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Published: 2003/06/11
by Dan Alford

Sound Tribe Sector 9, Irving Plaza, NYC- 6/6

It was one of those New York City nights where the music fan was faced with simply too many options. Relix was celebrating their 30th anniversary in Central Park with Robert Randolph and the Mule; Umphrey's McGee was playing two separate shows as part of the Jam Cruise series, performing on a boat slipping around New York's harbor; and Sector 9 was back at Irving Plaza. The choice wasn't hard for me, as I had skipped the Sound Tribe's last happening for a rather lackluster SKB show at the Bowery (of course, that was the night after Phish's unquestionably epic Nassau show, so pretty much everything would've been lackluster), and I was in serious need of the collective's particular brand of earth grooving crystal consciousness. I was not disappointed.

Sold out signs were hung on the venue's doors, but inside the balcony was closed, and while crowded, there was plenty of dancing room. Opener Karsh Kale had left his tablas on stage, and it was no surprise when Sector 9's frequent conspirator joined the band for the opener, a hard edged tune bursting with enthusiasm. While Jeffree Lerner is an excellent percussionist, and I've long felt that he ties the band together, Karsh brings a uniquely high octane element to the stage, an energy that feeds the entire ensemble. He crept on stage repeatedly in the second set with a devilish grin on his face, a grin welcomed by a crowd lusting for ever more vibrations.

The rest of the first set included a number of familiar compositions perforated by deep drum and bass segments and large, dramatics swells. The whole set, however, could be characterized by the majestic, graceful Today > Life's Sweet Breath lodged perfectly in its center. The mesmerizing bass line of the former song bored deep into the set's core and was contrasted by ethereal washes and gossamer layers of sound. A groove established early on remained throughout as a bed for the ebb and flow- either the band would not let go of it, or it would not let go of the band. Regardless, the drone and the slippery dance enacted on its surface were enchanting(ed), so that when the shorter LSB materialized, it was just perfect. A tighter composition with little room for improvisation, that song continues to chill my spine, and in this version there was a rich contrast between HB's swinging guitar riff and Zach's increasingly explosive drum work. Sweet indeed.

The second set opened with yet another guest. Sector 9 must be praised for their unceasingly positive vibe and never ending quest for the source of creative inspiration. At times there are guest musicians on stage, but oftener there are painters, or poets, writers clacking away at typewriters, or fire dancers. Tonight a flower arranger took center stage, dramatically drawing out vines and grasses, holding them aloft, stroking their contours, appreciating their textures, and ultimately thrusting them into a vase brimming with water. The music swelled with his movements as he added lilies and lilacs and finally stood with a single Bird of Paradise, eyeing the arrangement and finally, as if it were the only place it could have ever gone, plunging the stem into the bouquet as the song peaked. A deeply fertile moment, a very Sector 9 moment.

Karsh Kale rejoined for a couple of songs, including an extended spontaneous composition out of, perhaps, Movements. The DJ/tabla player riddled the jam with barrage after barrage of sharp snaps and rounded dips. With a second movement, the elements of the song seemed to pulled off their foundations, swept upward by a powerful current, like special effects from an anime film. Eventually the music made its way to a low slip stream where the percussion again rose to the surface, culminating in a wild break down from Karsh and Zach. And just when it could have ended, the ensemble launched into yet another new groove, quickly attaining its tabletop plateau on the strength of David Phipps' decidedly funky keys.

The following Rilly Wut was equally thrilling. The movement was carved like a canyon and it suddenly became clear that we were deep in the set. Murph was moving to the bass pedals more often now, and a conversation of samples between him and Hunter soon ensued. The show reached yet more heights with the T.W.E.L.V.E closer and crowd pleasing Kamuy encore but was its most transcendent with Breath In late in the set. The affecting first half rose with enormous waves of cosmic sounds, but was merely a precursor for the second half, the Exhalation. One of the finest, most inspiring song sections ever composed, it was the real sex, the real love. It was the place that you knew existed, but just weren't sure how to get to.

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