The Rope Hits Home Runs in December
Perhaps the most ambitious bookings for the Lariat this year come this month with funk-afro beat superstars Eufórquestra and Brother’s Keeper bringing special guest John Popper, founder of the legendary Blues Traveler (New Year’s Eve). It was a nice honor to speak with Mike Tallman, front man from Eufórquestra about his slotted performance at the Lariat on Dec. 10. What struck me about this unassuming man was the grin that came through the phone line as he spoke about a band he has steered from Iowa to Colorado through 13 years of change. He’s figured out how to let music guide the wheel to much more far away places and how to bring that music home.
Discovering the “World”
Eufórquestra came by their substantial following through a “world music” approach to a big stage band. Inspired as teens by others who stretched improvisational rock into Jazz, Latin and “World” rhythms – bands such as Phish and The String Cheese Incident – Eufórquestra started reaching further into the roots of international sounds from the onset. From first being summoned to rock guitar by pied piper Kurt Cobain of Nirvana at age 11 and progressing to dad’s Pink Floyd albums, Mike Tallman is just as enthralled with Brazilian samba and big West African funky rhythms as he was with the power chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a kid.
“When I started getting into that stuff, I wanted to learn more about where it came from. I didn’t so much want to hear those guys (jam rockers) play it all the time.… That’s what led me into West African music and Afro beat,” remembered Tallman.
One of his side projects over the past few years has been a Fela Kuti tribute band called Felabration with Motet founder Dave Watts.
He began the band’s road show 13 years ago and has logged over 1,000 shows from ski-town dives to huge outdoor stages. Originally from Iowa City and the University of Iowa, the group relocated to Fort Collins in 2008. They have since perfected a show that sounds like a festival in many rhythms and languages. Under Tallman’s wing, Eufórquestra has brought on board consistently flawless musicians with a wide variety of musical backgrounds. Tallman really seems to have enjoyed calling a few of his favorite musicians and saying, “We’ve got work for you here in Colorado!” Many are accomplished songwriters, and the group’s creative process is extremely open-minded. “Let’s try anything, and if it works great, if not let’s move on,” is how Tallman describes it. These ingredients have fermented nicely into one of the only jam-capable big bands with solid, conscious and well-crafted songs, each bursting with personality. Tallman and the band make room for jam, but only within the structure of good songs.
Some of these dance-hall gems earn the right to deliver conscious lyrics like, “So how with violence and greed, do we expect to get what we need/no more tragedy/we’ve got to take our lessons from human history” from the song “Free” right in the middle of the disco floor with saxes and congas blaring. “Now I’m standing here looking out, wondering when the time will come when we can shout … free at last.” Yes! But they also feature a song about soup that makes Tallman equally proud.
“Decisive and relevant [message] … that’s easy to dance to … timeless big horns and groovy beats,” said Zach Alexander of The Lariat, who is bringing the band to Buena Vista.
“Tight and engineered to a fine, funky precision,” is how Jeremy Frazier of Chicago Jam Scene puts it.
Eu-Fun On Stage
Funk beats and the organ and keys of Matt Wright have been a large part of how much dancing happens at Eufórquestra shows. Equally evident is Tallman’s love of performing live. He takes pride in a certain kind of show that could be likened to a heat-seeking missile: The band zeroes in on the crowd and selects from their vast library of grooves until everyone can find his or her feet. As Tallman puts it, “We’ve never been a band that does seated shows for a quiet audience.”
Eu-Fun In The Studio
The musical travelogue of their live show has produced several albums. Tallman shared that they really don’t start in the studio with any kind of concept. Albums come together from a favorite batch of whatever they are writing at the time. They really enjoy the process of going into the studio and making a recording, but it’s a difficult and often expensive process, so it only happens when a group of strong songs materializes.
The last album, “Fire,” shows how a cohesive album took shape in spite of this approach due to such strong personnel. Friend Kyle Hollingsworth, keys player/vocalist/songwriter with The String Cheese Incident, took his first crack at the producer’s booth for 14 tracks of laid-back Tallman and Wright vocals over syncopated ’70s funk with gritty keys and wah-pedal guitar jogs. The horn section is never far from center but serves the groove rather than taking over. Having just worked with Talking Heads guitarist and producer Jerry Harrison, Hollingsworth curated the project into a mature and solid recording, and Eufórquestra dealt out well structured, hook-laden songs that made it easy work for the most part.
Tallman recalled what Hollingsworth dubbed “a couple squirrelly moments” in each session, but they were smooth and creamy by the final cut. The product was so smooth in fact, Hollingsworth decided to take “moments” from an 18-minute improv session he ordered the band to execute and weave them between songs to bring out the group’s spontaneous side.
Also known for collaborating with some of the best live musicians around, the band recently “won” a new tune by submitting music to Alan Evans from Soulive. Evans had posted drum tracks online for a few weeks for fun. He was calling it “Free Funk Friday.” Matt Wright grabbed one of those tracks, and in a day or so wrote “That Woman.” They brought the band in to overdub the tune on Tallman’s Tascam reel-to-reel with the original drums on track one, and they judiciously used tracks two through seven for the full band to get that saturated analog sound. Tallman emailed the completed demo to Evans, and he liked it enough to come to Denver from Boston to discuss releasing it right away. Evans brought it home to master in his studio. Evans was unavailable for comment, but needless to say, Eufórquestra counts some amazing musical minds as fans. Check out this link to “That Woman” and don’t miss the show Dec. 10 at The Lariat. I’m willing to bet you become a fan, too.