If aliens were to arrive in Colorado and request a sample of the kind of music that our mountain dwellers do best, we might do well to hand over a copy of It's About Time, the just-released fruit of a collaboration between Liza Oxnard (formerly of Zuba) and the String Cheese Incident's Billy Nershi. As the album's name implies, time, not fate, had much to do with Oxnard and Nershi's decision to pair: The two began playing to ski bums and burners in Telluride clubs in 1990. Oxnard went on to establish a regional reputation as the leader of Zuba in Boulder (the group disbanded in 1999), while Nershi later became a leader of the String Cheese Incident, a band whose fans around the country now exhibit a near-religious fervor. So, sure, it took more than ten years for these two to get back together, but they've been busy.
At thirteen original tracks, Time taps elements of both Oxnard and Nershi's styles to create a full and free-spirited record that mates Zuba's groove with the Incident's earthiness: There are plucky, down-home numbers that skirt the boundaries of bluegrass, elongated tunes that feature plenty of spindly Garcia-type guitars and instrumental numbers that just beg listeners to start spinning. Oxnard's vocals on minimally instrumented songs like "Happiness" provide a spare, soulful counterpart to the recording's busier moments; as a singer, Nershi sounds a teensy bit like a Nashville Skyline-era Dylan. (He sang really well on that one -- I swear.)
It's About Time, which saw release on String Cheese's SciFidelity label a couple of weeks ago, will be officially launched with a performance on Wednesday, October 3, at the Fox Theatre. Some local bigtimers who pitch in on the CD (Hazel Miller, Ryan Tracy, guitarist Ross Martin, drummer Christian Teel and bassist Chris Engleman of the E-Town band, Nershi's wife Jillian and assorted String Cheesers are among those who make appearances on the disc) will perform with Nershi and Oxnard, as well. Sometimes it pays to have friends in high places.
Local sound and multimedia artist j.frede was among the performers and sound architects who performed during this year's Denver Atonal Festival, a two-day affair that beeped, hummed and buzzed for two consecutive nights at the Gothic Theatre earlier this week. Judging by the number of artists who participated and audience members who showed up, Denver's sonic subculture is booming -- largely because of frede's effort as the annual festival's organizer and founder. Rallying the troops for this kind of exhibition is no small feat, considering the heft of the content. This is not music you saddle up and sing along to; rather, it's concerned with dissertation-type material like postmodern sound and performance theory and the simultaneous appropriation and deconstruction of the tools of technology (loops, samples, white noise, ambience, film, computers, crimping irons, etc.). Yet frede will soon leave the city to its own atonal devices: In October, he's splitting for Prague, where he'll enjoy a strong dollar, the company of collegiate Kundera readers and, no doubt, a heightened appreciation for the Internet. Frede plans to continue working as a sound producer/developer for the Sonic Foundry studio project. He will also serve as a liaison between regionally based experimental artists looking to tour overseas. Okay, j., but how will local sound spelunkers relegated to domestic domains carry on without you?
"Over the past five years, the support has grown immensely," he says. "When I started organizing the final Atonal Festival, I was contacted by several different active people in the Denver metro area that I hadn't had a chance to work with in the past. This has created a much wider network, and I hope it will help the experimental music/media community grow after my departure."
While Europe may seem an attractive destination for many of us right now, it seems an especially fitting choice for a modern-minded artist like frede, who's always been more Ingmar Bergman than Stephen Spielberg anyway. When asked whether he'd be returning to his home country anytime soon, frede had this to say: "I'm not setting any time frames. I think we've all learned from [recent] events that everything can change in the blink of an eye."
Ah, j., we'll always have Paris.
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The calendar of local performances spills over this week: A local girl made good, Rebecca Folsom releases Across the Sky, a rootsy, largely acoustic offering that features cameos by bluegrass luminary Sam Bush as well as Jerry Douglas, in a special CD-release party at Tulagi on Sunday, September 30...Traditional Irish-roots band Siúcra offers its last Colorado show for the foreseeable future: Bandmembers Shannon and Matthew Heaton are moving to Boston, putting the three-year-old fiddling affair on hiatus. Say farewell (or whatever the Gaelic equivalent might be) on Monday, October 1, at EnVie in Boulder. The band's debut CD, A Place I Know, will remain available in local music outlets while singer/bodhran player Beth Leachman will carry on as a solo artist: Her first gig? Come October, she'll be leading singing sessions at Denver's Celtic Tavern. Parting is such sweet sorrow...The Milkmen, a Lafayette-based septet led by multi-instrumentalist and bovine enthusiast Lory Kohn and Steven Solomon, have recently returned to local stages after a break of, oh, fifteen years or so. The Milkmen, who became a sort of theatrical, pop-music anomaly in Boulder in the '80s by sporting matching new-wave outfits on stage and carting around a large papier-mâché cow named Bessy, further their farming fixation with the just-released CD Dairy Aire. The band performs at the Boulder Public Library Auditorium on Saturday, September 29, and in an acoustic set at Swallow Hill on Sunday, September 30. These shows are not recommended for the lactose intolerant.
Backwash is saddened to report that Denver-based blues-and-jazz singer Betty Farmer is among those still missing in the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings. Though musically inactive in recent years, Farmer was a rising star in the city's jazz scene in the '80s and early '90s, as well as an activist and AIDS fundraiser. She played regularly at now-defunct venues such as the Bryant Street Club, Garbo's Cabaret and the Bombay Club, and performed on some of the country's more revered stages, including Carnegie Hall, and at the Newport Jazz Festival (where she appeared with Duke Ellington). Our sympathy goes out to her family, friends and many fans.