Imagine trying to take a photograph of a flowing stream – a wild-assed, multi-colored, groove-saturated stream – and that’ll give you some idea of what capturing the music of the Everyone Orchestra in a studio setting is like. Just as the water in that stream is constantly moving and shape-shifting, never to be the same again, so is the right now music created by the Everyone Orchestra. Think about it: an ever-shifting lineup of talented jammers reacting to the in-the-moment whims of conductor Matt Butler, be it finger points, leaps, crouches, head nods, or words scrawled on a white board in the heat of battle.
If you told me the eight cuts on EO’s Brooklyn Sessions were charted, structured works that had been honed to perfection before the tape was set to rolling, I’d say it was a great album that spans the gamut from driving groove to dreamy drift.
When I listen to this thing and realize that nobody knew what the first note was going to be until it was played; and once the full band had achieved liftoff, nobody had a clue (or was worrying about) how or when they were going to land the beast, well … I just have to shake my head. This is an amazing piece of work, folks.
For the last few years, Butler has pulled off his musical magic in live settings with rotating (and sometimes massive) casts of players from diverse genres. His approach isn’t to tell anyone what to do – it’s to let the group improv output create settings that feed and inspire further on-the-spot explorations of rhythm and melody as the song develops. No room for egos – no room for anything except being totally engaged in the music as it’s happening, whether holding on fer chrissakes or smile, smile, smiling.
(Yeah, I know: this is Jambands.com. I understand that. What you need to understand is that nobody is making improvisational music quite like this, boys and girls.)
Dig the lineup that Butler assembled for the Brooklyn Sessions : Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet; Jon Fishman on drums, paired up with Reed Mathis on bass; Jans Ingber on percussion and vocals; Jamie Masefield on mandolin; Jeff Coffin on sax; Marco Benevento on keys; and Al Schnier and Steve Kimock on guitar.
And the music? Well, there’s plenty o’ funk ‘n’ soul-filled butt shakin’ to be found, for one thing. “Boots” launches out of the chute with a driving little mando riff by Masefield that could have touched down just about anywhere in the world until Jeff Coffin’s wailing sax hip-checks it into soul city. The rhythm section pounces on it; Ingber launches into an off-the-cuff soulman rap; the beast is off and running. Butler uses the talent at his disposal wisely: he lets Coffin blow while calling up rhythm section punches and waves of key wash by Benevento; the jam swings to the guitars; the horns step in/step out/in/out; Kimock lays on some slide; the horns return to lay down the main theme (a touchstone which did not exist five minutes previous to that you need to remember) and Ingber and Hartswick testify together; Hartswick rips off a blistering run on her trumpet; Benevento lets the organ wail; the rhythm is hitting hard, obviously being led to something … wham! Bam! Outta there! The song slams to a stop; there’s a pause – and then laughter … the sound of a group of killer musicians getting their breath, having amazed themselves.
“Funk Explosion” is as advertised – beneath the apeshit madness of the guitars and horns, Reed Mathis is playing his bass like it could save the world. (Maybe it could.) “Hold Tight” comes on bold, with Ingber laying down a greasy growl. Butler builds the groove, adding layers as the song reaches its climax; letting the thing glide to a landing on the back of Masefield’s mando.
“Take Off Your Clothes” is a fast drive through the city at night with all the lights green. (Check out Benevento’s piano work during the first half.) “Bass Blanket” is another title that says it all: Mathis wraps the song in his bubbly, warm tone, providing the softest of grooves for Kimock and Schnier to wander in and Hartswick’s voice to dance with.
“Explore Space” begins like an early Jazz Mandolin Project workout, with Masefield rising to the challenge of Fishman’s wildly tumbling drums and Mathis’ rumbling bass. About halfway through, Hartswick lets loose with some fierce scat singing, soon answered by Benevento on piano. The mood mellows; the groove finally coasts to a halt. Masefield’s mando on “Pensive” is just exactly that; and the album-closing “Talk To Me” is grand and beautiful and full of love, sounding like some newly-discovered Sly Stone gem as it builds to a glorious finale. Again, when you reach the end, it’s mind-blowing to think that 4 minutes and 15 seconds before that moment, the song did not exist.
And that, my friends, is the magic of the Everyone Orchestra.