Barnsdall Gallery Theater
Los Angeles, CA
April 18, 2005
Someone recently hipped me to Joel Dorn's comment that "You haven't heard Monk until you've seen him. I must admit that I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to the sound / vision distinction. Although I love live jazz, I have always tried to "tune out (so to speak) the visual information of a live performance. There is a level of concentration that, so I assume, can't be achieved if you allow yourself to be distracted by what the performers are wearing (for instance).
But I'll admit that some performances are meant to be seen as well as heard. Consider the NY-based quartet Gutbucket, for instance, who recently performed their debut LA show at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater. Some might argue that the visual presence of this group is in large measure defined by the onstage antics of its saxophonist, Ken Thomson. In civilian mode, Thomson looks something like a suburban computer nerd. But once the Guts set loose their compelling hybrid of noise, jazz, prog rock, and eastern European folk music, Thomson starts dancing around like a Dervish en pointe (and on crack). Indeed, because of a stubbornly untied shoelace, he came pretty close to breaking his neck a few times during the first set. It's something of a testament to the power of the music that he seemed blissfully unaware of the danger the whole time.
Thomson obviously demonstrates the punkish notion that a performance is no good unless you're sweating. But the rest of the groupTy Citerman on guitar, Eric Rockwin on bass, and drummer Paul Chuffodeserve high props too, even though their physical demeanor was mostly defined by the wry half-smiles they kept shooting around the stage, like college kids in on some complicated, obscure prank. In the context of the meticulously constructed bourgeois living room set (for whatever drama the Barnsdall was simultaneously producing), the droll, aggressive Guts offered a very entertaining counterpoint indeed.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a few other things, of course. First: LA's reputation as a relatively unsupportive place for new and interesting music (witness the recent threat to do away with the historic Monday Night Series at LACMA). Though I spend much of my time defending the west coast, and Los Angeles in particular, the city certainly lived up to its bad press on this particular evening. Not to worrymy sense is that the low audience turnout was actually a sure sign of Gutbucket's greatness. Which brings us to another thing: the music. I don't have much to say on that subject, beyond what has already been said by other writersso I'll end with a set of emphatic statements: Gutbucket kicks ass. Buy an album. Go see a show.
Visit Gutbucket on the web.