Feeding the Improvisation Addiction with Uncle Vito and Big in Japan

Long after Big in Japan and Uncle Vito completed their show on January 17, I was at a lost to review, hell, even describe what I had witnessed. I even cornered members of the bands to get their musical insights and even then I only heard the obvious. "We're all improvisational." "Our music serves as a release." "We're spontaneous." I got no adjectives. I guess it was a hint - the music and members of Big in Japan and Uncle Vito resist description. And even if I attempted to describe a segment of music, the sound was sure to change gears a few moments later. Now, days later, I struggle to put it all into words - this write-up has become a daunting task.

So, here's my attempt.

Big in Japan is a side project of Lake Trout and consists of Matt Pierce on synth, flute, sax, effects, Mike Lowry on drums, and James Griffith on bass. It's rare treat to catch Big in Japan, as they only play during Lake Trout's down time. They have one release, The Good Love Sesssions Vol. 1, and it's available at laketrout.com.

Uncle Vito consists of Rob Levit on guitar, Brian Jones on upright and fretted bass, and Rob Houck on drums. Vito mainly gigs in the Baltimore/DC/Annapolis area, but has begun touring up and down the East Coast. Uncle Vito has two releases, Live Evolution and Tao of Vito - the latter is available at fowl.com.

On to the show.

The day: A mild January 17th.

The place: The Eastport Clipper in Annapolis, MD, a fairly large venue with two bars and a good stage.

I entered the Clipper ten minutes before scheduled show time, greeted by a decent crowd of a 75 or so. Shortly after, Big in Japan took their positions on stage and launched into a piece. Their nonchalant, yet focused presence set a cool tone throughout the venue. Tight drums, simple bass, and airy flute marked their sound, a sound that was all Big in Japan and fully reminiscent of Lake Trout. The music moved from a dark ambience to drum n bass. Matt Pierce's flute and sax lines were simple, three or four note runs, no more. James Griffith's bass kept the bottom end straightforward. Mike Lowry's compound drumming helped bring the band to a slight climax. But don't think the playing was reserved, just tasteful. On stage, the ego was absent - instruments dropped in and out. The second set brought more of the same, unhurried colorful improvisation. In the crowd, the music was well received, some danced while most enjoyed the show from their barstools.

Uncle Vito finished the night out. The crowd had grown closer to 150 people when the Vito's first notes were struck. Vito's music perfectly juxtaposed Big in Japan's. Where Big in Japan kept the notes simple and textured, Vito blazed through the jam with high energy and intricacy. With ease, Brian Jones moved from double finger tapping to playing both the upright and fretted bass at the same time. Rob Levit burned through intelligently voiced rifts on his guitar with layered effects. Rob Houck attacked his five-piece kit like an animal. But don't think the playing was all show with no soul. Uncle Vito complimented their high energy by dabbling in trip hoppy grooves and atonal ambience. Vito's good communication on stage was obvious. In the crowd, the dance floor became cramped, as the people grew more and more lively throughout the set. The relationship between the audience and Uncle Vito was symbiotic.

In the end, everyone at the Eastport Clipper walked the thin line between excitement and exhaustion - that's a great feeling, highly addictive.

Tom Heim
JamBase | Annapolis, MD
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[Published on: 1/21/02]

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