If you’re cruising this website, you probably don’t need to have the convoluted associations that form this “jamband” scene explained to you. For you, the jam-filled two-CD compilation Stages: Where The Music Plays The Band is reassurance that it all IS actually happening. For the uninitiated, however, this set will prove valuable as a starting point. The liner notes, written by people close to the bands, are very informative. Barry Smolin’s introduction is a good collection of thoughts that helps the listener understand the cosmic glue that somehow binds these bands into the same book.

While the compilation strives to forge a connection between varying bands like Umphrey's McGee, The Big Wu, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, at the end it winds up spotlighting the differences instead. The bands share a similar audience and a willingness to experiment, but musically this is a diverse group.

Disc one begins with a trio of tunes from Umphrey's McGee's 12.31.01 Chicago show. These tracks are the best on the disc as far as sound quality. The frenzied jubilance of New Year’s Eve is on clear display throughout the heart-wrenching “All In Time,” which preceded the countdown to midnight. “Roulette” and the sneaky “All Things Ninja” are representative versions that were culled from the same smoldering second set. This 25-minute segment will delight UM fans, and should be able to convince anyone who isn’t!

The Big Wu contributes three tracks to the disc, and they are also taken from an energetic hometown show. Recorded at First Avenue in Minneapolis, MN, these songs nicely portray the languid, breezy vibe of the then-quintet (guitarist Jason Fladager left the band in late 2002). Charming hooks dominate “Makebelievers,” and Chris Castino’s delightful, conversational vocals highlight the funky “Shoot The Moon.” Always understated, The Wu manages to make even the frenetic tempo of “Texas Fireball” sound restrained.

Uncle Sammy takes control for the rest of disc one with “#1,” a barely controlled exercise in improvisation. Starting with a twisty, fusion-tinged composed section, the song is almost immediately freed of structure and the individual talents of the band take over. This without-a-net approach results in a 20-plus minute excursion into constantly shifting rhythms and moods. Max Delaney’s intensely creative guitar playing knifes through a collage of sounds from keyboardist Beau Sasser. All the while, drummer Tom Arey and bassist Brian O’Connell dutifully bend and bounce the beat. This track is like listening to a marathon!

The opening track of the second disc, Particle’s “Ed & Molly,” fully utilizes the cliffhanging “wait, wait, don’t tell me” style of tension and release. Punctuated by a borderline ridiculous cymbal-driven dance beat, this is gooey meandering the way the kids like it, I guess! However, their second offering, titled “Ghost Highway Jam,” managed to get my jaded noggin bobbing after about five minutes of sonic flexing.

By Zack Smith
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey provides much more interesting sounds over the span of their three-track allotment. This trio is known for creating entirely new music night in and night out, and the adventurous “Son of Jah” leaves the listener caught between glorious outer space jazz travels and inexplicable audio occurrences. “Fourth Aye” brings to mind the malleable stop-start-glide dynamics of Medeski, Martin and Wood, springing between fleet-fingered funk and melody-crumbling interludes. The Grog Shop audience is then treated to the lurching noise carnival of “As It Will Be,” which has a deeply meditative feel that erupts into a spastic drum solo before returning to the comfy melody.

Now-defunct Santa Cruz band netwerk: electric tops off this all-instrumental disc with two conjoined selections from a hometown show at The Catalyst. Both tunes are aptly titled. “All Of Us” begins with minutes of warm, shifting ambience, rising cymbal rolls, and apparent noodling before it is lifted by a moonwalking break-beat. The band patiently steps into place one by one, as guitar slides down from above and keyboards zing beneath you. This is highly hypnotic, grin-inducing stuff! “All Of Us” neatly bows into the magnificent intro of “Back Home Revival.” This gospel-rooted tune bears the unique netwerk stamp of slow building jams. It eventually morphs into a genuine rave-up of jazz and church entities, like the soundtrack to an exceedingly hip sermon. In a real twist, the song moves through a decidedly synthetic fusion jam before returning to its rootsy beginnings.

Stages is a lengthy investment, but if you have the time to listen carefully you will gain a better understanding of our scene and the sounds that make it happen.

Bryan Rodgers
JamBase | North Carolina
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 5/11/03]

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