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Dead Cat Bounce: Home Speaks To The Wandering

Mark Sabbatini By

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Their music defies easy description, but there's no trouble understanding why they keep winning awards and polls as Boston's best jazz band.



Dead Cat Bounce blends everything from traditional big band to uber free jazz into a thick and inexplicably coherent canvas on their third album, Home Speaks To The Wandering. A record store owner might file this under avant-garde (fusion might be more appropriate in the true sense of the word), but it has enormous potential appeal to fans of a number of genres willing to bring an open mind to the session.



The sextet's core consists of four saxophonists, an upright acoustic bassist and a drummer, with some of the woodwind players doubling on instruments such as clarinet, flute and "holler." They cite traditional legends such as Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk as major influences, but song titles such as "I Once Was Vaccinated With A Phonograph Needle" and "Department Of Homeland Strategery" speak for themselves when it comes to modern attitude.



Exceptional individual playing across the range of genres is what sets this group above many staking claims in new jazz territory, sort of like a modern artist who can actually paint. Equally impressive is how proficiently they mix-and-match within songs; one suspects they could choose the styles for chorus, rhythm and solos by throwing darts at a board and they'd make it sound good.



The horns on "SOS Ankara" feed a funk backdrop to a serious hard bop run by someone, probably group leader Matt Steckler, on lead sax. The all-out free jazz composition "Cats: Is It Fish Or Finite?" is cooled off with a few simplistic snippets more appropriate for smooth jazz, with the cast-against-type phrasing a much better fit here. On "Dis You, Dear" they take a Dixie hook and turn it into a modern funk/fusion fest. "Vaccinated" starts with a dreamy '40s orchestral feel, but somehow wanders into Coleman/swing/waltz/bop territory without ever quite abandoning its roots. And "Homeland Straegery" is sheer whimsical madness—trying to break it down robs the listener of the pleasure of the unexpected.



The rhythm section of Arie Werbrouck on bass and Bill Carbone on drums is almost forced to play it straight much of the time because of all the counterpoints from the horn section. It's a smart choice, as the discipline becomes its own voice of distinction due to its the contrast.



Perhaps the group's greatest trick is coming up with music that can make a range of people say "I don't normally like (insert genre here), but they really squeeze something impressive out of it." Hardcore devotees of the old ways probably ought to stay away—and it may or may not stand the test of time—but for the most part it's a great testimony to just how many possibilities there are for new and nourishing material in the future of jazz.


Track Listing: 1. Hiram Henkler

Personnel: Jared Sims - soprano/tenor sax, clarinet; Matt Steckler - alto/soprano/tenor sax, flute; Charlie Kohlhase - alto/baritone sax; Drew Sayers - alto/tenor/baritone sax; Arie Werbrouck - bass; Bill Carbone - drums, percussion

Title: Home Speaks to the Wandering | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Innova Recordings

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CD/LP/Track Review
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