*no longer quite so modern: older reviews, features, and modern ephemera*
As reported by Alan Jacobson
Gone are the days when throwing on a hip hop record meant a choice between Rob Base and A Tribe Called Quest, macho dance floor pabulum or self-consciously underground jazz-inspired social commentary. Hip hop has evolved to the point that its rich history naturally makes it so there is plenty of valid music in both the mainstream and a bit left of the dial as well.
As a result, underground hip hop and party jams are closer in quality than ever. That absurdly popular Kanye West song, “Through the Wire” ("I drink a Boost for breakfast/A Ensure for diz-zurt/Somebody order pancakes/I just sip the siz-zurp") is every bit as engaging as the joints emerging from Definitive Jux, still a good deal outside of the mainstream. New albums by cockney wunderkind, Dizzee Rascal, and LA up-and-comer Planet Asia don’t differ much in quality from the current “Hey Ya”. This increased validity for all types of hip hop serves as living proof of genre’s permanence.
With that said, El-P’s Definitive Jux label may be slipping in relevance, but its quality remains consistent. The first Def Jux Presents arrived in early 2001 to unanimously outrageous approval. Here was a fresh group of hip hop pioneers. The busiest man in the underground, El-P (aka El Producto) began his adventures in dense rapping as part of the legendary Company Flow on the remarkable Rawkus records, collaborating with the likes of Blackalicious, Mos Def, and Dilated Peoples. Shortly thereafter, El-P kicked off Definitive Jux and produces much of its music. In the meantime, he somehow found the time to put out his own album, the highly-regarded Fantastic Damage. Last month, El-P wowed everyone with High Water, part of Matthew Shipp's Blue series.
Def Jux’s story continues with a colorful roster including Harlem duo Cannibal Ox, masterful DJ and producer RJD2, eccentric Aesop Rock, and Boston scene luminaries Mr. Lif and Akrobatik were picked up in 2002, which saw Def Jux adding more artists and releasing another solid compilation. Finally, Definitive Jux Presents III has dropped, even more artists have been added, and Chicago fans will have a chance to witness the label’s top talent doing battle with the gymnasium acoustics of the Logan Square Auditorium on Sunday.
Boston social commentators and frequent collaborators, The Perceptionists (Mr. Lif and Akrobatik), steal the show with the brief yet brilliant “Medical Aid”. On what may very well be hip hop single of the year (so far), a tight beat provided by Fakts One showcases rhymes which haven’t been traded this generously and cleverly since Black Star: “I rock a swift incision with precision and make a decision to inflict the pain you thought you’d never envision/hit you with so many corpses you may think you’re religion/these two microphone physicians are here to correct your vision”.
On the bonus DVD, Mr. Lif’s 2002 video, “Live from the Plantation” is a true highlight, nicely underscoring the aggressively socialist stance of the label. As Lif travels the bleak flourescents of his office, leaving a flauvist’s trail with his loud tie and uncompromising posturing, he drops remarkably wise lines like: “Maybe I should just jump up and get ill/Maybe I should let these people know they’re being killed/Maybe I should try my very best/To get paid because I’ve got to pay the bills”. The next syllable is key. As the frustration mounts, the only release for a rapper this clever on a label at once this in touch with the underground and hip hop’s great history is the sampled “RRRrrruh!” from Grandmaster Flash’s classic of hip hop commentary, “The Message”.
There are very few sour moments in Definitive Jux Presents III. As a result of hip hop’s modern uniform quality, “WMR” is an underground rap anthem, but ornery and irrelevant simply in its being one. As El-P throws a vicious barb towards Sheryl Crow (of all people), one can only wonder why. And the social commentary does lapse into bad taste a couple of times, such as the hard-hitting ballast versus a promiscuous sister in C. Rayz Waltz’s “Jello”.
But El-P usually displays excellent taste, here lyrically glistening on “Oxycontin, Part 2”, which details a life commanded by pharmaceuticals against a unique and dramatically effective backdrop of phone calls. Form and content fused perfectly, the tune’s ending is every bit as inconclusive and unsatisfying as a drug addiction.
Similarly, the previously underwhelming S.A. Smash surprises with an inspired take on the real price of easy money in “Devil in the Hole”. Smash promotes an honest, unsoiled lifestyle while emphasizing: “Don’t let ‘em trick you and take your soul/Remember one thing, you’ve got to keep the devil way down in the hole”.
The remainder of Def Jux III Presents contains some inspired work by passionate artists hovering right around the top of their game. Murs’s savage “You’re Dead to Me” takes no prisoners: “How much liquid courage can you pour into a yellow belly/I’m upset already, call my set-up on the celly”. Hangar Eighteen projects tongue-twisting rhymes atop an equally cinematic sound on “Take No Chances”. And the collection closes with the always-inspired RJD2’s nicely-styled “Clean Living”; a DJ and producer in the truest sense, this is a crisp and inspired tune with plenty of momentum to spare.
As Aesop Rock lays down “rapping is my radio, graffiti is my TV” on the hyperactive “No Jumper Cables”, one can only agree with this platform, the aggressive dedication and risk-taking that has always been Definitive Jux’s trademark and has turned out to be their niche in the rap world. Murs, The Perceptionists, S.A. Smash, and “special surprise guests” will be lighting up the Logan Square Auditorium on Sunday, April 25 at 7 pm.
All Night Long, published 3/12/04 in Citylink
No slavish imitators, no ironic updating by uber-clever wiseasses, All Night Radio’s impressive Split Stereo Frequency is a dense platter of time-released psychedelic goodness.
In other words, this album would be comfortable sharing tea after changing things around a bit and plucking “A Rose for Emily”. Meaning: All Night Radio skips through the jellybean fields with a basket of sounds of the old and recontextualizes them, extracting freshness and inspiration rather then merely reflecting and defensively acting up like bellbottomed monkeys.
Not content to cloister themselves in the past-humping artistic isolation we’ll just refer to as Cell 44...all right, I’ll kill the damned Zombies Odessey and Oracle references now except to mention that this duo of bards share an obvious affection for that brave and singular album—one where a group was given such artistic freedom that they not only were freed to record one of the best records of an incredibly fecund period, but they also boldly misspelled the title wedged into cover art similarly loud to Split Stereo Frequency’s.
Dave Scherb (vocals, guitar, pedal steel guitar, keyboards, sound effects) and Jimi Hey (vocals, drums, bass, glockenspeil, tambourine, percussion, additional sounds) became acquainted appropriately as musical fans first, when Hey spun Rhode Island psychedelicizers, Six Finger Satellite, continuously on his late-night radio show.
They threw themselves into Bee Venom and then the wonderful, plaudit-drenched Beachwood Sparks, whose first album ranks as easily one of the best of the Nineties. These musical gadabouts have also done the Yoo-Hoo popup act in groups as diverse as The Rapture, Tristeza, and the weirdest of the weird in psychedelic rock and Kinks love, The Lilys.
All Night Radio’s adoration of chamber pop is obvious from the opening moments of “Daylight Till Dawn”. Harpsichords, keyboards, well-planned drum fills, choral bits, and a lovely voice to rival Colin Blunstone’s express “I wanna wake up in the morning...” and then it’s either “to have you with me” or “heavy with me”. Since no lyrics are provided in the super-psyched booklet and the vocals are so thickly tracked and mixed, the listener is left like a child to engage a part of the brain that contemporary rock rarely does and craft his own meaning. Like good art, one is actually allowed to bring what they have to the piece and walk away with a unique product—one effective on levels both musical and personal.
The band often touts their love of psychedelic living—an ethos on proud display in their unique take on Gram Parsons’s “cosmic country” with the Sparks—but they refer to their current sound as more evolved than anything they’ve done before. And it certainly is, as the apt band moniker suggests—even their name prefaces the work, commanding further engagement from the listener. All Night Radio reminds me a bit of a radio show I luckily picked up once in New York City. The smooth Brazilian cool of Astrud Gilberto tripped into the experiment in confrontational a/v loudness that called themselves the Emergency Broadcasting Network via a segue consisting of at least 2 records playing at once—I think it was an exercise routine and some Moog-fascinated record of the early 70’s.
Constant brain activation is All Night Radio’s raison d’etre. On “Fall Down 7”, a dance beat propels the body and the simpler parts of the brain while intermittent horn jabs, keyboards, backwards sax, chimes, and even occasional cheering create nothing short of a place where comfort and inspiration in every level exists.
As this unique tune fades into gongs and a robot voice mentioning the bands name, the listener feels like dancing, writing a book, anything. All Night Radio is the sound of possibilities, of positive potential utterly unleashed. When the fuzz bass and chiming guitars of “You’ll Be on Your Own” flutter in, there is no surprise except at how mind-numbingly, jaw-droppingly good this music is. Well, there is one delightful surprise; I have only mentioned 3 songs. Eight equally lively and complex tunes round out Split Stereo Frequency.
On Wednesday at the Bottom Lounge All Night Radio support Baltimore singer songwriter (think more Poe at his ouija board than John Waters filming his lip-synching anus) Cass McCombs, a 4AD artist who has mixed with the Oxes and those beloved Palace outfits, now making waves for his mordant sounds de swoon. Between McComb’s darkly debauched romanticism and All Night Radio’s superpsyched soundscapes, and the additional opening of Hank Williams cum post/garage-rockers Pedal Steel Transmission, this should prove to be an ear-tickling night to remember.
All Night Radio open for Cass McCombs Wednesday, March 24, doors and price match at eight. The also highly-touted Pedal Steel Transmission open.
(I Was Born) A Unicorn
The impossibly inspired preciousness of the Unicorns trots into the Logan Square Auditorium on Sunday, April 4.
All of the beasts obeyed Noah when he admitted them into
the ark. All but the unicorn. Confident of his strength he boasted 'I shall
swim!'.For forty days and forty nights the rains poured down and the oceans
boiled as in a pot and all the heights were flooded. The birds of the air clung
onto the ark and when the ark pitched they were all engulfed. But the unicorn
kept on swimming. When, however, the birds emerged again they
Tenacious beasts, unicorns can only be tamed by virgins. I’m not making this up.
Montreal trio, the Unicorns peddle virtually impenetrably adorable tunes appropriate to their name and mystical inspiration. Warning: seemingly naive hyperbole to follow; but it’s appropriate to the precious music it describes. This is the sound of a band on fire with inspired experimentation. Perhaps they’re still feeling around for their voice. But the Unicorns are so good at what they are doing, their sound matches their style so delightfully, that what is usually torture in rock, that asininely immature groping for that “sound” ends up being a great experience for the listener.
How this band came about its name warrants mention because it mirrors the naive inspiration that music this precious simply must have. Originally a two-man band, Nicholas “neil” Diamonds (who does not understand: Karate, musical notation, sequels, or French) introduced himself to Alden Ginger (height 35 psi, favorite pornography type: bear) because he had showed up to school in a skirt.
High school being a place where weirdness is a good enough reason to meet up, and being productive weirdoes, the fast friends quickly formed a band called Poor Alexander. Diamonds and Ginger also would experiment in self-described “crotch rock” group The Stanley Milgrom Project. Poor Alexander reformed later as Mad Daddy & the Patty Stackers.
Then, in 2000, Diamonds & Ginger decided to play as a duo. They had a DIO tape in their boombox, a wildly liberated spirit, and most importantly, enough peanut butter & jelly sandwiches in their kit to distract the audience from the fact that they only had two songs. They still had no name, though.
Alden had suggested “The Unicorns” as a joke. When they got to the show, they espied a table filled with political tracts and contraceptive give-aways. One of the packages had a unicorn on it. Fate stepped in. The Unicorns were born.
Diamonds skipped off to film school in Montreal, where he met their current drummer J'aime Tambeur—who, if the official website is to be believed, doubles as a street-hustler. Just like Tambeur adds flair to the proceedings with solid, expressive sticksmanship, his 808 adds another bit of flavor, yet more otherworldly panache. Perhaps he’s left the hustler’s life behind, boldly advancing to a sound of future past via his 808, synths, drums, and matching outfits.
Perhaps I should stop culling information from their website. But the boldness in silliness (or is it vice versa) is pulled off so deftly, with such panache...a lot like Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? These vintage instrument fanatics have earned the appreciation and backing gigs of the likes of Hot Hot Heat, the Microphones, Daniel Johnston, the Walkmen, and Cat Power.
A great sense of humor pervades the work. Added to a unique and intelligent way of putting things, the listener realizes that “Tuff Ghost” is not just a great term. The second tune on the album kicks in with a bold synthesized hum and inspired key riffery (Wurlitzer, Korg, Casio MT 500, Horn Magic, Roland Compuphonic, etc, etc.) I will describe as “moogy”, in as much as it flavors the music, chucking handfuls of spices into the swirling carrot stew of the album. The tune is a spastic mix of the keys, hyped-up reggae rhythms (thus “Tuff”), and bizarre lyrics on the afterlife.
Indeed, a morbid fascination with death, decay, ghosts, and the like fills this freakiest of freakpop albums. During the utterly bizarre spazmo-dance tune, the gruesome and tasty “Jellybones”, the Unicorns begin chanting “Jelly/Jelly/Jelly/Jelly...” The album suddenly coalesces as not only a tightly-packed multi-tracked piece, but as work of a band skilled enough to know --and toy with-- its antecedents.
Only old friends can chime their hatred to each other and plausibly skip off into a future of camaraderie. This is what the Unicorns manage on the brilliant “Child Star” off the persistently perky and singularly rosy-visored Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? On “I Was Born A Unicorn”, one chimes “I write the songs”. “I write the songs”, the other angrily chirps. “You say I’m doing it wrong”, counters the first. “You ARE doing it wrong”, confirms the latter. Multitextured statements all, thias particular song includes self-consciously cheeky, yet ironically powerful emotional insight, even defiance: “I was born a Unicorn/I could have sworn you believed in me/Then how come all the other unicorns are dead?”
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? Begins and ends with death. The first tune has the boys describing in words and sound effects the ways they “don’t wanna die” while the last song describes an actual death, accompanied by contrasting carnival music reminiscent of Of Montreal. The album ends cruelly with: “I’ve said my goodbyes/and now I’m ready to (cough) d...”
An album this proudly weird is bound to be met with skepticism, if not outright hostility. While enthusiastically spinning this for a dear friend, I was met with: “I don’t know if I can take this”. I laughed; maybe you can’t. “Don’t they know that Elephant 6 is dead?” Maybe they don’t and that’s a good thing. “This is I dunno, kinda ‘gay’”. Yeah, like The Gay Parade? Like back when twee didn’t just mean annoying? Like when a group of friends got together and decided to make boldly individualistic music which ran forward, yet adorned itself with heaps of inspiration, flourishes, and homage to possibly the rock’s best era? “Just give it time”, I said. Like all decent art, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? Reveals itself slowly and lasts a long, long time—existing in a world outside of our own, a magical, mystical, virginal world...the enchanted cove of the unicorn.
Live, like They Might Be Giants (another great duo with a tape player who also grew), the Unicorns are wacky fun personified, but in a really fantastic way. They have just released a seven-inch via Suicide Squeeze Records, featuring the new songs "2014" and "Emasculate the Masculine". You can pick one up direct through the Suicide Squeeze website or at Sunday’s show, where local garage rockers, The Ponys and Vancouver post-rockers, The Beans open. Doors are at 8:30 and the show is $12.
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Take a wonderful trip through preferred music of the best British critics of the 70’s.
Picture this: the prettiest of pretty goth-punk bands obliterates their instruments. Just killing everything on stage. An admirer seated on a stool in the foreground tries to maintain her composure, at once highly appreciative, mildly annoyed, and extremely amused: "That was the Dam...It must me rebem...ahem!...It MUST be remembered that the ghost of the Who still haunts these studios (laughs). The Damned with "Smash It Up" and "Just Can't Be Happy Today" (dryly frowns, winks)...looked like they were having a rather good time, though, didn't it?" This from punk era supercrit, Ann Nightingale, that sympathetic older sister--the one that helps the punks come down off some particularly poisonous junk--describing the Damned's destructive performance in equal parts admiration and somewhat invidious wisdom.
The result was arguably the most honest and inspired live
music showcase in the history of television. Everyone played it. That is,
everyone who happened to be in London on tour while the show was taping.
Strangely enough, hometown heroes the Rolling Stones, for example did not play
the Whistle Test often since they toured virtually from 1971-1980 and almost
exclusively in the United States. Since most of the major activity in the 1970's
biz was occurring in the US, The Whistle Test took acts as they were passing
through a European leg of a tour. As a result of this seat-of-the-pants style,
the performances could not help but be inspired, whether raw or
intimate--depending upon the style of a particular artist.
This jammed DVD tracks the history of The Old Grey
Whistle Test from its early, stiffer hosts up through laid back enthusiasts
like Bob Harris on to the grand dame of the punk era, Ms. Nightingale. Each of
the presenters, from intimate Harris through the aloof Nightingale reintroduce
their favorite performances with speeches recorded in 2001, words which at times
become absolutely poetic with emotion and appreciation.
Piano geniuses, Elton John and Randy Newman each play alone
in stark contrast to Glam rock's excesses. The Edgar Winter Group's 14 minute
expansion of their monster hit, "Frankenstein," whose countless solos actually
include one on a sub mixer, elaborates wonderfully on this elliptical
Roxy Music, the best band of the 1970's, reins in and
satirizes glam's absurdist conformity with a fittingly tongue-in-cheek
performance of that "danceable solution to teenage revolution". “Do the Strand” ends magnificently on a disco/Nazi salute as the warped
outfit (speaking of which, seeing the heavily balding Brian Eno in sequined
spandex topped with ostrich feathers is worth the price of admission alone)
headed by the dazzlingly sophisticated visionary Bryan Ferry finishes their
ironic flirtations with a fame they'd only flirt with in their career.
One of the commentators notes that the show was often about
just two things: honest musicianship and denim. This introduces Bruce
Springsteen nicely. In a fiery 1975 performance of "Rosalita," the utter
generosity of THE working class hero is underscored brilliantly. First, he and
Clarence Clemons trade guitar and sax lines as well as dance steps. Then Bruce
exchanges spit with a few French kissers escaped from the front rows. It's
everything cliché about rock, everything tired and shopworn. But with
Springsteen's brilliant honesty, this reappropriation is nothing but a pure
pleasure to watch.
Utterly talented weirdoes chosen by rock geniuses, the
creative control of the men and women who put The Whistle Test together comes
across nicely in their choice of artists. Iggy Pop proves that he's "the
chairman of the Bored", Tom Waits relates "Tom Traubert's Blues", and then two
critics relate the professional and the personal in the business as they
re-introduce Captain Beefheart's masterful "Upon the My O My" performance. One
relates a story of how Don Glen Vliet (the Captain) was selling vacuum cleaners
door to door in California and found Aldous Huxley's door. As the old man opened
the door, Vliet remarked: "Sir, this sucks." The second critic patiently waits
to relate how his daughters loved "Abba Zabba" (from the perfect Safe as Milk
album) so much that The Captain recorded a solo acoustic version just for them.
Another favored pick is The Specials' "Message to Rudi," a dead-on performance of the only two-tone era ska song you'll ever need. For reggae, the Wailers appear when Peter Tosh was still in the band and they were still just The Wailers, before they were reconfigured with Bob Marley in front.
For the punk-leaning choices, XTC, The Talking Heads, and the Police all play
their edgiest material from their when their very first albums had come out.
Like the Damned, the mini-concerts are just smashing. Partridge, Byrne, Sting
(when he was less so) all lose their shit. These are people who were hungry to
make it on one of the most respected and watched music programs in the history
of British television.
There is well over two hours of music. Once that’s over, a nice bonus comes in the rather spotty. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger individually prove what dicks they are. Bruce Springsteen displays the down-to-earth honesty and love of music he's made synonymous with the shouts of “The Boss!” Elton John and Bernie Taupin bitch about fame. And John Lennon spends 17 glorious minutes chatting about his green card, Harry Nilsson, the Rock and Roll album, a Beatles reunion, Yoko, his mistakes, and even performs an impromptu jeer for England in the form a true Old Grey Whistle Test, "We'll Meet Again."
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Here's a list for ya's: gift ideas or just great renters for those rock nerd moments in your life.
11. Twist (Ron Mann, 2002)
Where else could you witness: a poodleskirter flipping her beau over her shoulder while keeping the beat? A man doing a split through another’s legs? The Watusi? The Froog? Hank Ballard (writer) and Chubby Checker (popularizer) chatting on the biggest craze of them all, “The Twist”? First-hand accounts of how Dick Clark hired bodyuguards for his stable of honky dancers, after they had stolen dance moves from Harlem? This tasteful documentary not only offers dance lessons, but it features charming footage of the dance craze days. A treat for nostalgics and the curious alike.
10. Staring at the Sea – the Images – The Cure (various)
A collection of innovative and constantly entertaining videos from one of the most unique, inspired, and adorable acts of the eighties.
9. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003)
Singular director Richard Linklater and Mike White (he of Chuck and Buck) collaborated on this absolutely charming kid’s picture; this will make your grandmother and grandaughter bow to the power of rock while patronizing none. Amazing.
8. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
A fine movie from an excellent book. Rare. Cleverly explores rock addiction and is responsible for thrusting Jack Black on an unsuspecting world. God bless ‘em.
7. The Kids Are All Right – The Who
From the mid sixties through the mid seventies, the Who were architects and then crafters of the most overblown rock from their own great ideas. The fount of mod, powerpop, the rock opera, and that good ol’ “maximum R&B” displayed through a seemingly never-ending scruffily assembled string of inspired performances. This is a perfect survey—more rock surveys should be like it. 1970’s Live at the Isle of Wight is great, too.
6. The Old Grey Whistle Test (various)
Back in the early 20th century, Tin Pan Alley composers tested their songs on elderly milkmen and the like. If one of them whistled the tune after the second play-through, it would be a success and would move sheet music, the “single” of the time.
This is the crème de la crème of the British musical variety show that borrowed this phrase for no discernable reason. Over 3 hypnotic hours of live performances from Randy Newman, Captain Beefheart, The Damned, Blondie, The Specials, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others chosen and re-presented by the original cast of music critics, not personalities, who made the show so great by doing that in the first place.
5. This is Spinal Tap/A Mighty Wind (Rob Reiner, 1984/Christopher Guest, 2003)
Oh, so funny. So very, very, very funny. Both of these send-ups on the most overserious, yet often accidentally amusing, pop genres are relentlessly clever. A feel of love and sense of knowledge of the music helps bring these films over genuinely and guilt-free for all parties concerned.
4. Stop Making Sense – The Talking Heads (Jonathon Demme, 1984)
Holy dear god. Jonathon Demme made good films. Possibly the best American band at the time; by 1983, David Byrne had shared his Talking Heads with Brian Eno on some landmark albums. Here, Byrne decided to mix it up with a bright filmmaker. The staging and performance are unparalleled and translate perfectly to film. Just amazing.
3. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones (Albert Maysles, 1970)
Brilliant crapheads caught live. Horror with no easy answers. Marvelous concert footage interspliced with some of the most chillingly greedy and selfish behavior ever captured on film. Witness the 60’s come to a close at bloody, greedy, stinking Altamont. Ike & Tina’s performance ain’t bad either…and just why didn’t the Jefferson Airplane drummer fail to stop pounding while Paul Kantner received a beating? The mind sways.
2. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – The Ramones (Allan Arkush, 1979)
A hail to the flood of rocksploitation flicks that our very own number one inspired (I am certain Deliverance director John Boorman wishes he could forget The Spencer Davis Group’s 1967 vehicle, The Ghost Goes Gear). Very John Waters/Paul Bartel (who also stars), we find our hero, Riff Randall, a girl-rocker stuck in a school that does not permit rock…that is until the Ramones blow the shit up. Look out for flying fun!
1. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (Richard Lester, 1964)
The best and brightest band captured at their apex. Amazingly prescient use of most decent music video techniques. Wildly irreverent. A blast of fun and fresh air no matter how many times you watch it. Best rock movie by a country mile. 1970’s Let it Be is great, too.
Also very much worthwhile: Repo Man, Rushmore, Hairspray, Crybaby, and a few others, surprisingly including Josie and the Pussycats (2001). Now get thee to a video store, and rock that living room till yer couch sinks, daddy-o!!
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Abbey Chuba is an old-style jazz trio with absurd amounts of spirit.
The Hideout’s a funny place. You never really know what’s going to turn up there next. Used to be, long ago, rock ‘n’ rollers filled that little back room, the niceness of the general clientele the only thing making the explosive closeness of that sea of armpits bearable. When the head-nodders could take no more, they could escape to the front room or step into the surrealistic incongruity of the open outside area, alternately gazing upon the intermittent parade of city vehicles tanking-up down the street and the empty warehouse.
Now that the Hideout hosts mostly smaller shows in aforementioned front bar, I couldn’t be happier. The cumulative atmospherics of cheap hooch, the odd appearance of half winter lodge/half speakeasy, and the solid sounds--hell, any asshole can tell that it’s chosen by people who love music—well, it all adds up to a wonderful time. They obviously have to make a profit to stay open, but thanks to the faith the bookers have instilled in the stalwart regulars (the well-deodorized armpits I mentioned above), this should never be a problem.
Cutting to the point (at long last, no?), we have a jazz trio. I’m going to knock down your preconceptions right now. Imagine back to the Holiday Inn. Your folks made you eat that shitty buffet while they pretended the drizzling of tripe, additional thanks to the mustachio ‘n’ tux shirt cheese balls, was jazz the way it was supposed to be. “Art”. Fuck, lord no! I mean, I can’t blame you for disdain—every sense was under siege by that unique onslaught of vacation nonsense, all this after a long, weakening day on the road. Independent thought: impossible.
You have my sympathy, but pick up a book, or e-tromp on over to allmusic.com and take a quick look at Nat King Cole. Bear with me. Cole pinched out some real Johnny Mathis, corny crap (though the power of “Nature Boy” cannot be resisted), and kind of set the prototype for schmaltz to come. But his trio sides from the Forties are just glorious. Bass, guitar, and piano blend, trade, comp, and solo, all amid a deft mixture of entertaining, often cutesy tunes like “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and sharp, fantastic instrumentals like “The Geek”.
Intimate, inspired, playing off each other and building to a synthesis that is much more than anything a musician is capable of alone, trading Cole’s percussive keys for fine drumming, this also describes Abbey Chuba. Ethan Semone blurs the fret board, Bob Willems smacks a fine upright, and Hugh Bartling pounds or brushes them skins to provide an excellent set to absorb, whether relaxing and chatting, or staring in disbelief as they shift from a delicious Monk cover to a ridiculously complex original.
And this is a good time. I repeat: a good time, between-song banter, no expectation of applause after every solo. It’s all done for the love of the game and the pretension that can often inappropriately accompany this truly American (democratic) art form is shucked. Maybe once Abbey Chuba gets a bit more comfortable, and their following becomes huge (which it damned well better), the guitarist--looks, big ol’ guitar, ease with which he coaxes it all reminiscent of Glen Tillbrook--will rise from his seat, Sonny Rollins-style, leap onto the bar, strut over to the dudes talking way too loud during his solo, and kick their drinks in their laps, all the while pulling out an effortless solo.
These cats are hot. I got there early—hell, it’s my job, right?—and heard the drummer warming up with a Dave Brubeck quote. I was forewarned, then, of their rhythmic and time-signature complexities. But the fun, the expression, the fucking art of the whole thing: this is what elevates Abbey Chuba to another strata—a plane on which inspiration and the sheer joy of playing just naturally spills out into the audience.
Abbey Chuba (what does that name mean?) plays two sets Monday, July 19th at the Hideout, starting at 9:30
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