In the back room of Salzy, a new craft cocktail bar and entertainment space on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, hometown band International Orange (iO) will be providing said entertainment every Monday night until further notice. You can hear their tasty jams leaking out on to the street as they travel from the backroom and weave past all those gathered along the length of the bar ultimately right out onto the sidewalk, through the wide open bar front. In a couple weeks as word of the residency spreads, the acoustics of the venue will play to the benefit of those that are unfortunately closer to the street rather than the stage.
The band is back on the radar and playing in support of their second effort in the form of the EP, Blue Side Up. It’s a bitter sweet record however as it proved to bassist Gaku Takanashi’s swan song, never getting a chance to present these songs to the world after a brain aneurism took him prematurely in January 2017. Being long time veterans of the NYC jazz and jam scenes, drummer Todd Isler (Mike Gordon Band, Melvin Sparks, Joe Lovano) and guitarist David Phelps (Henry Butler, Ian Neville, Peter Apfelbaum’s NY Hieroglyphics) had a deep pool of talented friends to call upon when it came time to fill the monstrous hole left by Gaku’s passing. Talent sure is what they got when the accomplished bassist, distinguished educator (Co-founder of The Bass Collective) and author, Leo Traversa, drifted into their orbit. Leo, who has toured extensively with Steve Kimock, progressive rock legends Renaissance, and recorded with Jazz great Gerry Mulligan amongst others, is excited to be on board and he brings with him a wealth of worldly influences that will drive the band into some new territory, some of which they treaded into on this night. Speaking of that pool, Adam Morrison, another friend was pulled from it to provided keys for the night.
Straight from the get go they achieve lift off. The night’s first notes came in the form of an opening shuffle from Todd. On top of it he skillfully worked the hi-hat, really showing how diverse one cymbal can sound. As the rest of the band fell into place the original tune, “Kyrematen,” took form. The song carries a free flowing groove that eventually opens up creating a fun vibe that encourages one to bounce along in their seat or get out of it to get down. David’s body language showed that he was at ease and having fun as he toyed around with the main theme of the tune, showcasing some of his unique playing style. With extremely fluid finger picking and fretting, in addition to wild whammy bar work, it was mesmerizing to watch him play. For fans of live music that are enamored by the intricate finger work often on display, David doesn’t disappoint one bit.
Another original, “Nutria Nougat,” came next followed by a beautiful cover of “Sirubhorn,” a Pat Metheny Group cover. The former has this infectious melody that is playfully toyed with by everyone in the band at some point before being passed off like a hot potato. However, the highlight of the song, and perhaps the night, comes as Todd is beating out a funky ass rhythm while David is working the fret board with his trusty slide. Then all of a sudden, as if he slams into a wall, David stops playing and were thrown right into a standout bass solo courtesy of Leo. Passing the baton back to David, Leo falls back into the support role while the spotlight then turns its attention to Adam. All the while, with such complexity to his playing, Todd is a constant force behind the kit keeping it all glued together. The tightness and chemistry amongst the band so early into this new lineups tenure is really astonishing. With each member committed to taking this project as far as it can go, there is certainly some special music to be made.
Before going into a couple of originals off their first record, “Puddle” and “Baiao Todd”, Todd got on the microphone to announce that the following Monday they would not be at Salzy. Reason being that they had a very exciting gig at the Rochester Jazz Festival, followed by one at The Rex in Toronto. After some appropriate props from the audience, two new originals, “Keep The Blue Side Up” and the self described band anthem, “Strut Orange”, closed the night in the order that they appear on the record.
“Keep The Blue Side Up” is a tribute to David’s father who is an airline pilot. The blue side, as Todd explained after the show, is a cockpit device used to let the pilot know where the horizon is. He goes on to say that “if you keep the blue side of the dial up, your flying correctly”. In regards to the band, they were flying high and with confidence all night long and weren’t about to slow down now. The song begins with an opening drumbeat that sets the foundation for this soaring guitar line from David, which ties the tune together as he riffs on it throughout. Then, as if they hit sudden turbulence, that melodic guitar gets gritty on the turn of a dime. Always ones to keep the blue side up though, Leo takes control leaving plenty of space for Adam on the keys to come in as that soaring guitar line resurfaces. Before landing, they once again show their tightness as a unit, and courage for that matter, as they attempt a brief free fall before wrapping things up and heading into “Strut Orange”.
The tune seems like a little nod to a classic riff. The slide guitar heavy track finds Todd bouncing off the skins as Leo fills the spaces and circles all around the beat. Behind that wall of sound, Adam keeps poking his head out before stepping up in front midway through track. They really do strut their stuff on this one. “Strut Orange” provides a solid representation of many of the bands capabilities and sounds. It certainly showcases their tight interplay and demonstrates how much control these guys really have over their instruments. A proper calling card if I’ve ever heard one.
As the night came to a close the normally distracted patrons at the front of the bar were sucked in, drawn to applause while drifting closer toward the back of the bar. The band commanded the attention of everyone, even those not expecting it, proving that its only a matter of time before these intimate, free, shows become the talk of the town and a thing of history.
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