The Talking Monkeys and The Home for Wayward Souls: The ArchAngels

The ArchAngels

Most of the members of the ArchAngels were college buddies Ash had known for years. When The Home for Wayward Souls became financially self-sufficient, Ash began contacting them to make arrangements to put them all on salary on a full-time permanent basis. Their talents and skills ranged from “professional” musicians who were proficient sight-readers who fully understood the fundamentals of Harmonization and Theory who had been schooled to players who were strictly “by ear” but who possessed an uncanny knack for keeping up with everyone else who nonetheless provided a great deal of originality and innovation that often took the best skills of the schooled musicians to interpret into charts and arrangements for the entire band.

Although the original ArchAngels rarely ever performed in any configuration larger than about seven members at any one given time, their repertoire was gleaned from over two dozen regulars, some of whom would appear at the last minute and simply “sit in” with the rest of the band who had rehearsed during the week. In similar fashion, the new, improved ArchAngels who performed on a weekly basis and rehearsed on a daily schedule were often augmented by guest players who were not paid who were usually long-time friends of Ash, as well as occasional guest stars who sat in just for “shits and giggles”. The Sanctuary was fast becoming known as a haven for innovative musicians and a prime venue to showcase their talents, as well as to just enjoy playing and exchanging ideas among the Avant-Garde of their field.

Although Ash had studied several semesters of Harmony and Theory in college and was not only a proficient player, but a skilled writer, the ArchAngels were like a comet that Ash had hitchhiked a ride from, and as bandleader, he often referred to himself as The Tail that Wags the Dog. He was as grateful to act as host, (just to be a part of a band that was this good) as his band members were to having a regular gig that paid reasonably well and provided healthcare and retirement benefits in a field where that had been previously unheard. Ash and Kali both considered the ArchAngels to be their family, and they were frequently guests for meals and other occasions. When there were sufficient guest quarters available that were not being used by either guest speakers or out-of-town celebrities, they were often in use by members of the band, who might not even leave the compound for days at a time.

His background singers, the Soul Chorus came from every genre, but all had to be proficient and knowledgeable in Gospel. As long as they could harmonize, improvise, and hit the right notes, they all brought something unique to the mix. One of the sopranos was schooled in opera, and had tremendous range and discipline, but could get funkier than a Baptist minister’s scrotum in July when the occasion and need arose. Most were either rock or jazz vocalists, but with that much talent, there was no room for prima donnas, and as a rule the ladies quickly learned you either had to get along or get out because if it wasn’t fun, and if it didn’t seem effortless, the whole point would have been lost.

The percussion and rhythm section bordered on organized chaos, because they frequently used two complete trap sets, congas, timbales, gongs, marimbas, chimes, vibes, tubular bells, steel drums and just about every other sort of noisemaker or toy that might appeal to a percussionist’s tastes. These “drummers” were by far the most animated, energetic, and childlike members of the band. They could get a little unruly or out of control at times, but they were also the driving force behind almost everything that they performed, and seemed to take it upon themselves to ensure that everyone was having a great time.

They also tended to be practical jokers that favored sight gags and physical comedy, which they often carried out extemporaneously during the performances, especially on Saturday nights. It also was not uncommon for the members of the rhythm section to trade roles, even in the middle of the performances, jumping around and changing instruments or seats without warning. Raphael, the bassist was the unofficial leader of the rhythm section because he was well-liked and good-natured enough to keep up with their shenanigans, but also highly respected as a musician who had an uncommon presence to him that could have been menacing were he not so affable. He made it easy to do what he told you to do, but if you veered off course too far you risked bringing out the gunnery sergeant in him…not a person you would want to piss off.

Neville was a Rastafarian who shared the stage with Grant, a die-hard Metal Rocker who claimed to be somehow related to Aynsley Dunbar, but nobody cared enough about to either refute or verify. The longer Grant was with the ArchAngels, the less he seemed to need to mention it; besides, he was becoming something of a star in his own right. Yoshi was a true master of tuned percussion from vibraphone to every manner of bell or chime, including steel drums, sometimes doing duets with Neville. Grant was the only member of the rhythm section that looked like he was chained to his seat. Neville and Yoshi would practically fly from congas to tympani and back while Grant laid down a backbeat as regular as railroad ties. Sometimes Neville would play counter rhythms on his trap set giving certain original pieces they had written a decidedly jazz polyrhythmic feel. It was also not unusual for them to press other members of the band into service if they were not actively playing their assigned instrument at the time.

The keyboardists were more like orchestra conductors, given the fact that they not only coordinated pianos, organs, synthesizers, and string ensembles, but they generally wrote the charts for the reeds and woodwinds. Karan also played viola and cello, as well as flute, and on occasion even performed on trombone, making you think of Glenn Miller (but only if you were either old enough, or happened to be a musicologist). She had what is sometimes called perfect relative pitch, because she had a very keen ear for intervals and could almost instantly identify which instrument…or voice was sharp or flat, but could still reference all the pitches, even to an out-of-tune piano if necessary. Ian was her perfect co-conspirator, and an understudy of hers who had been taking piano lessons from her since he was eight years old. There was an unspoken language that passed between them in the form of music that, so matter how polyphonic or abstract the tonality of one or the other one got, they effortlessly resolved the harmonies in a way that Ash described as a musical uroborus, although Karan preferred to call it soixante-neuf harmonization. Given her proclivity for…well, let’s just call it mischief; it was no secret that her best student had been studying a myriad of things under her tutelage, and although he was almost twenty years her junior, he was not the least shy about offering that “We make Music like it was Sex because we also make Sex like it was Music.”

Red played tenor and baritone sax, occasionally both at once, like Roland Kirk. A self-described electric be bopper who got his nickname because of his long strawberry blonde hair; no one had any idea how old Red really was, because to listen to him talk, you would think he was at least seventy, just by his fixation with fifties jazz and its jargon (everyone was a cat to him, for instance), but he had all his hair although his face had that bronzed appearance that no one except George Hamilton or a homeless person gets, including the leathery wrinkles. Mutton chop sideburns almost met the walrus/Foo Manchu mustache offset by a soul patch under his bottom lip. The only time anyone had ever seen him without his sunglasses and his hat was when Ash and Kali went to visit him in the hospital right out of surgery…still recovering from the anesthesia, they gave the hat and glasses back to him by way of the ER, knowing it would be his first request. He even swam in the pool in his hat and sunglasses, and it was rumored that he bathed and showered in them, although Sonja, his mulatto Puerto Rican girlfriend who put him in the Emergency Room after she stabbed him was unavailable for comment as to whether he slept or screwed with them on. It would only be a short matter of time before there would be a new expert on the subject, however, if any of them had been curious, since Red rarely ever was found wanting for female companionship for any significant length of time.

Ishmael played alto and soprano saxes, clarinet, and flutes, and had degrees in both Mathematics and Physics, as well as Music. Ish was a germophobe, although he was quick to point out to anyone who called him one that the more correct term was Mysophobia, (fear of uncleanliness). He carried a battery powered ultraviolet light with him everywhere, scanning for evidence of the presence of bodily fluids. It was embarrassing to be somewhere in public and witness him scan all the adjacent surfaces within his reach, but it was also disturbingly unsettling to watch him repeatedly confirm his worst suspicions and thereby make them ours as well. The truth is, most of us really don’t want to know all the things we touch that are somehow contaminated by urine, mucous, semen, vaginal alluvium, saliva, dander, miscellaneous insect debris, hair, sweat, blood, and feces, otherwise you’d be as afraid to get out of bed, as to stay in it. He was also a Sephardic Hasid. He felt out of place no matter where he went, until he joined the ArchAngels. The characters he encountered were perhaps a bit more bizarre than out in the rest of the world, but here he was respected in his own right as much as everyone else, so it was easy to do the same for them.

Since Ash was the bandleader and front man, he got plenty of opportunities to play flashy guitar solos when he wanted to, but Zack was really the HMFIC when it came to all matters pertaining to the playing, caring and feeding of the electric guitar. Originally from Nashville, and a master of everything from Country to Rockabilly, to Jazz to Metal, Shred, Grunge, and everything Jimi Hendrix or Eddy Van Halen ever played, he learned electronics and avionics during a brief stint with the Air Force during his late teens and early twenties, siting “creative differences” as the reason for his departure as soon as his tour was up. He drank a bit too much and practically chain smoked marijuana. He was trained in Shuri-Ryu Karate, an avid firearms aficionado, and a Zen Buddhist/Taoist who referred to himself as a Pacifist, although in truth, he was less Pacific and more Fist. He could somehow snap from being one of the most good-natured and patient individuals you could ever hope to meet to going right to the brink of physical violence without batting an eyelash or even raising his voice if threatened. It was spooky to observe. It was like he flipped a switch in his head that went from Poet to Warrior, but he rarely displayed any anger in the process, just resolution, acceptance and a certain degree of regret. He regarded violence as a “sad reality”, but refused to be a victim. He was a Zen Dharma Bum, part Redneck, part Shaman and Visionary, full-time Hedonist. He met Ash in a Dojo in North Miami Beach and they had been friends ever since.

Add two Roadies, Otis and Mickey, plus Lothar, the soundman and electronics wizard. The ArchAngels. Travel agents to a higher reality where Escape Velocity is Ground Zero.

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