Words by: Kerry Heffernan
ModQuad :: 09.29.06 :: Grog Shop :: Cleveland Heights, OH
With a funky-jazz loaded sound and the ability to take their complex improvisations into other-worldly territories, the four-man dynamo known as ModQuad - consisting of Greg Wascak (guitars, vocals), Fred Cousin (electric and upright bass), Michael Marotta (organ, Rhodes, synth) and Chris Rossvanes (drums/percussion) - has all the makings of a top-notch jam band. All that's needed is a little tweaking and the addition of some more songs to their already impressive repertoire, and then, watch out world... ModQuad will be taking this scene by storm. Hell, they are already well on their way. Although this project is an extremely recent development - the band has barely been together for one year - ModQuad has opened for big name acts such as Tea Leaf Green, Les Claypool, and Stanton Moore.
When ModQuad began their show at Cleveland's Grog Shop, their cosmic sound could be heard before the band even hit the stage. As they eased into the set, one could make out light taps on Rossvanes' symbols and some echo-like tinkering on Marotta's organ, Rhodes, and synthesizer. This celestial ambiance made the Grog Shop feel like it was about two seconds from lift-off, heading towards the second black hole to the left, and it set the stage for the first song of the evening, the obscurely titled "Orange Walk." Cousin's steady bass thumped lightly as if it was the heartbeat of some sleeping alien life-form. This extraterrestrial pulse was countered with a reverberating, wah-wah guitar echo. While the beginning notes of the song focused on this guitar, a new sound arrived quickly from the background. Marotta's keys, made incredibly alien-like by the addition of his synthesizer, melded into the background of the music. Everything echoed, and all of the sounds blended effortlessly as the lead roles were passed back and forth. These echoes, and the synth, created a light ping after every note that was played. All those pings churned, as if they were part of a wind chime being slightly disrupted by a light breeze, but the electronic elements of the evening made that wind chime seem other-worldly, not like the one hanging on your grandma's back porch. It felt like this sound should accompany a walk through a crystal forest of some sort. With just this first song, a great anticipation developed amongst the crowd. The audience had become quite engaged, almost instantly, as if they were wondering, "Man, if the first song was that trippy, what's the rest of the show going to be like?"
Michael Marotta - ModQuad
The answer to that question brings in the second component of this band's sound. ModQuad has the skill to jam without sounding redundant. They play a song that begins one way and then subtly change the entire feel of the tune in the middle of the song. They pull this gradual switch-a-roo so professionally that the listener doesn't even realize it occurred until half-way through the change. All of a sudden, your head-bobbing has changed speeds without you. A perfect example of this middle-of-the-tune movement came in the song "Mobay." The piece began as though it was part of a soundtrack to some '80s teen flick where a life-changing montage is occurring – think the Karate Kid training scenes. But then the song took a total 180 into a fast-paced, Latin-style number, complete with call-and-response drum breakdowns that pulled all of the instruments back to a collective unit. Another example of this change-in-the-middle quality could be heard in "No Quarters." The song opened with a slapping bass riff that was, well... it was ugly. It was rough and heavy, almost like a very, very, very slow Pantera riff. This intense nature continued throughout a good portion of the song. The keys played eerily in the background, adding to the dark feeling, but the addition of the guitar teased along a brighter development. As the song progressed, the mood got lighter, but the change was so measured that it didn't fully take shape until Wascak's guitar echoed triumphantly, as if signaling the end of the dark journey. I half-expected the band to bust out into some grand, epic masterpiece like "Grand Canyon Sunrise." The sound was that jubilant, and the complete departure from the song's heavy metal-like early stages created a tune that was very un-Pantera.
Greg Wascak - ModQuad
While ModQuad does have songs that invoke a few catchy lyrics, many of the melodies are all instrumental. I do enjoy no vocals shows, but I sometimes find myself becoming distracted without the stimuli of the sing-a-long element. I often begin to feel like all of the songs kind of sound the same, but with ModQuad, that distraction is nil. This band's chameleon properties don't only reside in their ability to change within the actual composition. They also reside in their ability to pull influences from many genres of music, switching feels in-between each song. All of the tunes played in Cleveland had their own sense of style and emotion and were far from stagnant. "Jaded Orpheus," a samba-style arrangement, was a complete departure from the initial spacey-sound of the first song, "Orange Walk." With a sexy vibe and a beat-keeping cowbell, ModQuad gradually moved the melody into the style's traditional improvisational section. While not straying too far from their spacey roots, ModQuad's inventiveness took an intergalactic turn, with dissonance flying all over the place and that ever-present, alien wind chime ringing through the chaos, only to be pulled back into the sensuous Brazilian sounds. The song ended with a brief pause, and then the band came right back with a tune that couldn't have been less samba, "Traveler." This funk and groove composition was ensconced with characteristic, melodic bass riffs, with solidifying slides down the instrument's neck and a percussion-like guitar style. The jams in this song were cool and breezy, and half-way through, the keys took on an almost turn-table sound. With the synth in full force, Marotta distorted and screeched his notes as if they were being scratched and remixed by a DJ. This song was the first to get the crowd really grooving, as tension and release were abundant. By the end of the show, the sizeable audience had congregated towards the front of the stage, and all were listening intently. When the band announced this impending finale, they were answered with loud cheers all around.
ModQuad is funky, jazzy, groovy, trippy, spacey, jammy and all of those other adjectives that get thrown around (which I am guilty of using). But most of all, this band is gifted. They have a great sense of awareness of one another on stage and seem to just know when it's time to jam, when it's time for someone to take the lead, or when it's time to pull it all back together. To consider that they've only been together for about a year is damn near unbelievable when you hear the brilliant sound they produce. Their ability to change both within a song, and in between songs, creates originality in their music that will soon speak to the masses. Prepare yourself for their arrival.
JamBase | Ohio
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