Sound Tribe Sector 9, Jam Nation, WMRQ Hartford- 9/30/01
I had the rare treat of attending a live, semi-private performance in Hartford last Sunday night (semi-private in the sense that few people were in attendance, although thousands of people were listening in on the radio). The occasion was WMRQ's Jam Nation, which hosted the band (btw, other cool groups I've heard on the air but not seen live on the show include Schleigho, The Slip, ulu and Jazz Mandolin Project- however this was my first time at the studio for a live performance). After hearing that STS9 would be playing I emailed and groveled until Dean [Budnick] and Jeff [Waful] invited me in- the band had played the night before in Boston but I was unable to attend.
For the uninitiated, in my opinion, Sound Tribe Sector 9 is one of the more interesting groups out there. Their sound is both electronic (incorporating techno effects and loops) and organic as STS9 never uses their effects as ends-in-themselves but rather as the source for group exploration (and they have a percussionist to keep things grounded). A lot of what they do is pure collective improvisation. The band's approach is very much like a complex five-way discussion driven in many directions, but from my perspective is often guided by Zach Velmer on drums.
On this night the performance space was nearly full of the band's gear. The lights appeared to be turned down low and the area also included the band's typical accoutrements- crystals and computers. There was an array of crystals positioned in the center of on the floor. In addition both keyboardist David Phipps and guitarist Hunter Brown ("H.B., of Walking to School fame," Dean said on the air referencing a song on the band's debut release). Incidentally, Hunter sat in a chair hobbled a bit by broken kneecap. It was quite an experience watching the band play in this type of setting which I imagine is akin to watching them at a really good-sounding rehearsal space.
Their one hour set consisted of five originals only one of which appeared on their latest disc, Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace. The opener "Circus," was an ambient excursion slowly building on a ideas contributed by Phipps and Brown in particular, while Velmer directed the flow, bass player David Murphy kept things aloft and percussionist Jeffree Lerner added textures on electric percussion. One interesting thing about this first song was that when I first entered the room, the only person I could hear was Zach. Everyone else was sending their signals directly into the control room and there were no monitors present, everyone used headphones. It was surreal (btw, apparently the band was really digging the ability to hear each other so well- after the show I heard them raving about the experience and talking about using inner ear monitors down the road). In fact it wasn’t until I moved to the control room that I was able to take in the full scope of the band’s sound. Lerner later moved to his percussion kit for "Kamuy," a personal favorite and the lone tune they performed from Schematics. The final segment of the night was real interesting as well. The set list read "Baraka>We'll Meet In Our Dreams" and it all began with a loop that had been recorded onto Hunter's laptop. He started it all off from there and then band slowly joined in until things started to pick up and turned back to his guitar.
All in all it was a satisfying evening. The beauty of this group is that it really rewards careful listening but if you just want to kick back and get on a groove on, well that'll work too. It truly added to my great respect for this band to see them in such a setting- in particularly Zach's talents became all the more apparent- his creativity and restraint, in particular. All in all this is a band well worth checking out when they gig near you (and thanks again MRQ- I hope to return to the performance space in the days to come, please…)