The Thang | 10.19.01 | Sully’s Pub | Hartford, CT
There may not be an awful lot to get excited about when it comes to the bland Connecticut music scene, but if the style of the CD-release show by The Thang is any indication, there is hope. The Hartford-based quintet held sway Oct. 19 at a packed Sully’s Pub as they officially marched out their independent debut release, GrooveJazz Vol. 1 to an enthusiastic crowd that was treated to a pair of sets steeped in acid jazz, funk and organ-driven soul.
Although the band relied heavily on material from it’s impressive, all original nine-track offering, it let improvisation –- long a vital characteristic of the group –- be a key element for the performance that also featured a number of guest musicians and a smattering of interesting covers. The focal point of The Thang may be guitarist Mike Bradley and veteran keyboardist Barry Seelen, but the overall strength of the band is the depth of talent each member brings –- there are no slouches here.
As evidenced by their new disc, Bradley and Seelen have the luxury of being able to step out for some majestic forays when it comes to soloing. This is due not so much by the level of their chops or dexterity, but the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Marc Balling and bassist David Shuman. The added variable to the package is Deep Banana Blackout alum Rob Volo who offers high-stepping trombone is an unlikely, but very pleasing foil to the Bradley-Seelen combination.
After a brief set by the local funk/hip-hop collective Silent Groove, The Thang opened with a gritty version of “Bomb Jazz,” the first cut from its new release. Seelen, who has supported Mighty Sam McLain and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, locked in nicely with Shuman for the opening number and the band needed no time at all to find an on-stage understanding.
There’s no mistaking the fact that The Thang’s influences range from The Meters and John Scofield to the JBs, but Bradley’s first solo of the evening was nothing short of something from the Jeff Beck songbook circa the “Blow by Blow” period. The band followed with “The Feelin’” –- another cut from their disc -- with Seelen’s heavy right hand on the Hammond B-3 literally fixating the crowd until the midpoint of the song when a late-arriving Volo entered horn in hand.
A series of Bradley solos highlighted “Sidewall,” a Balling composition that understandably had a heavier dose of drums in it. Tenor saxophonist Kris Allen, who guested on The Thang’s new disc, joined the band for “Mr. Sneer,” a tune written for Charlie Hunter, according to Bradley. Allen, who remained on stage for the remainder of the set, combined with Volo for a fusillade of solos during “Louie’s Lunch” and an extremely funky rendition of the Beastie Boys “Groove Holmes.”
With real estate already a premium on the cramped stage, guitarist Matt Dickey joined The Thang for “Fast One” to close the first set. Dickey, who leads the New York City-based acid jazz group The Truth, traded licks with Bradley while Allen and Volo impressed at the front of the stage.
Minus Volo, The Thang returned as a foursome as it opened the second set with a sublime jazzy instrumental. This was as deceptive an opener as you could get as the remainder of the set was a literal free-for-all on stage as a veritable rotating set of players came and went. The level of intensity and risk-taking increased as The Thang was joined again by Dickey along with trumpeter Hugh Nestor (The Truth) and Matt Zeiner who settled in behind the B-3 while Seelen shifted to Fender Rhodes as the band swung into an extended Latin-flavored jam reminiscent of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va.”
Easily one of the highpoints of an evening of stellar musicianship, the near-20-minute jam gave each player a chance to strut his stuff. Particularly rewarding was the added presence of Zeiner -- who did time with Dickey Betts’ touring band –- and Nestor. While Zeiner and Seelen added an interesting tension on keyboards, Nestor, after settling into the groove, provided several outstanding solos, especially when the band did a very credible job on a rendition of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.”
The Thang’s ease of welcoming guest players on stage for challenging and unrehearsed numbers was just another example of the band’s on-stage ability to effortlessly improvise and do so with stunning results. Tight, almost disciplined musicianship may be a trait the band, but it continues to demonstrate how stretching out and having fun on stage is just as important when not in the confines of a studio. If anything, that’s what The Thang demonstrated during this memorable CD release show.
While a 20-plus minute version of The Police’s “When The World Is Running Down,” caught the crowd by surprise to close the evening’s program, there was little doubt that The Thang had left a positive impression in what is certainly a very promising start for a talented collection of players.
As the word gets around, so it seems does The Thang which has a number of dates over the next two weeks including a Oct. 27 show at Halvorson’s Upstreet Café in Burlington, VT; followed by Nov. 1 in Hartford at The Bistro at Trinity College; Nov. 9 at The Hawk’s Nest at the University of Hartford; and Nov. 11 at The Webster Theatre in Hartford where they open for the Derek Trucks Band.
The Thang’s debut is available through HomeGrownMusic.net or by e-mailing the band.
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