Words by: Aaron Lafont
The Dead Kenny Gs :: 10.05.07 :: Chelsea's Café :: Baton Rouge, LA
With virtually every genre polluted with bland, tasteless trash – and arguably none is more sullied than jazz (think Kenny G's late '90s cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World") - The Dead Kenny Gs have sought to dissolve the materialistic cloud that looms over much of the music industry. Combining jazz, rock, punk, funk and world music, they create an altogether unique groove similar in purpose to what Miles Davis did with the groundbreaking album, On the Corner. And live, the DKGs connect with anyone hip enough to look for a way out of the fog.
The latest incarnation of this avant-garde jazz trio featured founders Skerik (tenor sax, keys) and Mike Dillon (percussion) and this time around their Critters Buggin mate Brad Houser (bass, bari sax). All three laid waste to Mr. Gorelick's softheaded harmonic inclinations over the course of two sets at Chelsea's Café. And despite accounting for three-fourths of Critters Buggin, the DKGs instantly dismissed all notions of this being a side project as they dove deep into the fold, fusing the sounds of their influences with their own innovative dispositions.
En route to unearthing the rhythms of the past and enlivening them with improvisations fit for the future, they paid homage to the aforementioned fusion forbearer, resurrecting Miles Davis' multilayered, pulse driven "Black Satin." Many of the group's forays this night arose from Dillon's masterly, adroit, syncopated beats. Saxman Skerik propelled their tonal journey, charting its path with his Rhodes electric piano and setting its trajectory with his raucous tenor sax. However, steering the course was Houser, whose undulating bass licks fortified the ensemble's core and heralded their progression through trepid valleys and turbulent peaks.
Building upon tight, funky riffs, the DKGs utilized dynamic repetition to expand upon and contrast with their densely entrenched foundations. They struck into passages from practically every genre, exploring the modes of each until one gave rise to the next. Whether they were tinkering with the timing of traditional jazz runs, bearing down onto loose calypso jams or blowing the lid off Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath covers, they never meandered or became lost in abstract noise. Though many cuts ventured far beyond most contemporary music, the DKGs kept the audience shaking, juxtaposing the bizarre and surreal with the concrete and palpable.
| Skerik & Dillon by Sean Henry|
Dillon's psychedelic vibes jived with Skerik's beatboxing loops to generate an ambient hip-hop hybrid. Houser's fluid bass scales met Skerik's wah-steeped flurries to evoke the soul of mid '60s West Coast cool. Skerik's eerie keyboard lines echoed into the swells of Houser's creeping bass and meshed with Dillon's tablas and congas to conjure up a trance-fueled melee. Yet, perhaps nothing better embodied the message of the Dead Kenny Gs at Chelsea's than the moments when the wild improvisations of all three converged upon a cavernous hook and proceeded to blast it into sonic orbit.
The overt target of the DKGs mayhem may be to terminate the sounds of "smooth jazz" with extreme prejudice, but, overall, their undying mission is to dismantle the commercially derived, culturally perverse associations that bind jazz to the likes of Kenny G and his ilk. Anyone who signs on for their incursions will discover the true nature of jazz lies not within any predefined limits or stylistic clichés but extends from within the spirits of those who play it to resound within the spirits of those who experience it. You dig?
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