Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
I started last week by seeing the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and ended last week by seeing Dead Cat Bounce. Going from JLCO to Dead Cat is kind of like switching from apple juice to hard cider: They both may come from the same source material, but only one will make you dangerous behind the wheel.
Instead of discussing polar opposites, let’s talk about a parallel band to the devilish sextet that put a brilliant capper on Proctors’ second annual “Party Horns NYC” concert series. It wasn’t just the presence of Either/Orchestra’s world-class baritone-saxman Charlie Kohlhase that made one connect the dots between DCB and Boston’s legendary big-band provocateurs. An extended listen to Dead Cat’s challenging songbook reveals the same kind of deconstructive (and reconstructive) brilliance Either/Orchestra’s rotating cast has applied to jazz for nearly four decades. An “extended listen” is what we got from DCB as altoist Matt Steckler’s piano-free unit swung for the fences over two sets at Proctors’ GE Theatre.
After an impromptu onstage interview with WEXT-FM’s Laura Glazer, the Schenectady native opened things up with “Hear My Flow.” Bassist Dave Ambrosio’s in-the-clear introduction paved the way for a slow blues that started with Steckler (on flute) and Kohlhase trading back and forth, each offering just enough dissonance to let us know that this would be a very unique evening. Before we knew it, the piece had become a bustling big-band number, with Kohlhase making the bleachers shake and Steckler back on alto and burning it up big time. When fellow front-liners Chris Bacas and Terry Goss joined Steckler and Kohlhase in some dynamic four-part sort-of-harmony, I thought back to JLCO and said to myself, “Who needs 12 horns?!”
There may be only four players on Dead Cat’s front line, but between all the instruments they collectively play, they literally had every angle covered as they split the sets between older material and music from their 2011 disc “Chance Episodes.” The closing four-part drone on “Far from the Matty Crowd” could have been anything from a flight of B-17s to the world’s largest pissed-off bumble bee. Bacas may have been dressed for a 1970’s golf outing (Worst. Checked pants. EVER.), but his clarinet work on the joyous “Township Jive Revisited” absolutely soared, and he served up sizzling tenor sax on “Angelic & Podlike.” Goss is DCB’s primary tenorman – or, at least, the one with the most seniority – and his solo on the semi-complex groover “Dis You Dear” was suitably epic, but Goss spent plenty of time on alto (with no drop in quality) so Steckler could commute between flute and soprano sax. As great as Steckler was on those instruments, it was on alto where he shined, particularly during his rolling, cathartic solo on “Tourvan Confessin’.”
And as for the (in Steckler’s words) “always heavy… Mister Charlie Kohlhase”? Well, theoretically, some of the notes he hit shouldn’t be able to come from a bari-sax, but Kohlhase has been confounding conventional wisdom for this long, so why should he stop now? The rest of the front line acted as a hysterical Greek chorus as his blues-drenched break on “The Null Set” turned our heads several revolutions. All this craziness was made possible by the tremendous foundation work of Ambrosio and drummer Bill Garbone, whose use of plastic sticks on “Township” added a nice tribal tympani sound.
DCB is not for the timid… which would explain why I was the only person in my row for the second set. The thing is, though, the people who “get” Dead Cat Bounce REALLY get them, and the standing ovation at the end of the Second Line-centric closer “Hot Peas & Butter” was truly heartfelt. And the really cool thing is that we didn’t just get a two-set piece of Matt Steckler’s musical mind; thanks to “Party Horns NYC” (of which Steckler was de facto curator), we got to hear some bands we might never have experienced in the Capital Region, and both Steckler and Proctors deserve big love for making that happen.
DEAD CAT BOUNCE SET LIST
Hear My Flow
Township Jive Revisited
Far from the Matty Crowd
Dis You, Dear
Friar Tuck’s Railroad Adventure
Angelic & Podlike
The Null Set
Hot Peas & Butter