In forging a path to finalizing this month’s installment, I took my cue from Julie Andrews, who sang, in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start.” My last column was a slippery, yet youthful and cocksure, attempt at a mission statement, professing my intentions to report on my inner impressions of a genre that, even externally, in the opinions of most people, defies definition. What was it going to be this month? A reprisal: my laptop and I on the floor of the Clean-Rite Laundry Megacenter, rambling and riffing…or would it be something else?
“Well, DUH…something ELSE,” I thought hastily. The former seemed a most unappetizing notion at the moment. However, my mind being a fickle entity, it’s not to say that next month you won’t find me rattling on about some jamband-related topic, purely from an opinion standpoint. But the flavor of adventure was fresh, and I had to pursue it to the end…
I live in an unceasingly active section of Brooklyn. At any given moment, there are cars and people passing my residence, emanating music. One night in early summer, a conglomeration of what seemed to be elderly retired brass players congregated on the corner near the Armory, and honked out ragtime standards till the late hours. A young keyboardist winces their way through gospel hymns outside my window, on an electric organ, a few times each week. Also, no spare moment passes without the tremor-and-thump of glass and floor underfoot, following in the wake of blisteringly loud dub reggae and hip-hop.
Of course, there is no lack of want for legitimately accessible musical diversions in the rest of New York City at large. So, knowing this, I decided to hunt for some band that I’d heard, and grooved on, who were playing before this month’s deadline. A quick perusal of the Village Voice music listings yielded the following result…Schleigho.
I sidled skittishly up to Jesse Gibbon, Schleigho’s baritone-spoken keyboard player, and asked if I could muster up the band’s members for an interview. They’d all just scattered to the four winds after the soundcheck, leaving me a unsure as to my chances for success, but I remained vigilant. He seemed optimistic, and led me back into the colorful claustrophobia of the Wetlands’s band room.
The Boston quartet had knocked me out a few times, supporting the likes of The Gordon Stone Trio, Yolk and The Disco Biscuits, with intimate sessions in the musty basement chillout room of the Wetlands Preserve. Their dense, intensely wrought reactions seemed drawn from some blend of science fiction and vague, otherworldly ruminations on the connectivities of one known realm…our troubling, confusing homebase, Earth. On one occasion, tentacles of the aforementioned connectivities shrunk the six degrees of separation to a crack, scoring me a ride uptown with the band’s guitarist (and occasional flautist), thanks to a mutual acquaintance. In true, woolly improvisational spirit, I requested to be dropped off on a quiet knoll on the banks of the West Side Highway.
“Oh YEAH…I remember!” said Suke Cerulo, grinning and gesturing with a mildly guarded, Cheshire Cat openness. As an identified “journalist type”, I felt a little awkward, even though I’d done the drill before. Getting to know a band who plays to different audiences sometimes more than 200 times a year…breaking through is hard. For the band, it’s weirder still when you are faced with some wonky upstart, who has formulated questions which have bubbled out of a viscous desire to get inside the compulsion, the power, and the sheer near-lunacy of such an intense lifestyle of artistic dedication.
As far as musical roots are concerned (starting at the very beginning), Schleigho followed what seems to be the All-American way…ironically consisting of Anglo-Saxon pioneers like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but also swinging back to true native conflagrationists like Jimi Hendrix. However, as the story often goes, the young musicians soon turned to the deeper furrows of the jazz world for their sustenance. Soon, they’d all integrated some jazz into their formal music education.
“Coltrane, you know…Mingus…Monk…a little bit more ‘fringe’ guys like Rahsaan Roland Kirk…” Jesse read off the essential lexicon. The three of us muttered “Eric Dolphy” within nanoseconds of one another. Owing to the scatological, frenetic winds featured on the band’s brand new release, /In the Interest of Time/, the avant-jazz influence is unavoidable.
Suke continued, “I’d say our roots now are strictly jazz-based…“jazz” is such a /whatever/ word…it’s just the essence of improvisation, musicality, communication…not necessarily re-doing standards.” His shoulders hopped in little shruggy jumps, brimming with the sheer unspeakability of the aural object being danced around. I can imagine it’s like trying to capture “groove” in a can.
Then I, always curious of the phenomenon, asked what they thought led to this disparate chain of early adulthood musical fractionation. “Social structures, in school…“carried such shifts in musical detours, said Jesse. Listening to the new album, especially in tracks like “…Or Something”, such songs rival the best Black Sabbath efforts at expressing aspects of today’s paranoid alienation. The most out-of-left-field influences, in the vein of dark, heavy metal machinations, are apparent.
There was much talk of bridges, arcs leading over ravines from one body of musical knowing to another…for example, the rifts between seemingly disparate styles as bluegrass and swing, bridged by the cross-talk between Coltrane and Hendrix, and fused with the commingling of Mingus and just about anything else…a new way of /being/ was formulated.
The mere act of writing of new songs seems to be a way for Schleigho to, night after night, invent themselves. Incorporating new variables, “stepping up on a new level,” said Suke, was a way in which members of the band made the effort to keep each night fresh. “ A lot of people will try to re-hash what’s been done in the last thirty years, and…re-put it in a package…I…take an approach of trying to break what I’m used to hearing…” More of the same sort of inaccesible, yet ultimately identifiable, intimation of what was being conveyed, was skimmed off the top of Suke’s dialogue, as he encouraged people to “break out of whatever it was that sounded ‘good’,” in their music-listening aspirations.
Upon ingesting the new release, I had to cope with a shiver of the relatively familiar impulse of comparison. /Mahavishnu Orchestra/, the lofty vehicle of Miles Davis’s erstwhile bold and unhinged guitarist, John McLaughlin, came rushing to mind. The sweeping arrangements, no-holds-barred allowances for time and investigation of quizzical rhythms, tones, and time changes…coming across newer elaborations on a previously explored theme are always arresting. “Matrices”, which tops twenty minutes of deceptively shifting styles, to end in a truly stilling, overwhelming current of ebb-and-flowing sound.
Live, the same track was accompanied by the sort of fireworks that only fate can provide. The lights in the house decided to drop out just when the point in the epic, multi-genre galactic expansion came about just when the song feigns completion, but rather lulls into a liminal space of questing, quiet contemplation. As the electricity resumed, the music rose up and continued with searching renewed. The hunted, Latin puzzle of “Columbias”, deemed the sonic thickness enough to enthrall the handful of onlookers who had gathered to partake.
With final flourish, the band cranked out the aptly-titled “Star Wars Trash-Compactor Phobia”, which not only featured drummer Erik Egol uncorking a steady, sure, yet characteristically challenging, and slippery solo, but even a Staten Island rapper, Dub One, throwing out rhymes over a deft layer of funky crunch. It topped off an early evening of simply amazing juxtaposed possiblility.
Bassist Drew McCabe (upon recounting the setlist to me) said the “Star Wars” in the title of the last tune wasn’t entirely necessary. I refuted him, whining, “But that’s the best part!”. Color me idiosyncratic, but much of Schleigho’s charm, for me, includes that they, for the most part, don’t try to circumvent the fact that they grew up being washed over by the same stream that a lot of us did…that rush of visual, sonic and sensory overload known as the Seventies and Eighties.
Essentially speaking, though, “The best nights are when the energy is just flowing in a circle…and the hardest nights are when you’re pushing it all out, and [the audience is] sucking it up, but not giving any back,” said Drew, upon entering the back room, and joining the fray, strumming smoothly on his blond fretless. He and Erik caught the last threads of the interview, which grew increasingly disparate as well-wishers and sundry others filled the graffitied room to near overflowing. The last question, injected between the bodies, as the room became a sort of exotic other-place, full of howling laughter, fragrant aroma and colorful, near-secret languages, was the perennial trickster: what constitutes a “jamband” in their minds?
From all present, there was a collective groan, followed by a mischievous burst of grinning. Eventually, though, there was enough cohesion for Erik to suggest, “…independent bands who are improvising every night.” Sounded good to me, and true to form. From knowing, to merely being, take what you know, and make up the rest as you go along.
Carol A. Wade is a freelance writer, an artist and a library drone. She also does babysitting and astrological profiles…