With 2018 now behind us it is time to reflect on a year full of incredible music and what better way to do that then with a new blog series which will focus on my personal Top 10 lists from the best the Space Tapes archive has to offer. All these shows were recorded by myself and are freely available for non-commercial distribution. So if you enjoy what you hear, go ahead and download it, for free!
My first list focuses on the soul of what makes music meaningful…playing it with others. The sit-in is a time-honored tradition of the jam band world; it can highlight the reverence artists have for each other, it can serve to introduce a special ingredient from one band to a different audience or it can even add a whole new element to the mix when the invited musican’s instrument isn’t normally a part of the hosting band’s sound. At its core, the sit-in represents a fundamental tenet of music: It’s always better when you play with friends. So enjoy this playlist highlighting the best sit-ins of 2018 from the Space Tapes archive and don’t forget to support your local musicians and live music venues throughout 2019!
#10: Elephant Wrecking Ball – “Slow Dance” featuring Drew Sayers (2018-12-17 @ Cervantes’ Other Side, Denver, CO)
Our first pick comes from the enigmatic sound of Elephant Wrecking Ball. I discovered Elephant Wrecking Ball when they opened for The Hang featuring Jessica Jones, a part of Cervantes’ weekly Monday-Night-Menagerie. Their sound spans multiple genres and can go from traditional to avante-garde in the blink of an eye. Such a moment occured when they invited The Motet‘s Drew Sayers to sit-in for a take on “Slow Dance”. The song starts with a solemn and slow trombone segment before the rest of the band comes in and, in wrecking ball fashion, create absolute madness. The frantic soundscape builds steady tension before crashing back into the main theme in a cathartic reprise. A fun temporary stint in experimental madness and the last solid sit-in of 2018!
Listen to Elephant Wrecking Ball – “Slow Dance” featuring Drew Sayers below or check out the full show here.
#9: Dead Funk Summit – “Turn On Your Lovelight” featuring Terrence Houston (2018-06-08 @ The Fox Theatre, Boulder, CO)
This next pick features the newest member of the legends of funk, The Funky Meters, providing the backbone for an R&B classic and staple of the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire. The band featured Joe Marcinek on guitar, George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on bass, Melvin Seals (JGB) on keys and Eric Imbrosciano (Joe Marcinek Band) on drums. However on this tune, Eric turned the reigns over to Funky Meters percussionist Terrence Houston for a rousing rendition of the R&B classic.
From Joe Marcinek‘s tight guitar licks, George Porter‘s grisly and impassioned vocal work, Melvin Seals‘ smooth touch on the keys and Terrence Houston‘s foundation, this soulful classic was an elevated tribute to the Grateful Dead and their legacy. An exhilarating peak filled beacon of light in a set filled with highlights.
Listen to Dead Funk Summit – “Turn On Your Lovelight” featuring Terrence Houston below or check out the full show here.
#8: Casey Russell & The Soul Shack – “Proud Mary” featuring Scott Hachey (2018-01-06 @ Cervantes’ Other Side, Denver, CO)
New Orleans soul funk featuring members of the Magic Beans, Eminence Ensemeble and Dynohunter? Just another Tuesday night in Denver at Cervantes‘ weekly Fat Tuesday’s hosted by Casey Russell & The Soul Shack. On this particular Tuesday night, Casey welcomed his Magic Beans bandmate Scott Hachey to sit-in on a cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary”. Scott traded licks with Eminence Ensemble guitarist Taylor Frederick who was playing the lead guitar role for the Soul Shack that evening, putting on display two versatile guitarists showcasing incredibly sincere playing and style. Soulful and funky, shreddy and sweaty.
Listen to Casey Russell & The Soul Shack – “Proud Mary” featuring Scott Hachey below or check out the full show here.
#7: Mihali Saulvoulidis – “Bertha” featuring Phil Lesh (2018-05-06 @ Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Denver, CO)
This pick absolutely blew my mind when it happened. I showed up early to get a decent spot to tape the show and was probably around the 5th person in line. Mihali had headlined Red Rocks the night before with his band Twiddle and Phil Lesh had sat-in for a few tunes. As a result, it was heavily rumored that Phil Lesh would be sitting-in tonight at Mihali’s solo show. Always the skeptic, I found the rumor hard to believe. When I got to the venue, I explained my theory to the guy in front of me in line: “I dunno. You’re telling me Phil Lesh is just going to walk in the front door of Ophelia’s and get on stage?” deifying Phil Lesh as someone who was too big to play on the tiny Ophelia’s stage I had taped so many times before. No more than 10 seconds after I had uttered that sentence, an arms length away from me, out walks Phil Leshto get into his waiting car. I waved at him, he waved back…it was on.
The anticipation was palpable and as Phil Lesh took stage relatively early in the set, the crowd went ballistic. As the opening chords of “Bertha” rang out, the smiles from the stage were contagious. Every member of the band crushed their moment, from Todd Stoops on the keys, Nick Gerlach on the saxophone and Mihali’s ripping guitar, the entire performance was a high-energy celebration. Everyone was playing with vigorous enthusiasm, trading solos over the rhythm of the legendary Grateful Dead bassist. As a taper, I know this will be one of my fondest memories and I am extremely honored to have captured it.
Listen to Mihali Savoulidis & Friends – “Bertha” featuring Phil Lesh below or check out the full show here.
#6: Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band – “Cumberland Blues > Viola Lee Blues” featuring Leftover Salmon (2018-05-05 @ Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO)
Phil Lesh makes another appearance on our list but this time he and his Terrapin Family Band play host to Leftover Salmon as they sit-in for some bluegrass tinged takes on Grateful Dead classics. After having just opened up the show with a killer set of their own, Leftover Salmon joined Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band for the first two songs of their headlining set; a one-two combo of blues, “Cumberland Blues > Viola Lee Blues” providing 20 minutes of jammy goodness to kick start The Terrapin Family Band‘s first Red Rocks appearance. The strings fit right in with the Family Band’s sound, accenting the edges of the sonic layout with resolute strumming and having no problem seizing the moment for a ripping solo or three. The jam during Viola Lee gets especially psychedelic and highlights the immense communication between all the artists on stage. The whole segment really made me pine for a Phil Lesh & Friends featuring Leftover Salmon tour, a taper can dream right? For now I’ll settle with reliving this gem of a segment.
Listen to Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band – “Cumberland Blues > Viola Lee Blues” featuring Leftover Salmon below or check out the full show here.
#5: Rob Compa’s Birthday Hang – “Offspring” featuring Marcus Rezak (2018-10-12 @ Cervantes’ Other Side, Denver, CO)
Rob Compa’s Birthday Hang was one of my favorite shows of 2018 – celebrating the Dopapod guitarist’s birthday was a purely joyous affair, filled with an amazing cover selection supported by an array of friends comprised of guitar heavy hitters from the jam scene. One such hitter flew in from Los Angeles just to be a part of the festivities. Marcus Rezak, who recently released his debut solo record “Gateway To The Galaxy” sat-in for several tunes that evening but the one that stood out to me was their take on John Scofield‘s “Offspring” off his classic jazz-fusion record “Überjam”. Rob and Marcus bring the shreddiness to this nu-jazz piece with a technical thrash that morphs into a psychedelic whale-call jam which stretches itself well into type II territory. Another big highlight in a night filled with memorable moments.
Listen to Rob Compa’s Birthday Hang – “Offspring” featuring Marcus Rezak below or check out the full show here.
#4: Yak Attack – “Ion The Sky” featuring Casey Russell and Matt Jalbert (2018-06-30 @ Beanstalk Music Festival at Rancho Del Rio, Bond, CO)
Just as The Magic Beans played the last few notes of their final set of the final night of their annual Beanstalk Music & Arts Festival, Yak Attack was gearing up for their final tweener set of the day, a set that wasn’t previously announced but would serve as the final three songs of the festival. The set featured Tauk guitarist Matt Jalbert, who laid down some stellar guitar work for the first couple songs. He was then joined by Casey Russell of The Magic Beans for the final song of the festival, an encore of the Yak Attack tune “Ion The Sky”. The jam featured incredibly astute technical riffs from Matt while Casey traded space synth tones with Yak Attack multi-instrumentalist Dave Dernovsek, resulting in a peak-filled jam powered and inspired by the best weekend the front-range has to offer.
Listen to Yak Attack – “Ion The Sky” featuring Matt Jalbert & Casey Russell below or check out the full show here.
#3: Cycles – “Get Up Out Of Your Head” featuring Eli Winderman (2018-06-28 @ Beanstalk Music Festival at Rancho Del Rio, Bond, CO)
There is a lot to love about Cycles. From their refreshingly original sound to their incredible musicianship, the band manages to tick off a lot of the right boxes. Among the many things I dig about Cycles is the fact that since they’re a trio, keyboard sit-ins always fit perfectly with their sound. Often times inviting up Magic Beans‘ keyboardist Casey Russell for the tune “Chapanga” always results in a fantastic jam. This time around the band invited up Eli Winderman of Dopapod to jam along on their original “Get Up Out Of Your Head”. The keys fit into the song like a perfect puzzle piece, adding just enough shape to the melody without being over-powering. During the jam, the band feeds off of Eli’s lead as he guides them through darkening territory before revving Cycles guitarist Patrick Harvey up to the point where he begins to ascend with a powerful solo, frantically building into a spiraling peak before crashing back into the whirlwind of sound that has been layered underneath him. Once again, during the syncopated build, Eli’s phrasing brilliantly frames the guitar solo and lets Patrick rip while adding just the right amount of color to the sound. The managed chaos of sound makes you realize that at its most fervent moments are when the jam feels the most locked in. If you dig Eli’s sit-in here you should check out his side-project Octave Cat who had one of my favorite sets of the Beanstalk Music Festival.
Listen to Cycles – “Get Up Out Of Your Head” featuring Eli Winderman below or check out the full show here.
#2: The Jauntee – “Hey Pocky Way” featuring Patrick Harvey (2018-03-08 @ Cervantes’ Other Side)
If you somehow managed to miss all three nights of The Jauntee‘s 2018 monthly residency at Cervantes then you missed out on some truly special jams. The group recently moved to Colorado and the music scene is beyond lucky to have them. Their ability to launch deep into improvisational moments is a testament not only to their immense talent but also to their experience playing together. The Jauntee are able to achieve a distinct and deeply engaging sonic landscape through improvisation – a feat other “jam bands” often fall short of; the stereotype of a jam band simply trading solos over the same song structure is not always an unfair one, but when describing The Jauntee, it couldn’t be further from the truth. So when they invited up another of the scene’s more original and compelling guitarists, Cycles‘ Patrick Harvey, to join in the mix for the Meters’ classic “Hey Pocky Way” – I knew we were in for a ride. Usually leaning more on the shreddy end of the guitar player spectrum, Patrick was all ambience to start the jam, melting in with the rest of The Jauntee as they began to paint their musical picture through patient communication and atmospheric playing. As The Jauntee‘s Caton Sollenberger began to pick up the pace, Patrick and the band followed suit, building the tension and trading biting licks. Soon, Patrick’s signature boomerang solos came blasting through the haze of sound and led the band through a darkly abstract solo that the group was more than happy to help frame. Like any great jam, the moment the song’s original structure breaks back into the fold, you realize how hypnotic the groove they had locked-in was. Patrick stays on for the next tune as well, The Jauntee original “Way To Grow” which is also absolutely worth checking out as well. Hell its The Jauntee, just do yourself a favor and listen to the whole show.
Listen to The Jauntee – “Hey Pocky Way” featuring Patrick Harvey below or check out the full show here.
#1: Jaden Carlson Band – “Stratus” featuring Isaiah Sharkey (2018-09-08 @ Cervantes’ Other Side, Denver, CO)
Coming in at #1 is the inspiration for this feature. Back in September, Jaden Carlson Band celebrated the release of their new record “Keep it Movin'” (available now!) with a show at Cervantes’ Other Side. Midway through their headlining set, supporting act Isiah Sharkey (John Mayer / D’Angelo) was invited to sit-in on the Billy Cobham tune “Status”. What the crowd was then treated to was nothing short of a master’s class on guitar playing from two premier players, stretching their legs and strutting their stuff. The 15+ minute experience never falters in its flair nor its ability to keep you fully engaged. A constant highlight reel of tight guitar licks and steadfast playing. My favorite sit-in of 2018 by far.
Listen to Jaden Carlson Band – “Stratus” featuring Isiah Sharkey below or check out the full show here.