As most people in the jam band community know, being a musician isn't always glamorous. New York-based Schleigho have already had many great moments, such as opening for the Allman Brothers. However, when I talked to them backstage at the Cotton Club last Tuesday, they had just driven straight from West Palm Beach after playing a gig the night before, and they were beat. Add in the fact that it was the day after Memorial Day and the crowd was fairly subdued, and you could easily excuse an off night. Neither of these two talented ensembles were going to accept that, though, and both provided some truly stimulating and challenging music.
Yeti was first on the stage with their unique brand of musical madness. Those of you who appreciate the arduous sonic gymnastics of bands like King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra will eventually become Yeti fans, whether you like it or not. Resistance is futile. Lead guitarist Vaylor Trucks (yes, he is related to THOSE Trucks) plays with tremendous fire and enthusiasm, even if he can get a little too busy for me at times, and he has a truly fearless love of improvisation.
As it says in the liner notes to Yeti's first CD, Vaylor started this band with the specific goal of "scaring people with music," and there is much to be frightened about in their music. This is not music for for the faint of heart, to put it mildly! Strange chord progressions, odd juxtapositions, frantic tempos, and unfamiliar dissonances are the tools Yeti uses to create truly distinctive sonic environments. Your average Backstreet Boys fan would run screaming into the night about five minutes into a Yeti concert.
However, for those of us who consider Sun Ra to be "easy listening music," there is much of value here. Drummer Eric Sanders, while overbearing at times, is undeniably gifted and plays with the energy of two drummers while handling some tricky rhythms. When I commented on how aggressive he was, he smiled and said "You should see me at my other gigs, when I'm playing jazz standards with brushes! This is the only outlet I have for this kind of music."
Keyboardist Brooks Smith is truly a delight and a grounding force in the band. His "root down" sensibilities allow Vaylor and Eric to soar on flights of improvisational whimsy, while at the same time he can take a solo to some pretty wild places himself. Overall, I would have to say that anyone who appreciates truly original, different music should check Yeti out. They aren't for everyone, but they have something to offer.
Jazz really is a broad category of music. While Yeti draws on the Pharoah Sanders/Ornette Coleman/Sun Ra school of "free jazz," Schleigho is more in the classic tradition of artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. All graduates of the Berklee School of Music, they prove that not all who emerge from that esteemed institution are faceless fusion drones with too much technique and not enough soul. A fantastic version of Jaco Pastorius' "Used To Be A Cha-Cha" was the second song of their set and made clear their allegiance to the jazz world. This shouldn't be surprising, as this is a band that is equally at home playing at jam band mecca Wetlands and legendary jazz club The Knitting Factory.
While "Cha-Cha" was a brilliant vehicle for bassist Matt Rubano to dazzle me and my friends with his prowess (Anybody who can go toe-to-toe with Jaco and come out looking that good has my respect), it was guitarist/flutist Suke Cerulo who held my attention for most of the show. He played both instruments well, with a similar smooth, fluid tone, and contributed a lot to the atmospherics of the music. Those who are Charlie Hunter fans would surely enjoy the super-clean jazz licks emanating from Cerulo's beautiful old-school Gretsch.
I am not yet familiar with Schleigho's songs, but they showed a great deal of compositional maturity. Intricate breaks and unusual structures were handled with great aplomb, and technique never got in the way of the music's soul. Most of their tunes are fairly mellow, but they have the confidence and finesse to play a mellow groove without it becoming boring or repetitive. Part of this is because of their excellent stage communication, which may be aided by their setup, a near-identical replica of the "old" Phish setup with the drummer on stage right and the keyboards on stage left. Another crucial ingredient is the amount of texture and depth to their music, which gives even the simplest groove a three-dimensional quality.
And somehow, all of this interesting, compelling music was created without anybody singing a single word. As a big fan of instrumental music, I often find that words can detract from the raw, pre-verbal power of pure sound. Both of these bands have plenty to say, they just don't have to talk to say it. In the immortal words of Carlos Santana, Just Let The Music Speak! Yeti and Schleigho did that on Tuesday, and the message came through loud and clear.
JamBase Atlanta Correspondent
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