Anyone who has seen Skerik on stage knows it's OK to be afraid. I'm not sure where his name comes from, but to me it's a cross between "scary" and "hysterics" which sums up his persona pretty well (naming himself "Freak" wouldn't have sufficed, would it?). So when a CD came in the mail for return bearing Skerik's name and the word "taint" with packaging all dressed up in quasi-psychedelic pink artwork I was a little tentative about the music contained within.
Upon popping the CD in, however, I realized I had nothing to fear. You see Skerik is like that guy in your high school who sits in the back of the class making snide comments and generally wreaking havoc on normalcy... and then when test time comes and it's time to step up to the plate, he aces every exam. Consider Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet and their debut album on ropeadope as Skerik's final examination in big band jazz. Over the course of the 9 tracks, the horn-heavy ensemble weave in and out of every imaginable style of music that's ever been played with multiple horn players. In the process, they evoke a wide range of masters. The liner notes give an explicit nod to Thelonious Monk's Octet, but Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown's JB Horns as well as Frank Zappa are all implicitly (though possibly not intentionally) intoned.
The expectation for Skerik to take this group of Seattle-based heavyweights "out there" is only satisfied once or twice. Refreshingly, the band stays truer to a jazz milieu while patching in the "weirdness" through drop-kick transitions and cut-and-paste compositions. Perhaps the most satiating quality of the recordings is the not-so-easily-attainable tight group dynamic over a live-in-studio sound (the disc was recorded in a live setting in Seattle, but the takes are so clean and the playing so decisive that it has a loose studio feel). Skerik is not so much the forefront of the music, nor does he claim sole songwriting claims for barely any of the disc. Instead it is his leadership of a large ensemble, in the style of the greats I've mentioned before, that demands our attention. The band is cohesive all the while being a brass-tastic dynamo of sounds.
The septet is five horn players: Steve Moore (trombone & Wurlitzer Electric Piano), Hans Teuber (alto sax & flute), Dave Carter (trumpet), Craig Flory (baritone sax) and Skerik, of course; as well as Joe Doria on Hammond organ and John Wicks on drums. The sound is big and tight and moves easily between styles without the weight of interjected guitar passages or steady basslines or really a single *solo*. Along the way the music plays funky, electronic, jazzy, Middle-Eastern-exotic and just in-yo-face fun, but never does it feel it needs to commit to one style or another. Where Skerik might have his name attached to the band, the disc would be nowhere without Wicks' steady handling of all the flipping between influences and genres. Each song is punctuated by the drums and were it not for Wicks' able direction, the transitions within and between tracks could easily become jarring and discomforting.
Not a track feels forced or too whacked out or out of place. A half a dozen listens on end revealed endless areas for spelunking my ears into. Perhaps my favorite number is Teuber's "Too Many Toys" which would fit in perfectly with Zappa's big band arrangements on The Grand Wazoo. On the flip side, "Let Me Be Your Voodoo Doll" could be the sequel to Gillespie's "Caravan." That's just a taste of what the Septet has to offer... you'll have to check out the Syncopated Taint yourself to find out more.
Ned-O-Matic rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
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