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Published: 2001/04/15
by Aaron Kayce

The Subtle Nuances Of The Slip

SLIP: To move with a smooth sliding motion. To escape from memory or consciousness. To flow smoothly. To free oneself.

These are a few of the definitions of “Slip” found in Mr. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. And having witnessed the Boston three-piece of the same name on quite a few occasions, Mr. Webster has proved prescient.

Most recently, as I stood leaning against the wall in the familiar bowels of Winston’s in San Diego, I watched as the Barr brothers and Marc Friedman took the stage. From the get-go I became engrossed with Mr. Webster’s ingenious description of the band. These three musicians didn’t just “take the stage,” they did it “with a smooth sliding motion.” (It is these little details that I pay attention to at the beginning and end of shows. I am always curious to see how a band conceptualizes the entire evening.) The Slip could have jumped on stage, hoowed and haaahed about who they are, but they didn’t, they took their instruments of meditational music in hand and began to slip into their set.

I began toward the back of the room and was immediately drawn closer. From the opening notes that Brad Barr was mutating out of his gorgeous, ominous hollow body I was in awe. For a brief moment I thought the three-piece that I had become fairly familiar with was incorporating a keyboard, or a DJ, but soon enough I was assured that it was only Brad’s effect pedal.

While I slid through the growing crowd, I focused in on Brad’s brother Andrew who was set up behind his drum kit wailing away with one hand, while playing a tambourine stick on his high-hat to add light textures to the picture that was coming into focus. I listened and followed, and before I knew it the three musicians had pulled me about six feet from the stage soaking me in their sound.

Having not seen The Slip in about a year, I was immediately impressed with their ability to manipulate their surroundings, showing utter control of time and space. From the first three songs they were able to grab the audience and take them into their realm. From a funky/tripped out melodic opening, to a more standard jazz number straight into a dub bass line the trio was obviously pushing the evening in the direction they desired.

As I heard tinges of George Benson crossed with John Scofield, I noticed the intense concentration of all three musicians. Brad almost never opened his eyes, and Andrew never missed a beat, while all of it was amazingly tied together by Marc’s thumping bass grooves. I was reminded again and again of The Slip’s mastery of their environment, as the three were able to float around one another and trade responsibilities effortlessly. For example, Brad would let the lead wander from his guitar to Marc, in exchange for the bass line that Marc gives up on cue. By the time one had even noticed these intricate changes the band had already started to bend their sound in another direction.

It is their incredible focus, coupled with a touch of mental telepathy that allows The Slip to carry the evening on a musical balance beam, while staying one half step ahead of the audience. By the end of the band’s two sets, the beauty of the night was resonating on everyone’s face. You could actually see “happiness” in the glow of the early morning moon. As I tried to recall the evening’s events, Mr. Webster kept knocking on my melon, “Hey, you know slip also means, ‘To free oneself.’” And as I heard the laughs and saw the hugging heads in the parking lot, I realized that we had freed ourselves. By taking advantage of allowing The Slip into our unconscious we had all freed ourselves from the daily humdrum. I felt open, happy and at peace. (Now if that’s not what music is all about, then I don’t what is.)

As I wandered in search of my vehicle I wondered if Andrew, Brad, and Marc had made the music fit the name, or if they played the music and then realized that they are The Slip? This was just one of the questions I had as. I spoke with Brad via phone a few days later while the band negotiated the streets of Minneapolis looking for a pre-gig dinner (“Trying to find Indian food or something. We generally try not to grease ourselves up too bad before we play music.”)

AK- Let’s start with a bit of band history. I was wondering where exactly you guys grew up?

BB- Well Andrew and I grew up in Providence. And Marc grew up in Lakeville, Massachusetts which is about forty minutes east of Providence. We all met in High School in about ’91. That’s when we started playing together in jazz band.

AK-When did you guys start getting more serious about actually maybe making this a career? You guys went to the Berklee College of Music together too, is that correct?

BB- I graduated from high School two years before those guys.

AK- How old are you?

BB- I’m 25, and they’re 23 . . . I graduated two years before them, I spent a year in college and then took a year off and roamed around. Meanwhile, those guys were playing together a lot, in jazz band and just as a duo. So I’d say around ’95 we started playing as a trio together, that was probably the first time, and then we all wound up at Berklee, all wanted to live together, and get the music more happening. So I’d say ’95 was the year, when we all moved to Boston and knew we were a band. We knew we were a trio. I’d say, like Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life, that was kind of a catalyst for us deciding, “Wow, the trio is such a great form.” It’s a way for three people to really be expressive the way the three of us wanted to be.

AK- The way you guys got on stage so smoothly, and the way you slipped off with the beat box, it was just so smooth, it was The Slip. And I was kind of wondering if the name preceded the music? Or if you guys had the music and then thought “Wow, we are ‘The Slip’”?

BB- Well the name did come before the music [editor’s note :The original roster of the Slip, which began as a high school band, did not include the Barr brothers or Marc Friedman]

Over the years there was even a time when we were thinking maybe we should change the name because we’re not the original foursome, it’s different. But I don’t know we couldn’t beat it really. We couldn’t find a name that suited us more, and it is elusive. You don’t get an idea about what the music is, which is one thing we like about it. It could be anything.

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