Das Vibenbass, a Seattle quartet performing since 2001, has hit the CD ground running by releasing its first two full-length albums this year. Toss in a live recording downloadable free from the "internet archive" on their website, and it's evident the band is doing a nice job of stamping out a recognizable identity for itself.
Hovering as they do midway between fusion and avant-garde, you get a pretty consistent buzz off Animals And Robots and Mindwresting. A slight approving nod at the start of some understated groove, that lingers in the cranium before you get back to the task at handfollowed, after a few minutes, by the realization that you're subconsciously jamming to it.
The music consists almost entirely of moderately disciplined blowing sessions, with vibraphonist Justin Sorensen providing harmonizing stability for the chaotic rumblings of drummer J.C. Bockman, and tenor saxophonist Josh Clifford alternating between melodic collaboration and freeform counterpoints. Upright bassist Geoff Larson is mostly a complementary presence on both albums, but he frequently gets opening vamps, both plucked and bowed, which set dark tones.
Animals And Robots
There are subtle differences between the two audio discs. Animals And Robots, the first to be released, is mellower, its arrangements are tighter and it's about ten minutes shorter. "Regret" is a questionable introduction, plodding along at a slow pace with a sparse, slow- note theme giving way, after a couple of minutes, to some mid-tempo soloing by Sorensen that really doesn't quite take off.
The band start letting loose on "Shh...Don't Tell The Gig Master," although it's more harmonious and restricted in range and tonal exploration than some of their subsequent work. Sorensen builds strong note-by-note tension around Bockman on "Larsonius Thump," one of those songs that starts deceptively low-key.
"Reference Check," which appears in a lot of Das Videnbass' live setlists, is a solid showpiece where all four players contribute admirably to a complex, multipart head before it smoothes out into simpler, progressive fusion headlined by Clifford. Some of Larson's more exploratory playing comes when he bows the prelude for "Elfman's Lullaby," another showpiece tune that is a live bonus track at the end of the album.
Mindwrestling, recorded just a few months after Animals And Robots, sounds looser and edgier. Also, while most of the band's songs are constantly shifting their framework, the longer cuts allow more of it. "Cloak And Dagger" opens things at a snappy pace, with Clifford coasting quickly and smoothly like a surfer on top of a dense wave of rhythmic support.
The band also beef up the foundations of four songs with a trio of guest horn players (plus another with cellist Amanda Larson). Among those, "Slinky" is appropriately dirty and guttural funk, while "The Government Loves Garage Sales" layers horns in rich harmonization, with the expected frenetic breakout at the end. By the time the group take a breather with the slow funk of "Quentinsential" at mid-album, it's a welcome and smoothly played intermission (albeit with another climactic finish). The clap-happy and horn-heavy "Third Tongue" provides a cheery exit.
The longer, more informal setting of the downloadable two-set gig(click on the band's website below)recorded at Consolidated Worksallows the players to infuse some energy into their groove-oriented compositions, although there's no dramatic rearranging of the studio concepts. Also, at times the band resort to repeating phrases to fill long stretches.
Das Videnbass' prowess at casual collaboration is easiest to discern here ("we're kind of mixing it up, our set list got destroyed," Larson notes at one point). It takes two minutes to break out of the mundane head of "Machete And The Creeper," but Clifford spends the remaining five minutes firing freeform phrases in increasingly intense bursts. Sorensen's note-oriented vibes do some commendable atonal exploring without getting out of control on "Da Loop."
Guest players are brought in for a closing 20-minute "Hip-Hip Improv," which is a bit of a jolt as it reduces the main quartet mostly to background status. To the credit of whoever's doing the rapping, the whole thing sounds more authentic and developed than some other recent attempts in the field.
Sound quality of the gig (apparently the last show at Consolidated Works ever) is a step below the audio discs in recording quality, but the main culprit is low volume. A number of other shows by the band at the Internet Archive site suffer from more substantial flaws.
These recordings aren't masterpieces of technique and composition, just enjoyable work by a compatible group of talented players obviously enjoying what they're doing. There's little to criticize beyond a somewhat limited compositional range, but even so there's plenty to keep the ears interested.
Tracks and Personnel
Animals And Robots
Regret; Shhh....Don't Tell The Gigmaster; Larsonius Thump; The Beast; Solace In A Moment; Reference Check; Amuse For Me; Elfman's Lullaby.
Cloak And Dagger; Better Late Than Never; Elfman's Lullaby; The Government Loves Garage Sales; Quentinsential; Soonshine Dust; Slinky; You Don't Know What Love Is; Third Tongue.
Personnel: Justin Sorensen: vibes; Geoff Larson: bass; J.C. Bockman: drums; Josh Clifford: tenor saxophone. Guest performers: Paul Chandler: trumpet; John Meloy: baritone and tenor saxophones; Mars Lindgren: trombone; Amanda Larson: cello.