You might find it hard to believe that I’d never been to the Brass Mug in Tampa. It opened the year after I moved here (1973), and has relocated twice recently, hosting thousands upon thousands of shows.
While you might not believe it took me 41 years to get there, believe this: it’ll be another 41 years before I go back. Here is the problem: the Brass Mug usually showcases metal and death metal and heaven knows what all there. The sound man is interested in volume, not nuance. It’s not his fault, really; it’s what he knows. Music during the first set break? “The Wizard” from the first Black Sabbath LP. (I LOVE that album; I’m just sayin’…) Unfortunately, three bands who rely on nuance played there Sunday night, and much of the nuance was lost to the superball bounce of the bass and to sheer volume.
Here was the potential trade-off: use earplugs, lose a lot of the detail. Don’t use earplugs, lose your hearing. I’ve lost enough of that already, thank you.
OK, I’ve said my piece. Enough kvetching (well, almost).
Currentz opened the festivities. I had seen them for the first time on the last day of the Hometeam New Year’s Rally, and they put on a spirited performance perfect for that Sunday afternoon. They describe their music as “reggae (roots/dub), funk, improvisational.” These labels are so limiting, because they, like most of the bands we fit into the “jam” category, can do so much more.
Their first tune was a bouncy ska piece that really showcased tenor sax player Cody Moore (who doubled later on alto) and Ryan Hiers on trombone as well as drummer Eric Layana. Hiers in particular talent demonstrated excellent chops and ideas all set long.
Brandan Lewis handled all the vocals and played guitar. Sadly, both were difficult to distinguish at times because Justin Y’s bass rumbled much too loud throughout. Understand for certain that was not Justin’s fault; that lies squarely in the sound booth in back. The second tune was in a similar vein, while the third song was more jammy and featured some nice changes.
The fourth tune was a very nice jam excursion, and this time Lewis’ guitar was heard to good effect. A great trippy rock tune followed that with more wah-wah guitar and a nice alto sax solo (often difficult to hear over the din of the room). Another strong tune was next with nice harmony with Justin adding vocals and great trombone and alto solos.
Two solid ska tunes finished off the hour set. I know they sound great in the right setting, and it’s unfair to compare this cavernous box to the great outdoors at Maddox Ranch, but these boys deserved better. Kudos for a great set in spite of the sound.
Captain Green, a sextet out of Baton Rouge, were the out-of-town guests for the evening. I had seen them (much too briefly) at Bear Creek in November before friends dragged me off to see Freddy’s Finest (there are so many great bands out there!), so I was truly looking forward to an uninterrupted set. Whatever I thought I remembered, my estimate of their talents was woefully short.
Captain Green describes the band’s music as “Thrash Funk / Sci-fi Noir / Intergalactic Space-Jazz.” I’m not touching that! I would say it’s uncannily accurate. The band is preparing for its CD release party at home in Baton Rouge (with Naughty Professor – talk about just plain ridiculous!). The disk, Protect Each Other Together, has six tracks, including a brief into and four of the songs clocking in between 12 and 17 minutes apiece, delightful instrumental romps.
Based on my prejudices, I would make this observation. For those bands in the jazz/funk / funk/jazz vein, those with stronger jazz backgrounds have greater range and flexibility and can blow it up in a variety of directions. Captain Green is a perfect proponent of the Louisiana music tradition (I was going to narrow it down to that other LA city, but I see the wider view is more accurate). They use jazz as launching pad to get to space, and, boy, do they ever get there!
The sextet was also saddled with a lousy sound mix, but they too still sounded great. Darin Jones started off on alto sax and had a nice solo, as did Grant Hudson on guitar (and I hope I have all the names right, comparing the Facecrack page and the CD liner notes and autographs. Jones switched to baritone sax for the second tune, which featured a great drum interlude from Li’l Mike Harris (possibly short in stature, but NOTHING little about his massive presence on the drum kit). And there is just something fascinating about watching a bari player, given the monstrous nature of the instrument.
The fourth song out was a lengthy complex tune with Ross Hoppe’s long synthesizer into, some deluxe unison horn work with Jones and trumpeter David Melançon and a funky, chunky guitar solo. This might (or might not) have been “1st Movement: Too Druck to Funk” from the new CD. Hoppe’s keyboards colored the music the entire set, and I was notably impressed with Melançon’s work all night.
Their closing piece was an even longer, even trippier “Death to the Fascist Insect Which Bleeds the Life of the People.” Take that! Robert Kling was particularly great on bass on this one (and blame the sound booth again for the bass rumble).
They had played with Dispace the previous night, Serotonic this night, and Holey Miss Moley to come on Wednesday, three of this area’s best jazz/funk standard-bearers. This was a well-planned trip, to my way of thinking.
That left Serotonic to close the festivities. I have probably written about them more than any other band on my blog, and I don’t plan to stop. This was a terse, well-delivered six-song set (by my count). They kicked off with “Think Fast,” the song they (almost) end with Jordan Garno’s guitar vamping the Hendrix “Who Knows” jam.
The Captain Green boys were hanging out, playing pool, enjoying themselves, as were the Currentz fellows. When Bryan Lewis launched “Rhinobelly” with that signature synthesizer sound, I was pumped, despite not feeling well all evening. It was yet another strong version of my favorite of their originals. Just then, Melançon sprinted to the back, grabbed his trumpet, and came out and blew a dynamite solo that fit the groove perfectly. Garno and Rob Sanger (bass) blew up the solo section, to my delight.
That, perhaps, is what I love about the jam genre more than anything else – that these men (and ladies, in other bands) just love to play, love to experiment, love to collaborate, love to have a good time. It’s not for the “fat stacks, to be sure;” it’s for love.
Jon Tucker sounded great on alto, and somehow the sound was marginally better for him and Serotonic. And Andrew Kilmartin was inspired by Li’l Mike and had an adventurous night on drums. The band knocked out the various changes of “Jelly,” and Garno continues to find his voice signing “You Move So Well.”
I think the last tune was “Cinotores.” I asked Kelly-Ann, and she thought so, too. You’d think by now we would know the names of all the instrumentals!
Lousy sound aside, it was a great night. I look forward to seeing all three bands again soon (Captain Green Wednesday at the Ringside in St. Pete with Holey Miss Moley! In my new shirt!).
Just not at the Brass Mug.
Great to see the Serotonic ladies! Always!