Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

Where the fuck is it?  I’m toiling around the streets, knowing I am vaguely close because of the shift in quality of graffiti.  A guy as equally confused as I am is spying the environs on this corner of Wyckoff and Weirfeld, looking for a music venue.  He spots it first.  The name Trans-Pecos is outlined in some kind of black tape on a facade of cheap wired government glass NYC uses to build public buildings, causing this little gem to stay hidden from passers-by.  But inside, this venue’s booth-lined dance floor glistens with refracted starlight and neon. Tonight, I am again following the paths of Logan Kane and Nicole McCabe further into jazz, along with sound artist Claire Dickson, and punk/jazz outfit CGI Jesus.  

The show eases in with a sophistication.  Brooklyn-based Claire Dickson uses her vocals and a keyboard setup to layer her sound.  There may have been different songs, but the layperson couldn’t tell because her set was continuous and uninterrupted by applause.  From there, she selects a sparse palate of tones, bells, and ethereal vocals and lets them waver and warp naturally, aided by gentle nudges from her toolkit.  She conveys this existential kind of thing that fills up the room.  There’s a mindful smallness you feel when listening to tones like this, like listening to silence at night.  What do you call that, tinnitus of the sublime?  It takes away all of the petty pressures of being human.  And I think, I pay my therapist $20 a week to relax my mind when I could do it at a $12 show.  If you have ever spent a night in bed with Tangerine Dream, it’s worth spending an evening at the venue to wash your face with these kinds of waves. I never have before.

I started chatting up Confused Guy from earlier, spreading the gospel of music I love.  He was tempted to clap for Dickson, but it would have interrupted the tone and he wanted to be respectful.  Still, he seems floored.  He’s the type that sees what’s playing and goes out mostly blind, a sense of adventure that I can appreciate, having flown solo at most shows as of late.  Suddenly his tone shifts.  He’s needy, looking for a party, but I am not a party.  I become uncomfortable, firstly because I had thought I might end the night with a new show-hopping bud, and secondly because I am reminded of what I have read about jazz scenes and chemical self-destruction.  There’s that mortality that permeates the topic of jazz.  He’s gone before CGI Jesus, and I wonder if he enjoyed the music beyond what was necessary to score.  It feels grim.

Next was Dolphin Hyperspace, the LA-based duo being joined by drummer Daniel Rossi.  They started with fat whomper “Buster Boy,” setting the pace for the set.  The audience was awash in bouncing bodies, including mine.  Kane bounces, his red-capped head bopping in full bass face euphoria.  McCabe had the bounce too, though she was limited by proximity of her horn to the mic, and I wonder what she would do if she could clip one on somehow.  But she was still enough that I could check out her dope tats when I wasn’t looking at her fingers gliding on the sax. I see the way they watch each other and take turns ripping it as the drummer whips out sick *kssssh kssssh* beats.  At one point (I think it was Lizard Sisterz?) the combination of electronics and instruments sound like Fingathing with new ingredients, and I am in heaven.  “You fucking murdered me,” I shout, because my mania is on 11 and I don’t know how to make more words than that.  With a cavewoman’s cadence I ask “that was jazz?”  “Well, hyperjazz.” McCabe answers, vaguely undecided.  It’s too late to change. The word ricochets off the walls of my mind, lighting it up like a pinball machine.  hyperjazz .  

Google yields little but this word is so coooool

The final act was CGI Jesus, a group led by bassist and composer Kevin Eichenberger.  Their bandcamp suggests a combination of “trash jazz” and “chamber punk,” which are also new favorite word combinations that I have never encountered before.  There were drums, guitar, and trumpet on deck for the night, although I couldn’t tell you who was “in” the band and who was “with” the band.  Jazz doesn’t seem to have these kinds of clear demarcations, which makes me wonder if seeing shows and all of these different individual instrumentalists is kind of like trying all the flavor/topping/sprinkle combinations at Rita’s Italian Ices.  You’ll never really get through ‘em all.  CGI Jesus leaves me with a prog aftertaste, but they had so many different types of sounds and emotions going on.  Sometimes you’re grooving, sometimes it’s angsty, sometimes it’s discordant, and sometimes it’s yearning.  Sometimes it was mournful, like when Eichenberger dedicated a tune to trumpeter jaimie branch, who recently departed – she was my age and build – untimely.  There’s that shadow again.  This was probably her community.

In hindsight it was all emotional whiplash, but that’s what makes it experimental.  You don’t get on a rollercoaster for a smooth ride. 

On the way out, the venue is playing a cover of King Crimson’s Schizoid Man.  I have seen them live twice, once with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on the bill, too.  How much jazz have I heard in their music, unaware?  Or in Jones’s?  It’s funny, my notion of jazz used to be so plain, singular.  But you have to go beyond the portal to really see what’s up.  There is nothing really plain about it.

Claire Dickson BandcampClaire Dickson Website

Dolphin Hyperspace BandcampDolphin Hyperspace Instagram

CGI Jesus BandcampCGI Jesus Instagram

Laser Cars EP Cover

If you’re one of the person who follows this blog, you know my obsession with rising stars Thumpasaurus is practically diagnosable.  So in following the individual careers of its members, I learned that Los Angeles-based bassist Logan Kane is a scene unto himself.  The dude is prolific, having put out projects with Thump bandmate Henry Solomon, with saxophonist and partner Nicole McCabe, and with his own idol David Binney, and a stable of other collaborators.  He’s got octets and nonets, and probably one day, an orchestra of robots playing instruments fused to his neurons.  This young human, still in the springtime of his career, seems to have carved out a devoted niche for his own experimental sound, and he churns it out with a proliferant speed like he’s competing with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.  Kane’s latest EP, Laser Cars, is five tracks of high density sound that he describes as “a fun summer record [that] ultimately… turned out pretty dark.”  

Dark didn’t seem like the word to use here, or at least, not when I first listened to Laser Cars.  Then again, I have been struggling to figure out how to put words on Kane’s music.  See, I don’t know much about jazz, and Kane’s mastery is experimental jazz.  I like to think I understand musical genres and I can explain them accurately, but truth be told, my knowledge leaves a lot of gaps.  And jazz is probably the biggest gap.  So, going into Logan Kane’s musical history has been a challenge because, truth be told, I don’t know what the actual fuck I’m talking about.  Jazz as a genre is like this heralded niche that only the few and mighty can belong to, and if you don’t “get” it, you don’t get it.  And if you don’t play an instrument, or have any real music education beyond a few books and documentaries, you really don’t get it.  So I am approaching this inaccessible thing like a puzzle to be solved, and to be honest, I’m a little… intimidated.

I mean, his music has a lot going on.  It’s challenging!  When he’s composing these songs, notes are packed up into timespace so densely that there is hardly space to breathe, in organizations that seem random but still form wildly swinging melodies.  Take some of the offerings on Kane’s 2021 offering, Planet Mirrors.  Tracks “Numbers,” “Try So Hard,” and “Frustrated” are full of so much sound, they can feel difficult to parse.  Tracks “Sing Thing” and “AHH Causin a Ruckus” are further colored by the agile windwork of Nicole McCabe’s alto sax.  This is music at maximum entropy and it demands mindful attention.  My natural state when listening to music is to float away.  How do I appreciate this the right way?

Planet Mirrors cover

“Laser Cars” goes from 0-60 in a heartbeat.  Here, Kane sounds like an algorithm programmed to make music after being fed the last fifty years of high-speed video game midis.  Atop it is a pop-autotune vocal and lamenting driving oneself crazy.  What the fuck am I listening to?  It’s like the elements of the song veer into wild directions every 15-20 seconds.  So I paid close attention and realized that as the song goes on, it starts to even out into some kind of clarity.  Suddenly it occurs to me that this song makes a lot of sense.  Anxiety attack, is that you?  The high-speed plucks, shifting rhythms, bursts of instrumentation… yeah, I think I’ve had that panic attack at least once.  The lyrics seem to corroborate a fear of running out of time.  He’s sorting himself out, reminiscent of Planet Mirrors dispirited bopper “How Am I Alive.”  Mortality seems to hang over Kane (and jazz on the whole, having recently read about bass icon Jaco Pastorius and his untimely death at 35). Is this the darkness Kane was referring to?

The EP’s second track, “Blur Obscured,” is a rhythmic dance incantation that ends with some of Logan’s most expert plucking.  If “Laser Cars” was about getting on the road, “Blur Obscured” is the left lane with cruise control, no traffic, and the streets outlined in neon.  The shit I like most from Kane’s body of work is what makes me move without conscious thought, and there’s some real gems in the catalog – Planet Mirrors self-titled track moves my head around, as does 4:30am goth-industrial nightmare “WORMY” (With McCabe as Dolphin Hyperspace).  But “Blur Obscured” really leans into being a dance song with Kane’s otherworldly elements, and at moments it really feels like Cornelius meets Röyksopp, and I am living for it.  This is easily my favorite track.

Via Logan Kane’s Bandcamp. Are those… Pokemon cards?!

From here the EP takes off into VGM territory.  I could swear that Logan took his cues from 90s era video games.  Then again, it could just be that his computer-produced jazz is poking me in the nostalgia.  “Box of Facts” specifically has a tone that reminds me of the soundtrack for Taz-Mania on the SEGA Genesis, a game that did some really profound things with sound in its day and that I never really appreciated until listening to this tune.  Why, oh why, is this music dusting off the cobwebs in my hippocampus?  Have I been somehow listening to jazz music all along in my years of love for game music?  Best part is, dude hits us at the end with a vaguely political haiku.  I counted those syllables.  That was fun, like an easter egg only an English teacher could catch.

In listening to Laser Cars over and over, I started to realize the experience of listening to jazz is different from listening to other music.  I can’t walk around my house singing the songs on Laser Cars the way I have been singing songs by Sparks.  But I can have a really unique emotional experience by sitting in my feelings in jazz, even if the feeling is odd or uncomfortable, because maybe the goal is to make me feel oddness or discomfort.  And that at various times, the sounds can wander into and out of shoulder-shimmying groove or evoke experiences and arcane connections.  But I also think all music can do that.  

Hey, wait. Did I just figure out how to appreciate jazz?

Logan Kane and Nicole McCabe came through New York this week, playing a cozy cocktail bar on the edge of Bushwick, so I stopped in for my first-ever visit to a jazz club.  I tucked myself into a corner with an obscured view and listened.  The two were joined by drummer Tim Angulo and pianist Lex Corten, and a horde of young jazz acolytes watching with concentration.  Surrounding the scene were smatterings of casuals in for a no-cover drink, people alternating between quiet conversation or dancing the seated-shoulder-shimmy when the rhythms hit right.  Suddenly a drama arose as Kane, on his upright bass, fingered out an intense solo.  I couldn’t see him, but I could see eyes glued to him.  Conversations had lulled to near quiet.  The crowd was intensely focused on Kane’s deep vibrations.  Finally, the solo peaks and the tension releases.  The kids erupt in shouts and applause as the rest of the players come back in and take back the music.  For a moment in time, the jazz musician was able to make a room of people sit and take notice.  And I realize, yeah. I can get into this.

Logan Kane’s Bandcamp ★ Logan Kane’s Linktree ★ Logan Kane’s Instagram

Now this crew puts on a one-of-a-kind show. Hailing from Los Angeles, this five piece has a cult following for their raucous combination of punk and funk, and for good reason – behind the space-punk aesthetic and DIY ethic is otherworldly musicianship. Being that the critical mass of the band is educated in jazz and are prone to inventiveness, their new live album Live at the Echo becomes a whirlwind of genre-bending talent and high energy fun. They know how to yank a person out of their head and onto the Space Barn, where all that matters is sweat, dance, and joy.

Live at the Echo captures their lunacy from the get. Compared to album versions, songs take on faster speeds and add unique musical elements that ensure no live show is ever just “playing the album.” They remind me of the phrase “tight but loose” from Led Zeppelin’s canon. Thump shows give you the sensation that anything can happen. Maybe it’s an otherworldly sax solo on “Alien” that saxophonist Henry Solomon thought of in the moment. Or it could be keyboardist Paul Cornish adding a random classical undercurrent in the middle of “Flamingo Song.” Maybe it’s Logan Kane’s utterly ridiculous bass skills that make me wonder where he’s hiding his extra fingers, because there’s no way he’s doing all that with just the ten. You don’t know what you’re going to get, and sometimes the mix is so brash and unexpected you go the fuck? but only long enough to realize it’s working, and boy aren’t you glad you just experienced something you never experienced before?

And what is life but a series of moments – as a culture of humans watching our own mortality slowly decline on devices that eat away at our consciousness, wouldn’t it be gnarly to be able to experience the unexpected with awesome results for a change? We are a people that desperately need to start living to the beat of Henry Was and his drum kit and his slick kshhhhk kshhhhk bounce. There’s this part on “Space Barn,” you can hear it, where he does this *tibbytibbytap* and it palpates my brain stem. There’s an endless number of spicy little flourishes.

And then there’s Lucas Tamaren. Lucas is a maestro of the crowd’s energy, leading the Space Barn passengers through the highs and lows of the journey through his vocals and guitar. It’s Lucas that is the chief songwriter, so lots of these lyrics and melodies are infused with his comedic sensibility while also being so easy to grasp and relate with emotionally. Songs have this disarming honesty that’s wrapped in self-affirmation and even optimism. And then he fucking screams into the microphone. Because why not? Don’t you just want to scream sometimes, too? His screaming is not abrasive, it’s cathartic, and it’s inflected just right between his speech-singing and random scatting and the occasionally very lovely singing.

If I had to choose, I would suggest music-lovers watch the live video. Firstly, the video allows sixth Thump Ben Benjamin to showcase his essential contributions to the Thump aesthetic in the form of visuals. The show is reframed as a rebellion against the digital lobotomization we’re experiencing as un/willing participants in the soul-deadening metaverse (she says, after losing an hour to useless yet hypnotizing Facebook reels). It turns out rebellion looks a lot like dancing your jiggly ass off and shaking the numbness that bogs us down in the blue screen light. It’s this aspect of the Thumpaverse canon that gets me, because having universal worldwide super-villains lets me see Thumpasaurus as heroic underdogs. Secondly, Lucas is an absolute madman and he never stops. As a front man he is charismatic as hell, and his drag is giving constant face every time he twiddles something glorious on his guitar or delivers a lyric in character. You can also catch members of the band giving each other glances as they whip out new skills, perpetually impressed with each other, as if to say “check this shit out… no check this shit out.” Director Oliver Salk captured all of that electricity.

Keep ears (and eyes) open for a uniquely beautiful version of “Beta Lupi” with Paul Cornish giving it a baroque (the fuck?) accompaniment, and a surprise version of “Lovin’ You” you might otherwise only find if you peruse the deep corners of their Youtube. (That said, go peruse the corners of their YouTube). Live at the Echo is worth 90 minutes of your loosest socks-on-a-hardwood-floor dance energy, and is a proper analogue until the Space Barn sets down in your own neck of the woods.

Live at the Echo (Youtube)Thumpasaurus InstagramLive at the Echo (Spotify)

Henry Solomon is an accomplished saxophonist who is most known for being The Guy In The Video For “Summer Girl,” being that he recorded three songs on HAIM’s latest album, Women In Music Pt. III. He’s also the saxophonist for Thumpasaurus, a group I admit to being insanely fond of, comparable to the level that Soda loves Jellyfish, or to the level that teen me loved Led Zeppelin. So naturally, I’ve been flavoring my life with their individual accomplishments, and the first I can find the words about is this sweet little eight minute EP Solomon made in partnership with gentle-voiced bedroom popster Allie Kelly.

It starts with “Menthol,” a breathy synthy ambiance that uses the sensation of menthol as imagery for something cutting. I can’t quite figure the lyrics out, other than the sense that the “knife” she mentions is sharp and turned inward. It’s a nice use of imagery, because the feeling of dragging on a menthol (especially for the first time after a long day) matches Kelly’s breezy vocals – it’s a sharp but refreshing discomfort to fill your lungs with minty smoke. The video makes a nice background visual. Both Kelly and Solomon have great hair and earrings and are having a fabulous night on the sidewalk, and it’s kind of amusing to watch them play around with cigarettes despite clearly being non-smokers.

I think the song that nailed it for me was “Salmon of Positive Energy,” which is certainly the background music of a video game I’ve played in my subconscious. On its own, it becomes an upbeat metaphor for some elusive wisdom, like an unformed out-of-grasp thought or the memory of a dream that’s slipping away upon waking. Per Solomon’s Instagram, the actual Salmon is a “mythical creature that protects fishermen from danger, and and brings happiness and good luck.” The song’s imagery invokes nighttime, but the sound feels, to me, like traveling at dawn through a clear sky. It just feels good and floaty. The song itself was inspired by/written for footage of salmon fishermen, which is interesting except that after four and a half minutes of upbeat drum loops and seascapes, a salmon meets his maker with a hearty stabbing. I appreciate the irony. This one stays on the playlist.

The EP ends with a minute-half little tune “Oh Song” that has the softest little sax, and Kelly’s vocal that seems to be reaching out to either keep/discard a lover depending on if you hear “can” or “can’t.” I choose to hear it as a breakup song but that’s because I’m a feminist curmudgeon and never want to hear a woman offering to be whatever someone else wants. Still, it makes what might be an ugly or desperate feeling into a pretty sound, and I wish there were more than a minute and a half of it.

**Update: April 2022

For some reason, “Oh Song” kept bouncing through my inner monologue at least once per day for a while. I felt like I misinterpreted it and it kept bugging me like it sat on my conscience. As I kept hearing it in my mind, it would morph into the song from the Mario 64 water level “Jolly Roger Bay” because my brain free-associates like it’s perpetually writing bad poetry. But somewhere in the mental swirl came the realization that this song is what an orgasm sounds like. It’s not “Oh, Song.” It’s the “O” song, which makes its short length, sound, and words make total sense in a way I didn’t really get when I first reviewed it.**

Overall, the Menthol EP is a good nighttime listen for settling in with some hot tea and a Marlboro Smooth. They’ve also got a limited edition cassette that comes with a bonus remix, and I’ll update this post when I have the goods in hand. In the mean time, check out the Salmon of Positive Energy video here, and links below.

Allie Kelly & Henry Solomon Bandcamp

Allie Kelly Instagram

Henry Solomon Instagram

A big thanks to my buddy Soda for giving me the space to share some tunes with you!

Thumpasaurus greeted the world with their 2018 sensation “Mental Karate,” and now the rest of us will have to spend our lives scouring eBay for hard copies of their brash debut, Book of Thump. Now they’re back with their sophomore effort Thumpaverse, a flavor bomb of dance, punk, funk, and jazz that has Spotify addicted to their sound.

Thumpaverse’s twelve tracks are a journey.  The album opens with “Emotional Pain,” a building tidal wave of funk that hits the peak of falsetto tension before slamming you against the beat.  From there it’s like you’re listening to rest of the album through your hips. Try to stay still when songs like “I’m Pissed” and “Struttin’” cross your eardrums.  These tracks are guaranteed to get your body shakin’ at maximum wiggle and laughing at their ridiculous setups.  But this is not a one-note band – they bob and weave through musical genres with equal parts appreciation and irreverence. Vocalist/Guitarist Lucas Tamaren gives every song a whole different persona. There are no two songs on this album that sound alike, and yet they all THUMP.

These guys are eclectic and often swing in unpredictable directions.  Zeppelin reminiscent “Reaching” weaves delicate instrumentations and tense vocals through a journey until the song literally gives birth to itself. But they can also swing in the entire opposite direction and deliver something folky and sweet like “High School.” Somewhere behind the beat and humor is a kind of emotional self-awareness that can sneak up on you after a few listens, like in “Emotional Pain” or auditory hug “End of the Night.”

Thumpasaurus is a band that is at home in the cosmos (by way of Los Angeles).  But a real ride on the Space Barn can only happen when you see them live.  Fortunately, they recently recorded a live album, an exciting development we hope to see soon.

Buy Thumpaverse on Bandcamp

Thumpasaurus.com

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