Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Come For Skerik, Leave Praising Jamaaladeen: The Skerik Quartet At The Knitting Factory

By: David Schultz
Photo by Greg Aiello

Near the end of Skerik’s first set at New York City’s Knitting Factory this past Wednesday night, I came up with what I thought would be a brilliant gimmick for this review. With a pressing need to be awake early the next morning, I hadn’t planned to stick around for the second set. Yet, I was planning to rave about the genius of that second set, admitting all the while that when it was performed, I was not there. Whenever a group of musicians get together to put on a primarily improvised show, they tend to take awhile to loosen up and get comfortable with each other; if the talent is there, the second set usually shines. Given the phenomenal first set, there was no doubt that the Skerik Quartet would blow the roof of The Knit with their next one. In good faith, I cannot go with my proposed literary device: not that the second set wasn’t a thing of beauty, rather, I couldn’t pull myself away and I stayed for it.

One of the most imaginative and resourceful saxophonists, Skerik often pops up on the same stage with other trailblazers like Marco Benevento, Bobby Previte, Stanton Moore and Les Claypool. Experimental and saxophonist aren’t always two words you like to hear together: for all of John Zorn’s estimable talent, he sometimes sounds like he’s torturing a small rodent. In Skerik’s case, the results are consistently melodic and extremely exciting. He’s as deserving of a one name appellation as Slash or Bono.

For Wednesday night’s show, Skerik assembled an immensely talented band that included bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, guitarist Mike Gamble and drummer Simon Lott. With saxophonists Daniel Carter and Jessica Lurie joining in for the second set, the Skerik Q concocted two hours worth of heady and daring music, resurrecting the free form acid jazz upon which the Knitting Factory built its reputation. Multiple times during the night, they created a swirling mélange of music that would spiral in different directions before ultimately resolving into a tight, powerful final surge, usually on the shoulders of a weighty Tacuma bass riff.

Jamaaladeen Tacuma was the true wonder of the evening: there were moments during the show when I gave serious deliberation as to whether I was witnessing the greatest bassist in the world. These thoughts were also accompanied by the stunning disbelief that up until tonight, I had hardly heard his name before much less hear him play. For those like me who are now catching up with the force of nature that is Jamaaladeen Tacuma, the bassist has played with Ornette Coleman, James “Blood” Ulmer and currently makes up 1/3 of the Free Form Funky Freqs with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and drummer Calvin Weston.

Tacuma provided the substantive heft of the performance which allowed Gamble to avoid anything resembling a standard guitar riff. The Brooklyn based guitarist experimented with different rhythms and sounds and Lott had the dexterity of mind of body to find the right beat for the wildness going on in front of him. Standing amidst Tacuma, Gamble and Lott, Skerik would close his eyes, he would listen, he would process, he would evaluate and then he would approach the mike and unify the song and the musicians together and lead the pack into final bursts of mindblowing jazz, funk and rock.

After the intermission, Skerik added Carter and eventually Lurie and the second half of the show focused on the three saxophones. The multitude of horns worked splendidly, never bleeding into each other or hitting flat stretches. Tacuma continued to work his magic. Rather than slow down his playing during a measured solo by Daniel Carter, Tacuma did the opposite, going headlong into a lighting quick bass line that he repeated throughout. He also paved the way for the one cover of the night, throwing out a familiar Motown riff and working it until everyone picked up on the “MMM . . . mmm-mmm mmm MMM.” Everyone’s eyes went wide and they all eased into a funky version of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”

As I mentioned earlier, I felt a pressing need to stay through the set break. A move that necessitated abandoning the gimmicky framework I wanted to use for this piece. Such was the inspiring nature of Skerik and Tacuma. After the show, I chatted with photographer Greg Aiello and mocked my own ignorance of Tacuma’s longstanding brilliance. No stranger to fantastic musicians, Aiello summed it up beautifully, “That’s what keeps us coming to shows. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, there is Jamaaladeen.”

The Leaves: Timid Line

By: David Schultz

There are times when analyzing the liner notes of an album can be slightly misleading. When you peer inside the cover of Timid Line, the latest EP by The Leaves, the names Bryan Dondero and Scott Tournet are going to leap out at you and scream Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Although the two Nocturnals leave their imprint on the disc – Dondero produces and Tournet plays lap steel – it’s singer Aya Inoue that proves to be the true allure of the four song disc.

Inoue & The Leaves are part of the ever-bustling Burlington, Vermont music scene that gave birth to GP&TN and serves as home base for Ramble Dove, Mike Gordon’s honky-tonk collective that gave Inoue her first glimpse of National exposure. Anyone whose familiarity with Inoue comes from her Ramble Dove involvement will be mightily impressed with the range and depth she shows on Timid Line. You can hear an occasional honky-tonk twinge in some of her vocal inflections, especially on the title track, but otherwise Timid Line reveals Inoue to be a master at conveying strength and fragility, certainty and indecision with her delivery as well as her lyrics. It’s a trait borne by any successful singer-songwriters.

The songs on Timid Line seem torn from the inner pages of Inoue’s diary but The Leaves aren’t a vanity project for the feisty yet introspective singer. The music behind her, played by Matt Harpster (guitar), Corey Beard (bass) and Steve Sharon (percussion) with Charles Eller (keyboards) and Nocturnal Tournet (lap steel) also lending a hand, give Timid Line a gravitas along the lines of Gillian Welch or Townes Van Zandt. The EP shows what happens when you pair a talented singer-songwriter with a band that is entirely on the same page with the mood and tone she’s trying to convey. There’s a wonderful smoldering quality to “Yours Truly Charlie,” Harpster’s guitar solo greatly accentuates “Instead” and Tournet’s lap steel brings a mournful reflective quality to “Back.”

Timid Line accomplishes what every debut EP sets out to do: it’s long enough to give you a solid idea of what Inoue and The Leaves are capable of doing while leaving your appetite whetted for more.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy: New York Treasures

I traveled to New York City a few weeks ago to check out Amber Rubarth for a new project I am working on. The rising singer songwriter was performing at the intimate Rockwood Music Hall and I was looking forward to seeing her based on what I heard on MySpace and saw on YouTube. Sometimes you can't fully tell from those media how someone actually translates live in person. However, Amber translated just fine.

Indeed, more than just fine. She was fantastic. I saw first hand why she has over 400,000 page views and counting on her MySpace profile. She is a gifted songwriter with a terrific stage presence who will no doubt continue to woo fans from coast to coast. Amber's set ranged from the appropriately titled "You Will Love This Song" to the playful diddy like "23", to her soulful emoting on "Washing Day," co-written with Adam Levy.

Levy is best known for his tenure as the featured guitarist in Norah Jones' Handsome Band. He played on Norah's Come Away with Me, Feels Like Home, and her latest disc Not Too Late. Adam also wrote "In the Morning" from Feels Like Home. Adam has accompanied onstage and/or in the studio various musical luminaries like Rosanne Cash, Amos Lee, M. Ward, and up-and-coming Aussie artist Eran James.

I have to admit I didn't know Levy's solo work prior to Amber leading me on a seemingly never ending walk through the Lower East Side around midnight that took us to a neat little place called "Banjo Jims" where Levy was playing. Adam and Amber dueted (is that a word?) quite nicely, but I was equally impressed with Levy and his band. Beyond himself being a great songwriter, Adam has some impressive guitar chops. "Behind Close Doors" and "In The Morning" are among Levy's standouts.

Both of these NYC gems are worth seeing. You can catch them at various Big Apple haunts throughout the year. But, if you're adventurous trek to Sundance this week to see Adam or if you're wondering where to take this year's big vacation Amber will be making various spots in France a bit more interesting later this spring. No matter where you see them I have no doubt you'll be glad you did.

Is This The Led Zep Announcement We've Been Waiting For?

On Monday, Jimmy Page will hold a press conference in Shinjyuku, Japan. As for what Page wishes to discuss with the media: no one's saying.

Coachella? Coachella East? Bonnaroo? All of these? None of these? Or, maybe he's announcing a new Led Zeppelin karaoke machine? Who knows. Jimmy's not saying.

Meanwhile Robert Plant is set to do at least four U.S. dates in April with Allison Kraus to perform songs from their well received Raising Sand project. Will these dates give Robert a taste for the road? Or, will Jimmy announce they've already decided to tour?

Either way...You are now free to commence Led Zeppelin tour rumormongering.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Larry Campbell Kind Of Ramble

By: David Schultz

Larry Campbell has long reigned as one of the preeminent sidemen in rock and roll, playing alongside such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh and Levon Helm. Having seen Campbell play numerous times alongside many of the greats, it was a real treat to see his name above the ampersand as Larry Campbell & Friends played an open admission show in Greenwich Village as part of the New York Guitar Festival. The Apple Store may have seemed like an odd venue for the venerated multi-instrumentalist; at least until you got there. The intimate second floor theater, which has some of the coziest seats found outside of Radio City Music Hall, proved to be a marvelous venue to see (and hear) Campbell practice his craft.

Accompanied by Lincoln Schleifer on the standup bass, Campbell opened his set with a couple “country rags.” After the two finished their impressive but hardly showoffey fretwork gymnastics, Campbell brought out the rest of the band: his wife, Teresa Williams, Ollabelle’s Amy Helm and as a surprise guest, her father Levon. In a slight bit of irony, the largest round of applause at the Guitar Festival event went to the beloved drummer. Flanked by Ms. Williams and Ms. Helm, Campbell led his band of Midnight Ramble veterans through a very nice mix of country style tunes that included a brilliant original, “Did You Ever Love Me,” and touched upon Carl Perkins and George Jones.

Williams, who has a Grand Ole Opry quality voice, also plays a pretty mean guitar. With the younger Helm playing mandolin and Campbell playing guitar, the three kicked up a nice little acoustic dust storm. Even when surrounded by two lovely ladies, it was hard to take your eyes off of Campbell’s guitar work: he really does wonders with the instrument. Playing resonator guitar on Helm’s smoldering cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” Campbell brought an enormous country feel to the song without losing one iota of its soul; a perfect example of interpreting an iconic song and transforming it without losing the elements that make it great.

Campbell tipped his cap towards Lesh by playing “Attics Of My Life,” his favorite Grateful Dead tune. Needing only the sparse of accompaniment of Schleifer’s doleful bass and Campbell’s simple strumming, Williams and Helm wrenched every bit of aching loveliness out of the tune and showed how spellbinding the song can be when sung by true singers. With no drum part to play, Levon closed his eyes and seemed as enraptured with the song as the audience. Speaking of the elder Helm, he really seemed to enjoy his role as the “anonymous” drummer. At the end of many songs, he and Schleifer bore the mischievous grins of rascals as they seemed to look for what trouble they could possibly stir up. His night though would not be spent entirely behind his simple drum kit. For the encore, father and daughter traded places and with Amy playing drums, Helm picked up the mandolin and finished the night with a hearty version of “Got Me A Woman” from his Grammy nominated album, The Dirt Farmer.

Last night's show was one of the handful of free shows that are part of this year’s New York Guitar Festival. Played amidst the high priced electronics and iPODs, Campbell's li'l ramble may likely turn out to be Apple's best bargain ever.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

North Mississippi Allstars: Hernando

By: David Schultz

The North Mississippi Allstars - guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist Chris Chew – have willingly assumed the onus of being keepers of the flame for Mississippi’s blues and folk music. It’s a burden they carry with pride. The Allstars have drifted into country-styled blues during their affiliation with John Hiatt and dabbled in gospel blues with The Word but have rarely strayed far from their Mississippi roots. With Hernando, their fifth studio album, the Allstars attempt to break free from their Hill Country origins and tap into the American blues that has served as the foundation for classic rock.

The threesome doesn’t quite shake free of their signature sound and it’s unlikely they ever will. Hernando has a harder feel to it than their last effort, the relatively sunny Electric Blue Watermelon. If anything, it comes closest to the harder moments of 51 Phantom. Even though they are trying to go in a slightly different direction, Hernando still bears the distinctly North Mississippi Allstars sound with “Shake,” “Come Go With Me” and “Take Yo Time, Rodney” continuing their penchant for working different variations of R.L. Burnside-influenced themes into their work. Hernando may list toward the heavier side of American blues but the Allstars ease in that direction without causing a significant rift with their past.

In moving beyond the Hill Country, they’ve come up with some exceptional songs. Chris Chew lights up “I’d Love To Be A Hippy,” an easy-going, standard blues tune that ideologically updates Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer,” revealing himself to be an exceptionally talented blues vocalist. “Blow Out” comes right out of the Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry school of timeless rock and Cody Dickinson’s “Mizzip” scoots along on of the Allstars’ patented up-tempo boogie-beats.

The growling “Keep The Devil Down” and “Soldier” contain the same righteous gospel zeal that marks their contributions to The Word. Even if the vocal sections of “Soldier” are somewhat flat, the instrumental portions of the six minute track soar: Luther’s guitar solos with Cody working some intricate drums behind him while Chew walks strutting bass lines are pure Allstars magic. It’s a hallmark of their live shows and Hernando leaves you wanting more of the trio’s fine interplay.

A number of the songs aren’t perfectly suited for Luther’s vocal style. Instead of conveying a confident swagger, his voice descends into one-dimensional exhortations on the more deliberate tunes. Fortunately, no one listens to the Allstars to hear someone sing; they come to hear them play. Blues-inflected rock falls right into Chew and Cody Dickinson’s wheelhouse and the exceptional rhythms underscoring Hernando emerge with repeated listens. As casual fans of the Black Crowes are about to find out, Luther Dickinson is one of the more unheralded axemen practicing the craft. His guitar work, which is judiciously though not sparingly scattered throughout Hernando, flat out sizzles. In letting his inner Hendrix or Keith Richards loose, Dickinson brings different shades of meaning with each solo.

No surprise, Hernando reveals the North Mississippi Allstars to be exemplary students of the American blues. Where their past efforts owe debts of honor to the Delta bluesmen of the past, Hernando serves as a tip of the hat to the blues purveyed by John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. If classic rock radio dedicated airplay to bands that still practice the craft their station keeps alive, Hernando would have the Allstars in heavy rotation.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coachella 2008: The Verve, Portishead, Roger Waters and My Morning Jacket

The rumors over whether "Coachella East" will take place in New Jersey later this summer overshadowed whatever anticipation there was for the lineup of the actual Coachella Festival that will take place April 25-27 in Indio, California. Like every year, an impressive lineup has been assembled. Trying to recapture the magic of last year's Rage Against The Machine reunion, The Verve will revive their urban hymns when they play their first U.S. show since disbanding in 1999. Portishead will also cross the pond for their first U.S. show in more than a decade.

The true nostalgia should come on Coachella's final night when Roger Waters performs Dark Side Of The Moon. For those who want their music a bit more current and buzzworthy, Coachella 2008 will feature The National, Animal Collective, The Raconteurs, Vampire Weekend, Dan Deacon, Rilo Kiley, M.I.A., Cold War Kids, Gogol Bordello, Black Kids, Black Mountain and Les Savy Fav.

Oh yes . . . and there will be My Morning Jacket, a band that truly knows how to rock a festival.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Black Mountain Army: Secretly Canadian....

Black Mountain
In The Future
By: Rinjo Njori

In the last half a dozen years, Canada has specialized in churning out music collective super groups. The New Pornographers gave way to Broken Social Scene, which gave way to the Arcade Fire. Lurking in the background was Vancouver's metallic psych-rock collective led by Stephen McBean (Jerk With a Bomb, Pink Mountaintops) and fully supported by Amber Webber (Lightening Dust) Matt Camirand (Blood Meridian), Jeremy Schmidt, and Joshua Wells (Blood Meridian, Lightening Dust). These musicians come together as the Black Mountain Army or Black Mountain for short. Three years ago they released a powerful and engaging eponymous full-length debut which fell more on the side of folk psych. At the time, most of the indie blogsphere was incorrectly referring to it as the best new Hardcore album of 2005, which might have hurt their chances for musical domination.

For In the Future, McBean and company have taken a decidedly heavy approach. Black Mountain ably mix equal parts Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd with a hint of 70s metal while marrying it with the modern retro sounds of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beck, the Mars Volta and Dead Meadow. "Stormy High" opens the album with a thunderous riff accompanied by Webber's siren like wail. The real highlight is the bridge where the guitars sit side by side with the organ. "Tyrants" can best be described as a stripped down, coherent and shortened Mars Volta song. With eight minutes Black Mountain shows what they are all about. Taking it down a notch from "Stormy High" at the beginning and painfully building on every note. McBean and Webber trade vocals before it all comes crashing down with heavy, well timed riffs that suddenly stop and take you back to the beginning of the song.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the epic "Bright Lights" ably duels with the excess, the nonsensical directions and long winded instrumentation that the Mars Volta has honed over their eight year career. However, as the rest of this album illustrates Black Mountain is not trying to be the Mars Volta. If anything they are showing us the boys from Texas aren't the only band that can capture our attention for ten plus minutes. This isn't a marathon like the Mars Volta's "Cassandra Gemini," but it's every bit as hypnotic and doesn't have you constantly checking to see if this is the same track or (if you haven't lost track) when it will be over.

"Angels," with its slow and well-paced tempo, shows the side of Black Mountain that made their debut album so completely different (at the time). The band emotes introspection without becoming frail or delicate. Webber and McBean singing the verse together is executed perfectly, accompanied by a short string interlude which helps the song reach epic proportions while keeping the playing time relatively short. On "Queens Will Play," Webber gets her first shot on the album to sink or swim all by herself. Her vocals have always reminded me of Ann Wilson, Grace Slick, and Betsy Palmer (Sacred Miracle Cave). Every step of the way had me wondering why Lightening Dust couldn't be this haunting, well paced and engaging. Then again Lightening Dust is merely parts of Black Mountain.

"Wucan," "Evil Ways" and "Wild Wind" really shake things up in that these songs feel like a little bit of relief after the whirlwind "Stormy High," "Tyrants" and the epic "Bright Lights." "Wucan" takes 70s rock in the vein of ELO and uses some low key, droning no wave dance punk to guide the song along. The heavy delivery on "Evil Ways" melds mid 70s Black Sabbath while repurposing and reconfiguring Santana's most memorable lyrics. The first two songs have a beginning, middle and end, but feel more like well placed interludes than actual songs. It's wise to recognize that every song need not be an epic song. In contrast, "Wild Wind" is much shorter in length than "Wucan," and "Evil Ways" faithfully captures the feeling of some of those late-Beatles songs.

Breaking out the tambourine on "Stay Free," Black Mountain does their best impression of My Morning Jacket, minus feedback and aiming high for the hippie quotient. The song is the first hint of just "good" instead of great. If "Wucan" feels like an interlude, then "Stay Free" feels like a song-- the only song out of place on In the Future. They might have been aiming for "Wild Wind" but definitely fell short. Similarly out of place is the closer "Night Walks." Relying solely on Webber's vocals and organ feedback, this mood music merely ends the album. Had In The Future faded out with "Bright Lights," it might have been better for the album, but it doesn't seriously hurt it either.

With In the Future, Black Mountain have built on their reputation for putting out engaging metallic psych-rock that is both haunting and inspirational. McBean and Webber might be the "stars" of the band, but without Camirand, Schmidt and Wells they wouldn't be the same. This genre of rock music might not appeal to the masses, but as their eponymous debut proved there are plenty of people out there to convert to the cause. Like the New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, and Arcade Fire have proven over the half dozen years-- Canadian supergroups rock. Hopefully the title of this album prophesizes the same sort of success for Black Mountain. Lucky for us the future is now.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tyler Ramsey: A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea

By: David Schultz

If you are one of these people who hates reviews full of comparisons and references to other bands and musicians, you should probably stop reading now. This one will have plenty of them. On his latest album, A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea, Tyler Ramsey ploughs the same fields as Neil Young and plumbs the same ethereal depths as Ray LaMontagne. With his nimble, atmospheric guitar playing, Ramsey enters the same rarefied territory occupied by Willy Porter and the other acoustic guitar wizards that seem to escape mainstream attention. It’s a blissfully wonderful achievement and the North Carolinian singer/songwriter has scored the first great late-night chill-out album of 2008.

The Magnetic Fields are currently earning praise for restoring meaning to album titles by employing distortion on Distortion. Ramsey deserves credit as well. His soothing melodies and harmonies truly do have the feel of a long dream and from A Long Dream’s opening notes, Ramsey draws you into his pacific world where you can float along on his warm comforting vocals and weightless acoustic guitar.

Owing a slight debt to LaMontagne, Ramsey explores different ranges of hushed quietude, drawing resounding resonance from the silence between notes. Lyrically, Ramsey isn’t as devastatingly introspective as LaMontagne but he does get pretty contemplative. The opening couplet of “A Long Dream” and “Ships” set the disc’s tone and begin Ramsey’s peaceful journey; once on his way, he never missteps.

On the middle of the album, Ramsey goes into Neil Young country mode with “No One Goes Out” and “When I Wake” sounding like they could have come from any of Shakey’s Harvest sessions. “Once In Your Life” is the most adventurous and interesting track Ramsey crafts a three-part suite that cycles through moods much like Buffalo Springfield’s “Broken Arrow,” starting out as a simple Young-influenced acoustic track, moving into upbeat Sixties-style garage-pop and finishing with an upbeat guitar and piano jam. Ramsey also works in some especially nifty and slightly funky slide guitar on the instrumental “Chinese New Year”

Ramsey makes some interesting choices with his arrangements. For “Please Stop Time,” the closing track, Ramsey plays his guitar in concert with his mournful, patient vocals instead of a complementary melody. The decision gives the seemingly simple track an understated complexity and makes for a poignant finale that eases into the peaceful wash of the ocean tide.

Over the autumn months, Ramsey opened numerous shows for Band Of Horses, eventually turning the gig into a full time job with the critically beloved band. You can only hope that joining a group that had their latest release end up on scores of Best of 2007 lists doesn’t obscure the release of Ramsey’s achingly beautiful solo release.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Beautiful Night In The Neighborhood: Marco Benevento’s January Residency

By: David Schultz

In November of 2006, Marco Benevento took to playing weekly shows on New York City’s Lower East Side, setting up residence at the now-defunct Tonic. Using the stage as his laboratory, Benevento geared each show towards playing unrehearsed sets of primarily improvised music. At the time of the Tonic residency, very few people were aware of the nightclub’s impending closure and Benevento’s Live At Tonic now serves as a testimonial for the venue’s final days in much the same way Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s Live At Wetlands acts as that venue’s aural shrine. If Benevento’s set of Tonic shows marked the death throes of one venue, his latest at New York City’s Sullivan Hall marks the birth – or rather rebirth – of another.

For the month of January, Benevento will be synonymous with Thursdays at the newly christened Sullivan Hall. Although the name has changed, Sullivan Hall still retains the same look and feel as The Lion’s Den, albeit with a renovated stage, freshly lacquered floors and a vastly improved sound system. The new name took effect with the New Year. Only two days after U-Melt played the first notes and Tea Leaf Green headlined the first show, Benevento began Sullivan Hall’s first residency, sharing the stage with trumpeter Steven Bernstein, drummer Bobby Previte and DJ Olive.

Whether it’s with Joe Russo as the Benevento/Russo Duo or on his own, what makes any show involving Benevento so much fun is his willingness to just get on stage and see what happens. Even more entertaining, he gets other musicians to accept the challenge with him. This past Thursday, Night #2 of the residency, Benevento’s announced guests were Russo and guitarist Brad Barr of The Slip but by the time the show finished, the trio had doubled with singer Sonya Kitchell, saxophonist John Ellis and Slip drummer Andrew Barr all lending a hand.

With a grand piano at his disposal, Benevento led Russo and Barr through a breezy hour long first set. The three moved gracefully through some jazzy and classical melodies while stopping every so often to dip their toes into some funk or classic rock. In addition to offering a complete version of The Duo’s “Sunny’s Song,” they touched on Traffic’s “Glad” as well as some Stevie Wonder licks. As fans of The Duo are well aware, Benevento and Russo are masterful at creating an ocean of sound with just a keyboard and drums. Shedding their familiar Duo roles, they explored other musical areas leaving acres of room open for Barr. The Slip guitarist, who played the set with a bouquet of flowers sticking out of the neck of his guitar, animatedly moved around the stage, helping Benevento out at one point by playfully fanning the cover of the piano. Unfortunately, just as they seemed to really get rolling, they shut it all down for a set break.

The lengthy intermission provided a mixed blessing. Those who felt the pressing need to get some rest before the following work day fled into the night, noticeably thinning the crowd. However, when Benevento, Russo and Barr returned with Ellis in tow and began to tear the house down, there was room to move about and groove along with the band. Sometime after 1:00 a.m., Benevento launched into the rolling melody of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Blues,” staying there for quite a while as Kitchell and Brad Barr’s brother Andrew hit the stage. At this point, a garage-style jam session broke out. With Kitchell ad libbing and scatting along the way, they eased into a fantastic rendition of “Can’t Find My Home” and a rollicking version of “Lucille.”

With so many musicians winging it at the same time, the last fifteen minutes of the show were the sloppiest of the night. However, what was lost in tightness was gained back in the spontaneity and inspired communal lunacy of the effort. In quickly talking to Brad Barr after the show, the guitarist seemed a bit unsure how to describe the closing moments of the show. I thought it could be summed up in one word: fun.

Benevento has three more shows left as part of the Sullivan Hall residency: January 17th will feature Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and Slip bassist Marc Friedman and January 24th will have drummers Billy Martin and Calvin Weston and saxophonist Skerik. The last night, January 31st, will double as a CD release party for his latest solo album Invisible Baby. For the occasion, Benevento will be joined by the ridiculously talented Reed Mathis and Slip drummer Andrew Barr.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Groove: U-Melt Brings In 2008 At The Highline Ballroom

By: David Schultz

U-Melt is a band that doesn’t waste time. At their traditional New York City New Year’s Eve after-hours show, played this year at the HighLine Ballroom, it took U-Melt only six hours of the New Year to finish what may very likely turn out to be the best show of 2008 and if they haven’t, Rob Salzer (guitar), Zac Lasher (keys), Adam Bendy (bass) and George Miller (drums) set the bar for everyone else at an Olympian height.

Since welcoming in 2005 at the Lion’s Den, U-Melt’s late night party to ring in the New Year has evolved into one of Manhattan’s more exciting traditions. Having moved from the now-defunct Coda to the main room of The Knitting Factory, U-Melt has graduated to the spacious HighLine Ballroom. Despite the late hour and the demands prior New Year’s Eve activities can take on your sobriety, U-Melt’s NYE shows have always been well attended. However this year, the scene exploded. When the band took the stage at 2:30 a.m., both levels of the HighLine were filled and they remained populated by dancing partygoers until the band wound things up at 6:00 a.m. Although they fell a bit short of their stated goal of playing until the break of dawn, they came pretty close. I am relatively sure I saw some cows coming home as I made my way uptown after the show. (In all honesty, they might have been drunken sorority girls but never let an ugly fact ruin a good folksy colloquialism).

U-Melt’s unrelenting 3½ hour set kicked off with their interpretation of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” which segued nicely into “Green Amber.” Once they picked up steam, U-Melt would drift in and out of songs, organically moving on wherever the music took them. High-spirited versions of “Carne” and “Escape” followed their own muse with guitarist Rob Salzer and keyboardist Zac Lasher working in their typical array of highly creative solos. An emerging guitar god, Salzer consistently produced some stunning guitar solos that were notable for the fact that they rarely drew attention away from the song or the rest of the band. Not to be outdone, Lasher produced a variety of moods with his various keyboards, creating a suitably spacey mood on a cover of Seal’s “Crazy” and giving a carnivalesque feel to “The Fantastic Flight Of Captain Delicious.” The last hour of the show was dominated by a laid-back version of “Go” and an explosive “Red Star” In the midst of this run, Salzer worked in a leisurely version of “Auld Lang Syne.” While comparing it to Hendrix doing “The Star Spangled Banner” might be praising it too effusively, it was an impressive bit of craftsmanship and did bring Jimi’s Woodstock moment to mind.

As a special treat, Jim Loughlin of moe., who played earlier in the evening at Radio City Music Hall, sat in with the band for the middle portion of the set. Making phenomenal use of his menagerie of percussion instruments that practically filled the rear of the stage, Loughlin seamlessly blended in with U-Melt, especially during their Zappa-inspired jams. If you weren’t familiar with U-Melt, you would have been hard pressed to discern that Loughlin wasn’t a fifth member. He and Miller worked remarkably well with each other, never stepping on each other toes. On some songs, U-Melt opened up spaces for Loughlin; on others, Loughlin saw where there was room and filled it appropriately (and expertly). Leaving no opportunity wasted, their cover of Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” wouldn’t have been complete without an inspired MalletKat solo.

At the end of the night, U-Melt returned to the stage after a brief respite for a quick run through Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It.” Even though they were temporarily short one bass player, Lasher, Salzer and Miller playfully began the song, working the funky groove until Bendy found his way back. With the crowd hailing his return as that of a conquering hero, the typically reserved bassist raised his hands above his head and slapped hands with everyone congregated by the front of the stage in a figurative victory lap. It was a nice moment as the crowd seized the opportunity to show their appreciation for Bendy’s exceptional contributions.

Last year, I strongly urged everyone to make a New Year’s resolution to become a U-Melt fan. While I’m not presumptuous enough to take credit for it, I will say that in 2007 a great number of people came across that idea on their own. As the crowd at the HighLine might indicate, this year could be shaping up as U-Melt’s breakout year. Along with Tea Leaf Green, U-Melt will get the honor of opening up the newly christened Sullivan Hall (formerly Lion’s Den) and later this month will headline the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado. They will also return to Sullivan Hall in late March to play their first two night stand in New York City as headliners.

If you haven’t got yourself acquainted with U-Melt yet, what are you waiting for? Get on this: Now!

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!