There was Snow in July in downtown Minneapolis, and it was smokin’ hot. His show at the Fine Line was my first time catching sax ace Snowman the Soulman and His Ice-Cold Band, but I’d seen Brian “Snowman” Powers plenty as a member of Afro-Cuban rock powerhouse New Primitives, making some of the most ungodly noise known to humankind, playing the pure and absolute hell out of a saxophone. As New Prims frontman Stanley Kipper puts it, “Man, Snow is terrifyin’.”
You name the style of music and Powers, a seasoned session man and nationally-known producer (Odessa, Oleta Adams) can play it. For his incarnation as Snowman the Soulman he has elected to go with a sort of rock fusion anchored by funk. The whole night at the Fine Line, he stayed close to the anchor and proceeded to get, as the saying goes, funky as a fat man’s drawers. His Ice-Cold Band comprised a killer crew: Jay Corkran (drums), Daren Markk (bass), Chico Perez (percussion), “Downtown” Bill Brown (accordion, keys, organ), Todd Bergren (electric guitar), and Todd Ernster (acoustic and electric guitar). Powers alternated among alto, tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes. Everybody except Enrster is on the album From My Soul to Yours (MGS Records). Which is too bad, because Ernster played incredibly tasty—downright stunning—solo after mind-blowing solo. To be sure, From My Soul to Yours stands up just find. It’s just that, well, maybe Ernster’ll be on the next CD.
What marked the night even more than Powers’s prowess on sax was his instinct as an arranger: the instinct that helps make From My Soul to Yours a winning effort. It is, no matter how strong the artist, very easy for most listeners to lose interest without a vocalist in there. Instrumentalists simply are not known for holding an audience spellbound for very long. This guy, however, shrewdly shifts textures, fattens the sound here, thins it out there, and without the slightest contrivance, keeps coming up with unexpected places to take the music.
Opening was gifted singer-songwriter J Pierre, who accompanied himself on acoustic guitar with a tight four-piece backup. The overall impression brought to mind a fella from Zimbabwe who comes through these parts every once in a blue moon, Oliver Mtukudzi. It’s a sparse sound that leans on minor and major-7 chords for a lush texture. Real fascinating stuff. Pierre’s voice washed out a couple of times at the high register, but his set was solid. He has, by the way, been taken under the wing of Yohannes Tona, who’s producing J Pierre’s in-progress CD.