Live recordings are the next best thing to being there, and The Nu Band Live
is a blistering "set made up of tracks from three different days (three out of the five performances come from the same day). The premise of the set is to present the period before, during, and after 9/11 in music. Needless to say, the music is very emotional, and at times it can be frightening. Stylistically, this quartet can easily be compared to The Fringe
in that there's a lot of freedom within an atmosphere of close listening and cooperation. The first three tracks each refer to the same theme or vamp, which is melodically and harmonically simple, allowing for maximum freedom to move away from and come back to it.
"Like A Spring Day implies the perfect weather of a September day. The hard boppish theme produces a feeling of the natural bounce of walking down the street. The pulse comes and goes; drummer Lou Grassi is superb and always busy. Mark Whitecage has a huge, forceful sound that gets more emotional as he goes, with Grassi following. The theme reappears and then bassist Joe Fonda plays an amazing bowed solo with harmonics, until the drums start making sounds underneath and the bass starts growling ominously, implying danger.
"Ballad of 9-11 starts off with soft percussion, low bowed bass, and what sounds like flute (although no one is credited for that instrument): the calm before the storm. Roy Campbell takes a solo on flugelhorn as a regular beat and bass vamp start. The softness of the flugelhorn is very effective as it floats above the soft repeated bass and drum figures, creating tension. The intensity gradually builds as Grassi plays a straight-driving deep rhythm while Campbell plays mournful plunger mute. Whitecage now takes up the theme, clearly projecting danger ahead.
Then Grassi explodes, creating a towering wall of sound that he maintains for seven unbelievable minutes while Whitecage and Campbell play a rising line; Grassi keeps the tsunami ever rising, then crashing in his solo. This is simply an extraordinary display of stamina and intensity, brought to a sudden stop and leading to "Prayer, Contemplation and Meditation, which references "Autumn Leaves." The peace, sadness, and calm mixed with desolation are quite dramatic after what has just transpired.
One might ask whether the music stands on its own without the "program notes." My answer would be yes, despite the fact that you cannot un-ring the bell. As individuals, Whitecage, Campbell, Fonda, and Grassi take chances and lay themselves out there, but they are always listening to each other. The proceedings have a structure that can only come from rehearsal and the band members knowing and trusting each other. Words like exciting and dramatic hardly describe this music's overall effect. Put this on and be prepared to be swept away.
Personnel: Mark Whitecage: saxophones, clarinet, flute?; Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet; Joe Fonda: bass;
Lou Grassi: drums.