Last Night: Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, the Dead Kenny Gs, and Jacob Fred Jazz @ Fox Theatre

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Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, the Dead Kenny Gs, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey October 17, 2007 Fox Theatre Better than: Doing bong hits and listening to Sailing the Seas of Cheese

As I entered Boulder’s landmark Fox Theatre for last night’s jazz jam extravaganza, two visibly inebriated sorority sisters stumbled out of the venue. One turned to the other and said, “I need you to sober up right now.” I later found out that she had just thrown up on another fan in the women’s restroom. Later, as the Dead Kenny Gs played, these two women returned, approached the stage, and began to hoot and holler drunken come-ons at DKGs sax man and leader, Skerik, who only responded with a perplexed, “I didn’t even do my hair.”

When you attend a show with a lineup like this in Boulder, you expect to see dreadlocks, peasant dresses, hash pipes and spinning dancers. All were present, but that was not the dominant element at last night’s packed show. Girls like these and their backward-baseball-cap-wearing male counterparts filled the theater, bumping and grinding as if at an R. Kelly show. This was not a bad thing, but was certainly a surprise. I suppose jammin’ jazz is the new booty call soundtrack.

The rump shaking began with Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, a relatively new trio consisting of longtime progressive jam scenester Dillon on vibraphone and assorted percussion, bassist Brad Houser and drummer Go-Go Ray. With tongue in cheek, the titular leader announced that the band was started so that the three friends could go snowboarding. When Dillon stuck to the vibes and the trio mined some funky jazz ore, the party really went off. However, when things got a little – um – jammy, and the percussionist gave himself over to extended timbale-and-agogo-bell solos, my attention wandered to the drinkers, dopers and dancers.

The Dead Kenny Gs comprised two-thirds of the previous act, with Dillon moving to a trap set and keeping his vibraphone, Houser staying on his bass, and saxophonist Skerik taking center stage. The leap in professionalism from the opening act to this one was both visible and audible. Skerik’s effects-drenched sax lines met Dillon’s equally-drenched vibes to create a sound that – for a rock guy like me – combined the best of Morphine and Tortoise. While it’s clear that these guys know their traditional jazz, the Dead Kenny Gs smoke a particularly funky strain that appeals to fans of Steve Kimock and Galactic, but also to hip-hop and post-rock fans.

For the last song of the DKGs set, Brian Haas of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey came on stage to rock the Melodica and the Rhodes. His virtuosity matched by his joie-de-vivre, Haas further elevated and energized the DKGs. After several minutes, JFJO drummer Josh Raymer took a seat behind his kit and began drumming with Dillon. Finally, by the end of the tune, it was clear that, without fanfare, the DKGs’ set had ended and the JFJO’s set had begun. JFJO guitarist Reed Mathis, who provides a key component for JFJO's experimental, improvisational jazz sound, was unable to make it to Colorado, so Houser returned to the stage to play baritone sax, as well as electric and upright bass. When Dillon decided to share his drummer’s throne with Go-Go Ray, all six of the evening’s performers were playing at once.

A JFJO show in name only, last night’s headliner was really an all-star jazz jam session, representing a fertile, fraternal and incestuous scene of remarkably talented players. Wandering from jazz standards to funky grooves to rock interludes, the ensemble kept the energy high and the audience moving. At one point, the pit was filled with a motley crew of swirling hippies and dirty-dancing couples who were equally swept away by the tasty licks of JFJO Plus. With the musical telepathy characteristic of the genre, all six musicians exhibited the stamina of tri-athletes and the egos of monks as each added his unique phrase to several breathtaking spontaneous compositions, playing together as if they’d been doing so for decades. When the encore evolved into a complicated interplay among the members of the Dead Kenny Gs, with the other three looking on in awe, the night ultimately seemed like one expert, extended, ecstatic jam. -- Eryc Eyl Photos by Doug Beam

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: As I’ve said before, I’m not really a fan of jam bands. However, the funky conventions, jazz discipline and avant-garde leanings of groups like these grabs my ear – as well as my pelvis. Random Detail: Bonus hipness points to Skerik for sporting a “Get Your War On” t-shirt. By the Way: As further proof that Skerik could crush Kenny G, one of his other musical projects is called Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet.

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