Somebody Else’s Nightmare
Strength and Kindness
Review by Alex Henderson

Somebody Else’s Nightmare sounds like the name of a band that offers some type of very loud, edgy, brash, in-your-face rock: perhaps metal, perhaps industrial, perhaps punk, perhaps grunge.  But the Sonoma, California-based Somebody Else’s Nightmare don’t sound anything like that.  Strength and Kindness is not an album that is easy to pin down stylistically: this 52-minute CD doesn’t fit neatly into one particular category.  But if one had to have a brief description of what it is that they do, the most appropriate would be “an appealing mixture of fusion, post-bop, soft rock, adult contemporary and soul-jazz.”  A variety of direct or indirect influences assert themselves on this 2014 release, from Spyro Gyra, the Yellowjackets and McCoy Tyner to Paul Simon, Steely Dan and Michael Franks.  On the vocal offerings (which include “Destination Nowhere” and the melancholy “Lonely Town”), it is clear that they appreciate the hipper, more creative side of 1970s/early 1980s soft rock and adult contemporary.  “The Light Will Show the Way,” another vocal tune, combines jazzy alternative rap along the lines of Digable Planets, the Roots or Kuf Knotz with hints of vibist/singer Roy Ayers’ late 1970s/early 1980s recordings (which makes sense because many alternative rappers have sampled Ayers).

But most of this album is instrumental jazz, and Somebody Else’s Nightmare turn to different areas of jazz for inspiration.  “Worker Bees,” “Again Dawn” and “Generic Happy Song” are exuberant examples of fusion: they successfully combine the electric muscle of rock and funk with the improvisatory freedom of jazz, and they aren’t unlike
the type of instrumentals that Spyro Gyra or the Yellowjackets would have come up with during the 1980s.   Although “Worker Bees” briefly incorporates some scattered vocals, it is for all intents and purposes an instrumental.

The driving “Snake Hair,” meanwhile, would not be out of place on an album by Scott Henderson & Tribal Tech.  But the mood on the eerie “Drones” and the title track is more post-bop.  

“A Yard Full of Joes” is also a jazz instrumental, although it isn’t fusion or post-bop but rather, an infectious, funky soul-jazz groove along the lines of the Crusaders.  That is, the Crusaders of the 1970s.  During the 1960s (back when Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample and the rest of the Crusaders were still calling themselves the Jazz Crusaders), the Crusaders were often compared to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers.  But in the 1970s, the Crusaders shifted their focus to more of an electric jazz-funk approach and tried to increase their visibility in the R&B market.  And it is that side of the Crusaders that Somebody Else’s Nightmare brings to mind on “A Yard Full of Joes.”

The lineup on Strength and Kindness consists of head honcho Joe Holiday (who produced and arranged the album and wrote all the material) on bass and vocals, Cherie Chooljian on electric keyboards and background vocals, Alex Garcia and Adam Mick on woodwinds, and Miles Tune on percussion.  All of these musicians clearly know their way around their instruments, and they sound like they are quite comfortable with the album’s unpredictable nature.  Being this eclectic and unpredictable is not easy: imagine being in a band where you are required to play soft rock or adult contemporary one minute and fusion, post-bop or soul-jazz the next.  One needs a lot of skill and a broad-minded attitude in order to pull that off and do it well.  However, being all over the place musically can be fun if the musicians have the talent for it, and the members of Somebody Else’s Nightmare sound like they are having a great deal of fun on Strength & Kindness.  They don’t sound intimidated by having so much variety on one album: whether they are playing fusion on “Snake Hair,” “Worker Bees,” “Generic Happy Song” and “Again Dawn” or soft rock/adult contemporary on “Destination Nowhere,” Holiday and his colleagues sound like they are having a good time throughout this album.   And the fact that Strength and Kindness is as far-reaching as it is does not mean that it sounds unfocused or confused.   Somebody Else’s Nightmare give the impression that they knew exactly what they were doing when they went into the studio to record this disc.

Strength and Kindness is a promising effort from these residents of the California Wine Country.