Nova Paradiso. New Paradise. Almost seems to imply the dissolution of local avant-goof jazz juggernaut Thirsty Alley—from whence saxophonist Dale Lee, lead vocalist Tara Duff, guitarist Ralph Mason and drummer Luminado came—was meant to pave the way to fresh musical territory, a new paradise.
The truth, however, is that Nova Paradiso rode alongside Thirsty Alley—not to mention another band, Swingorillas—for two years before Thirsty played its final show. “There was no correlation between the disbanding of Thirsty Alley and the focus on Nova,” says saxophonist Dale Lee (Dick Suave to Thirsty fans), although the result has “allowed me more time to do all the dirty work [read: press, etc.] for Nova and spend more time practicing my instruments.”
The band (Lee, Mason, drummer Luminado, percussionist Wayne Burdick, bassist Benjamin Johnson, trombonist Joe Chisholm, trumpeter Dave Chisholm and front women Duff, violinist-vocalist Debora Wrathall and vocalist Lorena Ponce de Leon—known collectively as Vulva Magico) has recently released its debut CD, Mantis Recipe. The record captures the essence of the band—a feat, considering its 10 members of sundry tastes and backgrounds. And when the sound is based on as many styles (African, Latin, Gypsy, Klezmer, Soukous, funk), it’s downright daunting.
Lee says the idea was to harness the live sound as much as possible, eschewing overdubbing and achieving a delicate balance between authenticity and accuracy. All told, Mantis Recipe wound up “a 95-percent live” recording. Lee credits his bandmates’ skills and the fact that they’ve had the benefit of working the songs out in live performances. “It was definitely a challenge to record in the way we wanted to present ourselves. Fortunately, the recording process was very smooth and took little time.”
To record, the band chose Counterpoint Studios and Bob Abeyta, citing “incredible engineers and facilities” and reasonable rates. “We were able to do the whole recording process on analog, and our engineer, Bob Abeyta, was technically sound and artistically alert.”
The finished product is one of the finest local releases—to be expected from Thirsty albums—to date. Vulva Magico’s vocals seduce over hypnotic melodic and rhythmic textures; everyone from casual clubgoers to discriminating music aficionados can find something for themselves in the brew. “Nova doesn’t have a specific thesis for what sound we seek, but we are trying to slap around pop boundaries. We want people dancing, but we also hope listeners can enjoy us with a sophisticated ear.”
Surely, they’ll do both. As opposed to Thirsty Alley, Nova’s dynamic lets chops serve the tune; sometimes they’ll stretch out live, but generally they remain faithful to the recorded version of a song. “We’re a 10-piece band full of quality improvisers. The songs would never end if we started stretching out too much. So while everyone gets to improvise, you generally have to say something with intent, then get out. With so many jam bands around today, I believe one of our unique features is that the improvisation is built around the orchestration.”
Looking into the future, Lee states Nova’s goal as “playing creative music, enjoying it, and spreading it to as many people as possible,” joking that it sounds like a “happy STD.” To that end (the new paradise?), Lee does his dirty work. “I’m doing all the nasty things musicians should never have to do: sending inquiries to record labels, seeking distribution, submitting our disc for review in national publications. This band was initiated with the intent of touring and making money with our integrity intact.”