My cycling route in America took me as far south as Asheville, North Carolina. I came to it from the northeast, and almost doubled back, just further over to the east. Knowing that it was the axis of the trip, that afterwards I would be homeward bound, gave it this magical feel: the turning point. But the city itself proved totally bewitching in its own right. Founded in around 1792, Asheville is quite old by American standards, and beautiful art deco comprises much of the architecture in the downtown (i.e. the city centre), whilst the huge vistas of mountain can be seen between the buildings.
A view of Asheville and the mountains…from the mountains! (Picture credit)
The mood of Asheville, however, is what makes it so special. It was so easy to see a thriving and creative community, from the array of independent art stores and artisan stalls to the bookshops and cafés. Everything seems to be colourful and well-made. Even the lampposts were decorated with brightly-knitted coverings!
An example of what’s known as ‘yarn bombing’ in Asheville (Picture credit)
The jewel in this crown, however, was the music. I have never seen so many buskers in such a small area, or of such a high standard. There was a bluegrass band, a string quartet, the obligatory guitarist-singers and a jazz trio. As well as this, Asheville boasts a profusion of music bars, jazz clubs and gig venues that come alive every night with an overwhelming array of concerts and jam sessions.
It was in one of these that I had one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life. I was just wondering the streets in the evening, it was pretty warm and there was a lively but relaxed bustle of people eating dinner, drinking and wandering around. As I walked down Walnut Street, I passed a crowd of people spilling out of a bar, from which issued an incredible sound. Peering in, I saw the three musicians (singer, drummer and keyboard player) that were captivating so many people: the Siamese Sound Club. It was a kind of fusion between jazz and rock, dusted with neo-Soul, pretty similar to Hiatus Kaiyote, and it was utterly enthralling.
The keyboard player (named Simon) was leading the music, and he had in front of him a Nord piano and a Moog synthesizer. On these he incorporated the bass part, and just like Ray Manzarek of the Doors, he took full advantage of the freedom this granted him. His style was a kind of harmonic-melodic hybrid, where colourful harmonic progressions took flight and proliferated into searing melodic breaks: there was absolutely no doubt about his skill. This was further confirmed not only by how relaxed he seemed, but also by the fact that the music they were playing was clearly – for the most part – improvised on the spot.
Woven through and around this scintillating core was the voice of the singer CaroMia, dark, shimmering, almost husky. Her microphone stand was adorned with large, deep purple feathers, bearing some visual resemblance to her vocal tone. The balance was such that she was just a little quieter than the keys, and thus her emphasised notes or crescendos would leap out of the fray and grab your attention before a shifting chord would pull it in another direction. The lyrics were pretty difficult to follow, but again certain words would stand out, and the effect this created fitted perfectly with the nature of her voice.
Last but not least: the drumming! Whilst led by the keys, Michelangelo Carubba (of Turquaze) meticulously played his irregular rhythms and seemed to make the rest of the music dance in a way it felt it might not have if he hadn’t been. Off-beats were emphasised, time signatures jumbled together and break patterns thrown around freely. The communication between the Carubba and Simon was excellent, and watching them closely, it seemed as if they were conversing with each other using music. I found out afterwards that Carubba had never played with the Siamese Sound Club, but had met them at another gig earlier that day. After their gig, I sat CaroMia and Simon down for a brief chat…I’ll put it up in a few days.
In the meantime, watch the Siamese Sound Club live in Asheville here!