LIVE: Eric Harland’s Rude Unkal @ The Falcon, 8/21/15
Review and photographs by Rudy Lu
“Purified garage jazz” is how master jazz drummer Eric Harland describes the sound of his current project, Rude Unkal, a gathering of virtuoso friends who each bring their seemingly diverse musical background to the project. During the band’s recent concert at The Falcon in Marlboro, the eclectic backgrounds of the musicians fused seamlessly as they seemed to challenge one another in a complex musical conversation.
Eric Harland, of course, is a much-sought-after drummer in the jazz world, having played with Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, the SF Jazz Ensemble and James Farm as well as his own band Voyager.
Percussionist Keita Ogawa has played percussion in a wide array of musical styles as varied as Brazilian percussion and classical ensembles.
The band’s co-leader Dan Rovin is known primarily as a free jazz saxophonist, and he brought to the table the sound and fury of free blowing along with the ability to play oh-so delicately.
Trombonist T.J. Robinson comes from a hip-hop and R&B background.
James Francies on Hammond B3 brought the fervor of gospel and R&B, as well as classic organ jazz to the mix.
Carlos Homs showcased considerable skills and imagination on that ancient, ’70s-era keyboard known as the MOOG synthesizer.
And free jazzer Austin White played an electric six-string bass mostly in upper registers in a style more like a lead guitar than a bass, leaving the bass lines largely to the two keyboardists.
Rude Unkal’s concert at The Falcon began with percussionist Ogawa coaxing the sounds of the jungle before Harland followed with the free-flowing style of drumming he is noted for. The rest of the band joined in instrument by instrument slowly developing a groove that underscored a free-form cornucopia of musical styles – klezmer, fusion jazz, Gregorian chant, Bach chorales (on trombone and saxophone), electric-period Miles and hip-hop. I’m sure there were many other styles mixed in there, too, that I couldn’t quite identify.
Like all so-called free jazz, the music was very mathematical but in an uncommonly organic fashion. The playing and transitions were executed with ease and looseness as well as a certain precision. And along the way, there were many smiles and much laughter exchanged between the audience and the performers themselves.
The musical adventure ended with a Bach-like flourish that instantly broke into the Buddy Miles anthem “Them Changes.” The encore was an intriguing interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” also covered by Miles Davis but not in the quite same way.
The concert was the last performance in the band’s inaugural tour and the only tour stop on the East Coast. The band has yet to record their music, but hopefully, the excitement and spontaneity of the live performance will soon be captured in the studio. As Rovin heads up his own record label and owns his own studio, that would seem to be a sure thing.