Here's my review of "A New Brain For Arnie" which ran on the Gazette's Soundboard section last week:
A New Brain For Arnie, Stargazers, 5/21/2010
PHOTOS AND REVIEW BY BUTCH LEITZ
Bassist Kim Stone took the stage unobtrusively with the house lights up. Canoodling with one of his bass guitars, looking and sounding like he was double checking his tuning, he sat between the drums and keyboards. People were talking, finding seats, but something in my brain fired off: the initial seeming randomness of the notes while the surrounding environment was in flux was performance art taking shape, a head fake. Something in the subtle but pure notes had little nuances, almost carelessly applied, yet studied. Thoughtful. Intentional. Something was going down and nobody else seemed to be noticing. Like a private joke. But deeper than that. I noticed a few more people watching. Listening. Laughter and greetings from a crowd of people arriving and seeing friends wanted to distract me. I noticed drummer Dewey Steele working his way past amps & equipment, sitting down behind his kit, the rest of the band emerging from cubby holes backstage, all getting into place, the lights slowly dimming.
Suddenly and without provocation Stone and Steele laid down a solid funk groove the band immediately jumped in on: welcome to A New Brain For Arnie.
There are non-verbal queues the band employs for signals: a slight head nod, or Stone reaching up and curving his hand back down to change dynamics or close a song out, some eye-to-eye contact, etc. Alot of watching each other. But it’s an employed sense of composition, theory, and feel that adheres the group together and glues the audience to it. Like a school of fish suddenly changing direction en masse, the band’s direction can change that quickly. The “songs” average 10 minutes. Some longer. Some shorter or perhaps acting like bridges between other songs.
There is an inherent risk with improvisational music: you can get out in the weeds with too much self-indulgence. It may become non-committal. That did happen at least one time during the performance (the way I heard it anyway). At one point all the musicians were off playing “something” but it was an acoustical train-wreck barely strung together by a consistent beat while everyone was searching for a soft place to land and merge again. A little awkward sounding but mercifully brief before a tight funk groove came out of it. But you have to discount these aberrations as a side-effect of the genre and just roll with it if it happens.
Stone’s mastery of bass guitar is evident: slap-and-pop here, multiple note chord progressions there, ethereal riffs consistently applied then lead bass lines breaking out. Steele’s timing and force on the drums was intense but at times playful, but always insanely solid. Guitarists Michael Reese and Wayne Hammerstadt played soaring lines and wistful notes off each other while guitarist Tommy Gallagher provided balanced rhythms, accents, and counterpoint. Keyboardist Bryant Jones added various dynamics and range with anything from soft synth fills to Fender Rhodes R&B sounds to growling and snarling organ work from his Hammond B3 and 50 year old Leslie speaker system.
The overall the production and sound quality at Stargazers for this show was possibly the best I’ve ever heard there, a big fat heavy band sound well mixed and punchy but with a nice clarity. This was an enjoyable show and something that any music lover would enjoy seeing at least once. And who knows? You might get hooked.