You have to be ready for anything when entering The Pour House in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina; and Friday night was no exception. On the bill were two bands that defy easy categorization, yet their fusion sound speaks volumes.

Opening the show was Spacestation Integration featuring Ryan Cavanaugh on electric banjo. Originally from Pennsylvania, the group moved to Chapel Hill to take advantage of the Triangle’s vibrant music scene. This band is technically ferocious. Ryan grew up playing bluegrass on his five string. While he’s light years beyond that now, the precise finger picking required to master that genre sticks with him as he crosses over into jazz melodies and his own original compositions. Guitarist John Garris stands right beside him, matching him lick for lick, their fingers flying over the frets in unison. The music starts out with a slow jazzy feel and quickly picks up the pace, building until the band unleashes a torrent of sound.

Spacestation has a keen sense of flow. Even in the midst of their most frenetic jams, they are locked in together and aware of what everyone else is doing. It’s rare that someone in the band is not taking a solo. Some of the originals freely morph from smooth melodic and jazzy, to punctuated riffs with lightning fast solos. In their quieter moments Spacestation has an almost Eastern feel. At this particular show they had a close friend sitting in with the band playing a sarod. The sarod is a traditional Indian instrument that resembles a cross between a guitar and a sitar -- although with its metal resonator neck, it is more like an Indian dobro. The Eastern sarod, together with the Western banjo creates an original sound that mesmerizes the mind while moving the body.

The band moves seamlessly from composed material to improvisation and back again. After the show, Ryan explains that the band will often begin with improvisation in one particular key, switch to another key midstream, and then start one of their original songs, often throwing in teases or quotes from old fiddle tunes. One of the highlights of the set was hearing the traditional “Whiskey for Breakfast” medley float up out of an experimental sounding jam.

Each new musician brings a different perspective to established styles and sounds. Forging ahead on a path first opened up by likeminded players such as Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck, Spacestation Integration is the next step in the evolution of the banjo.

During the short changeover the crowd grows visibly more excited as Schleigho prepares their gear. Set up in front of the soundboard, the prolific local taper Dail Reed is digitally capturing the evening on a rig that would make NASA jealous. The folks from Homegrown Music Network based in Mebane, NC, are in attendance showing their support. Even the band Perpetual Groove of Savannah, Georgia, fresh from a gig the night before in Chapel Hill, stops by to check out the show.

Then Schleigho takes the stage in their unassuming way and proceeds to light up the crowd with their experimental funky rhythms. Schleigho has been a New England feature since 1994, playing regularly at New York City clubs such as the Knitting Factory and the (now defunct) Wetlands. Over the years the group has polished and refined their sound, gradually phasing out vocals to focus on intense instrumental music.

There is no simple way to describe this band; it’s a sound unlike any you’ve heard. Take the jazz sensibilities of MMW, inject it with heavy amounts of funk, elements of rock experimentalists such as Zappa, and then add the wild other-worldly jamming associated with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and you are somewhere in the neighborhood of Schleigho.

While some of the material sounds chaotic at first, the band always keeps it together and layers their sounds to create richly textured music. As they play, I begin to notice the structure within their ten-minute plus epics, and the crowd is right there with them, grooving along to every note and unexpected change in tempo.

Schleigho puts a lot of energy into their music. Lead guitarist Suke Cerulo keeps a concentrated look on his face as he huddles over his jazz guitar, fingers flying over the frets. Occasionally he stops to pick up the flute and manages to blend in perfectly with the crazy keyboard sounds. In fact it is the keyboard player, Jesse Gibbon, who appears to be having the most fun, bouncing around between three different keyboards playing intricate solos. Erik Egol keeps things moving steadily along on drums. He has a delicate touch; incorporating some complex rhythms and a traveling feel to the beat. His drum solo impresses the crowd with its odd time signatures and subtlety. Never does he try to imitate “Animal” from the Muppets as other drummers have. It is Paco Mahone’s incredible command of the bass that grounds Schleigho’s sound and gives it new dimensions. His skill on the 6-string electric fretless bass is beyond reproach. He holds down the funky grooves while adding fills, then pulls out the stand-up acoustic bass. This monster instrument -- normally reserved for traditional bluegrass, chamber music, or light jazz -- comes alive in Paco’s hands. He plays three or four different bass solos throughout the evening, amazing all in attendance.

Finally, the exuberant crowd calls Schleigho back on stage for an encore. The musicians get right down to business, throwing down some of the tightest and funkiest songs in an evening full of experimental music. Clearly, Spacestation Integration and Schleigho represent the future of the refreshingly open-minded jam scene.

Anson Burtch
JamBase | North Carolina
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