Why the Oblio Joes are not the secret darlings of every college station from Evergreen to Emerson is one of life’s little mysteries. They’ve been together for eight years, and, with only one line-up change in all that time, have produced the most consistently excellent repertoire of best-loved favorites in local music. Quite simply, if you’re still in the dark about the Oblio Joes, you’re in the dark about Missoula music.
This new EP, released late last month by the band themselves, shows the Oblios at a crossroads of sorts: phasing out original guitarist Stu Simonson (living in Olympia for the past few years) and phasing in Ian Smith, who has been in the band for about year and a half. The ten songs included here are a kind of something borrowed, something blue anthology of several recording sessions 1995 to present, unreleased recordings of old standbys, outtakes from their debut long-player Lo!, live recordings from Jay’s Upstairs and the KBGA mobile unit, and a couple of sneak previews from an upcoming, as-yet untitled CD LP.
What is there to say, really? Lo! is probably a better overall introduction to the band, if only because the two San Jose sessions—the mother lode of mid-period Oblios gold—dovetail so seamlessly. The material on this outing is obviously not intended to; it’s more like an Estonian flea market of dusty diamonds, reupholstered favorite chairs and a few bits of brand new stuff than a single cohesive statement. If you’re a fan, I shouldn’t have to tell you that this shiny disc is worth many times its weight in the beat-up tapes, matted with beer and dog hair, that you’ve been driving around with since Johnny Joe personally recorded them for you. Or that you should beat feet to your local record store today, because all Oblio Joes recordings have a whiff of “limited edition” about them and you never know when your luck is going to run out. I still have my copy of the Oblios’ Christmas Break 1993 cassette (one of maybe eight ever made) and I treasure it like a chip of a splintered saint.
Remembering Jim Pepper
If the Oblios’ latest is a something of a party they’ve thrown for themselves and their fans, the most recent release by tenor saxophonist Chuck Florence is a sip of the good stuff poured out for the guest of honor who couldn’t be with us tonight. Remembering Jim Pepper is a tribute to the selfsame Native American tenor player who found his voice under the tutelage of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Before he died, at age 50, Oregon-born Jim “Flying Eagle” Pepper left behind a rich catalogue of recordings clearly influenced by the upheavals of post-Coltrane improvisation.
Too many people, perhaps, are not aware of Jim Pepper’s contributions to the style, which is why Florence and his top-notch quintet have done such an excellent service to Pepper’s legacy with this recording. Like Pepper himself, Florence lent a hungry ear to the explosion of crossover sounds in late ’60s and early ’70s jazz; where many players eagerly absorbed the more overtly African and Indian innovations in rhythm and instrumentation, however, Florence also seems to have found a special affinity for Pepper’s infusion of Native American motifs. The first track, Pepper’s “Lakota Song,” grafts a mournful chant onto an already sober layer of subtle percussion, tenor and alto sax; Florence’s incendiary solo entrance ratchets the track’s intensity level up a full ten notches without breaking the spell woven into the track’s bottom.
One of the most intriguing charts on Remembering Jim Pepper is the quintet’s reworking of Don Cherry’s “Ghana Folk Song.” It’s a swirling, hypnotic excursion that covers more ground than Greyhound, and the band doesn’t even break a sweat. Pepper would no doubt be smiling.
Oblio Joes host a CD release party Tuesday, April 25 at Jay’s Upstairs at 10 p.m. Cover TBA. The Chuck Florence Quartet plays Sean Kelly’s Thursday, April 20 at 9 p.m. FREE.