungle first hand. And while touring with Les McCann and Eddie Harris, he realized that jazz has to grow if it�s to survive. Put those two and two together, and you have an eclectic project that serves the fifty-year old trumpeter.

            EIliott has added a rhythm section, a saxophonist, and several others to his formula. Each piece paints a different aspect of the music industry and of the world around us. "Denham Blues" soars eloquently along city streets, as the leader�s open horn is supported fiercely by tenor saxophonist Vince Denham, pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Randy Tico and drummer Mike Clark. Each shares the trumpeter�s sincere desire to extend jazz beyond bebop and swing. "Harbor Nights" struts confidently with a funk-driven backbeat, while "The Resurrection of Joey Crown" carries with it a detailed story and treasured memories of the way jazz was depicted on television some forty years ago.

            �A Hard Win" contains traces of Miles; "A.D.H.D." recalls the fire and force of Dizzy; and "Weather Monk" flips along comfortably with bouncing rhythmic and harmonic surprises. From the contemporary scene, Elliott depicts the desert, the ocean, a dance club, and a rainforest. "Jungle River" flows smoothly and evenly through serene landscapes that contain hidden forces, which Elliott communicates convincingly via trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone horn and keyboards. Eddie Harris has left his thumbprint all over Elliott�s score, which has enabled the trumpeter to create a highly recommended project that exhibits the growth of jazz in all directions.

                                                                                                --Jim Santella

While most jazz musicians are merely speeding the genre's decline from living American artform to stuffy museum piece, Santa Barbara trumpeter Jeff Elliott seems to be doing his best to inject a bit of energy back into an increasingly moribund scene. A veteran of the fusion scene (with everything, pro and con, that that implies about his playing), he's created Different Jungles as a survey of the various influences he's absorbed as a lifelong sideman. Gold stars are awarded for the inventive soloing, but I'm close to revoking them as punishment for the seven-and-a-half minute conceptual horror "The Resurrection of Joey Crown". Combining the worst excesses of hip-hop skits, made-for-TV movies and masturbatory noodling, it's the kind of thing that earns you major points on late-night public access TV programs and notoriety everywhere else. Elliott is a genuinely talented player and a few of these compositions genuinely catch fire, but too often he seem to be reaching back to the formal experimentation of the Eighties (for my money, jazz's worst decade), when he should be digging much, much deeper.


-- Ben Hughes, Splendid e-zine

re: Fringe Deities

"gleeful, irreverent, chortling, inviolate, chrysalis, fruit..."

"The Matrix Has Inverted" is one of those discs that's so energetically, committedly peculiar, it's impossible not to love it. That love might not come at first listen; the odd mixture of sci-fi voice bits, skewed religious music, off-center opera and head-banging rock takes some getting used to. Imagine a Bizarro-world rock opera. Or don't, it's up to you. The whole thing centers around the fact that the Matrix (don't ask) has inverted (I've no idea), and that this is a fairly bad thing, or perhaps not, depending upon your perspective. It also involves Joy and Suffering, but perhaps only superficially. This loosely-overarching concept allows room for peculiar country-western songs, folk songs and a lot of stuff that sounds like cheerful nose-thumbing in the general direction of Styx, Queen and others of their ilk. After several listens, I still haven't figured it out, but I love it.

-- george zahora, Splendid e-zine

"The Matrix Has Inverted will have you sinking in your chair with your mind wandering in some distant place. Before you know it, you’ll be awakened by some head-banging guitar riffs. The diversity feels as if you’ve wandered from the World section to Opera, from Classical to Rock, passing through the Country section only to land in a section that can’t be labeled." --Rob Dalley, Santa Barbara Independent

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last updated: march 16, 2006