Every year at the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages. In addition to their emcee duties, we ask them to pull double duty by submitting a travelogue of their individual stage. Jon Solomon hosted at Dazzle this past Saturday. Keep reading for some of the highlights from that stage.
When Colorado Springs-based Austin Young kicked off his set with some hard-driving blues, the young self-taught guitarist wasted no time showing he's a force to be reckoned with. For a guy still in his teens and who started playing when he was twelve, Young already has some monster chops. Taking a few cues from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, Young offered up some fiery solos, especially on the up-tempo shuffle of "Love Once Lost" and on the slow blues of "My Mountain on Fire," which he wrote last year about the Waldo Canyon Fire and dedicated to the people affected by the fires this summer. After playing four originals, Young's band, which also included his father, Tim, closed out with a cover of Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues," with Young turning out some badass slide work on his cigar-box guitar.
Dan Treanor's Afrosippi Band opened its set with "Tangled Road," the title track from the band's latest album. "Blues came from Africa a long time ago," Treanor said at the beginning of the song, while playing slide on his khalam, an African instrument that was the predecessor to the American banjo. "It gave us rhythm and blues and rock and roll." Erica Brown, wearing a black cape and hood, walked to the stage from the back of the room and then locked into a bluesy groove with the band and filled the room with her powerful and resonant vocals. Merrian Johnson righteously handled the lead vocals on "Dynamite," which had a groove like Junior Walker's "Shotgun." Throughout the set, Treanor also flexed his harmonica chops and in the last song traded off riffs with Brown.
When the Delta Sonics played a supercharged set at the Westword Music Showcase three years ago, singer and harmonica player Al Chesis went from table to table while blowing fiercely on the harmonica. This time around, the bandmembers, which included Chesis's daughter Alissa on bass, played an equally engaging set while sitting down in chairs and playing some mean delta blues. After running through the slow blues of John Lee Hooker's "Prison Bound," Chesis and company went into Lazy Lester's "Sugar Coated Love," with Chesis tearing it up on harmonica. Guitarist Pellegrino took the lead vocals on Slim Harpo's "Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu" and also dug into a gritty guitar solo, while Chesis got the crowd riled during "Baby Show Me All Your Tattoos," the last song of the band's set, while playing a riff repeatedly on the harmonica.
Hailed by some as Colorado's elder statesmen of the blues, Willie Houston, who's been mastering the genre for the last six decades, said, "It is blues time!" before opening his set with two instrumental shuffles. He then slowed it down for a fine version of Little Walter's "Last Night" with a biting guitar tone that recalled John Lee Hooker. While Houston and his band sounded damn good on the first three cuts, they kicked it up a notch on a commanding take on Muddy Waters's "Mannish Boy," with Houston, who had been sitting down the entire set, getting up to dig into a guitar solo.
Over the past two decades, bassist Matt Skellenger has been performing, composing and recording, as well as taking workshops with Victor Wooten. He clearly has a great handle on the two-handed bass approach, as he proved during his set, which included two songs from his latest album, The Owls Are Not What They Seem, and two from his previous effort, 2009's Parentheticals. On the opening cut, Skellenger and trombonist Adam Bartczak traded off riffs, resulting in some intriguing interplay, while pedal-steel player Glenn Taylor and drummer Zach West also contributed to a captivating set of jazz fused with world music.
While Jon Wirtz has collaborated with a number of local rock artists, some of his most exhilarating work seems to happen when he's playing jazz, as evidenced during his set with bassist John Grigsby and drummer Daniel Hogans. The trio delved into some material from Wirtz's new album, Tourist, including the gospel-tinged title track and the upbeat "Country," where Wirtz's solo seemed somewhat inspired by Lyle Mays. The highlight of the set was "We Humans," a new tune that Wirtz said he just showed to the other members the day before. The tune recalled some of Robert Glasper's work and featured some vigorous kit work by Hogans.
While Greg Harris clearly knows his way around the vibraphone and keyboards, he's also surrounded himself around some great musicians in his Vibe Quintet, including singer Venus Williams, who sounded exceptional and delivered some powerful vocals throughout the group's set. Drummer Alejandro Castano and bassist John Grigsby helped guide the quintet through some deep grooves while Harris spread out on some masterful keyboard and vibe solos, and tenor sax player Jon Stewart kicked the occasional badass solo, as well.