Archive for August, 2010

Band on the Rise:Escher Bach

Eascherbach, a band that is definitly doing some preacticing.

Progressive rock enthusiasts need look no further than rising stars Escherbach to know that the genre is alive and well. With regular gigs in the area and a recently released CD entitled “Cycles”, the local power trio is starting to make a name for them selves while carving out a unique sonic identity. This radically well-rehearsed group takes classic hard rock energy without the angsty clichés of modern corporate rock and blends it with a unique ADD approach to instrumental composition. Their music hot-wires melodic textures, driving power chords, lightning fast tempo changes, wild dynamics, and accomplished musicianship for a sonic joy ride to riffville.

The band is composed of Neil Carmichael(guitar), Sean Norris(drums), and Minkis(Bass). All three members of the band shine in their own way and like any good power trio there is no real weak link here. They have a very cohesive chemistry that allows for improvised psychedelic tangents, jarring changes, and exploding musical motifs to all turn on a dime. Like most prog rock bands they occasionally get bogged down in overly indulgent not quite clever musical tricks and gimmicks that leave the listener asking why. Still the truly epic moments and songs when they catch on fire are something to behold. Their recent gig at McCormick’s rocked in a thunderously tight way with a real creative intensity I have not seen around here in an original band since the early days of Umphrey’s McGee.

While Escherbach is clearly a band to keep an eye on, they still have a way to go to live up to their potential. Many of their songs have a tight and cohesive feel, yet others feel more slapped together. Their somewhat unrefined first CD was already eclipsed by the mojo they displayed at the recent live gig. With so much talent it will be interesting to watch as this band’s compositional approach develops. Hopefully they will glean those eternal musical truths that less is more and that musicianship should serve songs, as opposed to songs serving musicianship. If they can integrate these concepts into what is already more than entertaining music, Escherbach may just be the next big band from Michiana.

30db: One Man Show

A new super group with local connections has emerged in the jam band world. Under the name 30 db, guitarist Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee has released “One Man Show” with long time friend, fellow Chicago native, and mandolinist extraordinaire Jeff Austin. After years of seeing each other on the jam band circuit, the two struck up a friendship based on shared musical interests and the Chicago Cubs. Subsequent touring and writing sessions built momentum. When both went through painful song birthing break ups at the same time the connection deepened. The resulting tunes needed a home and didn’t quite fit into their existing projects and so 30db was born. They added a roster of talent that included drummer Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi All Stars, guitarist Nick Forster from Hot Rize, and Open Road bassist Eric Thorin. The all stars ignited, creating what sounds like a band meant to be.

One Man Show is a great debut. It is an easy listen, with a wide range of musically evolved content. The songs don’t seem shlocked together but often seem better developed than some of Umphrey’s work. It’s a dynamic, tight album that somehow effortlessly blends elements of jam, southern rock, pop, folk, bluegrass, country, and soul-searching break up songs into a cohesive and natural sounding whole. It’s melodic and tuneful, rocking and wild, yet laid-back and fun all at the same time. This is an album of musical mood swings in a very good way. There are low-key acoustic moments juxtaposed with stratospheric tunes and interstellar jammed out crescendos. It all seems to work well together and shows just how much exceptional musicianship is present here.

While being impressive, One Man Show does have its limits. The ear friendly catchiness occasionally borders on being overly pop sounding. The vocals work well for the most part, but are less impressive than the other musical elements. That’s not surprising in the jam band world where instrumental musicianship seems to have a higher priority than the development of the vocal instrument does. The vocals harmonize well and provide narrative in typical jam band fashion, but not much more. Maybe one day we will hear a jam band with soul-stirring vocals but this isn’t it. That being said we still have an impressive debut from an exciting new group that seems to have opened up vast possibilities. If you like freewheeling jammed out tunefulness with varied vibes, 30 db has a unique sound worth checking out.

An Evening of Electronic Music at Ernestine M. Raclin school of the Arts, I.U.S.B.

I.U.S.B hosted an ear opening evening of electronic music in its Recital Hall on January 17th. The first half of the evening consisted of pre recorded completed compositions from students of the I.U.S.B. music program being played rather than performed. The second half was a live electronic group improvisation from I.U.S.B.’s long running Plato and the Western Tradition Ensemble. For fans of electronic music this was a welcome and rare diversion for the Michiana area. While this was not the most exciting music to watch, it did offer listeners a ticket to intriguing sonic dimensions seldom traveled around these parts. As someone who has appreciated electronic music my whole life, I didn’t hear anything earth shaking or innovative here. What I did hear though was some very creative composition, evocative musical interplay, and musicians who were unafraid to try new things. Overall it was a solid evening of music with a few stand out moments.

Two compositions that impressed from the first half of the evening were “Rasa” by Josh Bonham and “Learn to Reason” by Mike Nolan. Both had excellent use of exotic percussion and fit right into the decentralized poly cultural music of the 21st century. “Rasa” stood out particularly not only for its creative production but for its amazing viola work performed by the composer.

The second half of the evening picked up the pace a bit as three creative musicians performed together as Plato and the Western Tradition. Marie Fryar, Mike Nolan, and ensemble founder David Barton wove a sonic web of effortless spontaneous creation. The performance never turned into a raging fire but smoldered nicely as a variety of shimmering atmospheres came into being and then vanished into ether. A few of the synth voices sounded dated and trite, but overall the group succeeded in creating a fresh and unique if not overly adventurous or impassioned soundscape. Some densely packed passages did leave me wishing for more sonic breathing room. Too much harmonic speculation can leave the listener confined to the narrow space between being and becoming. Still it is unusual to see an electronic ensemble employing musical and technical theory this evolved this creatively. This was a stripped down version of the ensemble as certain members were unable to attend. Nevertheless the well executed performance left me wanting to see the group in full force.

For events like this that lack a dramatic performance aspect I usually close my eyes and drift off to inner realms to soak up hidden nuances of sound often obscured by vision. If I can lose myself in the space between the notes I consider the music successful. Overall I have to say this was a night with many of those enjoyable moments.

“Single File” by Half Pint Jones

Local homies Half Pint Jones.

Half-Pint Jones is one of the more promising original groups to come out of Michiana in recent years has. Hot on the Heels of their infectious debut CD “Trilogy of Patches and Olaf”, these funky jammers have released their follow up CD entitled “Single File”. A marked departure from the spirited first album, this CD features shorter radio friendly tracks that have a bit more polish and compositional edge to them. The album does succeed in evolving their eclectic sound and moving their songwriting style forward but leaves some of the free wheeling funkiness behind in the process. Form outweighs feeling here, which is in direct contrast to their previous release. The fun and laid back approach to music they nailed on “Trilogy” gets distracted by more structured efforts that don’t always justify the trade off. Still the album works on the whole and shows the band has some new tricks up their sleeve.

Some of the tunes here grow on you and really shine. The songwriting and sound are growing up big but are clearly still maturing. This band has a unique musical style all their own. Great horn arrangements, soulful vocals, tight musicianship, and an eclectic groove palette are setting them apart form the crowd. It is their live chemistry though they need to keep kindled as they move into future recording efforts. On “Single File” the band’s jammy mojo is kept in the background sneaking around like a skilled ninja who infiltrated the wrong party. While still a party, the ninja has neither reason nor time to kick butt.

Half-Pint Jones deserves credit for trying something new with this album. It is nice too to see they did not try to remake the first album and are indeed evolving artistically. On their new CD they have taken another solid step towards fulfilling their vast musical potential. So many musical styles fluidly fuse into a tight batch of crafted songs here. At the same time though, they have taken a step away from some of what makes this group so magical. This CD is kind of a musical switchback in a different direction in order to get higher up the musical hill. It is a transitional album that leaves me wondering what musical mountains they will climb tomorrow. It’s a solid yet imperfect effort that left me wanting more in both good ways and bad.

“The Steps to Home” by Sean Hoffman and Nolan Ladewski with JoHn Kennedy

“The Steps to Home” is a spirited collection of Irish influenced jigs, reels, and airs from talented local musicians Nolan Ladewski, Sean Hoffman, and JoHn Kennedy. It is a side project from members of two of Michiana’s roots music powerhouses. Nolan Ladewski plays Irish music with his uncle JoHn Kennedy in Kennedy’s Kitchen and Sean Hoffman is a member of the more bluegrass oriented Goldmine Pickers. On this effort the players explore a wide range of moods and forms while paying homage to the Irish folk music tradition. This is done with original compositions and a few traditional songs thrown in for good measure.

The music here is skillfully played and well written while staying fairly grounded in traditional Irish musical forms.  Think tin whistle, fiddle, and guitar with a little bohdran drum thrown in. Fans of the style and said instruments will no doubt find lots to like about this disc and the emotive music contained therein. At the same time I know this disc is not for everyone. I myself sometimes wonder if my relatives did not leave Ireland to escape the repetitive high frequency sonic persecution of fiddle and whistle music. That being said though, the smartly composed music here does grow on you and has a lot more soul than a lot of things pervading the musical atmosphere.

The reverence and sincere love for the Irish musical tradition this group displays should not be overlooked or under valued. While not as original, innovative or adventurous as more forward thinking Irish influenced groups like Afro Celt Sound System, musical puritans like these play a valuable role in society. In a world where people forget musical history and culture as fast as major labels can clog our airwave arteries with soullessly calculated “product”, sonic purist’s efforts like this tend to the lost garden of roots music culture. You get the sense from listening to this disc that a live set from the group might just water the garden to a full flowering.

Fans of Irish or Celtic music are likely to enjoy this disc as it delivers the goods with a lot of heart and soul. Unfamiliar listeners wanting to explore the style could do a lot worse than to start here. However, if Irish music is not your cup of tea, you may want to move on to musical pastures that are not so vibrantly green.