Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Group A : live at Mo' Pitkins

still plugging away at the Soweto Kinch jawn. here's a review of set of music by a friend of mine: dude named Aaron 'Juse' Steele -- and his band, last friday in the East village or alphabet city or whatever they're calling that area these days. couple more days on the Soweto (promises... promises...)


Group A : live at Mo Pitkins

Occasionally, i have the pleasure of going out to a show in manhattan by some young musicians and being truly impressed. a few weeks back i met drummer Aaron Steele at the gig of mutual friend at the Tea Lounge on Union Street in Park Slope. we rapped enough at the show that i knew this was going to be a live cat. we hopped over to the after party together, with my friend and rapper Noah Weston AKA Soulkhansensus, and went to our respective chills within the party. but after, we decided to go to the local 24 hour diner and vernaculate on hiphop, jazz, and free music.

at the end of the night (morning) i determined that this cat steele was the real deal. so i was not surprised to hear his project band, Group A, was also the real deal.
the back room at Mo Pitkins is one of the hipper little spots at which to scope music in the city. separated from the main bar by a heavy curtain, one is instantly transported to some hole-in-the-wall club from the 1950s. while the patrons are different, the feel and decor of the place are intact. there are high-backed booths for the intimate types and -- for the non-intimate types -- simple wood tables and chairs. very unlike the more cushy clubs closer to mid-town. there is a bar-like atmosphere, but its very focused on the stage and the music. i took a seat with my party (a collection of bard college and new school students and alums) and ordered a bourbon straight-up (the best audience drink in the world, if you ask me).
when the music began, i was sure i was not hearing my friend aaron but, rather, some unsung fusion band from the mid-70s. with a seven-piece group comprise of keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, AND singer... Group A had a sound that seemed to come simultaneously out of Sly and the Family Stone, Sun Ra, and the 1968's Miles in the Sky. at once funky, and out, electronic and organic, intense and subtle -- the group is an event happening when they play. and it felt like that from the first note. an event. a happening. a transportation from where we were to where we was headed.

Viva Zyprexa
, the first tune, was a laconic bit of word-setting. and, if one had heard it performed by, say, piano and vocals alone, one might think it was simply an angularized ballad. but with the addition of Steele and, bass player, Andrew Perusi the rhythmic under-pinning had such a shifting, funky earnestness that it was hard not imagine oneself (having no frame of reference) watching some outrageous 70's fusion beast-band at one of the Fillmore's. right away, my first warning is watch out for the Steele-Perusi groove. both players have a penchant for twisting time. a penchant that goes to lengths so extreme that it sometimes turns a 2-4 beat on its side and goes into the (normally) forbidden square 1-3 territory. in any band it is a dangerous game to play, deliberately attacking the front and ass of the groove like that. it can breed a contagious confusion about where the measures start and finish and turn into a complete fuck-all mish-mash. this didn't happen with group A because surrounding the daring twosome on bass and drums were five competent and quicksilver musicians. all daring in their own right.

Holding down much of the harmonic material were keyboardist Dominic Fallacaro and guitarist Matt Meade. Fallacaro came miraculously into the fray with dense two-handed chords and interspersed moments of enlightened jazz counterpoint. When it came time to solo, however, Fallacaro was quick to sit on his left hand and give us a horn-like solo from his right. occasionally playing double-time octave runs and always, always, always bringing that harmonic sophistication that so many keyboardists seem to be afraid the bring over a funky groove. Meade played it cool and spent much of his time plumbing through the time trenches left gaping by Steele and Perusi. His solos were somewhat antiphonous to the rest of the enemble. Where as much of what was going on had a fast-paced midtown like frenzy to it, Meade played way back in and under everything. choosing his notes calmly and carefully, it seemed, like a Horace Silver or a Wes Montgomery (when he was playing with Chambers, Cobb, and Kelly). further in (and actually in front of the crowded stage - not on it) were Takuya Kuroda (trumpet) and John Stenesco (saxophone) playing in the melded unisons and synchronous harmonies of a chorus. While Matt Scheffer (aka Matt Paolo) vocalised his way through the sometimes treacherous melodic material with unwavering confidence Kuroda and Stenesco played sometimes around, sometimes behind, sometimes with him. It seemed, at times, Scheffer sang with three voices instead of one. And his voice had the pure, un-affected quality of a jazz singer (a term which often connotes something curse-like for musicians, but when done properly is a boon to almost every ensemble). A June Tyson like frankness of tone. days earlier Aaron had described him to me as a cat who could sing anything. and it did indeed seem like no matter the speed, distance, or dissonance between notes, Scheffer was able to sing them like the most simple melody -- giving them body, life, and vitality.

And, not to be dismissed, were the fantastic solos Kuroda and Stenesco poured out over the electro-acoustic porridge.

Most of the numbers from the night were originals written by one or another member of the group. the most impressive interpolation of the night was the exceptional arrangement of that old Beatles warhorse: Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. how that song could possible be made more psychadelic than the original -- i don't know. But perhaps, these days, there are new and different psychadelics. and new, less idealistic highs to contend with. Group A is a group exploring those dark recesses of consciousness. much of what came across was ultra-heavy, ultra-intense high drama. like sophocles with a fusion band (am i allowed to say that?!) they invited Noah Weston onstage for an impromptu hiphop number over a grove they call: Rhino. and very appropriately ended their set with a killing tune: Ride Those Waves. up and up and up they went. and to be honest -- we're still coming down.

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