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The Loop

Published: 2012/09/26
by Robin Tolleson

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra / Holy Ghost Tent Revival in Charleston

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra / Holy Ghost Tent Revival
Charleston Pour House
August 9, 2012

Building from a few simple riffs into an insistent pulse, Jonathan Scales leaned into his steel pans as he brewed the frantic 6/8 groove of his Fourchestra’s “Jam We Did.” Drummer Phill Bronson subdivided the time, aggressively shifting currents with great taste and dynamics, and bassist Cody Wright dug in to support the action with melodic and percussive playing.

“I don’t do any Jimmy Buffett tunes,” Scales told the crowd with a wry smile.

Jon Scales is the reigning king of steel pan fusion. Where Andy Narell and some others have put the pans in light jazz settings, Scales takes it on with more the wide-open vigor of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. It would actually be fun to hear what he would do with a Buffett tune.

Through their hour-long set, Scales and crew dabbled with some Beatles and a bit of Jimi Hendrix, but mostly played the leader’s own, twisting, halting musical excursions – and made it look like fun.

Some material, like “The Longest December,” used a bit of trickery – 4/4 time, but didn’t sound like it. Scales exhorted his bandmates on the Monk-ish “Jay Sanders’Sing-Along,” playfully cueing time signature changes, nodding approval at Bronson’s second line groove. The drummer picked up mallets for a more muted groove on “Hallucinations of the Dream Chasers,” and showed skills on cajon on “Eleanor Rigby.”

“Pan Grass” paid homage to Scales’ mountain home of Asheville, NC, with a bluegrass flavor, and required an extra level of physicality from the panman. “Do you know who Muddy Waters is,” Scales asked, introducing his mash-up “Muddy-Vishnu” (Muddy Waters meets Mahavishnu Orchestra).
Bassist Wright brought a roar with his chording and tapping, digging into a piece of “Third Stone From The Sun.” His use of an overdriven octave divider on “The Trap” added depth to the syncopated nursery rhyme-ish musical accents.

Greensboro, NC’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival began as a ragtime/gospel/fusion experiment. The mellow banjo rhythm of “Steamboat,” the trumpet and trombone chaos of “Walking Over My Grave,” and the holy rolling double time section of “Brooklyn” amplified that feeling. Their attempts to branch away from those styles at The Pour House made them seem somewhat rudderless, although not without moments of inspiration.

“Telephone Wire” was built on an enticing 7/4 groove, alternating ¾ and 4/4 with rollicking bar-room piano and splashy horns, kind of like early Stones meeting The Pretenders. The pure pop of “Po Jenny” and the rhythmic nuances of “Mr. Sister” were convincing as well, played with a looseness by drummer Ross Montsinger.

“The Mayan King” featured a ‘50s crooning style from singer Stephen Murray that brought fellow North Carolinian Ben Folds to mind, and referenced the “holy ghost.”

The excellent two-part harmonies of “John Addams Family” were reminiscent of The Doobie Brothers’ ‘70s era vocals. Murray contributed to a twin guitar attack on “Walk You Home Again,” helping push the band into psychedelic rock territory.

Holy Ghost Tent Revival seems to be more comfortable in another era. They just can’t decide which one.

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