Adam Theis’s Brass, Bows and Beats

19 Apr
Adam Theis's Brass Bows and Beats

...and all of them complete MF'ers.

I hope you like hyperbole.  Wait, who am I kidding?  If you’ve been reading anything that I’ve been writing over the past week, chances are that you come here expecting it!  And it’s a good thing, because last night, as I walked out of Adam Theis’s “Brass, Bows and Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony,” I was so gobsmacked, so utterly blown away, that the only thing I was sure of was that it had one of the most incredible performances I’d ever seen.

You can read all about it here, or here, or here – I don’t have much to add, in terms of the background info. I admire the hell out of Adam; when I first moved to SF, I spent a little while feeling frustrated at the jazz scene, going to jam sessions that were mostly kind of lame cattle-calls, and generally feeling uninspired.  Seeing the Shotgun Wedding Quintet at Bruno’s changed all that – I couldn’t believe what they were pulling off live, the loops, the level of playing, fellow UM jazz alum Joe Cohen… the whole thing.  It was an eye-opener, and from then on, everywhere I looked, Jazz Mafia guys were doing something awesome.  Every time I subbed in the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at Pearl’s, at least one of those guys was in the horn section, tearing it up.  When I went down to Redwood City to see Thomas Dolby, there were Adam, Joe, and Rich Armstrong, playing on “She Blinded Me With Science.”  What’s more, several students at Urban study with Adam privately, and he does great work with each of them.

But even with all of that in mind, nothing could have prepared me for last night. I mean, a sold-out crowd of probably a couple thousand at the Palace of Fine Arts, and this 60-piece band onstage… and then they started performing. Holy balls. I’m going to have to not write about music for a little while, because I’ve run out of words just when I need them the most!  Suffice to say, it was RIDICULOUS.  The writing was absolutely top-notch, as fantastically and dramatically orchestrated as anything I’ve heard played by, say, the Metropole Orchestra, and the level of sonic intensity was through the roof.  The live audio mix was nearly perfect (no small feat with a band that size) – every soloist was clearly audible, every section brought up for solis and features, every vocalist (and there were seven!) clear as a bell.  The technical crew at the Palace of Fine Arts deserve special recognition for pulling off a feat that I would have thought impossible.  Way to go, guys!

But beyond the quality of the writing and the almost unbelievable audacity of the production, the thing that struck me most of all was Adam’s generosity as a writer, and as an arranger.  This band contained more talented musicians than any group I’ve ever seen, and Adam managed to feature every single one of them.  As a result, the show felt more satisfying than any I’ve ever been to – it was like seeing sixteen different bands each perform their absolute best number, one after another.  Rather than rambling on and on and on (well, more than I have already; it was a late night last night), I’ll just list highlights from the show as I remember them.

  • Aima the Dreamer and Karyn Paige are absolute super babes with amazing voices – their solos on the opening numbers were outta sight.
  • Joe Bagale came out and sang with the other singers, contributing killer jazz vocal arrangements.  I did not know who this guy was. Now, I do.  More on him in a bit.
  • The whole sax section ripped it up, on “Sweet Memory” – man, these are some good effing players!  Alex Budman is just burning.  And, in a clear display of the great live sound work, Evan Francis took the most audible (and totally ripping) flute solo I’ve heard at a live performance in a long time.
  • Seneca is the man, and has ridiculous flow. His trading with Dublin was never short of awesome.
  • Somewhere in there, Dave Scott took a trumpet solo and the dude lifts his bell way up above the mic and just lets ‘er rip.  Filled the hall – no amplification necessary.
  • The rest of the trumpet section just killed as well – Mike Olmos sounded great and cracked me up with his great energy, and my personal brass hero, Joel Behrman, destroyed on both trombone and trumpet, as is his wont.
  • Rich Armstrong is a total rock star, singing his ass off and playing trumpet – the guy just has “performer” in his DNA.
  • Mads Tolling and Anthony Blea absolutely went OFF on the duo cadenza in the appropriately named “Blea vs. Tolling.”  It was absolutely, totally, utterly nutbars.
  • After the conclusion of Adam’s symphony, the post-intermission set featured arrangements by the other members of the band – further evidence of the guy’s generosity.
  • Back to Joe Bagale – he’s a great drummer, and put together some awesome vocal arrangements for the first half.  But then, in the second set, he performed an original soul tune called “Love Song,” and he rocked it so fucking hard that he made made every chick in the audience’s ovaries catch fire. He’s playing at the Great American in June.  You should go.
  • Lyrics Born is clearly pretty much the coolest guy in history.  He didn’t get featured that much in the first half, but in the second set, he got to tear it up.

The show ended with the whole audience on their feet chanting “Hot 2 Deff!” along with Lyrics Born while the singers traded fours and the band blasted out what was probably the loudest tutti section I’ve ever heard. Hands were waved in the air, and we all just didn’t care. It was, as so many have described it, a once-in-a-lifetime show, an unprecedented galvanization of the San Francisco jazz scene, and I feel absolutely blessed to have been in attendance.

My ears are still ringing, my mind is blown. Adam Theis, I salute you.


4 Responses to “Adam Theis’s Brass, Bows and Beats”

  1. BayTaperDotCom May 5, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Brilliant review!

  2. Mike Olmos May 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    I’m illiterate, delete that comment. Great review, by the way even before I sent you that previous comment.

    See you at the next one!

    • Kirk May 6, 2009 at 6:52 am #

      You’re funny, Mike. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reading it again takes me back to just how pumped I was after the show. You guys made magic that night.


  3. flat fee realty September 3, 2010 at 4:14 am #


    I just wanted to say that I have been reading for a a couple of months on and off and I would like to sign up for the daily feed. I am not to computer smart so I’ll give it a try but I might need some help. This is a great find and I would hate to lose touch, and maybe never discover it again.

    Anyway, thanks again and I look forward to reading/posting again sometime!

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