Saturday, June 23, 2018

6.22.2018, Fort Worth

These days, it takes a lot to get my lazy ass out of the house. But when three bands I want to see are playing at our old stomping grounds Lola's Saloon, I can make an exception. Lola's, of course, is Brian Forella's successor to the late, lamented Wreck Room, which was our second living room for a few years, back when my wife still lived a couple of blocks down West 7th and even after we moved a couple of miles further west, but I was playing there with Lee Allen every Wednesday night. On this particular night, she brought her camera for the first time in a few years, and we saw lots of good friends that we hadn't for a minute.

Justin "Hush Puppy" Robertson put together an ace bill, topped by local faves, the synth-driven doom duo Pinkish Black (whose new album, working title Concept Unification, is skedded for an October release on Relapse and sounds to these feedback-scorched ears like the strongest set of material yet from these guys), with support from transcontinental free jazz quartet Humanization 4tet (who'd played dates in Houston, Big Spring, and Denton since I saw them play together for the first time in seven years on Monday) and Dim Locator (playing their first Fort Worth gig since Will Kapinos expanded the lineup from a one-man band to a trio a couple of years and some 20 shows ago).

Dim Locator's performance took its place among my "most memorable Will Kapinos moments": the first time I saw him in Deep Ellum with Jetscreamer some 15 years ago; the time he backed Pinkish Black's Daron Beck on a wrenching version of "I Put A Spell On You" at a 2010 memorial show for Beck's Great Tyrant band mate Tommy Atkins (which I've only experienced via Youtube because HIO split right after we played, but yeah); and the times I saw him weaving guitars with Jason Wortham in the recently disbanded Dove Hunter. With able support from Matt Riley on bass and Jeff Barnard on drums, Will's free to explore the possibilities of the rock power trio from many angles. "Like the Allman Brothers with three people," my friend opined. "Like Sun Elvis with more electricity," I countered. As they warmed up, they even careened into Nantucket Sleighride Mountain and Tres Hombres ZZ Top territory. A most satisfying performance from a band I now want to hear more.

A couple of days on the road had tightened and deepened Humanization 4tet's connections, and their enhanced cohesion and communication were evident from the jump. Stefan Gonzalez directs the proceedings from behind his traps, showing more of the explosive force of his Akkolyte and Orgullo Primitivo incarnations than I was accustomed to hearing from him in a jazz context. His brother Aaron Gonzalez's stand-up bass underpinned the sound with rumbling double-stops and guitar-like strumming. Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado has a huge sound on tenor, tinged with the romance of Ben Webster and the untrammeled soul cry of early Gato Barbieri. Guitarist Luis Lopes turned up and dug in more than he had at Deep Ellum's RBC on Monday (having Will's Twin to play through might have helped), kicking on distortion to thicken up his pointillistic lines and jagged chords, using a slide to conjure searing feedback lines. The quartet has stops in Shreveport, Tulsa, and Austin coming up, culminating in four dates in New Orleans that will include a live recording at Marigny Studios. It'll be something to hear.

The rough mixes of Concept Unification I've heard show Pinkish Black continuing to refine and deepen their process, developing simple thematic material into an aural entity that's as richly detailed as it is dark and powerful. Jon Teague's synths are playing a bigger role in their wall of sound, and his drumming wields cathartic violence with precise control. (One looks forward to hearing the recordings that Pinkish Black made this spring with Yells At Eels, the Gonzalez brothers' trio with their trumpeter father Dennis Gonzalez.) Daron Beck remains an underrated front man -- the result, I think, of his propensity to use vocal effects to integrate his singing into the total sound -- and his keys and synths generate as much droning and slashing energy as a couple of guitars might. It's been thrilling to watch these guys evolve over the last eight years, and hopefully their fourth album will propel them to even wider notoriety, here and abroad.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

6.18.2018, Deep Ellum

My first visit to Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions -- the Stefan Gonzalez-curated evening of creative music that goes down Mondays at RBC (the acronym stands for "Rhythm Beats Culture," the room formerly known as the Red Blood Club and before that, a friend informs me, a blues joint going back to Blind Lemon Jefferson's day) -- occurred on a particularly auspicious evening. Humanization 4tet -- a transcontinental outfit comprising a Portuguese front line (guitarist Luis Lopes and saxophonist Rodrigo Amado) and a Dallas riddim section (Stefan on drums and his brother Aaron Gonzalez on bass) -- was making their first appearance in seven years to kick off a short US tour that will also include a stop in Fort Worth this Friday, at Lola's with Pinkish Black. Also on the card: Ataraxia, the jazz/world music trio led by Stefan and Aaron's father Dennis Gonzalez; the estimable, peripatetic Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani; and a new trio teaming bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (The Thing, The Young Mothers) with guitarist Tom Carter and drummer Lisa Cameron.

Ataraxia has evolved a great deal since recording their imposing debut double LP Ts'iibil Chaaltun. The three men are now so deep into the music and each other's heads that from the gate, the body language as bassist Drew Phelps and percussionist Jagath Lakpriya weave their strands of time around Dennis' burnished lines radiates joy and ease. Their short set (plagued by some feedback problems early on) included the Sri Lankan folk melody "Ukusa" sandwiched between two Gonzalez classics: "Namesake" (a highlight of the album and their live shows since their inception) and "Hymn for Julius Hemphill," on which Gonzalez played a flugelhorn that previously belonged to the iconoclastic trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon.

To these feedback-scorched ears, Tatsuya Nakatani took the show. His modus operandi is "sound production by any means necessary." Set up on the floor amid the audience, he started out coaxing a surprising array of sounds from a single gong (on some dates, he directs and performs with ad hoc Nakatani Gong Orchestras) using beaters and bows, the singing harmonics he conjured forming consonances and dissonances, using his kick drum to emphasize lower frequencies and create an aural effect like a summer storm. He moved to a small trap set and an array of small instruments -- cymbals, bowls, beaters and bows -- that he cycled through rapidly, thinking on his feet, always maintaining a constant flow of rhythmic and tonal sounds, in a manner that appeared chaotic but also demonstrated an intimate familiarity with his tools and a hair-trigger musical imagination. Moving back to the gong, he brought the music to a swirling orchestral crescendo that had one misguided listener high-fiving the sound tech, climaxing in a crash that collapsed the instrument's frame, which only made the performance more cathartic.

Humanization 4tet was working through some equipment issues: Saxophonist Amado's horn had required repair of a pad, which necessitated a quick trip up to Denton earlier in the day, and guitarist Lopes was using a teardop-shaped guitar (with a Bigsby!) borrowed from the Gonzalez's after-school music education program La Rondalla due to some issues with his own axe, run through Tom Carter's Ampeg. Amado blows tenor from the bottoms of his feet, like The Thing's Mats Gustafson or The Young Mothers' Jason Jackson. Lopes splinters shards of sound, using only a couple of distortion pedals and a Cry Baby wah, F/X-wise (man after my own heart). Much of the melodic direction seemed to come from the Gonzalez brothers -- Stefan grounding the sound with pure power, Aaron dancing atop his brother's pulse with constant invention. On the final piece, they were joined by dancer Ali Honchell, whose movements fused ballet and modern and brought another dimension to the performance. They'll record live at NOLA's Marigny Studios on June 29.

We had to cut out and head back to Fort Worth before Ingebrigt's new trio started (three old guys who aren't accustomed to being out till 3am anymore), but I hope to catch them on another occasion soon. And will surely be back at RBC for more Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Blankz's "White Baby"

Hardcore (in both senses) record buyers dig their seven-inches. Just think of the L.A. supergroup Off! starting their career with four EPs. Now, Phoenix-based punkeroos the Blankz are going them one better, kicking off their run with a planned series of nine singles, to be compiled as a full-length LP once completed. The concept is possible because Blankz mastermind Tommy Blank, aka Thomas Lopez, is the founder-owner of estimable indie Slope Records. He connected with Jaime Blank (aka Jaime Paul Lamb) during a 2016 session with Jaime's band Moonlight Magic, and pitched a collaboration.

Their first release, "White Baby," has an intriguing theme: Blank/Lopez's background (he's the result of a union between Irish-French-German parents, adopted by a Mexican-American family) and resultant identity confusion. Flipside "Sissy Glue" deals with the time-honored punk-delinquent propensity for sniffing airplane glue. Both are short, sharp shocks, filled with irreverent yuks, sounding like an amalgam of early Ramones (when Tommy was still on board, before they all hated each other's guts) and Devo (thanks to synth player Nikki Blank, moonlighting from all-woman garage outfit the Darts). Ex-Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood produced. It'll be fun to see where this project goes as the band develops.