Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, Fez Ballroom, Portland, OR- 12/27
"You have some taint you want to syncopate, and you don't know where to go. So you came here. And now we'll do it together," announced Skerik to a feisty crowd anxious to learn the art of taint syncopation. A little chuckle segued back to the music, avoiding an awkward evening of couples' instruction. Four to five horns played at once, all accenting atypical segments of their classic-based jazz played from large stacks of sheet music. The sound is different, but it's not huge or chaotic. The lure is in the idiosyncrasies of talented musicians playing with notes and placement like a full-bellied cat playing with a mouse.
Horns (saxophones particularly) are the reason I write about music. I write this now amidst the largest storm Portland Oregon has seen in years and the Taint is the perfect soundtrack for this blizzard pummeling in tiny ice chips and frozen confetti speckles, twirled and thrown in torrents of wind. It's swing dancing with a circus theme and the snow flies against my window like my fingers tapping against the keyboard, only the snow is much faster, determined; it flies against hard things as if on a mission with time running thin; it's desperate, throwing itself into anything solid, bursting like sperm against the shell of an egg in their final seconds before expiring. The music tells this story. There are moments of calm, floating in the ether of it, but the intensity never dies.
On Saturday childhood remnants of imagination, creativitythe world without external linesfilled my body and mind, evoking memories of Peter and The Wolf where instruments acted as the voices and actions behind the characters. Expanding the range of personalities was Hans Teuber switching to the flute from alto sax and Craig Florey dropping the clarinet to lay into the baritone saxonly this story may not have been appropriate for children (I think the wolf chewed on the remnants of a pinky toe and gramps entertained ladies of the night with his dentures in uncouth ways).
Skerik's jaw unhinged from his skull and shimmied back and forth under the rhythm of his saxophone diving in like an intestinal parasite as he pushed out in a perfectly symbiotic relationship. His stage presence stretched a range almost akin to the music as he balanced a sweet, stoned Amish hippie character with moments of swallowing the microphone to produce what sounded like direct translations of demonic lure.
Each of the seven musicians had a moment to shine, lead and experiment alone at some point during the night. One of my favorite solos was Craig Florey playing the baritone sax. A small man, he plays the sax with great power, and spoke into it, rounding down the solo with an "I love you," filtered through brass. A close second was Hans Teuber holding his flute front and center on stage, clearly gathering momentum, puffing himself up, pounding back and forth like a bull anticipating mating season, preparing for what was sure to be an onslaught of high, fast, creative tones bursting conceptions of what the flute is capable of, then blew one single note and stopped.
I watched the drums for minutes during one of John Wick's solos wondering how he created such full, cyclical, and interesting beats all alone. Everyone else seemed to be on the sidelines, yet a subtle rabbit heartbeat remained under the percussion rhythms. Is he doing that? Is it really there? I suspected the keyboardist, or maybe Joe Doria on the Hammond organ. It's a magic show. There's no key to the origins of individual sounds. The Taint is a moving beast, feeding consuming and purging music as an entity, as a large engulfing vibration, penetrating like splinters in the flesh of redwoods. I tried to observe the individual instruments: Steve Moore playing the keyboard and trombone like a man jumping from bed to bed, fornicating and switching with relentless stamina. Dave Carter looking completely detached on stage, as if he just showed up for work, before busting into powerful trumpet leads and quirks, then returning to his private sanctuary amidst the jazz-laden explosions. But something is lost in breaking the Taint down to particularsthe septet is vital to its creation (feel free to translate this advise into the couple's counseling realm).
They played songs from their new live album ranging from sexy Pink Panther struts with bursts usually only encountered in comic book form as "POW!" and "BAM!" to slow mellow building horns and music creating the intensity of busy colorful city streets whistling to the armpit of a Rave scene exposed in daylight.
An impressive drum and keyboard solo took the place of a set break. The rest of the band returned to the stage by circling it from the audience and played their horns in a private show for the men on stage before stepping up, turning around and opening the show, fully integrated, to the audience of awed spectators. The night closed with a song from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, "Pure Imagination"; a perfect end for the night, there was no need to push for an encore.