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Tribute to Jazz Prince Of Darkness

Local trumpeter summons the spirit of Miles Davis

73 years since dropping out of Julliard School of Music and 17 years since his death, Miles Davis comes back to life from the lungs of Arcata local, Nicholas Dominic Talvola.

On Sept. 9 on stage at Arcata Playhouse, local players Tim Randles (keyboard), Ken Lawrence (bass), Tommy Fitzmaurice (drums), Russ Thallheimer (sax), and Brian White (trombone) were lead by Nicholas Dominic Talvola on the trumpet to pay tribute to one of the most influential figures in the history of Jazz and 20th century music.

“Miles Davis is a big inspiration for me,” Talvola said.

Born and raised in Arcata, Talvola has recently returned home from performing internationally with his band The Johnny Freelance Experience. For any resident in Arcata the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

A quarter after 8 p.m. the band is on stage beneath dimly lit blue and red lights. The playhouse is packed and nearly every seat filled. Talvola walks on stage looking like a mix between Bob Dylan, era ’65, and Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips. Black dress coat over white button up and bow tie, black jeans cuffed at the ankles and shiny black loafers. His hair is a salt and peppered bird nest and a beard to match, and of course he wore signature jazz Ray Ban sunglasses.

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Arcata local musicians Brian White, Russ Thallheimer, Nicholas Tralvola and Ken Lawrence on stage at Arcata Playhouse during the Miles Davis tribue show on Saturday Sept. 8 2018. (T.William Wallin)

“I know you’re wondering about the playlist. There’s nothing classic,” Talvola said to the audience in between songs.

The first half of the first set Talvola is right, there isn’t a single song off “Kind Of Blue”, arguably the most well known album of Miles Davis, but the songs are hand picked from Talvola as being especially inspirational in his musical career. One could argue every Davis song is a classic and the band made it seem so.

“The Theme” is the first song to warm up the audience, the bass takes the first solo and soon quiets down as Talvola hammers the melody faster. Next songs are “If I Were a Bell” , “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and “Well You Needn’t”, not original Davis compositions but all songs played the way he performed them.

By this time the audience is fully submerged in the mood and so is the band, who since the beginning have played on the same wavelength. One can feel the friendship and comfortableness each player has with one another, setting a tone that invokes relaxation with fierceness.

As a surprise the second to last song before intermission is off “Kind Of Blue”, a tactic Talvola uses to keep the audience on their toes and keep the set unpredictable. An energetically charged solo by Thallheimer, the saxophone player, in “Stella By Starlight” is then followed by a fast and ferocious “Mile Stones”,the title track off the album with the same name. That offers Talvola a solo that leaves the audience stunned, his style of trumpet playing takes the listener back to the Beep Bop era of smoke filled speakeasies pouring out musical giants.

After intermission songs are played back to back until the dark and luminescent “Nefferti”, off Talvola’s favorite Davis album, which bares the same name, and his playing shows his gratitude and influence.

“I think I’ve listened to that album every day for 12 years,” Talvola said.

Next the night becomes strange and funky. The sextet becomes a septet and a guitarist is added to the bandstand. Pedals and distortion join the show as well. It’s time for Davis’ experimental sound, unconventional style and rejection of traditional jazz rhythms.

Songs of “Bitches Brew” era, which is Davis’ electronic instrument experimental album in the 70’s, are wildly played and thrown out like gas to fire, all with eloquence and careful measure. Between Thalleimer and Talvola’s solo’s feeding off the guitar reverb and electric keyboard the entire stage is moving.

The song with the title track off “Bitches Brew” starts at 10:48 and doesn’t end until 11:03 p.m. The song was said to be the last but Talvola in the last minute shocks the audience by shouting they may not have classics but they have “So What”, which is the title track of “Kind of Blue” .

The night ends with the classic that everyone knows, “So What”, and every instrument is played magically. The tapping of everyone’s foot is matched and the blowing of brass is completely in sync.

The lights come on and a standing ovation is performed. The diversity of age in the crowd proves the music of Miles Davis is timeless and Talvola and fellow band mates continue that legacy.

 

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