Posts Tagged 'jam bands'

Gun Metal Black

Gun Metal Black Cooks. Every so often a band comes along that serves up their own piping hot original recipe on a silver shiny platter. Fresh quality ingredients you know and love are put to new creative uses and simmered together in tasty ways you had not thought of. Gun Metal Black (GMB for short) is just such a band. Part rock, part jazz, part funk, and all jam, GMB is a blistering fusion of sound and styles for the new millennium.

GMB is a band with stellar musicianship and wicked chops. They don’t hide behind the usual clichés, instead they circumnavigate them all together. They take improvisation to new horizons and always keep it live. Just when you think you have them pegged, they hit you from a different angle. Like the smaller transformers that join together to make the giant menacing robot Devastator, this band is more than the transforming sum of its parts. Each member brings a diabolical tool kit to the table to help craft a one of a kind collective synergy. Together they build worlds of unexplored sound, with each member upping the ante and stepping out front when the time is right.

Guitarist Marcus Robinson is a soulful brother with deep roots in a range of musical styles. He has played in and out of more boxes than a cat in a box factory. He brings it all out of the guitar-Wailing leads, ambient textures, subtle grooves, jazzy chords, and scorching pedal work. Drummer Skeeto Valedez is like a Mack truck of rhythm roaring down the super groove highway. There is no stopping this well engineered meter machine. Bassist Peter Chwazik has a flow and groove that keeps the band’s wild improvisations sounding tight and clean. He can push, he can pull, but most of all he can lay it all down and hold it together. Keyboardist Brandon Chase is like an impressionist painter adding countless colors to an ever-morphing soundscape. He effortlessly opens up new harmonic dimensions weaving rich webs of sound with astonishing technique.

To see GMB is to see a sonic meltdown where the energy of rock, the freedom of jazz, the creativity of jam, and the soulfulness of funk are forged into a new unbreakable alloy. This is a band of fearless musical adventurers who take listeners for a wild and fun ride with each and every show. In a world with so many cookie cutter bands, Gun Metal Black offers listeners a refreshing musical experience that is as stratospheric as it is down to Earth. Check this red-hot force of nature out for yourself and see just how many ways a band can rock when they throw away all the rules.

Mantis by Umphrey’s McGee

“Mantis” by Umphrey’s McGee is an intriguing amalgamation of solid musicianship and creative studio song crafting. It is an ambitious and eclectic work that harkens back to the golden era of progressive rock. This album works, but ultimately leaves something to be desired. While a solid effort in a bold new direction, it doesn’t quite conquer the band’s notorious case of “jambanditis”, also known as “the noodle syndrome”. This common jamband affliction in which technically proficient musicians substitute endless exploratory improv riffage for well honed cohesive songs has dogged the group in the past and is not quite transcended here. The band deserves credit though. They seem to be moving in the right direction by painstakingly crafting multidimensional music that benefits from their formidable musical skills. On “Mantis” they come closer to hitting a difficult target often missed by jam bands-using musicianship to serve songs, not just using songs to serve musicianship.

While listening to this album I heard echoes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, E.L.O., Queen, Van Halen, the Who, Supertramp, and Styx. These are all bands that spent a great deal of time in the studio perfecting their sound and songs. Theirs was the era of the album and arena, but it was the album that always came first. Touring came after they had something new to say. The remarkable musical tightness of Umphrey’s has evolved through constant touring yet I can’t help but think how much better this album could have been if Umphrey’s spent less time on the road. This album was pieced together throughout several tours and often sounds like it. While not as A.D.D. as some of their other works, the album still seems a quite scattered compared to the best works of the groups mentioned above.

Mantis is a mixed blessing. One can hear that the band is starting to learn that you don’t need a million chord changes and gratuitous odd time signatures to craft good music.  Yet throughout the album interesting elements are thrown into songs that don’t really benefit from them. Still Umphrey’s impressive command of dynamics and musicianship is being channeled in an interesting new direction that grows on you with repeated listening. The album catches on fire at times but ultimately only hints at what they may achieve. Umphrey’s McGee could very well raise the musical bar for the jam band and rock worlds if they put the kind of energy and dedication into studio song crafting that they have been putting into touring. “Mantis” is a good first step in this direction.

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.

“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.