The Emancipators bring new energy to the classics.
Thursday, June 8, 2006
Descending the stairs from Carmel’s Dolores Street, we leave the windblown street above and enter the Sugar Reef Restaurant, which explodes with bright colors like tropical coral. Inside, the bottoms of the walls are trimmed with stone and abalone shells, while the rest of the interior is painted pink, green and red. On a unique stage, which looks like a rectangle cut out of the wall facing the bar, a five-piece band play to a small crowd.
The group, named The Emancipators, is performing a cover version of James Armstrong’s “Hard, Hard Blues.” After singer/guitarist Eli Williamson sings, “She was a woman I had to have,” guitarist Ambrose Pollock lets loose with an impressive guitar solo. In these few minutes, it’s apparent that the group is one of Monterey’s best secrets, but the best is yet to come.
After Pollock finishes his solo, violinist Edward Patterson closes his eyes and slides a bow across his instrument. The longer Patterson solos, the more intense the song becomes until, at the height of his solo, Patterson is sawing emotionally on his violin like a lumberjack trying to fell a stubborn tree.
Following a solo by bassist John Paul, the band returns to the song at hand. Williamson ends the number with passionate lyrics: “She’s a hard woman/ who left me with the hard, hard blues.”
The next song, a cover of Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” begins with just bass and drums before evolving into slick funk. “Y’all ready to let him do his thing?” Williamson asks halfway into the song as he points to Patterson. After Patterson finishes another superb solo, an audience member murmurs, “Wow.”
One solo later, this time by replacement drummer Connie Reese, who is filling in for Jen Schaaf this evening, Williamson starts talking over the music. “Everyone has something to say,” he says. “So, I’m going to say something.”
Williamson goes on to talk about how we can learn from past leaders like John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X. Then, he doubles back to the tune by singing, “The ghetto/ the funky ghetto.”
Despite the group’s cohesiveness, The Emancipators have only been playing together since this fall. Williamson, an Army sergeant studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, met Pollock while playing Sly McFly’s Wednesday night R&B jam. A few months later, the duo had formed The Emancipators and were performing at Nell’s, a bar and Cajun restaurant on Fremont Street in Monterey. Patterson, a graduate of DLI’s Korean department and a current member of the Navy, joined the group after seeing The Emancipators at Nell’s.
Both Williamson and Patterson have been playing music for a long time. Williamson, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, sang gospel and played classical music in high school for the Kenwood Academy Concert Choir, which he says performed for luminaries like Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson. Patterson, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, played classical music in outfits like the Bay Youth Symphony Orchestra before being inspired by Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley to go in a more contemporary direction.
Williamson says that he has a formula for choosing the numbers The Emancipators play. “I pick songs where you can see everyone’s talent,” he says.
In addition to re-arranged covers, The Emancipators have two instrumental originals which will be released on an upcoming seven-song demo titled The Emancipated Media Project.
Unfortunately, The Emancipators don’t have too many future plans due to the fact that Williamson and Patterson will be transferred to other military bases six months from now. Therefore, it’d be wise to get a glimpse of this talented band of blues and R&B musicians sooner rather than later.
THE EMANCIPATORS play Sugar Reef, Dolores and Fifth in Carmel, Thursday at 8pm. No cover. 620-0700.