As I strolled up G St. in Arcata Friday evening I had little idea what the night held in store. I did know that Mike Kapitan's stellar band, Miles Ahead, would be interesting as always. And from what I had heard, the newly renovated Arcata Theatre Lounge was a nice new venue. Exterior changes to the theater were barely noticeable. The large marquee listing upcoming events has been nicely redone, but the basic look is the same as it has been as long as I can remember. Immediately upon entering the theater though, it was apparent how much had been done inside. Lara and Brian Cox have transformed the seedy old theater into a sparkling, hip club that could be found in any cosmopolitan setting. The lounge has a nice bar that backs up to a kitchen from which reasonably priced goodies flow. For this Miles Ahead show, the lounge had been made more intimate by dividing the theater with a curtain. The band was set up in front of this curtain, which gave everyone in the tiered sitting area a good place to listen and watch.
A superb pianist, Kapitan has always tinkered with his group, trying to get what he hears in his head into the personnel. The departure of sax player Dan Pearson last fall left a large hole to be filled. Anyone who ever got to hear Dan will know what I mean: sax with a wah-wah sounds titillating, and it was. The latest incarnation of Miles Ahead features two drummers, the solid Mike LaBolle and the dynamic new addition, Justin Hoopes. Anna Pfiefer plays stand-up and electric bass, and Brad "Bamboo Man" Werren is on trumpet with his exotic special effects. For the first set the band was joined by their former reedman Rich Bradley.
The magic began with Mike K. deftly picking out phrases that set the tone for the evening. You could hear Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett wander through. Then with a nod we had lift-off. Soon we were soaring though the cosmos, with layers of rhythm and texture describing nebulae and galaxies, cruising through familiar Miles Davis and Zawinul tunes: "Bitches Brew," "In A Silent Way," "Spanish Key," a tune from Live-Evil, another from Jack Johnson and a tasty original.
Where straight-ahead bebop is Newtonian, this was quantum jazz, with explorations by Captain Kapitan, Bradley and Werren continually headed off in new directions as LaBolle and Pfiefer solidly kept the cruise on course, punctuated by tasty rhythmic layering by Hoopes. Werren's Miles-like trumpeting was enhanced with all kinds of electronic effects, and the evening became a celestial excursion into the vastness of electronic jazz, a deep and extended conversation between excellent musicians that the listeners were privileged to drop in on.
It was a simple equation: Miles Ahead + Arcata Theater Lounge = Nirvana.