The Wetlands was once again the nexus for some strange happenings this weekend. Spring 2001 is now more than a week old, meaning that there are now more daylight hours than nighttime, but you couldn't tell that from inside the Wetlands. Late night shows creeping into the morning hours marked two distinct points on the trajectories of two distinct local-no-more bands.
Friday night we headed down Tribeca way via cab after a wonderful,
albeit short, Stephen Malkmus set at Irving Plaza. Looking for a little late night boogie, we found the perfect antidote with ulu who had just started their first of two post-midnight sets as we walked through the door. ulu is a band that, I'm embarrassed to say, I've
never had the chance to get a full dose of despite their numerous gigs in NYC over the past year. Unfortunately and fortunately my life is one in which decisions must be made, but Friday I was ulu's
for the taking.
The band was making it's return to the Wetlands after a "big" 6-week tour taking them to lands beyond the comfortable realm of the Wetlands Preserve. Without having too much previous experience with which to compare the performance, billed as a "welcome home party," I noticed the band seemed both happy to be "home" and well-polished from weeks on the road. Their playing was tight and inspired and highly energetic from pretty much beginning to end. Anchored in the deep funky rhythms of Dave Hoffman's happy, bobbing drum work and the electrifyingly groovy bass work of Justin Wallace (who has one of the best "me-so-funky" scowls you'll see), ulu extended the gala well into Saturday morning keeping the pleasant Wetlands crowd moving all night long.
Scott Chasolen on keyboards and Aaron Gardner on sax and flutes compounded the rhythm section with thoughtful soloing and terrific intermingling melody. The band is heavily rooted in a Hancock/Headhunters brand of funkiness with an updated nod to today's techno/trance scene. All the while, they're not afraid to open up the simple-yet-deep grooves to longer explorations without getting mired in excessive noodling. Their chemistry is apparent as they twist groove jazz and techno breakbeats very smoothly with high energy jams that are 100% danceable. I wish I could say more, but my utter unfamiliarity with their material leads me only to conclude that ulu is a get-down-to-it groove/funk band with some serious brains. I'm definitely looking forward to checking out more from these guys in the future.
Saturday night we decided to forgo a trip back to the sure-to-be-
packed Irving Plaza for the Funky Meters and instead returned to
161 Hudson St. to witness the flip side of the ulu welcome home
gig. Boston's Uncle Sammy was using the Wetlands as the
launching pad for their own "extended" tour that will jettison them
from familiar surroundings as far as Key West, FL. I have had the
pleasure of seeing Uncle Sammy on a couple of occasions. While
I'm not about to tune up the car and head on down I-95 with the
band, they have a certain undeniable appeal, especially if you
enjoy long, brain-tickling jams.
Uncle Sammy is the type of band that will probably, for the time being, first bring thoughts of Phish to mind. They are a guitar, bass, drums, keyboard band (featuring Max Delaney, Brian O'Connell, Tom Arey and Walter "Beau" Sasser respectively) that just loves to noodle endlessly on jazz, funk, fusion themes. But I hate to pigeon-hole a fresh, young band like that - Uncle Sammy certainly has their own branded identity, for better or worse. For one thing, unlike Phish, the band attacks the techno/trance grooves with much greater zeal, appealing widely to a dance-happy young crowd.
While "US" isn't for everyone, they are certain to find their niche in the boon of jambands out there. To get an idea if you would dig this band at all, one quick test would be if the fact that they covered/teased Steely Dan ("Peg"), Weather Report ("Teen
Town"), and Grant Green ("Windjammer") during the course of the show last night appeals to you at all. Another test would be if the fact that not one of their songs, by my count, clocked in at under 15 minutes last night appeals to you at all. Many times these jams flipped over and over into completely new realms until finally returning back home again to the initial riffs leaving you with that befuddled deja-vu feeling 45 minutes later.
While I wouldn't say that each jam was 15+ minutes of pure bliss - oftentimes the music would meander unneccessarily, other times shift gears between genres too abruptly - there always seemed to be at least a few moments of smile-inducing brilliance that made any tedium worth enduring. Each member of the band showed prowess taking the "lead" during the jams, and like ulu, the band will certainly grow great chemistry with night-in-night-out playing on the road. Already the band seems to be very aware of each other through these extended bits, interacting very maturely and building to wonderful climaxes as one cohesive unit.
I was particularly impressed with Delaney on the Ibanez guitar who
not only took well-trained solos which stood up on their own merits,
but showed a real prowess for manipulating the present state of the
full-band jam into his own playing. At one point while Sasser was
laying down a heavy clavinet fueled solo, Delaney brought up his
rhythm work in volume and tempo. His funky strumming accentuated the keyboard work but did not overtake it. Finally, as the jam's lead slipped from keyboards to guitar, Max fractured the chords he was playing, spreading out the notes over time creating a wonderful segue into his string work. Many of his solos had this kind of great overlapped feel to them that gave some coherence to otherwise wandering sections. Arey is a tight backbone to the Uncle Sammy groove, whose talents are highlighted when the band attacks the more trance-laden portions of their repertoire. He has complete control over the techno beats and sets the tone with which the band can lay down nice, swaying ambient music. High octane climactic jams, some more beautiful understated bass-lead improvised sections and compositions themed in funk, reggae, rock and techno are the order of the day with Uncle Sammy.
If you're into the long-tight jamming side of bands like Phish and
their descendants, Uncle Sammy is certainly worth a try if they're
coming to your town. There's always a chance you'll be bored stiff
by their music, I'm not guaranteeing anything. But there's also a
good chance that, if you give them a shot, they will blow you away,
if only for a moment. I'm sure at this stage in their career, their
ticket can't be too much of a tug on the wallet, so give 'em a try.
They might not get the chance for a play-til-4am marathon like
Saturday>Sunday at the Wetlands Saturday night - the situation in
which they seem to thrive - but I'm sure they'll make the most out
of their time "abroad" and turn a few heads along the way.
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" - FZ
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music!