Bite This!

Sink your teeth into the 1997 Houston Press Music Awards

Best Traditional Ethnic
The Gypsies

In 1974, Greg Harbar -- a one-man crusader for world music before world music was cool -- formed the Gypsies as an outlet for exposing the offbeat sounds he had accumulated in his head via his extensive and eccentric music collection of over 3,000 titles. By 1977, his wife, violinist Mary Ann, had joined the band, and together they've remained the core of the Gypsies for the last decade. The Gypsies describe themselves as a polyethnic band with two distinct personalities: the "strollers," which include Dave Peters on mandolin, Kelly Lancaster on guitar and Barry Roberts on bass, and the "dancers," made up of all of the above plus Mike Mizma on drums, Pam Bingham on clarinet, Martin Langford on sax and Eden McAdam-Sommer on second violin. The band's repertoire includes some 1,200 songs covering various Eastern European, European, Mediterranean, tropical and South American styles. When not performing, the Harbars keep busy on various recording projects. They are also planning a trip to Africa, with designs on adding even more exotic colorings to the Gypsies' already extensive musical travelogue. (M.T.)

Best CD/Record Store

Specialty shops may carry some titles that Soundwaves lacks, but the majority of the competition simply can't match the extensive and inexpensive selection of new and used CDs and cassettes available here. The chain's seven (soon to be eight) locations are staffed by friendly and knowledgeable employees who -- thankfully -- don't reek of corporate conformity, and the stores feature listening posts (so you don't get burned) and schedules of upcoming releases to keep you hip to what's likely to be on the shelves in upcoming weeks.

What's more, Soundwaves pays good money for used CDs and cassettes; their spacious flagship store on Montrose buys and sells vinyl, as well. Given all this -- combined with the chain's continuing effort to breathe humor into late-night TV with its campy commercials featuring the two women who are always "flat busted" -- it's easy to see why voters selected this as their favorite place to part with cash. (J.H.)

Best Jazz
Best Tejano/Latin
Norma Zenteno Band

You could argue that the Norma Zenteno Band doesn't fit either of the categories in which they took home top honors this year. But then, you could also argue that this 15-year local institution, if so inclined, can fit in just about anywhere. They're jazz, they're salsa, they're funked-up fusion, they're classic rock and roll -- sometimes all within the span of a single blistering evening. With its sizable inventory of originals and covers, the group displays remarkable versatility, catering its shows to multiple audience types -- from the younger, paler demographic at the occasional Fabulous Satellite Lounge gig, to the posh, multicultural mix at Cody's, to the mostly Hispanic crowds that dominate the various Corpus Christi venues the band has headlined.

And while the Norma Zenteno Band are, by very definition, Latin, they are not Tejano -- not in the modern-day, commercial sense, at least. Their approach is too steeped in the percussive synthesis of blues, rock and Hispanic dance forms pioneered by the likes of Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades for that. And when you factor in Zenteno's vocals -- part Gloria Estefan spit-and-polish, part guttural emoting à la Grace Slick -- nothing about the band can be handed over to simple categorization. Then again, why slap a category on greatness? (H.R.)

Best Jazz Venue

Cody's has had its ups and downs over the last 20 years. In its late '70s/early '80s heyday, the club's original Montrose location featured live jazz six nights a week, often by a local supergroup that included the now internationally renowned Kirk Whalum on sax and local luminaries Paul English on piano and Scott Gertner on bass. The club was something of a celebrity hangout, with members of the Rockets, Oilers and Astros showing up on a regular basis. In the early '90s, Cody's continued to move forward, opening locations in Galveston and Rice Village. But the growth turned out to be premature. Two years later, the club's owners, the Taylor brothers, had a falling-out. One sibling got the Montrose location, the other got the club in the Village, and the Galveston Cody's closed.

Today, the Village location is the only remnant of the Cody's empire. Mostly, it features live funk, fusion and rhythm and blues, though every once in a while, true jazzers such as Tod Vullo show up. So while Cody's is no longer exclusively a jazz club, its stellar reputation thrives on the weight of its history. (M.T.)

Best Reggae/World Music

D.R.U.M. is certainly one of Houston's most unique groups. But while they draw from a diverse pool of distinctly African influences, the group notes that it's easier for them to get gigs posing as your everyday, average reggae act than to explain what they really do -- which involves creating a loosely combined and tightly played mix of sambazulu, funk, yoruba, jazz, ashanti, kongo, binghi and reggae. Lately, D.R.U.M. has begun referring to their music, vaguely enough, as "African rock." Judging by the clubs they regularly play around town -- the Blue Iguana, Instant Karma, Rudyard's -- that's not such a bad decision. They're equally at home, however, at more jazz- and blues-oriented venues.

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