But the truth for me is simple; whenever it feels like life is beating the living daylights out of me, listening to SoulMates is the cure. It has never failed in the all the time I have listened to them live or recorded. Monday nights at Quimby's is the place for just such a cure.
Last Monday night saw SoulMates turning it on still red, hot and blues after their stellar performance at Portland Water Front Blues Festival celebrating the Fourth of July. There were some new additions to the already impressive SoulMates repertoire and Monday night saw the unveiling of some of the new additions.
The opening of the first set of the night began with the warm-up instrumentals. These "warm-ups" have never revealed a need for these guys to warm-up. If anything, it is only to get the gear and amplification tweaked for the night. The musicians are always ready to set a place on fire from the very beginning. They smoke from the very first notes and do not let up until they say "good night."
The first number was a cool jazz standard that highlights Jay "Bird" Koder's guitar virtuosity that surpasses anyone you care to name. Drummer Reinhardt Melz kept the jazz groove on track and shows himself again and again to be the superlative drummer in Portland or anywhere else.
After the first piece, Jarrod was trying to get his own gear back in order and showed the only possible need for the "warm-ups;" warming up instruments not musicians. Into the second song, all three are working over their various instruments, bending them to their will. Reinhardt begins early to introduce some of those funky patterns that make the listener sit up and wonder what it was they just heard. This is one of the main reasons that I don't understand how people can chatter during any performance of SoulMates. You will most assuredly miss something if you don't listen very attentively.
Jarrod Lawson was dropping the sweet keys and had corrected any problem he may have felt needed correction. Then in the third number, Valdez in the Country, he started drizzling where there were no vocals in the song at all. It was a cool cross between George Benson's and Keith Jarrett's vocal overlays on instrumentals.
The song, as always, was sent out to Michael and Theresa G and Jonah Kobayashi knew immediately what the song was and shout out "Valdez!" It is an early showcase for Reinhardt and he never gives you the same sound twice. With every performance that I have heard of this song, Reinhardt has never repeated himself. Not once.
It should always be remembered, also, that this piece offers a really great chance for the guitar to wail and the Bird never lets you forget it. His improvisational skills also get highlighted in his solo. This Monday night, however, saw Jarrod stake his claim to the song as well with his great keys and matching vocalizations.
Jarrod got the nod for She's Right and he got to turn on the vocals proper for this one. Both Bird and Reinhardt play the low profiles here and give Jarrod the complete spotlight. That does not mean that the two of them do not provide absolutely breathtaking accompaniment. The guitar solo and rhythms are sweet and understated and the three SoulMates leave one wishing that this were a 30-minute song.
When the song concluded, Jarrod asked the audience "How ya'll doing?" and someone answered "Ready to make some babies!" This brought uproarious laughter from the crowd because it is a catch-phrase used by Jay "Bird" for certain styles of music which he calls "baby-making music." Some audience member asked Jarrod "How YOU doing?" Jarrod's answer was typical SoulMates sentiment, "I'm just better when ya'll are here."
I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is what makes SoulMates so special. The feeling of community and connection is the foundation of this unique blend of music, artistry and affection.
Jarrod continued his scat and drizzle during Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. Again, this was a new foray into vocal experimentation that has not been unveiled at Quimby's before. Bird and Reinhardt were also opening new vistas previously unseen. Fifty Ways... was being transformed yet again under the influence of SoulMates. This is commonplace. Nothing remains the same under SoulMates' treatment and it is always for the better.
For the next song, someone in the audience requested something by D'Angelo and SoulMates responded with One Mo' Gin from D'Angelo's album Voodoo. This was a phenomenal album and produced several memorable songs. But once again, SoulMates provide the superior version because of the superiority of the muscianship. The YouTube link below lets you hear the original version.
When the song finished, Lance Giles walked in and was greeted warmly by everyone, as usual. Bird and Jarrod told him that just five minutes before his arrival, they almost did Great Day in the Morning but decided to wait just in case Lance showed up. Bird then informed him that they would play that song last and make Lance have to stay until the very end. You see, Lance makes the trip from Seattle to Portland just to see SoulMates and he has to catch the train back to Seattle. Making him wait until the end is no real punishment as he loves every moment of every performance.
"You know when times are bad/ And you're feeling sad/
I want you to always remember/
There's a place in the sun/ Where there's hope for everyone/
Where my poor restless heart's gotta run/ I know there's a place in the sun/ And before my life is done/
I gotta find me a place in the sun"
Of course, the song was A Place in the Sun which some mistakenly think is entitled "Moving On." It was wonderful (no pun intended) and heart-warming and thrilling all at once. When the song ended, there was about 3 seconds of stunned silence from the audience. I'm not kidding. The crowd was just enthralled and could not immediately respond to what they had just heard. That happens a lot--silent awe.
Someone requested a Latin taste and when Jarrod couldn't find his chart for it, it turned into a Three Stooges routine for a minute or two with implied threats like "Why, I oughtta..." and "Don't make me come over there." Music AND Vaudeville in one show.
The comedy turned around quickly when SoulMates launched into the beautiful and longing emotions of You Were Meant for Me. As much as SoulMates render amazing performances of Stevie Wonder tunes, it is Donny Hathaway that they have taken to perfection and I am not using the word "perfection" lightly. Jay "Bird" calls forth the most tender sounds imaginable. If there were no lyrics in the song, Bird's guitar could still make one feel exactly what the song intended. It is lovely and it makes me teary-eyed everytime I hear it. Then Reinhardt cuts loose with the Afro-Cuban rhythms that only enhance the feeling. Despite the furious pace he sets in his solo, Reinhardt retains the tenderest of sounds and continues the emotional effusion.
"You were meant for me/ No one else can come between us, love/ I know you'll always be the one/ You and me it seems/ Never had a problem we can't overcome/ You'll always be the one/ You'll always be the one/ You'll always be the one."
To close out the first set, another great song was turned loose for the first time at Quimby's: Signed, Sealed, Delivered. This was fun stuff with "Bird" Koder resurrecting the funk and Reinhardt giving it a pulse. The set closed out to huge applause for SoulMates and for Rhonda and Shawn behind the bar. Shawn was also a Candlelight employee who made the transition to Quimby's seamlessly after Rhonda had come over. The family that parties together... or whatever.
The second set kicked off with Bird's introduction "SoulMates comin' back atcha..." and the sound of Jarrod's vocals preparing the way for Lance's favorite Great Day in the Morning (Greatdayndamonin') which brought a loud affirmation from the audience. Bird's guitar is an incredible display of cross-dimensional playing that is vicious and elegant at the same time. This is one of the many things that sets Jay "Bird" Koder apart from anyone else who attempts mastery at the guitar. His solos brought loud shouts of appreciation form the listeners.
Reinhardt's clap-sounding rhythms kept the groove on a joy-in-the-face-of-despair feeling throughout the song. It was an encouraged audience that responded immediately at the close of the song. Jonah Kobayashi yelled out "We love you, Jarrod! Love you, too, Jay "Bird" and we haven't forgotten you, Reinhardt!!!" Jonah's declaration is proof of what it is that SoulMates instill and call out in their listeners. It is real respect, and even love, and that is not feigned or over-estimated.
I attended a performance by Joan Armatrading back in 1983. Someone in the audience shouted, "We love you, Joan!' Armatrading's response was truthful with "Love me? You don't even know me!" I understood her point then and now. This again, however, is what I mean about SoulMates and their relationship with those who come to see them every Monday night and wherever/whenever else we may get to see them. A mutual affection has been born out of the magic of soul music and these incredible musicians and men. Jonah can rightly say that he "loves" these three and they can respond in kind with complete honesty.
As I have said before, this is why it is called soul music-- because it comes from the soul to the soul.
The next guitar riff introduced the following song with Reinhardt joining in on the high hat to leave no doubt that we were about to hear Bird's own composition Man 4 U. This will be the focus of a future article here. It is sweet, sexy soul at its finest and deserving of a full-length discussion. Stay tuned.
It is one of the songs that quiets even the rowdiest of audiences, except to elicit hoots and dance invitations and moans of approval. It also has one of the coolest bridges ever and it contains one of Bird's most emotional solos. It is soul.
With the end of Man 4 U, Arietta Ward was called up. Bird introduced her and the audience (as always) shouted their delight. Bird had gotten to play with Steve Miller the night before and was now about to embark on SoulMates' great cover of Miller's Fly Like an Eagle. Etta just owns the song as I have written so often before. Etta calls it her "SoulMates staple." But no matter how many times one hears it, it is moving and powerful. And Reinhardt always...always...throws a funky rhythm her. She adjusts--or not--and takes flight with the song each and every time. She personalizes the song and turns it into an anthem. This Monday night, Jarrod backs her on vocals and they take it higher.
Bird's solo rolls on into the blues and Etta could be heard saying "It's gonna be one of those nights." She could sense the energy and enthusiasm from the start and she always adds to it. Bird often talks about musicians making space for the others onstage and this was a great example. Part of that "making space" is, I think, the sheer admiration that the musicians share together. They sit back and listen to each other. Bird admires her and he plays quietly, then she stands aside quietly and listens to his solo. They enjoy each other. And we get to enjoy it all.
When Will You Call Me was next. It is so cool. It is the song to make you close your eyes and simply drink it in... and feel the soul. The chord changes are stunning and Reinhardt's drumming is almost tear-inducing. Reinhardt's heart seems to really possess this song as much as any other. Even beneath Bird's beautiful guitar, that slowly rolling and heavy rhythm just gets me. That melodic drumming...no one better than Reinhardt.
The talented and lovely Nicole Burke joined Jarrod for a duet of You've Got a Friend...Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack style. It is a song that always appears at the right moment. Just when you need it. "People can be so cold/ They'll hurt you/ And desert you/ Well, they'll take your soul if you let them/ But don't you let them." Sweet and needed.
Rhonda was checking for last drink orders and Tim Leavy was singled out for the final song of the night. And what a song. It was I Love Every Little Thing About You. It is joyful and uplifting. It is also how we feel about SoulMates.
Reinhardt, Jarrod, Bird... we love every little thing about you.
As Jay "Bird" always says "We're going to join you for some drinks and then we'll be right back"... and so will I.