The Bay Area has always been a breeding ground for stellar music. Over the
last few years though, whether bluegrass (the David Thom Band), jazzgrass
(the Hot Buttered Rum String Band and Wig Salad), Phish inspired jambands
(Tea Leaf Green), jazz (Tree of Frogs, Darol Anger) or Americana bands (King
Harvest), the area has been undergoing a serious resurgence. Adding New
Monsoon to the list becomes conspicuous. However, attempting to categorize
the band could result in the employment of some difficult literary tools.
From the opening of New Monsoon’s "Hydrophonic", the band sounds enormously
like the Allman Brothers, as drummers and multiple percussionists mix with
an acoustic guitar and electric guitar. However the jam in On the Sun
sounds vaguely reminiscent of Santana, as the percussionists begin
accentuating a Latin vibe not apparent at the song’s commencement.
A mix of Santana and the Allman Brothers, two bands not far apart in the
musical landscape, could be considered less than an arduous musical
synthesis. However, such quick exegesis and assumptions are eliminated with
Drivewheel. Melodically, the track starts off sounding like The
Mind Has Left The Body, by way of the Grateful Dead, before changing
into a full bluegrass romp with some Tony Rice inspired flatpicking. The
bluegrass elements, readily noticeable, are calmed by tablas and congas,
which add an African flavor. For you, the reader, that would be The Grateful
Dead, bluegrass, and African music mentioned in one paragraph; making New
Monsoon amazingly similar to the String Cheese Incident.
Another feature similar to the String Cheese Incident regards the band’s mix
of instrumental acumen accentuated by an ability to write decently
structured songs both readily noticeable on "Hydrophonic". Jeff Miller’s
vocals throughout the album are gritty, as he discusses common song themes
through natural metaphors. Discussing the rain and the sun conceals a more
potent theme of destruction, loss or separation, making the music far more
intellectual then standard lyrics penned in moments of inebriation.
Most of New Monsoon’s instrumentals are noteworthy for the outrercussion
and instrumentation, with Country Interlude being an exemplar of the
bands talented musical cross-fertilization. The song combines a potent mix
of bluegrass inspired picking with Phil Ferlino’s piano playing. At times
,Country Interlude holds a similarity to You Enjoy Myself in
Ferlino’s playing, Tony Rice’s Manzanita and John McLaughlin’s
Remember Shakti, as the song shifts suddenly into a tabla lead raga,
filled with Bo Carper’s Michael Hedges styled harmonics. As the piece
progresses, a didgeridoo enters the sonic framework, and the seven-piece
band ends up in a space section (more Allman Brothers than Grateful Dead),
where Jeff Miller adds some clairvoyant guitar lines. At seven-and-a-half
minutes, Country Interlude reveals New Monsoon’s already existing
talents in being able to avoid the mundane or banal when venturing forth
into psychedelic blurs.
Live reviews of New Monsoon often detail the band as one of the finest
jambands on the scene. Listening to "Hydrophonic," one can see why such
accolades are more than mere hyperbole. The bands ingenuity and
sophisticated use of world based rhythms and percussion adds an element of
originality void from an exorbitant number of bands. Combining such rhythmic
interests with catchy songs and lyricism makes New Monsoon a group with
potential vast appeal.