Awesome Americana, powered by jazz smarts.
Sam Reider and Ben Flocks, featuring Silver City Bound
Awesome Americana, powered by jazz smarts.
In the music of Silver City Bound, you’ll hear echoes of Clifton Chenier, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Tom Petty, the Band, and other strong roots of American music. You’ll also hear their burning jazz virtuosity, especially when saxophonist Ben Flocks joins in. Powered by jazz musicians who fell in love with American roots music, Silver City Bound has been garnering national accolades at a remarkable rate. Their latest release, Take My Picture, is among the best-selling Americana albums this year and they won Best Americana Album from the Independent Music Awards for their debut recording, Diner in the Sky. You’ll hear folk, Cajun, zydeco, country blues, and other influences in their repertoire, but make no mistake: These musicians have serious jazz credentials. Reider and Flocks are both SJW alums; along with Garabedian, they are often on the SJW faculty.
Ben Flocks, saxophone
Sam Reider, accordion and piano
Justin Poindexter, guitar
Noah Garabedian, bass
Will Clark, drums
Lisa Friedman & Jim Harris
A band’s name can tell you a lot about its mission and aesthetic. Evoking an era before the interstate highway system when iron rail defined transcontinental travel, New York’s Silver City Bound has honed a singular sound drawing on folk rock and western swing, Gulf Coast grooves, and jazz (while also referencing polyglot influences gleaned during its far-flung international touring). Co-led by San Francisco-raised pianist/accordionist Sam Reider and North Carolina-reared guitarist Justin Poindexter, the group recently released an impressive debut EP, Take My Picture.
Always open to new musical directions, the band has collaborated with a disparate cast of luminaries who highlight different facets of the Silver City’s sonic purview. Singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and yodeling cowboy Ranger Dou might seem like naturals for the band. Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay’s quirky irony took them in a different direction. And the supremely cosmopolitan composer and French hornist David Amram, whose career encompasses recordings with Kenny Dorham, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, Langston Hughes, Pete Seeger, and Leonard Bernstein, took them all over the musical map. On the Amigos Band’s first album, 2014’s Diner in the Sky, Amram, now 85, tells the story of meeting Woody Guthrie on one track and contributes on various whistles on others.
“We met him at a folk festival about five years ago and he became a mentor,” Reider says. “That launched a couple of years where we toured with him. His mentality, that incredible openness, is what keeps us going on this project.”
No matter how far afield Silver City travels, the band’s roots in jazz remain vital, a fact that “sets us apart from other Americana bands,” Reider says. “We’re all trained jazz musicians, and improvisation is central to what I love to do in music. Our mentality is, we write original songs with slamming danceable grooves. Rather than solo over the changes, we’re often using the melody for improv while we’ve also worked out vocal harmonies.”
A quartet also featuring Eugene, Oregon-raised drummer Will Clark and Berkeley High grad Noah Garabedian on bass, Silver City Bound evolved out of an earlier combo known as The Tres Amigos (and later as The Amigos Band) launched by Reider, Poindexter, and saxophonist Eddie Barbash (now ensconced in the house band for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Jon Batiste, and Stay Human). The group’s informal origins may have played a role in the their riotously entertaining music, which mashed together three-part vocal harmonies, zydeco grooves, country music and steeplechase improvisation.
“We were making it up as we went a long,” Reider says. “Our friends were into it. We’d play at college parties, stand up on the couch and sing country songs. We did that for a number of years, and when we got our first tour we added drums and bass. It’s evolved into what it is now a rock ’n’ roll, Americana roots band. I’m playing accordion and singing. Justin plays acoustic guitar and Telecaster. We finally changed the name to Silver City Bound last year because we got tired of people thinking it’s a Mexican music band.”
In many ways the band started to fully realize its potential in 2013, when U.S. State Department selected the Amigos as cultural ambassadors, which led to six-week tour of China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Interacting with local musicians as much as possible, the band found its wide-open aesthetic made it possible to trade tunes and jam with wildly divergent artists. For Noah Garabedian, who earned a degree in ethnomusicology from UCLA, the tours expanded the band’s already wide-open sensibility.
“It’s been a real joy to explore different styles of music that I wasn’t familiar with,” says Garabedian, who’s been playing with Ravi Coltrane lately. “But the great thing about Silver City Bound is that everybody is so interested in music from around the world I can really flex my ethnomusicology muscles. It’s was originally a hybrid of country and zydeco, African music, and South American music with the accordion, but it’s continued to grow from there. Every time we do these collaborations on a State Department tour, where we do their music and they do ours, it’s like a Paul Simon or Ry Cooder album.”
For tonight’s performance Silver City is joined by another player, saxophonist Ben Flocks. He and Reider met at the Stanford Jazz Workshop camp as kids, and they’ve been playing together ever since. Reider played keyboards on Flocks’ critically-hailed 2014 debut album, Battle Mountain, but this is the saxophonist’s first time collaborating with Silver City. The plan, subject to change on the bandstand, is to play one set of instrumental music by Reider and Flocks, and one set of Silver City’s music with Flocks as special guest.
Taking on an old friend should be a breeze compared to the kind of situations the band has thrived in lately. In May, the group was slated to perform in Azerbaijan, and parlayed the trip into an opportunity to collaborate with Syrian and Kurdish refugees in Turkey, an experience that deepened the band’s sense of mission.
“I see that as the only artistic and spiritual way forward,” Reider says. “The genres are disintegrating around us. It doesn’t matter what label you fit into anymore. I find it more interesting to have a global understanding, and try to stress that American music is this big tree of different influences, the West African banjo, the European lute, Afro-Cuban clave.”