Thursday (August 20) was an epic night in St. Petersburg. No matter how I might have scripted the evening, it was so beyond expectations that words will barely suffice. Of course, I will try.
The moment that it was announced that The Motet would play at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, the wheels were put in motion. Gradually, all of the pieces of the puzzle emerged. First, Future Vintage announced the official afterparty show across the street at Fubar. Then Serotonic was added as the opener for The Motet. It promised to be amazing.
Then a wrench in the works: two of my dear friends and, not coincidentally, two of the greatest musicians in Florida — and beyond — scheduled their 40th anniversary gig the same night. How would this all play out?
Fortunately for me, it was as perfect as it could be. The planets aligned in my favor. Michael Ross and David Pate were playing at Studio@620, a two-minute walk from the State Theatre, and their show started at 7. It was in a simple but nice art gallery with some great work titled Contemporary Modern Portraiture by Kristin Beauvoir.
Pate and Ross had been on WUSF-FM 89.7 two days earlier, reminiscing with jazz host Bob Seymour about their 40 years together. There was riotously funny banter and superb playing. Bob has known these gentlemen almost as long as I have, and he played basketball with them, so there’s that. It was an excellent program which you can listen to here, a highly recommended hour of listening enjoyment.
Shortly after 7, the boys walked to the front of the room and sat down. Pate began a beautiful tenor saxophone intro, and once Ross joined him “Birk’s Works” emerged, gloriously. So that’s how it’s going to be, is it?
Pate explained that they were working on a setlist, at which point he produced three pieces of paper. On one, he noted that there were tunes by Monk and Mingus, some that Ross wrote, some ballads, and a fourth category that got lost in laughter. One of them called “Alone Together,” a beautiful reading with a rapid coda.
Pate switched to soprano sax, and together they discussed their first ‘concert’ at Ross’s apartment on Shadowlawn Street, and that was the song they played next from the first Michael Ross Quartet album, Doghouse (2000). [I confess in looking at the CD while writing, I only realized for the first time that the photography was done by Tampa legend Bud Lee. Remember the original Artists’ and Writers’ Ball?]
Pate is facile on all his instruments, but there is just something about the soprano that grabs you by the collar. And every bass player should watch Ross’s amazing technique when he plays, including the percussive aspects. And if these two ever forgot their instruments, it wouldn’t matter. They can do stand-up banter with the best of them.
Pate picked up the tenor again while Ross explained the upcoming tune was written the night before, “dedicated to one of my mentors, John Lamb” (the Ellington alum who was in the house). They dubbed the tune “620.” Then it was time for more stories, this one about the two driving to New York City, where Pate first got to meet Sam Rivers on Bleecker Street. Somehow that led to Danny Jordan, another great local musician, somehow getting hold of Sam’s fake book. I kept thinking that Seymour’s interview was about two hours too short!
As they prepared to attack “Twister,” Pate quipped, “I’ve gotta get my glasses. So darn many notes.” More laughter, and a great song. I was lost (and ashamed) on the last tune of the set. “Body and Soul,” Ross told me later. “We only hinted at the melody.” He asked me what I wanted to hear in the second set, to which I responded: “Dog something.” He smiled.
The second set began with a soprano tour de force. Pate took a four-minute solo using the cyclical breathing method — breathing in and playing out simultaneously. The late Idrees Sulieman was a proponent, as was Rahsaan. Also, that noodle letter guy. Ross soloed next, and they combined forces to close out Ornette Coleman’s “Law Years.” Just WOW.
Next up was a beautiful composition also from Doghouse, “Dr. Paté.” The melody was truly lovely. Then a wild story about playing — a little bit — live at the Home Shopping Network, followed by “There is No Greater Love.” That straight-ahead chart led into an other-worldly version of “Fables of Faubus” that was simply deluxe with its syncopation.
“This is really old stuff we’re playing,” Ross laughed, before he and Pate on soprano took the Doghouse title track way uptempo. Finally, they announced they would play Rollins’ “Doxy” for the last tune. If there was an encore, I missed it, but that was a spectacular show. [And I had photos on my phone, which was subsequently stolen the next night. Rats…]
I speculated how the rest of the night would pan out as I ‘sprinted’ back to the State Theatre, where Serotonic was under way. Bud Selig ought to probe what these boys are eating for breakfast, because this set was on steroids for certain. Serotonic has expanded from their jazz/funk groove to some much heavier stuff. They hinted at it at the Orange Blossom Jamboree, when they dropped Zep’s “No Quarter” for their closer.
“Jelly,” one of the band’s signature tunes, is constantly changing tempo as it bounces along. Christian Ryan, the man with a thousand bands, was filling in for Jon Tucker, and he took full advantage all set long with some superb playing. “Leave It to Me” is very Zep-esque, and the crowd was eating it up. Probably the best response they’ve ever received. Rob Sanger and Andrew Kilmartin took the challenge and really pumped things up on bass and drums. And they were spurred on by the great percussion work from Adam Volpe (Infinite Groove Orchestra), who added great layers to the rhythm the entire set.
That left Jordan Garno on guitar and Bryan Lewis on keyboards to strut their respective stuff, and strut they did. Garno is officially out of his shell; as Susan would say, “Good showmanship to match the music.” (Pretty close!) Lewis had a phalanx of keyboards to utilize, and he made them all sound good. And toward the end of the set, Garno and Ryan both ripped off huge solos. The place went bonkers. For real. This was so cool.
A very important note, given my rants about lousy sound at the State Theatre. Sound in that building will never be perfect, but it was pretty darn close this night, thanks to the new sound man from Jannus Live and The Motet’s sound engineer as well. It makes all the difference, and everyone was talking about the big improvement. Bravo!
Motet time. In a preview for this show, I wrote that this band is a funk juggernaut. That was a gross understatement. Tsunami is much more accurate, an unstoppable force. As they came out, Jans Ingber went right to his conga drums, a clear message that the night’s set would be jazzy and funky in equal measures. A great Afrobeat instrumental poured out (“Expensive Shit”), then another great jam, and Ingber gyrating as he sang the Isleys’ “Fight the Power.”
Everybody was getting a shot at solos, and Joey Porter delivered the first of several excellent keyboard romps before the band launched into “Like We Own It.” Ingber is an irrepressible front man, dancing, singing, playing percussion, and building amazing rapport with the audience. He loves this stuff! Garrett Sayers was blowing it up on bass the entire set, and his solos were just sick. All the local bass players were standing in awe. Ryan Jalbert always brings that funky, chunky guitar as well as great solos as well.
You know how you go to a show, and you’re hoping, just hoping they’ll play that one song you wanted to hear? You don’t say anything, you just hold the hope inside. And then, there it was! “Handcuffs” — from Mothership Connection. They had played this cover at AURA, and I was blown away. Talk about conflicted emotions: this is probably the most joyously misogynistic song I know.
And then I really melted: “Cheap Shit” from my favorite of their albums, Music for Life, with something sandwiched in between. After that, it was another great funk number from the eponymous release from last year, “1 2 3.”
Staying with the new album, they blasted “Extraordinary High” into orbit. Gabe Marvine on trumpet and Matt Pitts, tenor sax, had been superb all night, and here they both took tremendous solos. The unison horns on the chorus were simply outrageous. A really, really heavy funky rock intro seemed like it would lead into Bowie’s “Fame,” but at the moment you expected Ingber to grab the mic, he sat at the congas. Psych!
Pitts took another great blow, and then Ingber on congas and band founder Dave Watts on drums did battle. The band kept peaking, and I assume that they were heading for the encore. Every time (at least four) I was deliciously wrong. The tidal wave continued to pound us with funk wave after funk wave.
“Keep On Don’t Stopping” kept everyone dancing, and then a tune emerged, and Tyne started singing “Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake my booty” along with him. I had heard the song but did not know it was by the Gap Band (old-schooled by my daughter!). After showing everyone how he shook his booty, he again complimented the crowd: “LOOKS LIKE THIS IS A SHAKE TOWN!”
And with that they played “People of the Party.” Porter crushed another solo, as did Pitts, then Marvine. Then Porter did the voice box tube thing, and pandemonium ensued. And still they weren’t done. I couldn’t believe they could top the last tune, but out they came for a magical encore. THAT was a dance, dance revolution!
How could we possibly manage any more music? Somehow, some of us did, at the Fubar with Future Vintage. Fubar is one of those long, narrow joints with the bar on one side. The small stage was up front, plus a small dance floor which was always full, except when the drunk breakdancing guy was gyrating. He was pretty good, but he almost clobbered a few people. Savi Fernandez did a fancy step to avoid being tackled (it would have been a yellow card at least!).
And on stage was Future Vintage, the excellent jamtronic band from St. Pete, providing the grooves. Most of the musicians who had attended the Motet show came across the street. FV was having a great set, with a bouncy “Duke Meets the Booty” keeping heads nodding and bodies dancing every which way.
Matt Giancola was having a blast with all of his keyboard toys, and Trevor McDannel was providing the bass thump to accentuate the beat, and drummer Miles Neiffer kept those two in line. The band’s former drummer, D-Roc, was in the house as well.
Finally, I had to bail, with school calling in the morning, then the drive to Spirit of the Suwannee for Reunion: Campout Concert Series. So, of course, I missed it when Christian Ryan and Juanjamon joined FV on alto and tenor, respectively. Such is life.
And, boy, is life sweet!
Photos courtesy of Anna Giancola Photography and Gia Zi / Zivonoy Production!