Breaking Into A New Mode: Modereko Makes Some Noise
"ModeWhat?" I asked my boss last week.
"Modereko, they’re on a co-bill with Larry Keel. They’re supposed to a be an all-star band."
Well, I had never heard of them. I was a music writer for crying out loud. Surely this was a marketing ploy to get out some names of up and coming pickers. All you needed was a little slick packaging and voila; you have a band of all-stars. I’ll play the game, I thought to myself. Besides, this would be a chance to be a media Samaritan and help out some new minstrels on the block.
I was ego petting pretty hard when I got the press release. Somewhere between reading the first name and the last, I realized that my cheeks had gone up a climate. The roster read like some scheme George Steinbrenner had deviously concocted. The title, "Modereko" was formulated from the first two letters of each band member’s last name. The first moniker, John Molo, I recognized because I saw this drummer perform in Asheville a couple of weeks ago. No, it wasn’t some open-mic in the alcohol desperation sales of mid-week. Think big. Think Asheville Civic Center. Think Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes. In fact, Mr. Molo is quite the veteran drummer, performing with the likes of The Other Ones, Bruce Hornsby, Mike Watt, and Albert Lee.
My face went to its third stage flush when I read the second name, saxophonist Bobby Read. I had the chance to see Mr. Read perform in Charlotte in front of, oh, 40,000 people with his employer, Bruce Hornsby. He also had a little past association with Jones&Leva and John McCutcheon.
Wait, the internal humiliation is not over. Next came trumpeter, John D’earth, who has blazed sounds with Hornsby, the Dave Matthews Band, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Tito Puente, and Miles Davis and Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991. I was reduced to a puddle with the last name, bassist, Tim Kobza, who has earned elite thumper rank by performing with Jon B., Kenny Blake, and Joe McBride.
I choked down my final chunk of humble goodness when I listed to the band’s debut and self-titled album (released nationally on May 8 on Blue Thumb records). Lots of new bands these days are going after the hybrid sound through experimentation. They noodle their way through an album until the desired sound is discovered. Moderko plundered these vaults eons ago and the album personifies a jack-of-all-trades sound, kind of like an eight layer bean dip where each morsel is as palatable as the next. A spillage of blues, industrial funk, jazz, and soul characterize this new release. The tracks never go beyond the four-minute mark, but they are rich in sound and devoid of unneeded vocals.
Now that the cool had been taken out of my status, I decided to get a few points back by interviewing sax and woodwind man, Bobby Read. The musician is a constant tweaker, manifesting new sounds from his studio in Charlottesville, Va., as well as tearing up music confinements with the master tinker, Bruce Hornsby. Modereko begins their mini-tour on May 8, and Read’s enthusiasm for this fairly new project (they did another micro-tour in February and March) should equate into some volatile live renderings.
"I think that we’re trying to do something that none of us have ever done exactly," said Read. "I guess everybody wants to do the new original thing in the universe [laughs]. But, I do feel that nobody else is doing what we’re doing because we’re trying to keep the roots, but at the same time, we’re adding all this language that borrows from more art music (like classical and jazz) and then extending that into a jam framework."
So is there a name for this devious composition?
"It’s pretty Kitchen Sink-ish in a way," said Read. "It’s quite challenging."
Molo, D’earth, and Read first came up with the concept while the trio was performing with Hornsby. The threesome would jam on the back of the bus, concocting sounds that would become the traits of Modereko.
"John (Molo) had talked about wanting to have a band that would be groove-oriented," said John D’earth in a recent interview. "You’d just write up from the drum partall inclusive music that’s both improvised and composed and draws no barriers as to what kind of sources it can draw from."
Distance prevented the quartet from blasting the airwaves in the late 90’s. Molo and Kobza (longtime friends) were on the West coast, while their appendages, D’earth and Read, were all the way over in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"John and Tim started working out some basic tune structures in L.A," said Read. "They started playing them for us and they were sort of like an open framework. During Bruce tour, Molo brought a tape over to my studio. The two Johns and I got together and added some music on top of it. It came together quite magically and organically. The end result was this debut album."
Read has performed in a slew of outfits and he admits that his newest pet is perhaps his most obedient. The quartet are all solid friends, but Read believes their collective understanding of music rises above a fraternal bond.
"This just really came together easily and effortlessly," said Read. "That doesn’t happen that oftenthe kind of thing where you come up with an idea and it works, instead of having to struggle over it. For whatever reason, the chemistry between the four of us flows quite readily. I don’t think that happens just because we’re friends."
Improv is the name of the game for Modereko. However, that doesn’t mean that these explorations have to extend beyond the length of a typical Scorcese offering. This album speaks the same tongue as the quick fix radio, creating a myriad of music in a span of four minutes or less. Think of it as gourmet fast-food. The taste is there, but the lingering effects are wholesome, instead of the dreaded greasy residual.
"We weren’t thinking like, hey this is a band and we’re going to record us jamming a lot.’ I personally really like the short structure. I’m attracted to tight, miniature forms of music."
The creative fluid also drained onto the titles of each track. Some were thought-stretching, while others reflected the band’s willingness to infuse humor. A former example is the opening (and funk-drenched) track, "Sahara Sod". There’s a sense of Middle-East mystique coupled with the cosmopolitan sounds associated with jazz Meccas like Chicago and New York. The title is a play on Scheherazade, the fairytale princess from "Arabian Nights".
"For some of these, we had to dig a little deeper to find a title," said Read. "Some of them, however, were from whatever joke was on the front of the brain."
"Nitrous" reflects landscape humor. End over end bass licks roll in harmony with a sucking vortex of horns that constantly change between time signatures and tempo.
" Nitrous’ actually is called that because there’s a sound mixed in there that sounds like this— [Read performing his best interpretation of a dentist’s favorite toy]. Some Of That’ [the second track] actually came from a friend of mine. He had some wild music on his answering machine and one day, some old lady called his machine by accident. She left a message saying, Whoever heard of some of that?’"
Modereko does not look like it’s in contention for flavor of the month. All the members plan to do another West Coast tour in September, followed by another possible east coast pilgrimage in November. The quartet already has at least fifteen more compositions to confuse and delight the brain, and Read believes a lot of these new works will be on the next album. In addition, the four-minute format may give way to more marathon stretches.
I now know Mo-de-re-ko. Two letters each, with four infinite possibilities. I now approach the term, "All-Star", with unfettered optimismprovided that boy bands and the Monkees are not attached.