Flat Land, Parker Urban Band, ISM | The High Dive 05.30.15


Facebook users/devotees/junkies are familiar with this message, telling you that you have an event scheduled for that day. It was trying to tell me what was on tap. Actually, Dear Facebook, I only have one event I will be attending.

Seriously, there were eight excellent musical offerings on Saturday, and a ninth invitation came in Saturday morning! However, my dance card was filled the second I got wind of the Parker Urban Band travelling to Gainesville to play with Flat Land. Those are two of my most favorite bands, period, and they’ve been on my radar less than half a year. No way was I missing this show.

In addition, I was also made to understand that Ian McLeod, brother of Flat Land drummer Grant McLeod, was bringing his band, Ism (from Orlando), making it a triple bill at the High Dive. Ian has also been performing with Flat Land recently as percussionist.

You know how they say that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Blessedly, that was NOT the case this night!

Several days before the event, Grant had forwarded videos of Ism performing. To that point, I had no idea what they played or did or anything. I was blown out. Here on video was a superb seven-piece jazz band with Ian on vibes and a three-horn front line. This was marvelous, concise, tight, adventurous jazz. In other words, made to order – just for me!

During the soundcheck, I got an inkling of just how amazing this was going to be when the band warmed up with Soulive’s “Steppin’.” WOW. The instant the actual set began, the soundcheck was a distant memory, as the septet rocketed ahead. My first thought was: Parker Urban and Flat Land are going to have to ‘step’ it up, because these gentlemen were killing it.

The majority of the set was comprised of originals written by the band, great compositions. Trumpeter Scott Dickenson’s contribution was “Mind Grapes,” drawing laughs from the 30 Rock fans. During a beautiful Latin tune titled “Pan in A Minor,” a young Latin couple took to the dance floor and pumped the energy in the room up even further. Dickenson, Dave Becker (tenor sax) and Clay Lukavich (trombone) all had ample solo space and sounded great played together, recalling the great bands of Art Blakey and other Blue Note and Prestige jazz stars.

Ian confided later that this project is more like a collective, since people in the band have actual jobs (shocking) and cannot always travel. You would never, ever have known there were three subs in the band this night (except for Grant McLeod, ably handling the drum kit). Grant and bassist Don Rogozinski matched up perfectly.

Ian was playing a synth vibraphone. Just think about that for a moment. And it sounded great. He and Veit Renn, a brilliant keyboard player and music producer, also worked extremely well in tandem. Ian noted that he and Renn often stepped on each other’s toes early on; those kinks have clearly been worked out. I look forward to lots more music from Ism.

The Parker Urban Band plays soul and R&B firmly rooted in the gospel tradition, with plenty of blues and rock thrown in for good measure. (Check back to MusicFestNews Tuesday for an On the Rise feature about the band, with interview.) Leader John Parkerurban stands center stage and plays guitar, but it is impossible not to concentrate on the ladies, Juanita Parkerurban on stage left and Myrna Stallworth stage right. They both have magnificent, soaring voices, and the vocals bounce back and forth, a stereo separation in your imaginary headphones.

Allow me to pause for a moment to discuss the sound in the room. Ism, an all-instrumental band, was a bit too loud (quick, say that funny joke so we can move on – OK? Good), but the balance was solid. The sound engineer complimented the band on how easy they were to work with. As often happens, I suspect this engineer is accustomed to mixing loud rock bands and metal and punk, where there is no nuance.

Unfortunately, Parker Urban and Flat Land depend on nuance AND on being able to understand the vocals. This was my one issue with the evening: the vocals were all but buried in the mix. PLEASE, sound engineers! Louder isn’t necessarily better, and people actually want to hear the singers and the words. That was more than a moment. Sorry.

The hall was beginning to fill as the band immediately hit its stride with a wonderful song showcasing both ladies called “Trust Someone.” Next up was the title of their recent live album, “Chicken and Waffles.” John Mortensen and James Holloway provide a rock-solid bottom on bass and drums, and the music bounces all over it. They had a great night once again.

Andy, a friend of the band, came on stage with his guitar and took a nice solo during the band’s cover of “Franklin’s Tower,” which sounded beautiful in the voices of the ladies. Juanita borrowed from the Tina Turner playbook to introduce “Can’t Take Back” (and I wonder how many people even know or recognize the reference): “What we’re going to do is take the first part of this song and make it nice and soft and pretty and sweet, but then we’re going to take the second part and make it FUNKY!” Which is exactly what they did.

The ladies walked off stage as John announced the next tune, “Coffee with Rando.” Juanita later explained that this was a song about his biological father, whom John never met. It was a great, funky tune.

As the set was drawing to a close, John, a suberb player, whipped out some psychedelic guitar which rolled right into “Manic Depression,” with Juanita throwing down the lyrics. And, as if everybody in the room wasn’t riled up enough already, they ended with their dynamite cover of “What is Hip?” which featured a tremendous false ending and return for another shot. Keyboard player Rick Alessi said there might have been a second false ending had it not been for time constraints. His piano and organ work in particular added greatly to the mix all night.

And the Myrna show was better than ever. This band and the ladies in particular are filled with amazing spirit and talent. Myrna cannot help but dance the entire set, and Juanita’s smile is probably visible from space.

So far, we were a perfect two-for-two on performances, and Flat Land was clearly ready to make it three for three. This was the band’s first time back at the High Dive in two years, so they were looking forward to the opportunity, ready to bask in the great vibe in the room from the first two sets.

The set started with just the McLeods on stage, Ian on percussion and Grant on traps. Then guitarist Chris Storey walked on stage and grabbed his guitar (lying down, not in a stand). Nate Garland then came on and picked up his bass the same way, and “Turn” was off and running, as finally Fae Nageon de Lestang entered with violin in hand. Both this tune and the next, “Sun Face,” had an interesting Latin tinge to them, a beautiful coloration. Next, they blasted the Kinks’ “All Day, All Night” (which I realized I misidentified when I wrote the Purple Hatter’s Ball review sans notes).

“Rufio’s Last Stand” is a remarkable rocker and a wonderful showcase for Fae’s vocal style. This rendition was killer. You know how you notice something different every time you see a movie or hear a band? The band was in the middle of a Chris Storey guitar solo (and he had another amazing night). As they worked back toward the head of the tune, Ian had a blue cylindrical shaker, and it sounded exactly like a rattlesnake. Then he gradually slowed up the tempo as the solo ended. When I mentioned it to him after the set, and he said, “That’s exactly what I was going for,” I’m not at all sure which one of us was more pleased. Let’s call it a draw.

Next was a new song, on the setlist titled “New Song.” I had seen Fae writing lyrics out during the Parker Urban set, and this is what she sang. Too cool! From there, they covered the Beatles’ “Taxman,” followed by their excellent original “Black Rain.” It was either on this tune or on “12/8” that Nate and Grant just blew it up on bass and drums. The thing was just so darn funky, and Fae was singing and playing violin simultaneously.

What a tremendous night! And the Parker Urbans and Flat Lands have vowed to do it again.

When it happens, that should be your only event of the day!


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