Charlie is a stranger. Who is he? Just another Boston band. What does that mean when you’ve discussed Bitches’ Brew with j. Geils guru Peter Wolf? They’re pretty good. Dan Hockstein, the guitarist, sounds like the guy from The Beastie Boys. It’s a trio, a power trio, and they have a clean, slightly dirty, casual feel. The mood is good. They’ve got waves of charisma and charm. They’re cute.
It’s Jimmy Hughes. He’s got a disco beat going. It’s heavy synth psych stuff. But it develops. Now it’s a romantic, sweeping landscape, but still with the beat. Then it grows into something almost like Bruce Springsteen – and next, an ice skating rink. It’s hypnotic. It has touches of German minimalist techno, the black and white checkerboard sonic walls. But the beat keeps going, with sexy women’s voices.
Then it gets auditorium loud. Ricocheting patterns, handfuls of stiff wire harmony. Ultimately it evolves into straight dance music. Just a heavy thudding beat with chiming choruses. Everybody’s dancing.
Endguys works with sound recordings the two artists have gathered on their travels, featuring a whirlybird from Matt’s chimney. Steve has a composed score for this. It is in proper English sentences, rather than musical notation, with queues and instructions.
Steve starts with bass clarinet, and it’s something straight out of Eric Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard”. Matt takes a flute solo as Steve puts his instrument down. It is gentle and jumpy. Steve squeaks on a sopranino sax, lightly punctuating Matt’s flute.
Now Steve strokes a toy xylophone, and some tiny pots and pans, evoking gamelon music. Then it’s the soprano sax proper, disciplined honks. These are dialogues reminiscent of classic AACM collaborations. The two go largely in tandem, as if they are following two parallel bike paths in the woods. Diatonic tones predominate. They are relaxed yet alert. Now Steve goes solo with the whirlybird. It is hypnotic. Growling spirals of sound, with neat harmonics, and budding, aggressive arpeggios. One thinks of Evan Parker’s solo soprano forays.
Matt takes over with watery tones, almost like a shakuhachi. Steve adds the warm notes of his bass clarinet, as the field recordings wash over them like waves. Again, this is peaceful music, with the right clusters and syncopation to keep it vital. It’s downright dreamy.
Sunburned Hand of The Man
Rob Thomas first started playing with Sunburned Hand under this name in 1997. It is an improv band, with long, searing synth solos. The energy drips down, coating you with a heavy cosmic haze. The various threads drift, and recombine in new ways. The sound becomes more linear as Rob picks up a bass and the guitar gets stronger. A woman recites collage poetry over an insidious, sinister beat. Things get heavy and sticky, a psychedelic caramel swirl on a stick. Sunburned Hand were at the vanguard of millenium modern rock. They still impress kids today with their timeless forays into other worlds.
I couldn’t get far enough into the mosh pit to see if this is just one guy. I hear wild siren synth sounds, but all I see is a drummer in a mask. The drums sound is a mad staple gun – an endless barrage of intensity, a post-revolutionary firing squad decimating the traitors. This is energy music that gives you a slap in the face.
She makes me think of Enya, but she’s dressed like a harlequin, like the harlequins of Picasso’s blue period. Her music sways and skips, waves and washes of electronic haze, with eerie, witchy voices. The music circles like a snowball, gathering haunting intensity. Sometimes the song seems frozen, an ice princess in the arctic ice. But she gives you a warm feeling, like an afternoon cocktail.
There is also tension in her music, as when she brings in echoing samples of sinister voices, and the beat gets loud and funky. This is her savage side, the one you see in her mammoth earrings, and her classic seventies’ blond shag. She sounds like a black soul singer when she gets going.
Jesus is just a charmer, but he’s so good he’s like Richie Valens. “Who’s gonna be my babe?” he sings. He’s easy to please. Otherwise he’s the front man of Free Pizza, which is an intellectual punk band, so it’s nice to see this other, gentle side of him. “Buzz Buzz” is his last song, and it’s got a beat. “I’ll be your flower so you can pollinate,” it goes. He’s all about love.
Where so many young musicians rely on attitude, this band presents skill first, with soaring guitar harmonies that hum like a well greased machine: a Buick engine. Buick McCane… Yeah, they’ve got some T-Rex in them. Even a little southern rock, with the rambling country solos. The beat is always good. They’ve got a great drummer. Even the trombonist had some swing.
I knew Nick Neuburg first from his trio Dog Suicide a couple of years ago, before he graduated from NEC. He has an academic discipline in his music, but it’s psychedelic, too. It’s electronics, with galactic loops. Stretches of fine mineral dust flood the soundscape. Surreal bells peal in obscure cities. The music sort of drifts in clouds, going somewhere, but very slowly. It’s about the idiosyncrasies of the voyage.
Grizzler is Dave Gross’s all-free improv band. I haven’t covered it in about four years, when they played at The Floft, in South Boston. Since then Dave has got into heavy modern philosophy. It’s almost as if the sound of the music is only a part of the experience now, which involves a larger message of communion and experimentation. Dave is a hall of fame quality musician. It is always nice to get a taste of what he’s doing next.
Big Buck Hunter
What’s the point in being really good if no one ever heard of you? I’m at Neverland, and Big Buck Hunter is playing with six people watching them. They’ve got an eighties, early alternative feel, with pokes of punk and hardcore. Sometimes it’s three-chord rock, then the guitarist, Kurt Egghart, bends notes and does interesting things with the strings. Some of the songs have a pogo dance feel, others are quirky and heavy.
Now there are more people. They’re listening, but they’re staying still. Now one girl is swaying her shoulders and tapping her foot. The music gets brighter and more inviting, sharp flashes, like The Who. This number definitely has a sixties psych feel, with the bluesy spirals of chords that rise above themselves, taking the song into the ether.
The next song has a vague feel of the past, but it’s very original, rambling and rolling and rollicking. The drummer, Peter Crowley, whips his heads like a team of horses. The bassist, Molly Dee, with short hair and black sleeveless dress, keeps a playful, melodic set of pistons in action for the drive.
Their last number is slow, something like The Grateful Dead’s “The Other One”. A tug of a country feel on a a dark and strange theme. The darkness and strangeness take over, and it’s a wall of shoe-gazer haze.
Mayo’s stuff, on electronics, has the feel of oncoming traffic. Whether it’s an ice cream truck, or a fire engine, you don’t know, but slowly it fills up your ears, and you’re in a different place. It’s characterized by patterns, vaguely rhythmic, but glacially slow rhythms. You’re never sure what he’s doing in the moment; you just hear the phenomena. The tones are typically warm, like warm colors, with a bedrock of noise – fire over ash in a fireplace. This is static music. It really stays in one place, with the illusion of motion. Things build to crescendos, but then you’re in the same place again. It’s sort of the sonic equivalent of a camera increasing the focus of the zoom lens, so the piece has more volume as it develops, but it’s really the same whole that it was in the beginning. He raises questions of the nature of time. How do things progress and evolve around us? What is change? In a way, it’s like techno, with the patterns that build and intensify, then abate, so there’s the illusion of greater and greater magnitude, but it’s essentially vibrant repetition.
Flandrew gets a zen, meditative sound out of a stick and an improvised, metal cymbal – some stand base, it looks like, turned upside down. He has been getting sounds like this, out of pots and pans, and even windows, for the past ten years or so since he lived in Boston, before he moved to Philadelphia. Now it’s a soup tureen, with water in it. And some kind of thick, blue metal coil, on top of a tom, from which he gets rolls and crashes. And wacky cartoon noises. He places objects on a snare, and strikes mellifluous sounds out of bells.
His performance has the haunting feel of a medieval cathedral village, the quaint streets with clopping horses. Slowly he works in his signature funk and quirkiness, the arch gesticulations, the vocal ejaculations. The Doppler effect of rhythm and rattling coming in and out of focus. He shakes around a gelatin bowl with balls in it.
The sections of his show dance and flip back on each other, the jerkiness of the ride become a symphony of syncopation. He alternately weirds you out, and gives you a spiritual experience.
Quartet (Josh Jefferson, Eric Zinman, Forbes Graham, John Voigt)
Forbes Graham has a way of taking the lead in ensembles, by wrapping his trumpet around the other players. His compositions are graphic, or conceptual. Josh Jefferson plays alto sax. He jars and spars with Forbes, as Eric Zinman and John Voigt hasten and chasten, respectively, the flow, on drums and bass.
A little into the performance, Forbes and Eric start to duet, into which Josh charges with curved soprano, John eking long, bending, metallic sounds out of the bass. The piece is brief, with the momentum of the inertia carrying on into the silence after.
“Moroccan Sufi music…” as the next piece is described, Forbes getting a desert sound out of his mute. Voigt’s bass has a barely constrained undertow to it, a heavy tone that just whispers to the surface.
Eric starts with a triangle next, the piece with the probing, interrogative feel of abstract jazz. Forbes’ notes are liquid and mellifluous, drawn out like silk, with butterfly flutters. He starts a melodic solo, with the feel of Art Farmer. John resolves the brightness with dark strokes.
The next piece has a noise/sound art feel, as if played on electronics. The players go each in his own direction, on paths which somehow crisscross as they extend down the line. The group has this ability to travel on journeys of fancy, but somehow find its way home.
Zinman moves to piano for the final numbers, which are sharp, and vibrate with pleasure. Josh plays two saxes at once. Voigt plays a walking bass line, giving a bluesy swing to Forbes’ funky catcalls, which develop into something more complex. This stuff brings us back to the late ’50s onset of modern jazz. This is another thing the group does, jockey through the eras of free improv history, somehow landing here and there without getting stuck.
Noah has a voice like a nightingale, with the twang of a country crooner, like Hank Williams. His songs are wistful and wry, about awkward love and social situations. “Everyone will die,” he instructs us to sing. “Even Bruce Springsteen and Tina Fay – and your first date.” What do you know, it works, the singalong, the haunting chant of her chorus.
“When I went to make breakfast, the pan was still warm from the last time you used it,” he sings, his voice warbling and reaching a tremolo. This is what characterizes him: the beautiful style with which he treats the ugly details of life.
“William Malone” is the story of a drunken poet “whose heart’s too full.” No one wants to hear his tale, the events of which get strange – well, he’s peeing out of a car… Noah believes in him, though. “They just want to touch your soul,” he sings. “Let go.” Just another part of nature, something, and someone, to put in harmony with us.
Wes has an almost British sound, late Beatles, or Harry Nilssen, with jangly, windmill sounds on his Fender, and slow modal changes. His voice is deep and cavernous, echoey. There is tension and drama in his music, with twists and turns in the dark melody. Then again, it’s just like a young boy, singing on his way home from school.
When I first saw Jesse’s trio Funny Money a few years ago I said these guys would be big, though I assured him they’d never make any money. The group is abandoned by now, but Jesse has taken a new direction. Tonight, at Cafe Fixe, he uses two reel-to-reels, a harmonica, and a trumpet. The sounds are more muted than Funny Money’s, which could be quite wild. Jesse’s solo approach is calm and exploratory. He favors percussive sounds, with thuds and trickles and taps.
He sips his tea… On the floor, which I didn’t notice, a soprano saxophone, which he picks up. Slow humming as he vibrates the reed. Squeaky honks, almost with a harmonica quality. He’s muting the sax with what looks like a plastic coffee cup. There’s a plaintive feel, seagulls calling among beach refuse. Beautiful, long slow bell, Roscoe Mitchell style skronk but mellower. Clicking, as from a spinning pistol cartridge, summer cicada calls.
A small white ball ricochets in a black plastic woofer, vibrating to the harmonics on the sax. Microcosmic symphony of vibration. Laboratory whistles. Jesse’s work is multidimensional, as big as you want it to be.
The finale takes the soprano into uncharted territory. Free but somehow consonant baroque tangles of overtones, with a fruit-syrupy, viscous timbre. It evolves like a ritual chant, with a crescendo of ascending intervals. Then the cries of a lament.