Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.4.08

Good Humor Bands
Traditions converge in Eugene
By Brett Campbell 

Rupa Marya leads a double life. For half the year, she treats patients and teaches students as a member of the internal medicine faculty at UC San Francisco. The rest of the time, she leads a neo-cabaret band in the city’s Mission district. Although everyone wanted her to choose one or the other, Dr. Marya, er, Rupa, insisted she needed to be both physician and musician. She also found that the two roles complemented each other, as in a poignant song she wrote after talking to a dying patient’s wife about their 40 years together, or another about an illegal immigrant patient who died of breast cancer because she was afraid to go to the hospital to get a lump diagnosed, out of fear of being deported. 

Rupa Marya. Photo Judith Borrows

Actually, she has more than two lives — multiple identities have been part of her experience since being born to Indian parents in San Francisco and growing up there as well as in France and India. She sings in Hindi, Spanish, French and English. Rupa and her band, the April Fishes (classical cellist, accordion, percussion, bass and jazz trumpeter), should appeal to fans of Pink Martini, Gogol Bordello, Keren Ann and similar acts. With all that experience in multitasking, it’s no surprise that Dr. Marya — er, Rupa’s — music is similarly diverse, drawing on Parisian cafe music, ragas, Gypsy swing, Latino grooves, tango. Nor that her lyrics often explore the personal and political aspects of living in a multicultural world — opening borders and crossing cultures. (The title song of their album, Extraordinary Rendition, is decidedly not a paean to the war-mongering, Constitution-trashing Cheney administration.) She lets her wild side out in the stage shows: dancing, playing guitar, inspiring a colorful circus-cabaret vibe, mixing in the occasional ballad. Rupa and the April Fishes play the WOW Hall Saturday, Sept. 6, with the veteran sitar/tabla duo Bindaas.

Guitarist Guelel Kumba has also crossed borders, from his native Senegal to Oxford, Mississippi. His band’s name, Afrissippi, suggests their blend of West African sounds and North Mississippi hill country blues. It’s more a reunion than a wedding, however, as the country blues can trace some of their origins to West Africa. Of course, Afropop artists have been creating similar fusions of African and African-American music, from the other direction, for years, and Afrissippi’s sounds will appeal to world music fans and blues fans alike. Kumba sings in Fulani, English and French, and his band — veterans of the Mississippi blues scene — cooks. They’re playing at Cottage Grove’s Axe and Fiddle on Saturday, Sept. 6, and at the Eugene Celebration Friday, Sept. 12; singer Guelel Kumba appears solo at Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen on Friday, Sept. 5.

If you didn’t get enough neo-cabaret attitude at the Rupa show, try Sophe Lux, which plays the WOW Hall on Sept. 13. More Kate Bush meets Ziggy Stardust than Lotte Lenya, this theatrical Portland neo-glam ensemble gets a lot of mileage out of their affectionately sardonic retro humor, instrumental variety (viola, synth-harpsichord, accordion along with the standard guitar-bass-drums) and the soaring soprano of Gwynneth Haynes (sister of great filmmaker Todd), er, Mercury Lux.

Jazz and rock have been violating each other’s borders for decades, too, and a pair of broadly appealing jazz-oriented acts appearing next week are both recommended to more than just veteran jazzheads. Brooklyn-based bassist/keyboardist Todd Sickafoose studied with Charlie Haden and jazzer-turned-modernist composer Mel Powell and has collaborated with some of the most interesting musicians around, most notably in Ani DiFranco’s band. His groove-based “headphone jazz” is much more ambitious in harmony and texture than most rock-influenced jazz, and his show at Sam Bond’s on Thursday, Sept. 11, deserves the attention of any fan of jazz or avant garde sounds.

The next night, Sept. 12, downtown’s Fenario Gallery continues its occasional series of music shows with one of the best of the new-generation jazz/rock ensembles, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Like fellow travelers the Bad Plus and Medeski Martin & Wood, JFJO has won a strong following among young jam band fans as well as jazz lovers. And like those bands, they’re given to spacy covers of classic (Hendrix, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, even the Fab Four) and contemporary rock (Bjork, fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips). But the electric/acoustic trio can also cover jazz legends from Ellington to Mingus to Brubeck to Shorter, and their original tunes, often composed of more structured chamber jazz, are just as compelling. And their decade-plus of heavy touring has made them superb collective improvisors who can also entice jazz purists.