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Published: 2001/11/02
by Mike Wilt

Topaz CD Release Party, House of Blues, Cambridge, MA- 10/25

Last Thursday renowned saxman Topaz and his crew threw down thick NYC grooves and pumped out undulating funk waves at the House of Blues in Cambridge. The capacity crowd suggested that after a string of shows this summer at Lilli’s and a late September set opening for Robert Randolph at the Paradise, Beantown heads are finally starting to catch on: Topaz rocks the party that rocks the body.

The show was a CD release party for the band’s latest studio effort entitled The Zone. According to the bands website, this CD attempts to showcase the “raw live energy that earned the band its initial acclaim.” Well, if the band was able to harness even a fraction of the energy inherent in their live show onto disc, then this record deserves a prime spot in any jamband fan’s music collection.

The show opened with a ripping’ version of the new original 6 Foot,’ with bassist Jason Kriveloff and drummer Christian Urich locked in a provocative back beat laying a solid foundation for a round of solos by Tewar (guitar), Ethan White (Wurlitzer piano), Topaz (sax), and Squantch (trombone). Midway through the first set, local Hammond B3 organ legend Ron Levy jumped on stage for two songs: Fourth and D’ and Flood in Franklin Park.’ The latter song, originally recorded by Grant Green in 1972, was also performed by the now defunct Greyboy All-stars a number of times in the late 1990s. This commonality brings to mind other comparisons between Topaz and the GBAs when they first started touring: Both bands are young, talented, and seem to drastically improve every time you see them.

Now I don’t know what the name Squantch means, but I think it might be Native American for Dances With Trombone.’ The Squantch-ster was off the hook all night, but he was more than that. He was off the hizoo. Simply astonishing. The defining moment of the show occurred midway through the second set during a Squantch trombone solo in The Zone’ the title track of the new album. Before I continue, let me preface the following comments with two notes:

1) This solo was the hands-down musical highlight of a five day stretch which included shows from the following artists: Rodney Jones’ Soul Manifesto, The Derek Trucks Band, Galactic, Snoop Dogg, Karl Denson, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, and two Gov’t Mule shows.

2) Words can’t do justice to the performance, but I will do my best to relate the following episode briefly.

I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Squantch managed to blaze a mind-bending solo while immersing himself in the audience and proceeding to writhe around on the floor of the House of Blues like a man possessed. The floor was packed, but somehow fans managed to clear out of his way while they stood in awe trying to figure out what exactly was happening. At one point I mentioned to my buddy Greg, “It looks like the trombone is playing him.” Nevertheless, Squantch maintained complete control and returned to the stage before the end of the song. The audience, though slightly taken aback, praised the Man, thanking him for an unthinkable solo.

The highly anticipated drums segment featuring Christian Urich came shortly after The Zone’ during Tress.’ His routine elicited a roller coaster of emotions. In a five-minute span I laughed, I cried, I loved, I feared, I hugged. What can I say? Another incredible individual performance. You’ve gotta see it to believe it.

The predictable Fat City Strut ended the set. It was a rager as usual, but I would prefer to see another tune fill this slot once in a while. It was great to hear, however, I believe that predictability is the bane of many would-be jambands. Additionally, I think Topaz could segue Fat City into any number of funk songs for a brief period before jamming back into Fat City. For example, I believe the classic funk song Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again’ could work well as a mid-song transition segment. This tactic might spice things up a bit. Former Bostonian and penultimate music fan Tony Oliveria believes that if you can keep the hardcore fans guessing then newbies and old-schoolers will continue to be impressed.

While this review has highlighted certain individual moments, don’t get me wrong Topaz is a team effort. Ultimately it is the talent of the individual performers synergizing to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts that makes this band so damn good. As a graceful version of War’s The World is a Ghetto closed the show I was already thinking about the next time I’d be able to catch these guys. Hope to see you there too.

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