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Who's Yo' Mama?

Local funkers mamaSutra come home

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Manitou Springs' own funk supergroup set off to the hinterland of California in search of fame and fortune, and now, they're on their way home. That's right, mamaSutra came back.

Turns out they're only back for a visit though, a single stop on the band's Colorado tour. mamaSutra is booked up tight with dates opening for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, playing with DJ Harry, and touring the Western states.

"I really am excited to play Colorado Springs again," says vocalist, fretless bass player and former Manitoid Molly Boyles. "I've been missing it, missing everybody. We've spent a long time honing what we wanna sound like and what we're doing, so the shows just get more and more exciting. The live music is going through more emotional states, and I'm just psyched to come back and say, 'Check it out, check it out!'"

Things are different since Molly was laying her sexy, jazzy voice down in the band Slack at the now defunct Blue Note in Manitou. You'll need a quick history lesson, so follow along, if you can: Molly felt that Slack was ready to tour extensively, but the other members had local responsibilities that kept them from being away too long.

Russell Spurlock, jack of all instruments and former Guy in Glassus, had auditioned as a saxophonist for Slack, but it didn't work out. Molly and Russell kept in touch, however, and when Molly needed a place to record a little jingle for sonique.com, she used his digital studio. They bonded.

At about the same time, Ray Messick, a neighbor of Molly's, borrowed her guitar one night and proceeded to "blow her away." They decided to start a funk band, went running to Russell, and together bore mamaSutra. Later on, their original drummer, Brian, was replaced by former Irie Still drummer Ben Martin. At last call, Irie Still had hired drummer Brian, and everybody's happy now. Phew.

mamaSutra played in Denver for a year before deciding to make the move to California. Drawn by the network of creative, connected friends and frequent reports of good times to be had, the band packed up and moved to Venice Beach last July. "We were really excited about meeting so many artistic people and what we could be putting together out there," says Boyles. "Plus, we're always generating an interest between each other to try new stuff."

Their freeform music proves the point, alternating between rollicking guitar and horn jams to hypnotic, spacey, loop and sample grooves. mamaSutra has a level of communication that is a prerequisite when venturing into unknown jams, and that on-stage trust allows each member's style to flow into one tight unit of sound. The wall of funk, if you will.

Boyles loves the constant surprises. "Russell writes a lot of songs, and I write a lot of songs, and you can see that they come from two totally different places. He's rooted in jam music, and I come from solid funk, funk, all-I-can-talk-about-is-funk. We love stretching out and improvising and jamming and hearing new stuff happen each time. Ben is a really good percussionist; he's very well schooled and studied, and Ray comes from Southern blues, Southern rock, Stevie Ray Vaughn--type stuff. We pretty much try to respect what everybody wrote, and inevitably, you end up in jam space."

Living in California, collaborating with a variety of artists (musical and otherwise) and performing every weekend is working out well for the band, and they've branched out into producing carnival-style concerts. Last month they hosted 420 Cirque Du Funque, a live show featuring fire eaters, knife jugglers, DJs, body painters, and artist Tom Gardner, who paints enormous Dali-esque canvases to mamaSutra's music.

"We tried so, so hard to play Manitou, but we couldn't get in anywhere," says Boyles of the band's uncharacteristic gig at The Ritz. "There's not really a place that wants to have a party anymore. They're real scaled down; they just want to have a restaurant, and they're not interested in having 500 screaming people show up. I think we're going to have a great time in Colorado Springs, regardless. I grew up there. I started with [the band] 929 when I was 15, playing shows at the Underground. But I do think that Manitou, as a geographic spot, is a really good place to play. Something about the mountains or maybe all the springs or something... There's just a really good benevolent feeling there."

Next time maybe, but for now the tiny dance floor at the Ritz is going to have to somehow accommodate not only legions of dancers, but mamaSutra's big sound. The free show will no doubt be packed, so wear your most comfortable dancing clothes and prepare to muscle your way in for some space. Because there is no way you'll be able to sit this one out.

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