Sunday, December 15, 2019

FTW, 12.14.2019

About 20 years ago, when I first proposed the idea of an instrumental R&B band to Robert Cadwallader (RIP), he replied, "We can't go onstage without a singer. They'll kill us!"

That was before the backing musos from Brad Thompson's Undulating Band morphed into Bertha Coolidge -- who have their annual reunion next month, and whose Black Dog Tavern gigs provided an entryway to jazz and improvised music for lots of folks -- and Confusatron evolved from a downtown busking trio (back when such was possible) to an eight-headed hydra that used to regularly raise the Black Dog's roof a couple of years after Bertha folded.

Some of that spirit was present last night at Shipping and Receiving, where Rage Out Arkestra played a rare engagement, with Barber Mack opening.

There are a lot of streams that meet up in both of these bands. Rage Out's master percussionist Eddie Dunlap and keyboardist Joe Rogers played together in Master Cylinder, a Canterbury-ish fusion band that released an LP on Inner City way back in '81. They subsequently worked together for years in the pit band at Jubilee Theatre, for whom Joe composed dozens of original musicals. Also in that band was Chris White, a triple threat on bass, flute, and trumpet, who only plays the winds in Rage Out. Chris was a mainstay of the Black Dog's long-lived Sunday night jazz sets, where tenorman David Williams was also a regular. Trap drummer Parker Anderson (Dead Vinyl) and percussionist Diudonne Samudio came out of Mondo Drummers, the hand-drumming and percussion ensemble Eddie has taught and led since 1994. Guitarist Darrin Kobetich (Boxcar Bandits, Agita) met Eddie while working on a production for Hip Pocket Theatre, and they briefly played together in a surf/spaghetti Western-themed band a couple of years ago. I remember bassist Danny Stone from nights with pianist Johnny Case at the old Sardines Ristorante; more recently, he's been gigging with blues cat James Hinkle.

Barber Mack was originally formed in 2006, but returned from a lengthy hiatus a year ago to hold down a Monday night slot at Lola's. Josh Clark, son of blues guitarist Jerry Clark, hit the scene in 2005 and quickly made a name for himself playing drums and percussion with seemingly everybody, finally forming a band with brothers Matt and Andrew Skates from Confusatron. He hooked up with guitarist Ron Geida (one of my favorite clear thinkers -- an imperturbable cat whom Kobetich says has "that Chet Atkins thing") and bassist John Shook in a reggae band called Kulcha Far I that toured, but fell apart on the road, leading to Barber Mack's formation. Josh actually quit playing for ten years, operating a bike shop down the street from me for some of that time. His always-stellar chops have gained maturity and depth, and a year of regular gigging has given Barber Mack a solid band dynamic. On this night, they were joined by Chris Watson on keys.

Both bands draw on multiple musical streams: jazz, funk, blues, rock, reggae, "world music" (Joe Rogers initiated a nice Indian-flavored interval near the end of Rage Out's first set). Gone are the days when a jazzer of my acquaintance watched Confusatron for an hour before sniffing, "It sounds like one long vamp waiting for something to happen" and hitting the door, or another would walk off a gig the moment he saw a Fender bass onstage. All the players have big ears, both in terms of being open to different genres and listening to each other.

In the brief hearing I had, Barber Mack seemed the tighter of the two ensembles. They recently broke the seal on an early Sunday night gig at the reopened Moon. I need to hear more of them. Rage Out played with more abandon, with Eddie directing the band from behind his percussion array. (I once saw him play for an hour at a school for medically fragile, multi-disabled kids, playing for each of 70 students in turn, finding something each of them could respond to. He's a special musician who elevates any ensemble he plays with.) Chris White would walk off to the side of the stage where people were dancing, while Dave Williams held center stage, blowing one muscular solo after another, and Darrin danced to his left, squeezing out stinging, blues-inflected lines through a Univox amp that used to be his dad's, bowing his Les Paul a la Song Remains the Same Page at one point. I could stand to witness a lot more nights like this.


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