Words by Shain Shapiro
Kobayashi :: 02.25.06 :: The Pepper Jack Cafe :: Hamilton, ON
Montreal has been lauded as the primary breeding ground for Independent rock lately. Yet, all these descriptions have failed to relay the accolades to other music communities flourishing in Montreal, like electronic, jazz, and hip-hop. While musically pigeonholing a city of over-a-million is a facetious task by nature, the mainstream music press has latched onto the backs of many Montreal-based acts that embody a somewhat similar aesthetic, be it The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Aids Wolf, or Islands. So, notwithstanding the argument that these pieces, including one I wrote for JamBase a few months ago are inherently flawed, the mainstream media dictates what the populace listens to, and if one scene in Montreal is the flavor of the month, than the rest have to sit and watch on the sidelines. Yet, the bilingual metropolis is a sonically rich place, worthy of more in-depth looks than the media can provide. Look for the music that Win and Regine listen to while relaxing at home or the impressive local contingent at the Montreal Pop Festival line-up, for example. Just one inebriated, ten-minute stroll along St. Laurent at 3 a.m. will verify the diversity and talent, in both French and English.
One act that has been cleverly combining the alternative influences rooted in Montreal's music community is Kobayashi. Since their inception in 2000, Kobayashi has become one of the most noticed groove-jazz meets hip-hop bands in Canada, combining eccentric horn arrangements, sultry female vocals, and trenchant bass lines that whip up eclectic beats and smooth harmonies along the lines of the Thievery Corporation, Medeski Martin & Wood, and Ivana Santilli, all at once. It is smart, sexy music; reserved but flirtatious, funky but not too funky, maintaining an element of surprise that all close encounters need.
Pawa Up First
After a successful trip to Toronto, the septet rolled into Hamilton on a frigid Saturday night, along with fellow Montrealers Pawa Up First. It took some effort to brave the wind to complete the twenty-five minute walk to The Pepper Jack Cafe from my flat, but by smartly wearing two pairs of socks and a fleece hood, I meandered through Hamilton's mysterious side streets. As I walked in on Pawa Up First, I affirmed my decision of choosing to freeze, rather than stay home. Pawa Up First is an instrumental four-piece that plays highly unorthodox post-rock. While they mostly abided by the quiet-than-loud methodology that guides the genre, they interspersed itinerant guitar strikes, choppy keyboard stabs, and highly syncopated drum lines that crafted a sound that almost sneered at the usual conventions surrounding post-rock. Clumps of jazz, alternative rock, and ambience peered in and out, exhibiting a mature sound that could soon rival any other band experimenting with similar sounds. Chalk up another winner for Montreal.
Kobayashi was up next and proceeded to put on a stylistic clinic on how to properly mould jazz, hip-hop, and funk without making it sound contrived, generic, or bland. With vocalist Eleni Gogas and sax wizard Josh Gearey at the helm, Kobayashi ran through ninety minutes of pure soul, masked by jazz, hip-hop, and funk. Primarily featuring cuts off their only full length, Strange Lights and Resolutions, Kobayashi attacked each style with supreme musicianship and careful attention to detail, inherently understanding what to leave out in order to emphasize everything that is crammed in. Whether it was deep, electronic-infused funk, female-fronted vocal soul, organic, politically charming hip-hop, or a combination of the three, Kobayashi pulled it off eloquently and exceptionally.
Throughout each selection, an internal temptation washed over each song, beckoning the collective to abandon accumulated harmonic sensuality in order to roll out a widespread, horn-fuelled funk party. While this on paper seems like a top-quality idea, the vibe in Pepper Jack's and the emotions emanating from the stage rarely steered the music in that direction, even if the transition would have been flawless. Instead of just jamming for a few minutes until the band reached climax, Kobayashi stretched out the playful sections, teasing everyone in the audience with soft, laid-back melodies for longer moments, ultimately enhancing the climax when the song eventually exploded. Trust me, it climaxed, but not until the melody was good and ready.
Saturday night at Pepper Jack's exemplified another unique, highly original blend of music born and bred in Montreal, but this time, the mainstream media does not have a clue. While I do wish continued success for both Pawa Up First and Kobayashi, the show was so good that I almost want to keep them both to myself. But I am willing to compromise.
JamBase | Montreal
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