Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Portland) /// Issue 19 of 41 /// Master# 19 of 73

WSi.. W ow’s the Time, Charlie Parker titled one of his revolutionary new tunes in the 1940s. But in American popular music, Now is always the time, and in late 1982, a number of Portland's younger jazz players were just aching to find an outlet for music they were only hearing in their heads. Tall, red-haired and bearded, Rick Mitchell, who had become a fixture in Portland music circles over the past 11 years as a critic, editor and radio host, was bored. His job had vanished that fall along with the Oregon Journal, and he was in the mood to see some bridges burn. In his head, too, Mitchell was hearing music that seemed much newer and fresher than what he’d been listening to around town. Mitchell needed an opportunity to express what he had absorbed as a critic, needed a reality to test his ideas on . . . He needed a band. Mitchell’s deepest roots were in the rock and roll of the ’60s, but his years as a listener had taught him the virtues of the jazz attitude and its respect for good craftsmanship. Yet he was still looking for something a little more out there on the edge, and, in the playing of a few younger jazz musicians, he sensed what he was looking for: guitarist Dan Balmer, who appears with David Friesen and the Tom Grant Band; bassist Dave Captein, a young jazz veteran now with the rock band Nu Shooz; drummer Carlton Jackson, late of Dan Siegel and currently with such polar opposites as the Woody Hite Big Band and rocker Johnny Koonce; jazz trumpeter John Jensen, with one foot in the mainstream and the other in the avant-garde, always working with a number of groups at once, including Years of Sweat; and Jim Pribbenow, a young alto- ist who can express himself in all styles with vigor. Mitchell talked to each one in turn about putting together a punk-funk band along the lines of legendary free-jazz innovator, Ornette Coleman’s current electric group, but with their own collective style and approach. “You want to do that?" John Jensen asked. “You think you can do it? I’ve wanted a band like that for 10 years!” In February of this year, Mitchell brought the instrumentalists together, and Le Bon was born. He labeled the music “Future Funk” but their native language was rock and roll. They still needed a singer. Enter Billy Kennedy, whose own band,- Special K, performs weekly for its own hipster audience at the Mediterranean. “The idea wasn’t to do this music in jazz nightclubs,” says Mitchell, “but in New Wave clubs . . . . I was looking for a punk singer, but I envisioned him singing almost as a joke, so we could get over in those places. But Billy turned out to be much more talented than that." After opening for local dance bands for several months, Le Bon played its first full show at Chuck’s Steak House in July. The lounge was filled with a dancing, sweaty crowd, fresh from Neighborfair and loose enough to try anything. “How many people here like Ronald Reagan?” Mitchell asks. The audience mutters. “How many people like Miles Davis?” They yell approval. “Just wanted to make sure we were among friends,” he laughs, and the band growls into “Disappearing,” using Miles’ tune as a springboard for wild somersaults of their own design. When Le Bon covers someone else’s tune, whether it’s jazz or Jimi Hendrix, the groove is always there, the original riffs are recognizable, but they do it in their own way, sometimes honking and barking in cacophonous rut, someTop: Carlton Jackson (Photo: Ross Hamilton) Bottom: Billy Kennedy (Photo: Paul Diener) “What we're after is an audience that wiii say, 'Yeah, there's another kind of energy up there, and yeah, we can dance to it, and yes, they are crazy times melodically riding the funk rhythms, but with a hungry, gnawing dissonance at the edges of every song. “The last thing I’d do is listen to records to cop shit off the tunes,” says guitarist Balmer, his eyes wide apart and almond shaped. “In this band, you listen to a record once, get the general idea, and then put your whole self into it; we’re just using the germ of the tune, and then we take off from there.” Balmer’s throbbing guitar announces “Jumpin’ Jack Flash," a ’60s rock and roll anthem. Billy Kennedy squeals 1980s- style, one hand on out-thrust hip, the other wagging in the air; a foot stamps the floor, his shoulders shake loose. He declaims in falsetto, he throws his head back. The words are distorted, fractured, syncopated and howled; Billy's voice joins the horns and guitar as they rage along on top of the groove. “I’m much more interested in the rhythmic meter of the words and the way they come out as a horn than I am in the actual message they manifest,” says Billy. His soft speaking voice carries a Fort Smith, Arkansas, twang. He improvises many of his lyrics in performance, matching the controlled hysteria of his delivery with bursts of spontaneous poetry._________ Clinton St. Quarterly 41