Micromassé: Because You Have Friends

Party like it’s 1986

Micromassé bring their Friends to the party

Twelve songs and 45 minutes: So over! The single reigns supreme.

No wonder instrumental trio Micromassé chose to follow-up their debut self-titled full-length with a two-song maxi-single of sorts. How very contemporary [this was written in late 2014].

Except that they printed it up on a CD and gave it a proper title, Because You Have Friends. With a “Side A” and a “Side B,” even if they’re only one long song each. How very 1986.

That was the year, of course, that Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush released “Don’t Give Up,” which Micromassé cover as their opening track, with Sara Hallie Richardson donating her skills to cover both the verse and chorus parts and Lucas Desmond, Joe Parra and Dave Noyes lending horn talents (hence the album title: the lyric from the song and all the guest types).

Heard the full album version of “Don’t Give Up” lately? Off So? It’s actually pretty funky, with two distinct movements and a touch of afrobeat, stretching out past six minutes (of the numerous cover versions, I’ll take Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor). Micromassé get that all out of the way in about 3:25. Richardson sings the verses in feverish double time, then takes a few beats to hit the Bush falsetto in the chorus, and it turns the song inside out, making “the trees had burned down to the ground” sound like an upbeat Irish reel.

By the “we’re proud of who you are” finishing lyrics, she’s in full-voice vibrato, more aggressive than you’ve heard her, dialing up the song’s intensity. Still, though, the track’s only halfway done.

Then it’s time for the funk (in a non-cheesy way), Max Cantlin laying down a hopping bass and Pete Dugas firing in organ chords before a three-piece horn section turns it into a rave-up, with Richardson just languidly dripping in takes on the title phrase. Two takes on the same song, one rock-pop, the other open jazz, back to back, one track. And a lot of fun.

“Tout Le Monde,” the side B written by Dugas, is much more Herbie Hancock. Parra’s baritone sax is a fat bleat in the opening riffs and the first great break comes from Chris Sweet on the conga/percussion break, which is joined by Dugas with unique percussive organ work.

Later, at six minutes or so, the percussion drops away to nothing but handclaps and we get a series of riffs from Noyes on the trombone and Desmond on the alto sax, with Cantlin laying down a wicka-wicka behind them that’s only in the right channel. The contrast with the intense opening track is striking – this is laid back, messing around, seeing what happens. It’s hard not to get a kick out of the interplay and choreography.

By the time everyone comes back in for the full-band sound, they’re just rolling, with a big band sound like one of those New Orleans stages full of family friends.

But we’re referencing 1986 here, remember, so you’d better be expecting the digital interruption that comes in late, like someone changed the channel to the digital input so they could resume a game of Frogger (watch out for the random fast cars!). It rips you right out of the pocket.

Not to worry, though. It’s only 20 seconds worth, and then it’s right back to the jam, horns swelling and jabbing, organ in lock step, drums conjuring up dreams of Cuba in a sweaty close out that finally stretches past 10 minutes.

Really, Micromassé as a trio works just fine, a jazz outfit rolled in future dust with a great album of smart instrumentals, but these friends are difference makers that create a funkier complement to some of the great R&B outfits Portland has put together (Inside Straight, Model Airplane, etc.). It’s likely a one-off, but that’s more than fine if Micromassé has a few more ideas for creative expression up their sleeves.