[Words by Patrick Knibbs]
The fourth installment of the Full Court Press took place on October 5th at the Abbey Pub. The musicians for the evening (18 altogether) hailed from a handful of Midwestern bands, and performed impromptu jams for nearly four hours. Using sports terminology, the night was divided into four separate quarters and an “overtime” session.
Starting promptly at 9pm, the first quarter was very loose, and overwhelmingly sloppy. Explaining that this is what happens when you put “[your] balls on the table,” bass player Tony Qualls (Groovatron), summed up what could have been a worst-case scenario for the night: a bad, unorganized, glorified practice session for a paying audience. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best set FCP has offered.
As the second quarter began it was clear that this was going to be special. The instrumental set was anchored by the solid rhythm section of Mike Mirro (originally from Umphrey’s McGee) on drums and Colin Scott (Spare Parts) on bass. Leading the charge though, were the entwined melodies of keyboardist Kevin Kozol (Spare Parts) and guitarist Marco Villarreal (Freek Johnson). This was by far the most exciting set of the night. Steeped in virtuosic solos from both Kozol and Villarreal, this specific set of musicians showed off their jazz/improvisational chops from start to finish. Villarreal was the MVP of the night, and blasted full-throttle through his solos. The spirited renditions of Herbie Hancocks “Cantaloupe Island” and The Meter’s “Cissy Strut” highlighted the all too short set. It would be an absolute treat to hear a full show from this group, believe me.
The third quarter revolved around vocalist/guitarist Ray White (Frank Zappa) and guitarist Marcus Rezak. White and crew played several Blues-infused selections, a spirited rendition of Zappa’s “Willie The Pimp,” an upbeat version of White’s favorite Grateful Dead song “Wharf Rat,” and ended with a powerful “City of Tiny Lites.” [Editor’s Note: This was the best “Willie The Pimp” I’ve ever heard live. Getting to hear Rezak shred on Zappa’s parts while Ray White sang the lyrics was such an awesome thing. As a Zappa nut, this was a really special moment.] The “Wharf Rat” included a story of when White first played the song live and butchered the lyrics. This prompted an angry email from lyricist Robert Hunter, who instructed Billy Kreutzman (drummer from Grateful Dead) to personally deliver a copy of the correct lyrics to White while the two were in Hawaii playing a gig together. White’s engaging interaction with the crowd made this set particularly interesting, and gave us an insider look at the journeyman’s long career in Rock n’ Roll.
Closing out the regulation period, was a the group led by John Gram and Barry Brown (Jackstraw). Their quarter featured a handful of classic rock staples: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “Spooky,” and the set’s highlight an extended version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” belted out by Brown on the vocals with rousing guitar work from Gram and Paul Priest (Old Shoe). This set moved in a completely different direction than the previous set, indeed, each set at this FCP seemed to be very distinct.
For the shorter overtime session, Kris Myers (drummer from Umphrey’s McGee/Digital Tape Machine), My Boy Elroy (production, turntable, and beatbox from Digital Tape Machine/Liquid Soul), and keyboardist Matt Nelson (Lupe Fiasco band) put the pedal to the metal with their set giving it a “sudden death” feel. Relying heavily on rhythm, Myers led the trio with his hard hitting and surgically precise drumming. Starting with a Gangsta-Funk bottom-end groove, spiced with smooth synth lines, turntable scratching, and eventually some slick beatbox. The set gradually picked up tempo and culminated with a ferocious Drum-N-Bass jam, again highlighted by Myers’ too humanly fast drumming. The man is beast behind the drum kit!
Getting together 18 musicians from different bands can be tricky, but when egos are abandoned, and focus is put onto the ability to adapt and listen something exciting and special can happen. The majority of Full Court Press 4 was another prime example of this.