Bridgeport, Connecticut might not be the most likely starting point for the number one band "on the verge," as listed in the most recent Relix, but why the heck not? To put it mildly, the fully-pedigreed trio of Raisinhill has got chops and is clearly deserving of such accolades. The members of the band - Jon Kasiewicz on guitar, Brian Anderson on upright bass, and Jay Bond on drums - are all professionally trained musicians, not some band that managed to open the door to their garage. Anderson studied Jazz Bass Performance at the University of Miami, Florida, and Bond attended Loyola University in New Orleans where he majored in musical composition and drums. He also studied with Johnny Vidocavich (Astral Project) and has performed with a solid "who’s who" of musicians that we should all want to listen to more. Kasiewicz studied under the composer (and, in some sense, guru) Ernie Stires (who of course served as Trey Anastasio's mentor) while attending Goddard College in Vermont.
After listening to their recently self-released and self-titled album, I became intrigued and finally managed to catch up with Kasiewicz as he and his band mates were making there way to a gig at Club Metronome in Burlington, where they would be playing with Dave Grippo. The band came together innocently enough about a year and half ago. Despite going far away for their musical education, they all returned home to Connecticut. Kasiewicz and Anderson, who attended the same high school but had never previously hooked up musically, were playing together at an open mic night when Bond, sitting in the audience, approached them. Suffice it to say, things clicked. These days, music is all these guys know – if they are not playing with Raisinhill, they are busy giving music lessons. As often as they can, they still play together at the same open mike night, as it is there that they figure things out. As Kasiewicz told me, it isn’t until they test their material live that they really know what works.
Their music is very much an organic process. When writing songs, one member of the band will often come in with an idea, a theme, and as a unit they will begin to build around it. Naming songs is similarly open ended, as they have been known to take suggestions from their devoted audience in the Connecticut area. Trying to categorize their sound, to their credit, isn’t easy. About the only thing that popped in my head more than once was Steve Kimock, but when I mentioned that to Kasiewicz, he said that no one in the band was really familiar with Kimock’s music. Turning the question around, when I asked Kasiewicz what music had shaped his, and the band’s, sound, he simply replied, "Everything we’ve ever listened to." Fair enough.
The album is a collection of instrumental journeys, with each one going in a different direction. Most prominent throughout is Bond’s strong drumming – he doesn’t allow the listener much chance to relax. It is often as though he is two drummers in one, playing both rhythm and his own melodies at the same time. This isn’t to say, however, that Kasiewicz and Anderson aren’t doing their fair share. Anderson completes the foundation started by Bond, but also finds room for his own departures, pulling out non-typical parts of the chord to give the music added color, and sometimes bowing his upright bass to add a different wrinkle. With all that going on, Kasiewicz wisely plays more – or, perhaps more fittingly, less – than just the lead. He plays within the context of his mates, not overpowering as often happens in a trio with guitar at the front. His solos are both beautiful and technical, leaving you with melodies you can remember (sometimes a rarity in these days of neo-funk) and skills you admire. Outside the music the band shows further thoughtfulness; recognizing that many songs on the album are intense, they and their producer, Jay Crouch, interspersed a number of tantalizing short tracks to allow a listener a chance to catch his breath before taking off once more.
If there was one criticism of the album that stands out, it’s that the songs are almost too structured and at times seem to restrict Anderson and Kasiewicz. It’s hard to really blame them for that, however, as it: a) shows that they are really trying to compose (and they do a good job of it); and b) shows they are a unit and not a collection of soloists pretending to operate as a group. It’s more a matter of being greedy on my part: while the album is one of the more enjoyable recent studio efforts from the ever-burgeoning jamband community, you can tell that these guys are capable of a lot together, and you want to hear it now.
In fact, wanting to confirm that guess, I asked the band for something live to check out, and they were kind enough to share a show from last Halloween. It was while listening to this that Raisinhill fully came to life. Their assertion that their live shows are a kind of laboratory proved to be an understatement. Musically, the playing takes more chances, and does so successfully – solos go different places, songs are teased in and out, etc. And it’s clear they are having fun, covering songs from the more obscure (for example, Pat Metheny) to the better known but still surprising (Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" – hey, it was a Halloween show, remember?). In addition, they show a bit of technical savvy, looping samples of themselves to add more layers to the music, or using audio clips to add another bit of spice (for example, Vincent Price’s voice during "Thriller", or "inviting" a special guest, in this case Cartman from Southpark, to jam with them). Whatever the case, they put their own unique and enjoyable stamp on the music. Until their tour manages to make its way more completely around, and you are in need of something new, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you check out their album. You might not have heard of Raisinhill until now, but I’m guessing you will again in the near future.
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