Although they have been the headlining act at major clubs within the jam band circuit, Schleigho still relishes the opportunity to share the stage with acts such as Miracle Orchestra, Oteil and The Peacemakers and One World Tribe. Opening for Oteil in N.Y.C. served as a great pit stop for Schleigho and their all-star lineup of Erik Egol on drums, Suke Cerulo on guitar/flute, newly-recruited Paco Mahone on basses, and Jesse Gibbon on organ/piano.
Schleigho started off their set with a tune called "Keep it in the Car." While the majority of their set was inspirational, "Intuition," written by bassist Paco Mahone, really grasped my attention. As "Intuition" kicked off, Paco was in complete control on his upright, creating a tight, speed walking bassline that painted room for drummer Erik Egol’s insanely nimble jazz chops. To all Joey Baron drumming fans: Pay attention to the name Erik Egol. His hyper changes forced "Intuition" to oscillate wildly from bar to bar, switching in and out of time and feel, and eventually leading to a stable syncopated motive, courtesy of Suke Cerulo’s nifty guitar work. Cerulo is a gifted guitarist with a great sense of pronounced counterpoint that always compliments Jesse Gibbon’s articulate right-handed keyboard rhythms. All of these little jazz-based contributions led up to a dazzlingly heavy ending, a pulsing vibe that engaged the crowd, pulling them closer to the stage. "Intuition" is a great example of Schleigho’s signature sound – structured compositions with amazing musical moments. Moments that are accessible to both hardcore jazzophiles and less-seasoned mainstream jam band audiences.
In the next song, "Farewell to the Sun", Gibbon and Mahone created some very powerful and eerie dissonances through a combination of a textural fretless bass motive and some neat organ chord tones. This type of intentional compositional statement, one of the constants within Schleigho’s music, is a key element of the band’s signature multiple verse style — whenever the band establishes a stable groove, they are equally comfortable interjecting an explosive odd meter fusion riff to keep the listener on its heels. Throughout "Farewell to the Sun", Suke Cerulo toggled between Living Color-esque power fusion statements and some nice John McLaughlin-style guitar gestures. Erik’s diverse chops bled themselves effortlessly under Cerulo’s funky clawhammer slapping motive at the end. Gibbon’s funky keyboard line and its inherent droning minor chords underneath, gave this tune a heavier "Primus-like" feel. It is clear that Schleigho are experimental noise monsters taking virtuoso chops and compositions into the mainstream. You can’t pin this group to one genre, which is why Schleigho boldly proudly accepts the genre moniker of "heavy jazz."
The next song was a Jaco Pastorius cover entitled "(Used to be a) Cha-Cha", off his first album solo in 1976. Headlining bassist Oteil Burbridge received a thunderous applause as he was introduced by Gibbon as a guest for this number appearing on stage with a big ol’ hat that reminded us all of "that crazy fretless pioneer." As Mahone laid down the primary bass ostinato groove, each player stepped up and took turns soloing over the changes. Once the engineers finally figured out that Oteil needed his bass to be "amplified," he responded with some neatly timed melodic double-stop chords. The tune’s intensity rose as Oteil slipped into some fast 16ths over the top of Suke’s flute and Gibbon’s keys doubling the primary melody. Mahone stepped in nicely with a powerful 6 string fretless solo, taking his time to craft a personal statement with methodically-planned melodic shapes. Oteil sang over the changes, scatting with his bass and creating ingenious syncopated counterpoint against the primary melody. Oteil’s solo ended with Egol’s thunderous drum downbeats pushing the listener back into the main groove. This time, Gibbon stepped up to improvise with some quirky Herbie Hancock-style right-handed phrasing.
By relying on the creative intuitiveness of each other, Schleigho thinks and acts differently than the majority of acts on the jazz-infected jam band circuit. Mixing that with a higher level of performance training and it is clear that they LOVE what they do, day in and day out, from club to club across the country. Long-overdue mainstream interest is right at Schleigho’s fingertips.
The upstate New York based-quartet is currently on an extended road tour preparing for major summer festivals and promoting their new CD Live at Ho-Down 2000, which will be available online and in stores on May 8. It is well worth your time to check out a Schleigho show, to listen to their nuance strengths and how each player compliments the other. Stay tuned to Schleigho’s website at www.schleigho.com for all the latest touring and summer festival information.
After Scheligho’s set, Oteil Burbridge and the Peacemakers took the stage. The current Peacemakers lineup consisted of Long Island product Jason Crosby on keys and violin, Birmingham, Alabama’s Chris "Fry Daddy" Fryar on drums, Mark Kimbrell on guitar, and Atlanta’s Kebbi Williams on sax.
Oteil started off with a solo tune, "Praise the Lord," that did just that by means of pounding low, sustaining chords resolving themselves against tension-creating harmonics. This improv piece sounded a little bit like Victor Wooten’s "Amazing Grace" interpretation. Oteil is a master of improv scat singing against some upper register chords. He even added in some clever fingerpicking counterpoint at the end of this somber tune.
The entire ensemble kicked in for Butter Biscuit, a funky muted bass groove that featured Kebbi Williams’ fragmented melodic sax thoughts darting in and out of his mic, creating a siren-like echo effect. The driving bass line in the middle section combined with a hard-hitting straight drum lock by Chris Fryar, got the crowd dancing. Jason Crosby stepped in with a keyboard solo over Oteil’s driving bassline. Jason is another in-demand young gun who is worth paying very close attention too.
Oteil added new tunes throughout the entire evening including a bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan inspired vocal number with some playful lyrics:
"I was going down, trapped on a scary go-round.
I did not know that I needed you to help me see."
As Oteil’s bass doubled against his vocal part, Crosby stepped back from his keys and in jammed out a violin melody on top. Guitarist Mark Kimbrell entered for the first time of the night, looking like Jerry Garcia from afar, and laid down some exquisite guitar work that caused Oteil to smile and shake his ass in unison with the crowd. Oteil’s rejoice in the chorus says it all: "Baby Jesus, I thank you Lord for bringing me."
Oteil created grooves that let his players solo all night long, a rarity in projects led by virtuoso players such as Oteil—normally the backup band provides a platform for the bandleader. Williams and Crosby often stepped in to insert some long and winding melodic runs, and were magnificently backed up by Oteil and Chris Fryar’s drumming presence. One piece in particular had a Caribbean type feel to it— Kimbrell’s soul sounding guitar motive was reminiscent of Santana’s guitar work on "Oye Como Va." As this tune broke down into a 2-chord progression, Kimbrell kicked in an exquisite bending distorted lead. The right-handed precision of Oteil’s 16th note doubling below kicked this tune up a notch, leading to the strongest crowd reaction of the night. Jason Crosby came back in with a violin passage at the bridge, improvising against Kimbrell’s dense guitar chords with some difficult and energetic Jean-Luc Ponty-influenced phrasing.
Oteil Burbridge definitely has some amazing chemistry with this particular lineup of the Peacemakers. Whether he is on the road with The Allman Brothers, Aquarium Rescue Unit, or fronting his own Peacemakers, you can keep your eye on his next touring steps via his website at Nile Record, http://www.nilerecords.com/.