Sure it's a bit slow, but that's part of the appeal. You can't very well get romantic with an overeager singer making a fuss in the background. Day's silken voice carries just the right amount of restraint, exhibiting a very human attention to detail at crescendos and valleys alike. Guitar, violin, drums, Day's piano, and more largely stay out of the way.
Oakland band Magic Me's creatively named first two EPs embark from Interpol-esque post-punk on a journey to carve their own sound. EP1's driving opening track, "Soft Cases," is eager to reach its conclusion yet sounds beautiful all the way there. EP2 doesn't offer anything quite as arresting, but maintains a high level of musicianship and vision.
Berkeley's Caravan positions itself for the summer festival circuit with this jam-friendly ode to good times and feel-good moves. Grounded in bluegrass and acoustic folk-rock with a pinch of Eastern zest, the quartet's tunes feel well worn even the first time around. Caravan will need to tighten up if it hopes to shine live, but the vibe is right.
Jonah Watchman sounds a bit like Bob Dylan - in the sense that he's almost always off-key. Instead of mumbling, Watchman tells his everyman tales with Broadway spunk in a high-pitch croon. Acoustic guitar, upright bass, and drums play their part, but even if it's hard to listen to some of his vocals, they so dominate the spectrum it's harder to tune them out.
Cousin Dale took ten years to complete this record, so it's no coincidence the songs evoke pop-punk circa 1995: Green Day, MxPx, NOFX (singer Mike Cerruti even sounds a bit like Fat Mike), plus a dash of the Ramones. For anyone who shared their teenage years with those bands, it's nice to hear this faithful, if not pitch-perfect tribute.
There's more than a hint of John Vanderslice in fellow local Michael Zapruder's third release: both make askew singer-songwriter songs as entrancing as their lyrics are fascinating. He also follows in the footsteps of Leonard Cohen, bore out by the spectral chorus of backing female vocals in nine-minute centerpiece "Black Wine."
Charlie Hunter is known for playing well-known rock songs in trio form, and making them relatively unrecognizable. He'll alter the chord changes; he'll add an intricate, "outside" solo on the guitar or the organ (or on Dave Ellis's tenor saxophone, in the case of his 1995 album Bing, Bing, Bing!); he'll change the groove from a driving backbeat to a loose swing. And yet, there's a grinding pulse to Hunter's music that appeals more to rock music fans than to jazz heads - albeit rock fans whose tastes skew more sophisticated and soulful than what you would hear on a Nirvana or Green Day album. Charlie Hunter is more in the vein of Led Zeppelin: textured, Middle Eastern-sounding harmonies; soaring bridge sections; solos that build on the song's melodies, rather than just improvise on changes.
His recent date at Yoshi's - two days and four sets with drummer Tony Mason and keyboardist Erik Deutsch, to celebrate the trio's latest release, Baboon Strength - drew a lot of people who might have been more comfortable in a venue where they could, you know, smoke weed and dance in the aisles (a couple guys danced in the aisles anyway). It was a rock concert wedged into jazz concert format, but struggling to be both at the same time. Deutsch and Hunter clearly have phenomenal jazz chops, though Mason, with his aggressive solos and driving backbeats, appeared to be the main star. Hunter's audience seemed at times a little flummoxed by the format, but enthralled nonetheless.
It's pretty easy to fall in love with Charlie Hunter. The forty-one-year-old Berkeley High School alum and former Michael Franti collaborator (in the experimental band Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) seems completely at ease with himself at all times. He took the stage at Tuesday's 10 p.m. set in a sweatshirt and jeans, played an exhilarating set of about eight songs with virtually no talking in-between, opening plenty of space for Mason and Deutsch to show off their chops (Deutsch's organ solos were one of the big highlights of the night - he's clearly studied up on gospel and honky-tonk, and is really good at signifying a particular period or style). Hunter played a custom-made guitar with seven or eight strings, allowing him to pluck out the bass and guitar lines simultaneously. He's so accomplished at this technique that he really does provide the illusion of an extra person onstage - any audience member who hadn't yet read the Wikipedia definition of Charlie Hunter was probably glancing around anxiously, in search of the missing bass player.
Hunter tends to play the head of a tune straight the first time around, and then take liberties with it. The first half of his set sounded a little jazzier, featuring original tunes that most people in the audience seemed not to recognize. Hunter often yielded the spotlight to Deutsch, so the group sounded more like an organ trio than a jam band. But midway through, they decided to ratchet things up with two rock covers - the Beatle's "Back in the USSR" and a tune from a Johnny Osmond record. The Beatles song featured a rousing drum solo during which Hunter and Deutsch played a heavy bassline in tandem (Deutsch had a whole arsenal of keyboards at his disposal, including what looked like a small Casio and a full-size with an effects-maker). Mason's solos were hard-driving and combative, but technically simple - it occasionally sounded like he was riffing off Bo Diddley beats. That they elicited the most applause of the night gives some indication as to what type of audience was in attendance.
But there's no question who the real star was. Despite his rather unassuming stage presence, Charlie Hunter is a phenomenal player with chops to burn. He's accessible but enigmatic, both a technically rigorous jazz musician and a rocker who's listened to a crapload of Beattles (especially late-period albums like Revolver). Whenever he soloed Deutsch and Mason back, Deutsch sipping a bottle of San Pellegrino water, both with expressions of rapt admiration. Hunter often soloed on pentatonics, playing licks, building up to something, and then ending on a chord that sounded just a little off. Listening to him is like listening to a coloratura soprano who is trilling her way up to some very high note that is supposed to be the big payoff, except that when it finally comes she things it just a hair flat. The end result is intentionally rough and unpolished, but in a way, that roughness adds to its luster. Not to mention that Hunter's amazing seven-string guitar made the group sound bigger and fuller than it actually was. Ultimately, that's the best thing about watching the Charlie Hunter trio at a medium-sized club like Yoshi's: You get the wallop of a rock band, and the looseness of a jazz trio.
Charlie Hunter playing "Oakland":
Too vocal for post-rock; too danceable for avant-garde; too strange for pop: Maus Haus is genuinely unclassifiable. Thankfully, that's not the least of it. With six members on sax and flute, guitar and bass, keyboards and synthesizers, and dual drum kits, this San Francisco band has the tools to turn nightmares to dreams and vice versa.
In the summer of 2006, Better Than Aliens frontman and multi-instrumentalist Marty Mattern rode his 1977 Honda motorcycle from his home in Boston to Fairbanks, Alaska and down to San Francisco, with the intention of starting a band. These five competent and dynamic indie rock tunes represent the first fruits of his labors, with more sure to come.
This quartet keeps chugging along in the ever-nascent Bay Area indie scene, where half a decade makes you a veteran. "Calling on the Girl," from AOS' 2003 debut, appears here in improved form alongside nine more cuts of morose, sparsely orchestrated indie-pop. Best heard through headphones or in small clubs, Audio Out Send seems bound for at least local success.