Music: Monsoon season

New Monsoon reunites old rhythms onstage

By Charlie Swanson

At the heart of longtime North Bay jam band New Monsoon is the instrumental and songwriting collaboration between founding members Bo Carper (acoustic guitar and banjo), Jeff Miller (electric guitar) and Phil Ferlino (keys).

Yet, the sound that set New Monsoon apart when they debuted nearly 20 years ago was their robust and worldly four-man rhythm section. This week, New Monsoon—a quintet since 2008—welcomes original rhythm players Brian Carey and Rajiv Parikh for a special “Rhythm Reunion” show on Saturday, December 10, at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael.

New Monsoon’s origins date back to 1997, when Jeff Miller moved from Boston to Marin County, where Bo Carper, an old buddy from his college days at Penn State, was living in Bolinas. “I just fell in love with the whole thing,” Miller says.

The first incarnation of New Monsoon was Miller and Carper playing Fairfax cafes as a duo with their mutual friend Parikh on the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument.

“It was really unique,” Miller says. “Not too many electric rock and roll projects have a tabla. That was inspiring. And it was the impetus of a lot of the music we wrote in that world-influenced style.”

Also largely influenced by Bay Area legend Santana, New Monsoon’s up-tempo jams and global rhythms were further bolstered when Brian Carey, who plays congas and timbales, joined the group soon after, offering his own Afro-Cuban influence and style. “That was the engine as we call it. The percussion set the table for our sound,” Miller says.

By 2003, New Monsoon was a full seven-piece touring band that regularly traveled coast-to-coast with jam bands like The String Cheese Incident and Umphrey’s McGee, and played festivals like Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits. Retooling into a tighter, more vocally-fronted five-piece in 2008, it today features Miller, Carper and Ferlino with bassist Marshall Harrell and drummer Michael Pinkham.

“We’ve got a lot of different musical facets of the group we can tap into now,” Miller says, referring to the upcoming night of old jams and deep tracks. “For fans that know our music, they’ll hear some surprises on our set list for sure.”

New Monsoon Rhythm Reunion, Saturday, Dec. 10, Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Dr., San Rafael; 8pm; $20; 415/524-2773.

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