Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Reviews > CDs

Published: 2003/01/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Holding The Bag – Steve Adelson, The Bridge, Honeycreeper, Invisible Doctors, Infradig Ensemble, Nucleus, Planet Groove, The Rubes, The Verge

HOLDING THE BAG: January 2003
The New Sticktet – Steve Adelson
There’s something inherently gimmicky/wanky about the Chapman Stick, a 10
string instrument that necessitates a creative tuning coupled with
virtuostic two-handed tapping technique on the part of the player. Yes, it’s
very impressive that (per the liner notes) "Steve plays all guitar and bass
and MIDI parts simultaneously in real time", but it still sounds like jazz
that’s far too lite and smooth for its own good. Much of that can be found
in Adelson’s choice of bass tones, which never quite make it all the way
down to the bottom end and leaves the songs hovering without ground. Piano
player Dennis Moorman turns in some nice playing on five of the seven songs,
including some aggressive jamming on the all-improv "The Answer Is Free". Oblique Strategies says:
"Don’t be frightened of clich#34;. More
self-titled – The Bridge
Despite the liberal use of a mandolin, The Bridge still end up sounding like
hippie-funk, the mandolin sounding like a heavily reverbed guitar. This is
the sound of codified eclecticism — what it sounds like when a half-dozen
roots genres are blended into one sound. And perhaps in the wake of that
sound’s establishment, it has become capable of evoking specific emotions in
the same way that things like blues or country or folk or other genres
can… but it’s still a bit hard to find skilled practitioners. The Bridge
gets close occasionally. On "Way Down South", hyperspeed mandolin runs
tangle with guitar lines over the now-standard
this-is-what-drums-sound-like-behind-bluegrass rolling shuffle beat. The
song’s melody hints at the strange melodic turns of old-tyme folk, but the
singer never quite gets inside them emotionally. Oblique Strategies says:
"Emphasize differences". More
Ajiva – Honeycreeper
Honeycreeper make fairly credible upstate New York college rock. The music
has a similar skank to it as other bands that have emerged from the snowy
winters spent in basement practice spaces. As such, "Ajiva" is cut from the
same cloth as early moe., Conehead Buddha, Yolk — the similarities in sound
may well be superficial, but the spirit runs deeper. At any rate, "Ajiva" is
ska-influenced and spun with Honeycreeper’s own particular blend of other
influences: nylon string guitar, fretless bass, and some woodwinds. Their
best songs (including the disc-opening "White") are sung by horn player
Mandy Beck, who delivers them in a cool voice more quirky than seductive
(think Kate Pierson meets Natalie Merchant) that hops between rapped vocals
and more sustained notes. There’s nothing too edgy about the band’s sound,
which lends an unfortunate forgetability to some of the material. When the
band gets around to pushing their boundaries, they should produce some cool
stuff. Oblique
Strategies says: "Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite
frame." More info…
Did You Lose Me? – Invisible Doctors
I put this album on and unintentionally tuned out as I did some work —
funk, groove, the usual. "Ketchup To My Brain", the second track, leapt out
with a melody that sounded like a fusion-demented version of the main riff
of The Beatles’ "I Feel Fine". In other words, while it drove a fairly
familiar sounding groove, it also grounded it with a pop sweetness. A few
tunes later, I was pulled in by what sounded like a perfectly gorgeous
Mellotron melody (though probably wasn’t). The fact that the tune ("The Owls
Are Not What They Seem") is a Twin Peaks reference is at least a clue
into the fact that these guys are on the right track. Actually, that’s more
than readily apparent from the rest of the disc, too. Their production is
filled with depth, with stereo mixed electric piano and organ that sound as
if they were nestled right inside the listener’s ears. For a mostly
instrumental ensemble, their songwriting is pretty decent too, with a great
multi-part vocal arrangement on "Mountain Tops". Most importantly, they hit
on a vibe – perhaps one or two drafts away from being unique – that they not
only maintain, but maintain creatively throughout the album through emphasis
on different playing techniques, instrumental voices, and solid mixing. Oblique Strategies says:
"Trust in the you of now". More
Market Street Boogaloo – Infradig Ensemble
File these guys on the space-jazz/funk end of the instrumental spectrum.
While they delve somewhat unsuccessfully into blues (the traditional "Soon I
Will Be Done") or straight/clichippie funk ("Strike #4", "Asher Head"),
they are at their most successful when focusing their attentions on spacier
realms. The opening "7" has the band in mid-flight, with no clear leader,
and an inkling of direction. The two most interesting elements are Carl
Cadwell’s keyboards, which bubble with well-spaced lightness, and Josh
Green’s drums, which echo and resound with dubby echoes. Sam Mercier’s
saxophone sounds a little out of place in this kind of material, not really
having enough flexibility to play anything but a dominating part in the
group improvisation. With a title like "Market Street Boogaloo", it seems
like the band is going for the dancing crowd, which is almost too bad,
‘cause their most alluring music is definitely on the cerebral side. Alas,
though, ‘cause that’s not too marketable, and it’s admittedly hard to get
bar patrons to wrap their fuzzy heads around that kinda stuff. Oblique Strategies says:
"Do the words need changing?" More
self-titled – Nucleus
I suppose this is pretty heady, but – really, now – this is getting to be
too much. Nucleus is a quartet – guitar/bass/drums/sax – who play jazz-funk
(occasionally bordering on the lite side of things), who occasionally sound
credible ("Dragon Wok"). But "The Game" bloody well sounds like Phish’s
"Weekapaug Groove" replete with somebody hitting squally guitar loops very
much like a certain red-bearded guitarist. "Contemplative" is a bit more
successful, sounding like a cross between the layered arpeggios of "You
Enjoy Myself" and The Slip. It’s good ol’ mystic hippie-jazz, though without
much mystery or subtly. The band shows some talent in their arrangements:
the chorus vocals of "Contemplative" are cool, for example. On "Forever", a
neat little guitar figure rides underneath the chorus, but it’s promptly
beaten into the ground as soon as the instrumental section begins. Oblique Strategies says:
"Go slowly all the way round the outside." More info…
Joy Ride – Planet Groove
Not just funk. Latin funk. Well played, I guess, but nothing new. The
band attempts some covers: "So What" by Miles Davis, "Elephant Talk" by King
Crimson, "Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi. The former begins mellowly,
almost like the original, before it quickly veers into a DJ-infused
scratch-funk version of the tune. Now, there’s nothing wrong with DJs
playing with live bands – it’s, like, modern and stuff – but this is just
entirely unnecessary. The funk version ignores everything sublime,
wonderful, and/or creative about the Davis song, turning it into a generic
funk head. The dude rapping on top of it, stringing together Miles-related
phrases, only adds insult to injury. The rest of the disc isn’t quite so
tasteless, though it doesn’t bring anything new to the table either. Oblique Strategies says:
"Reevaluation (a warm feeling)" More
Hokum – The Rubes
Well, golly, The Rubes take this month’s cake for a random-ass CD. I closed
my eyes, reached into the milk crate of CDs, and came up with Hokum,
which isn’t hippie funk at all, but something much, much heavier. "Huh," I
thought. "Grunge. This dude sounds like Chris Cornell." I went back to work.
"No, this is metal! He sounds like Axl Rose" And, I guess it’s both — the
lesson being that (with a few exceptions) the two genres really weren’t as
different from each other as they were made out to be. So, whatever they
are, The Rubes are heavy. They are not, however, remarkable (other than as,
maybe, a palette clearing). Nonetheless, Hokum is 10 tracks of pure,
populist sludge rock — and word up to that. Oblique Strategies says:
"Overtly resist change." More
Seducing the Angel – The Verge
The Verge seems to be the project of Peter Infantino and engineer Frank
Zurita. It’s low in fidelity and high on earnestness. Infantino’s songs feel
like they could be either rock songs or more folkish affairs, all depending
on how he chose to arrange them. Infantino usually opts for the rock side,
favoring fuzzily distorted guitars with reverb-sprinkled mic’ing techniques.
It creates a construction paper-gray vibe as Zurita’s voice dances between
influences; Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen. With the exception
of the (more than welcome) clean-toned "Angel Wing" and the mandolin
enhanced "The Vision", the effect dominates the record. The religious
imagery only occasionally gets in the way ("Mr. Sinn"). The results are
pleasant, if not engaging. Oblique Strategies says:
"Cluster analysis."

Show 0 Comments