Jazz, writ large and small
The Fogcutters have to be one of the better local music stories of the past decade. You know you’ve got a local fanbase with taste when one of the most popular acts is an old-time big band doing everything from traditional swing to hip-hop covers.
So maybe there’s room for Micromassé, also featuring guitarist Max Cantlin and playing old-time jazz, though this time in trio format, and all originals, and without any singing. Cantlin, also known for his work with Gypsy Tailwind/Anna Lombard and This Way, is joined by organist Peter Dugas (the Awesome, Inside Straight, Zion Train, etc.) and drummer Chris Sweet (Zach Jones, Dan Capaldi, Radiation Year) in creating a tight group that throws back to the hey-day of bop-style jazz, while bringing in elements of R&B, pop, and Latin works.
This isn’t American Standard Songbook stuff, though. There’s fusion at work here, and Dugas writes all the pieces, so there are times when everything sounds completely contemporary, but it’s more often you’ll be reminded of the likes of Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery on the guitar, or Rhoda Scott and Herbie Hancock on the organ.
Okay, maybe not as out there as Hancock got, but check out Scott if you don’t know her. She could rip and Dugas can certainly lay it down, with plenty of bass notes from his feet, too.
That’s how he starts “Novi Sad,” a 10-minute midpoint in the band’s 10-song self-titled debut album. Actually, it’s a cowbell from Sweet that goes first, but then comes Dugas’ moody bass and trudging chords, setting up a foundation for Cantlin’s guitar to ride on, just a series of repeating riffs, feeling the way through the song’s open. It’s a completely organic experience that manages to feel digital in the way each instrument introduces repeating parts, transitions them to something else, and then exits for a bit. Like a producer with nearly infinite riffs at her disposal.
Then, with about 1:20 to go, the whole thing fades out and introduces an entirely new song for a rousing jam, like Nigel Hall midway through a 20-minute jam, but less manic and Sweet’s got a lighter hand than most jam or R&B/soul drummers.
Why make that bit part of the larger 10-minute track? Well, Micromassé don’t have to explain themselves to you. They’re going to go wherever their fancy takes them, whether it’s into a soaring crescendo that crests and plays out in “Tamed Cynic,” before a Dugas freak out that ends in a solitary note like a laser beam, or Cantlin doing an upstroke and playful chime in “Hinche,” then moving to an improvised group of phrases that seem to come to him after a moment’s listen to what the universe is whispering in his ear.
My personal favorite is probably “Ruelle Des Urculines,” a waltzing ballroom tune that still manages to open like Midnight Marauders. The organ is sing-songy like a an ‘80s sitcom – is that Jack Tripper bouncing around the corner? Sweet is crisp with the high hat and Cantlin is reserved in his chimes so Dugas really has the floor. Later, Cantlin comes busting in easy and free, like California beaches and the wind in your hair.
“Fero City Shuffle” is pretty easy to sidle up to, too, with a big whack on the snare for a consistent beat and Dugas picking out a strutting bass with his feet. This is the most bluesy tune here, and there are echoes of that Buddy Guy revival that happened in the guitar lead, but the chorus (I think you can call it that) picks up the rock vibe and the song ends in a hurry, too short.
You can say that for the album as whole, actually. It seems to end before you’re ready for it. It’s belittling the work to say it’s great background music while you’re working or reading, but it sure does work for that sort of thing. It also works just fine if you want to put it on and make listening to it your primary occupation.
Photo credit: Erin Little