You might not have heard of Marsh. I wouldn’t have either, except she brought her big band, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, through town a couple of times during the ’90s, and I happened to catch one of their sets at Beanbender’s in Berkeley. Great music, combining accessible big-band charts with twisty creative ideas and furious solos, led by Marsh’s ebullient vocals, and piercing vocal sounds, little squeaky hints that the band wasn’t afraid to take some chances.
What struck me was the realization of how rare it is for a band of that size to be able to tour at all, even for just a few shows in a handful of places. The economics just aren’t there, not with this country’s downright hostile attitude towards the arts. By rights, I should have gone a lifetime without encountering this music, even though Austin is not that far.
I’ll have to play some tracks in Marsh’s honor during my show this Friday. I’ve got a couple of ideas.
“Milky Way Dreaming,” from the album World Wide, opens with 10 minutes of celestial poetry and abstract music, an image of a sky full of wonder. The second 10 minutes are led by an irresistable bass riff that leads a coolly grooving beat. “Dervish,” from the same album, digs into a melody that’s almost a stereotype of “Eastern” music, but it’s catchy and energetic, and it’s hard not to smile at the ending as the whole band accelerates for chorus after chorus.
But most especially, I’m going to play “Riddles,” performed by Marsh and a piano trio (the Bob Rodriguez Trio). It’s a Richie Beirach composition, a hammering, surging bit of open-ended piano jazz that’s compelling in its own right. What makes it soar, though, is Marsh relaying the story of Oedipus and the Sphynx, complete with character voices and vocal effects, a monologue packed with tension and drama. It blows me away every time I hear it.
Peaceful rest, Tina. Your music managed to find someone out here.