Ray's The Roof

Some bands get a gig on New Year's Eve, grab a case of champagne and noisemakers and make the most of it. Others turn it out and make their shows an event. Ray's Music Exchange would fall in the lat

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Some bands get a gig on New Year's Eve, grab a case of champagne and noisemakers and make the most of it. Others turn it out and make their shows an event. Ray's Music Exchange would fall in the latter category, as their annual NYE shows have become eclectic audio/video extravaganzas that have people talking well into the new year. To ring out '04, Ray's is moving the shindig to the Madison Theater in Covington (the group has usually had the Southgate House on NYEs past), and they've invited a diverse roster once again to lend them a hand. Artists featured this time around include Grand Oversoul, turntablist DJ Chlorophyll, Buckra, The Ropers and the Comet Bluegrass Allstars. Visual go-to-guys Big Bang Productions will provide the always-entrancing video backdrop for the evening. Music starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available in advance at Blue in the Face. RME has always been refreshingly hard to pigeonhole and Blue in the Face continues their path of adventurous eclecticism and proficient musicianship. The song structures on Blue seem to balance uninhibited improv and purposeful arrangement, often leading to epic-length songs that don't just meander, but actually go somewhere.

Sonically, the group's Jazz/Funk/Rock synthesis is even more centered around rhythm this time, guided by the powerfully intuitive bass and drums interplay. In fact, you could peel away the layers on any given track and discover that each member of the band is doing something utterly fascinating with their part. That's why I'll always see Ray's Music Exchange as a Jazz band more than anything; each player does his own thing, but they synchronize perfectly.

Highlights from the largely instrumental album include "Blue," with its Phish-y vocal melody quirks and buoyant Reggae bounce, the spacious, dynamic Jazz outburst, "Boris and the Bedsnake," the stunning bass solo (not words you hear every day) on "Synchrocosmic" and the playful, rhythmic-shifting burner, "Bowie Knife," which touches on everything from Blues to Swing to N'Awlins Jazz in its six-and-a-half-minute span. But, like Miles Davis' Bitches Brew or Weather Report's Heavy Weather, Blue in the Face operates best when taken as a whole, with each track imperatively feeding off of and bleeding into each another. Every Ray's album so far has a different feel, probably due to the revolving membership of the band from disc to disc. But the longtime core of the band (Nick Blasky, Michael Mavridoglou, Brad Myers) sounds as energized as ever on Blue. I think Ray's still has a masterpiece in them somewhere and, while Blue In the Face isn't quite it, it's one crucial step closer. (raysmusicexchange.com)

More New Year's Eve Gigs
· Alternative art/music space The Mockbee presents a brain-tickling bill of cool Indie bands on New Year's Eve. Along with DJs like DJ John Ennis and DJ Sebastian and various art and video displays, local groups mallory and johnnytwentythree play the 7:30 p.m., all-ages show. Also on the bill is Coltrane Motion, a trio headed up by Michael Bond, who left the Cincinnati area for Chicago last year. (themockbee.org)

· With the blizzardly conditions this holiday season (and the probable flooding that is coming with the big thaw this week), everyone could use a laugh to ring out '04. New Year's Eve in the Southgate House parlour room is just the ticket, as local comedy collective, The Comic Revolution, teams up with local psychedelic Rock band Absinthium and new Indie trio Luba Luft, who are readying their debut CD, Rate of Decay, for a spring release. Downstairs in the Southgate ballroom, Ashley Peacock, The Newbees and For Algernon perform. The Southgate House lounge area boasts "Hillbilly" faves Straw Boss. (southgatehouse.com)

· You'll be shelling out some big bucks if you plan to attend some of the more highfalutin New Year's Eve celebrations around town. Might we suggest saving all of that dough for drinking money and getting blindingly (yet responsibly!) drunk at Sudsy's Malone's, which is hosting a free show featuring Hard Rock/Metal acts Pain Link, Retribution, Blood Money and Stumblecain. (sudsys.com)

· Northside Tavern also has a freebie NYE gig, featuring Thee Shams, who had a helluva year in 2004, getting named "Artist of the Year" at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, touring the country and supporting their well-received debut for Fat Possum Records, Please Yourself. (northside-tavern.com)

· The York Street Café also has a stellar lineup of local talent to help you countdown to '05. The Newport club's NYE party features The Stapletons, Cari Clara and Goose, who, according to singer/guitarist Jason Arbenz (also a member of Cari Clara), are close to completing their debut album, Live It Up, Turn It Goose!. (yorkstonline.com)

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