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New Groove

Published: 2003/03/25
by Dan Alford

Raisinhill

Raisinhill’s self-titled debut release opens with a cymbal crash and a driving bass line, with light, echoey guitar added for effect. It’s enough to make you jump, and certainly catches your attention. By the time the line cycles again, a matter of seconds, it is apparent that despite the dance beat, it’s an acoustic bass, the rich strumming being unmistakably warm. Just as appreciation sets in, a new guitar layer is added, a bright, round sound with a glowing tone. It is a perfect hook, perfectly placed. Now the bass moans out longer notes as the guitar grows more delicate, leading into a headier, pensive zone. It is only a third of the way through the song, "Nameless", but that is what is most remarkable about Raisinhill: there is so much to listen to. There’s no sonic onslaught, no free form wailing for the sake of wailing, but wonderfully crafted compositions wherein the instruments interact with subtlety and grace. The music has the ability to draw in the listener, to! immerse him or her in fluid, stylized musical movements. "I think to keep compositions moving, and exploring, is important," says guitarist John Kasiewicz. "That’s something I’ve always thought about, and it’s something we all agree upon." That attention to detail, and simultaneous attention to the scope and sequence of an entire piece, makes Raisinhill’s music engaging, listenable and enjoyable, for the band and music fans alike. "There’s an intricate dialogue between the three instruments and it forces us to stay focused on each other," adds bassist Brian Anderson.
The Connecticut based trio, which also includes drummer Jay Bond, got its start in November of 2001 at the Acoustic Cafn Bridgeport. Having known each other since high school, John and Brian worked up a pair of Bill Frisell covers and headed down to the venue. ‘The place is a busy open mic night. A lot of people want to perform there; it’s not like a single guy playing guitar all night,’ relates Brian. ‘It was so overcrowded the first week, we couldn’t get on the list. So we set up in the lobby and played anyway, ‘ adds Kasiewicz. ‘We returned the following week and performed on-stage with two new songs.’ Just after that performance, drummer Jay Bond approached the pair. Having recently moved to New England from New Orleans, Jay ‘would go to the Cafe as often as I could, hoping to hear something that I liked. Brian and John happened to be there one night performing both an Edie Brickell and a Tom Waits tune.’ Within minutes the band formed, returning to the Acoustic Cafften, ‘and presented two new songs every week till we had a decent repertoire.’
As is obvious from the instrumentation and the early choice of covers, Raisinhill is not your average jam band. ‘We describe the instrumentation to give people a better idea, upright bass, drums, guitar, but we don’t want people to think it’s straight up jazz or fusion groove,’ Brian clarifies. ‘We have a lot of arranged melodies that sound more like pop music than jam music or jazz. It’s a tricky description.’ John adds, ‘We’ve all studied jazz, although that’s not what we’re playing really. All three of us were born and bred on rock music, so we’re more rock instrumental than jazz instrumental.’
While covers are sometimes part of the trio’s act, the strength of their music lies in their own compositions. From the frantic ‘V.S.S.’, with its devastating final power chords, to the bouncy, joyous ‘The Road Song’, the band is able to sculpt songs that are intricate without being idiosyncratic, stirring without overtly resorting to simple tension and release patterns. ‘We all write collectively,’ explains Brian. ‘We each have a different sensibility when it comes to writing. I’m a bass player, so I have foundational, supporting ideas in mind. John’s a melody guy and Jay’s rhythm guy, so we have ways we want to do something, something interesting, in each particular area.’ That parceling out of roles keeps the initial sounds clean in many songs, but as the tunes progress, the instruments often swell beyond individual borders to create a collective sound. Notes linger and resonate on the outskirts of a movement, slowly building a sonic residue that adds bulk and weight t! o new ideas being introduced. The edges become blurred, generating a warm bath where specific notes or riffs are at once distinct and tied to the whole. For example, the first half of the nearly nine-minute ‘Wendy’ has a confluence of light cymbals and easy rolling drums, very low, swollen bass, and quiet, resonant guitar, a melding of sounds that builds on itself, seemingly unaware of its own growth. The lead becomes brighter and shoots skyward, but it’s only after the section has closed and the sounds faded away that you realize just how much sound was being produced, just how full the movement was. There is a subtle majesty that speaks of the band’s superb musicianship. ‘That’s the special thing about what we do; as we continue to grow, we’re growing together,’ says John. ‘There’s not necessarily one leader in the band- I hear that kind of comment a lot with the improvisational groups, and it makes sense, because you all need to be working together- but we’re composing together, and we’re arranging together.’
In their first year, Raisinhill played over one hundred dates, a number many music veterans do not regularly meet, and did so on the strength of word of mouth and a four-song demo recording. Certainly they can expect even greater success with the support of their album. Raisinhill is something that is often discussed, sometimes attempted, but rarely achieved: it is a complete album. Nearly two thirds of the tracks are lengthy compositions, five to eight minutes long each, and all worthy endeavors, but they are tied together with short twenty to fifty second clips with names like ‘Tippy-toes’, ‘Jokes’, and ‘She Likes Me’. ‘We wanted there to be an obvious flow to the music,’ explains Jay. ‘That’s why we recorded a few of those short improvisations. They help to connect one tune to the next both harmonically and rhythmically. We wanted the listener to enjoy each song but also enjoy the motion from one to another.’ Brian adds, ‘The whole concept was to make it a complete thought from beginning to end, where you get to move up and down with the music, and really be entertained by it- not just be bombarded by a lot of sound. Your brain really moves from one idea to the next and you’re ready to accept the next idea.’ The CD is a whole document, best enjoyed in its entirety.
To have achieved such a hallmark at such an early stage bodes well for the members of Raisinhill, but they remain humble and focused on continuing to hone their skills. John comments, ‘It’s an interesting juxtaposition of enjoying ourselves and striving to be really good writers and performers. We take our music very seriously. At the same time, we enjoy what we’re doing, and we hope it shows.’ Jay concurs, adding, ‘We just always want there to be forward momentum. We have to be patient. I think that is really one of the band’s strongest assets. In a year from now, if we’ve grown as friends and musicians, then we’re doing things right.’
Raisinhill’s debut release, Raisinhill, is available from the Home Grown Music Network. The trio is incessantly touring throughout New England and will be touring in the Mid Atlantic states in April. For upcoming tour dates, more information about the band and information about summer festival appearances, check out their website, www.raisinhill.com.

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