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Published: 2004/12/03
by Benji Feldheim

Ropeadope New Music Seminar, Park West, Chicago, IL- 11/12

On a stage adorned with four drums kits, a percussion set, two keyboard rigs, many microphones, one bass set up and a single guitar arsenal, an announcer simply described the flow of the evening.

"There will be no breaks throughout the night," he said. "It will be one long set of music. We'd like to welcome Matt Haimovitz to the stage."

Cello in tow, Haimovitz sat down and went right to work on a warm melody, with long bow strokes filling the room with delicate sound. The next tune had more intended non-notes, with screeches and hits on the cello. The rest of Haimovitz's short set balanced sweet melody with harsh attacks to his cello, ending with Star Spangled Banner,' done damn close to Jimi at Woodstock without any effects aid. Just a bow and a cello.

As Haimovitz wrapped up, Critters Buggin came out, taking up three of the drum kits and the percussion for a mean drum jam. Critters moved between bashing drums on top of each other and filling space left by beat patterns. No one seemed to be the leader or the follower. Skerik and swiftly moved on to his regular role on tenor sax as Brad Houser moved to the bass for a dose of hard beat shrieking. While Critters has most to do with the mad intensity between Skerik and Mike Dillon on percussion, drummer Matt Chamberlain and Houser provide a steel backbone making the sound of the group all the more pulsating. It allows the room for Dillon and Skerik to send disgusting licks and hits back and forth. About fifteen minutes into the set, Bobby Previte snuck in onto his kit, and lashed away with Critters for the rest of the last song. Skerik directed the phrasing so Critters faded out while Previte continued with a tricky, odd beat drum solo.

Enter Charlie Hunter and DJ Olive. As Previte settled out into a steadier rhythm, which is to say only steady compared to what he has been known to do, Olive added spacey textures that often sounded like pitch-tweaked voices and Hunter high picked his way into the groove. For the most part of the set, Olive kept things eerie, Hunter kept it steady, and Previte jumped around the beat, ripping crazy fills with slick abandon. While the constant groove with a dark texture over it was solid, it seemed Previte and Olive were ready to take farther. Farther meaning it could have been darker, more in an odd-meter, anything could be done with their skills. Yet Charlie maintained his steadiness, and didn't seem to want to go with them. Toward the end of their set, the three went into some serious rocking out…but then dropped off and subtly slowed down to nothing. With Olive and Previte waving as they walked off the stage, Hunter grabbed a tambourine.

Lyrics Born (a.k.a. Tom Shimura) came out to add a party vibe to the night, as Hunter laid down a beat for Lyrics' rhymes on the tambourine. Lyrics' festive, raspy vocals obviously needed no back up but the beat. Born in Tokyo, Lyrics absorbed smooth, funk-infused hip-hop styles spending the 90s in around Berkley, California, in the company of members of Jurassic 5, Blackalicous, as well as DJ Shadow. His raps moved with steadiness as if he didn't need to breathe. He brought the crowd back up with music of a style that more people could just nod and move to than some other sounds played. For Lyrics' third song, the Benevento/Russo Duo joined the stage for a fatter party sound. Also joining at that point was singer Joyo Velarde, adding soulful singing that made every man in the room tilt his head to the side, and longingly sigh. All these men know how to play, but don't make the show sexy.

The Duo stuck to their gear, as Velarde and Lyrics heartily waved goodbye. These two seem to always pull new tricks out of their asses every time I see them. This time around they seemed to have tapped into a techno-laced rock feel, with Marco Benevento doing all possible to make his Clavinet a guitar, and Joe Russo pounding machine beats on his drums and cymbals. They went into more of a dark math section, with weird robot sounds under the beat, and from there went to a DJ'd like trance groove. Haimovitz brought his cello back out for a take on Elliot Smith's Waltz No.1.' Mike Dillon, Skerik and Brad Houser soon joined the fray, and the freak out exploded to the point where all I have down in my notes is, Ah hell! It's just MEAN AND NASTY!' Every player was simply slaying their instruments, yet all while keeping intended communication with enough of the people on the stage for the freakiness to work well as one. The shrieks and wails blended oddly with cacophonous drums and low bass tones. Lyrics returned to layer his party raps with the sound, as Benevento moved to an open drum kit. After more extended madness, everyone left the stage except the Duo, for a set of meaner, tighter Benevento/Russo.

After another techno foray by the Duo with a piano loop at the foundation, Lyrics returned with Joyo and they vocalized comfortably together over a reggae groove that sounded damn close to Exodus.' The Duo came back out flanked by Steven Bernstein and saxophonist Briggan Krauss from Sex Mob, with Brad Houser and Bobby Previte. Bernstein is a bit of a control freak, but no one can argue his skill on the exigent slide trumpet. Often during the Sex Mob-focused jam, he was giving many directions, which worked fine for Previte and the other horns, but not so much with Houser and with Benevento. At one time, Benevento even mimicked Bernstein's hand signals with a sly grin on his face. Visuals aside, the horns brought out the hard funk lurking in everyone on the stage. Once the slight confusion over Bernstein's directions subsided, all the musicians built wrenching intensity up that spread like zero gravity fire all over the venue. The audience picked up on it, as did the musicians hiding on the side of the stage, and all cheered on the nastiness. Skerik and Dillon just couldn't resist the fun, and joined the fray, followed by DJ Olive. This was definitely one of the moments that brought out the energy possibilities in these talented players, and also their abilities to work spontaneously with people they might not have ever played with before. As was made clear in the film PCU, no one can deny funk. The set ended with a giant freak out by all the melody instruments backed up by tight, booming rhythm.

Critters Buggin' stuck around for the set Skerik had promised earlier. Swiftly, they went into their thrashy funk, with much interplay between Skerik and Dillon, with Houser and Chamberlain keeping a firm backbone. The possible downside of these types of performances can be the players spending far too much time playing with their effects instead of making music. That last Critters set had quite a bit of that, but plenty of crunching funk to balance it out.

"Mike?" asked Skerik. "Is this the song about anal sex?" A chuckle from Mike beckoned a throaty scream from Skerik into his sax mic. With Skerik moving back and forth between his sax and his keyboard rig, Benevento came out to lend his own keys support. Dillon soon moved to his vibes and completely locked in with Skerik and Benevento for one of those sections of music that almost sounded too together to be improvised. To end strong, Bernstein and Krauss returned to make everyone a little crazy again. The sound was angry yet melodic, fierce yet danceable, warm and dark all at the same time. A steady slow down in the end segued into a reggae groove courtesy of DJ Olive. As the players left, Skerik stuck around to introduce people. The one long set fittingly ended with Skerik quipping,

"And on all things risky, DJ Olive!"

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