Spotlight 

There is something to be said for the universal appeal of blues. Unlike punk rock, which tends to make Baby Boomers wrinkle their noses and shake their heads in distaste, you don't have to be of a certain age or stage of hormonal angst to enjoy the blues. And, as shown recently by Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepard, when it comes to playing the blues, age ain't nothing but a number.

Fellow youngsters Indigenous, who stop at the Cowboy Bar on July 7, play blues rock that is wise beyond their years. The band is made up of four Nakota family members who grew up on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota. Guitarist Mato Nanji (Standing Bear) is the oldest at age 24, followed by drummer Wanbdi (Good Eagle Woman), bassist Pte (Little Buffalo Man) and percussionist Horse.

One also associates the ability to create soul-bending blues with a certain amount of hard knock experience and grizzled despair, which is hard to discern on the faces of the band, but certainly evident in the fire of their music.

Absorb the blues rock of Indigenous this Wednesday at the Cowboy Bar.


"We can relate to the blues," explained Wanbdi to Request magazine last October. "We were always poor, ever since I can remember. We've just had a really hard life. That's probably why we choose it, to bring up our spirits."

The only apparent blip in a year that has Indigenous playing 200 gigs in support of their 1998 album Things We Do and filming an award-winning video by Smoke Signals director Chris Eyre was the death of their father Greg Zephier on April 29.

Zephier played with the Vanishing Americans during the '60s and '70s, but shifted his focus from music to the American Indian Movement, spending the final years of his life fostering the development of his children's band. He advised them to practice for two years before playing anywhere on stage, words that no doubt contributed significantly to their current seamless sound.

Local radio has been playing two songs, "Things We Do" and "Now That You're Gone," which burn it down while invoking the deep, ripping style of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Other songs, such as "Holdin' Out," have more of a Jimi Hendrix intensity. This is not to say Indigenous is without sweetness-"Bring Back That Day" is a lovely, longing-filled ballad.

Mato Nanji's voice has been compared to Darius Rucker's (the singer for Hootie and the Blowfish), but that overlooks a ragged, back-of-the-throat edge he possesses, which happens to fit perfectly with the style of music he's playing. What really stands out is the blazing way he plays guitar, already stirring up whispers of "prodigy" and "next in line for the throne" in the national media.

Indigenous has made some well-known friends in the past few years, including Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Keb' Mo'. The Indigo Girls' Amy Ray invited them to contribute a song to her Honor the Earth compilation. In August, they'll open for the B.B. King Blues Festival Tour.

As Indigenous is poised to break wide open, do yourself a favor and get in a position to say you saw them way back when, in a small club and with only a few hundred other people.

Indigenous plays Thursday, July 7, in the Cowboy Bar at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $10, available at all TIC-IT-EZ outlets and the Cowboy Bar, or $12 at the door.

By ANDY SMETANKA

Jazz can be pretty intimidating stuff, and it's no surprise that we're losing touch with it. This is a nation raised on rock, after all, and informed by all its adjuncts: posters, videos, the constant flux of rock-related fashions-remember the sleeveless Union Jack T-shirt, often worn in tandem with the rising-sun kamikaze bandanna that no cool kid could do without circa 1984? There's cross-cultural rock unity for you.

Jazz has yet to benefit from the 30-second attention span that MTV has reduced us to, thanks in part to a relative dearth of catchy slogans plastered on T-shirts for ready consumption. It still demands concentration and the real deal requires more than a passing listen, and these qualifying factors are more than enough to scare a lot of people away. Help is just down the street, though-the Hip*Strip*Tet wants to bring even the jazzophobes into the fold.

"To some extent, jazz is music for musicians," says guitarist Stasha Tomic. "But when I walk up on stage, I think, how can I make this music approachable to people who are listening? It's like an appreciation for fine wine. People just need a little education on the subject."

Welcome the Hip*Strip*Tet to Missoula's jazz scene, Sundays at the Ritz.


The Hip*Strip*Tet has been playing around Missoula for the past few months, much to the delight of local jazz fans who have made the rounds of the cocktail bromide fixtures and found them wanting. The Tet's professed goal is to explore the boundaries of contemporary music through an idiom that is constantly redefining and reinventing itself.

"Herbie Hancock said something like 'Through simplicity, give them complexity,'" says Tomic, a largely self-taught musician who also holds a degree in philosophy from UM. "And part of our goal is to popularize the music through inventive and expanded arrangements of old standards."

Which is what seems to be going on when I catch up with the ensemble at the Ritz on a Sunday evening-this time minus Tomic, who is recuperating after a 90-mile bike tour. The core players-drummer Brian Oppel, alto saxophonist Eric Brooks, bassist Mike Jons-are leading a conga player and a stand-in keyboardist through a sheaf of charts, including a delightful tear down Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts."

Oppel holds down the fort nicely on a uniquely customized set-floor tom as kick drum, old rack tom as floor tom and so on. Even greenhorn scenesters will remember his stint as the tenth(!) drummer for goofcore olde-tymers The Banned. Having seen how gleefully he took part in that mayhem, it's interesting to see how the clowning and grimacing have been replaced by the classic jazz face: that thousand-yard stare reserved for counting off 64-and-more measure solo breaks and then sewing them up on the other side with understated, spot-on flourishes.

Everyone seems to be off in space during the Wayne Shorter chart "Footprints," where endless improvisation fleshes out a bone-dry, skeletal four-note bass figure. When the Hip*Strip*Tet winds the chart up for a beer break, it really does feel like you've come back from somewhere.

The Hip*Strip*Tet plays Sundays at the Ritz, and July 15 at the Top Hat.

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