I thought Art Good was nuts.
There, on the Sunday morning lineup of the 2001 JazzTrax Catalina Island Festival was this band, "Action Figure Party."
"Action Figure Party?!"
The band consists of twentysomething musicians from bands like "Garbage," "Buck Cherry," "Incubus," and "Beck." One of the musicians' names is "Flea." Another goes by "Yogi," and a third, with the more-promising sounding name of Sean Lennon, plays ... umm ... turntable??
While some of my friends quietly decided that maybe they had something else to do on the island, and I started to think the same thing, all of the sudden I began to think to myself: "Well, maybe I'm reacting like Ed Sullivan did when he encountered this new band called the 'Beatles.' Maybe I should keep my mind open and just listen to what these guys have to play." And man, I'm glad that I did.
I even went down before the set was through to buy a copy of their CD, even though they did not have a copy available for preview listening, and to be the second person in line to get the entire band to sign it. I'm glad I did that, too because I think they sold out.
Action Figure Party's sound is different, but refreshingly so. Some of their music has strong references to hip-hop sounds ... there is a singer, and real lyrics, and some of those lyrics are spoken through a vocoder. Underneath that "techno" delivery there is some very strong piano-playing by keyboardist Greg Kurstin, and it's definitely jazzed. This man has spent a lot of time listening to Dave Brubeck and other strong players. He has obviously spent a lot of time working through classical music too. The album has 17(!) musicians playing on the various tracks, and these cats know their chops.
In other words, this is jazz .. and more .. delivered with strong references to past players and styles without being limited to it. You don't know what to expect, but you'll like what you hear.
We're going to hear more from this band, and particularly from Greg Kurstin as a performer, songwriter, and arranger. I'm certainly glad that the misguided record company executive who wanted to stuff this album into the "Alternative Music" category, there to be forgotten, was not able to limit their exposure. The music got out ... and it's good.
Personnel: Greg Kurstin (pianos, organs, synthesizers, guitar, vocals) Gabrial McNair (Trombone) David Ralicke (Trombone, Sax) Yogi (Guitar) Pamelia Kurstin (Theremin, Bass) Flea, Daniel Shulman, Fima Ephron, Mike Elizondo (Bass) Yuval Gabay, Gary Novak, Jose Pasillas, Brian Reitzell (Drums) Sean Lennon (Turntable) John Molo (Percussion) Miho Hatori (Background Vocals)