LIVE: Jazz Is PHSH @ Proctors’ GE Theatre, 1/24/19
Review by Jeff Nania
Photographs by Rudy Lu
“We’re glad to be here and glad it’s not like 30 below or whatever you all have been dealing with,” drummer and bandleader Adam Chase said when first greeting the crowd at Proctors’ GE Theater last Thursday night.
This marked Jazz Is PHSH’s second stop in Greater Nippertown, following their performance at The Egg back in June.
Before anyone in the audience had a chance to say anything, the group got right into a stream of uplifting major Phish tunes with versions of “Bathtub Gin” and “NICU.”
Tenor saxophonist Daniel Casares of the New Mastersounds took the melody first after a brief intro from the rhythm section, which was juxtaposed by keyboardist Alric Carter’s (of Tauk) improvisations between melodic statements. Trumpeter Mike ‘Maz’ Maher (of Snarky Puppy) joined Casares for the winding instrumental refrain before the horns continued this melody over Chase’s drums, while the rest of the rhythm section laid out for a nice textural change leading into the solo section.
Casares took the first extended solo of the night, which was more Karl Denson than John Coltrane, but had plenty of modern saxophone idiosyncrasies, including extended upward lines that ended in screaming high notes. Carter followed up with a Herbie Hancock-ish solo which was more about interesting phrases and ascending/descending note clusters than the Joe Zawinul-y crazy fast extended lines that French keyboardist, Domi showed off at the group’s last local show at The Egg. The song ended as a night filled with bathtub gin might with a gradual deceleration that ended with a barrage of dissonant chords and beating cymbal textures.
The group followed up in this same vein with “NICU” but showed off some new textures as Adam Chase and his brother Matthew Chase (of the Chase Brothers Band) chopped away in rhythm before bassist Nate Edgar (of the Nth Power) entered with the melodic bass line.
Casares, Maher and Matthew Chase played the vocal melody, and at this point it was apparent to anyone who knew the music of Phish just how different the extended range of the horns affected the potential for harmonies that would otherwise be done by vocalists with a similar octave range.
Maher took the first solo on this one which was perfect for this style, but perhaps nothing special. His chops and sensibilities really shone later in the night when the band covered Phish’s “Gumbo” with a jam section over Herbie Hancock’s “Sly,” and Maher had a chance to run his trumpet through a wah-wah pedal and a slight delay. Suddenly it was as if someone put on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or Live Evil records, complete with percussive click-click-clicking sounds descending from the guitar like swirling bubbles from a witches cauldron.
In true Phish fashion they broke to a medium funk groove on the keys, then a little guitar, then a little bass as they returned to “Gumbo” complete with the almost Sidewinder-era Lee Morgan horn stylings. As the tune wrapped up, both horns soloed together, and the groove took on a 12/8 roadhouse blues feel before coming to its conclusion.
The idea to add the Herbie groove in the solo section came as no surprise as this group covered Hancock’s Headhunters album in its entirety this past Halloween — just as Phish also covers entire albums for their Halloween shows.
The group showed more of this as they played an almost verbatim copy of Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” early in the evening, complete with Casares squeaking out the opening flute parts on his tenor.
At one point in the night Adam Chase addressed the elephant in the room by asking “Is there anyone here who’s not a Phish fan – like you’re just here checking it out?” as a number of audience members raised their hands.
“This next song is the song that first turned me on to Phish in high school,” he said. “There’s some audience participation… some hand claps, so let’s see if we can get that going,” and sure enough after the very first statement of the melody to Phish’s “Stash” most of the crowd came right in with a fast clap-clap-clap. The slinky minor bluesy melody by the horns and guitar was accentuated by occasional offbeat juxtaposed sections like Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” where the rhythm and texture change abruptly for a few seconds.
The melody made way to a funky breakdown with electric piano solo over the now standard changes to Jeff Lorber Fusion’s “Rain Dance.” Casares and Maher then alternated playing sections of the melody before a shredding guitar solo with thick keyboard clusters beneath it. Matthew Chase put up a fist to signal the end of his solo, and the horns dropped right in with an almost bebop lick to end the song.
“Can anyone guess this next tune based on what we’re doing now?” Adam Chase asked. “I’ll give you a hint,” he said as he snapped off a tempo and the horns played a repeated riff like Ah ah, Ah ah, and the band made its way into Phish’s “Carini,” which could only be described as badass as they dived into the borderline creepy dark nether regions of rock. Adam Chase had a small splash cymbal on his snare drum for this one to give that added “crack” sound as he arrived at every third beat for emphasis. After a long guitar solo that built up with horn backgrounds, it cut just to drums and then the beginning riff with horns again before closing.
Further showcasing their penchant for “Jazz,” the group opened another Phish tune “46 Days” with a clavinet intro that sounded almost exactly like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s funk standard “Red Clay,” further underscoring some of the similarities between Phish and the fusion and jazz idioms. It’s clear that this group thrives on these kind of connections between various eras of jazz and Phish. And that can help the music reach across the generations, which was abundantly clear by the apparent range in age of concertgoers and the fact that adding the word “Jazz” in front of the word “Phish” may be all that is needed to entice some older fans into appreciating some music they might never have gotten around to checking out otherwise.
This “listening room” format, especially with the seats pulled out in the theater, may also be another encouraging factor for folks who have never made their way through a sea of hippies at Madison Square Garden for a Phish show. It really encourages a different style of listening for Phish fans as well – much like pianist Holly Bowling’s evening of acoustic reimaginings of Phish tunes at The College Of Saint Rose’ Massry Center in May of 2016.
One other thing that is also clear about this group is that the jams, while interesting and certainly explorative, never seem to go to those ambiguous filler spaces where no direction is clear like Phish sometimes does before breaking right into another of their hit songs.
The group ended this show like they ended their show at The Egg with Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses.” The flowing melody by the horns over the accentuated ride cymbal broke into a more straight funk jam for the solo sections, and the horns took turns trading for a while before getting right back into the flow for the head out, which even had a couple of false endings that invited some applause from those in the crowd that didn’t know otherwise.
After a few minutes the lights in the theater came back on as if the show was over, but then Adam Chase walked back out and talked about his work with his brother in the Chase Brothers Band and mentioned that they play many different tributes to different artists. He encouraged the audience to check out groups like Snarky Puppy, the Nth Power and the New Mastersounds – all who had members playing in the band that night, and he may have encouraged some folks down a whole new pathway of music they might never have found.
Sure enough, this group is all about discovery. It was clear that there were some die-hard Phish fans in the audience wearing everything from tie dye shirts and harem pants to dressy blazers with accent elements featuring the autographic orange donuts that are omnipresent on Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s usual get up.
But it was also clear that there were plenty of “ordinary” folks there that just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…