Every year, for the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages, and, in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty (or triple-duty in some cases) and also write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. A.H. Goldstein hosted the stage at Dazzle. Page down to read his thoughts. (Note: Due to an unforeseeable technical malfunction our photographer wasn't able to retrieve his photos from Dazzle, so we only have a few photos. If you have any shots you'd like to share, send them to us, and we'll get them added.)
The variety of bands at Dazzle ranged from old-school blues to contemporary R&B, but Aakash Mittal's opening performance set a decidedly jazzy tone for the day. Mittal and his musical collaborators kicked off the day with pensive and dense melodic compositions, tunes like "Without a Name" that included dizzying sax solos from Mittal.
The crowd was still light when the band wrapped up its set, but hard-core jazz connoisseurs and fellow players made the trip out early. Among the highlights of the performance were the band's renditions of tunes freshly recorded by the quartet with Ron Miles -- a suite of songs named after streets in Calcutta featuring hypnotic melodies from guitarist Mat Fuller and impressively acrobatic solos by Mittal.
Experiments with minor scales hinted at traditional Indian song structures, and Fuller's subtle use of feedback on his guitar gave the compositions a fuller feel. By the end of the performance, more concertgoers were beginning to stream into the small Lincoln Street club, but Mittal and his band still wrapped up for a crowd of less than 20.
Raincheck's expertly executed brand of instrumental jazz was an ideal follow-up to Aakash Mittal's set. The quartet offered some similar stretches of abstract solos and cerebral experiments balanced with quick tempos and engaging lead melodies. Guitarist Steve Kovalcheck delivered a series of impressive solos on his Sadowsky guitar, a unique instrument with a tone that perfectly fit the sound of pianist's Ben Markley's solo flights.
Tunes like "Boogaloo" and "Shadow Valley" included impressive instrumentation from all four players, including solos by Kovalcheck high on his guitar's neck that soared from a springboard of a basic 1-4-5 blues structure. As more people began to arrive for the end of Raincheck's set, it was clear that Dazzle wasn't going to maintain the quiet, listening room dynamic it does for most shows. Folks fresh from the heat outside chatted and laughed as the band played, an element that would stand out less for the coming acts.
By the time Young Austin and NO difference, sixteen-year-old guitar prodigy Young and his bassist and drummer, took the stage, the room was at about 75 percent capacity. That crowd seemed to grow immediately as soon as Young Austin exploded with his vibrant and passionate take on traditional blues. Backed by bassist Noah Mast and Tim Young (Austin's dear old dad), Young Austin didn't waste time in breaking into his trademark brand of impressive theatrics.
Mere minutes into the first song, the guitarist descended from the stage, walking among the crowd and delivering a high-energy solo as he traveled. Before he rejoined his band, Young Austin lay his guitar on one of the lounge's tables and used a ketchup bottle as a slide. In addition to his emotive vocals, the prowess drew a capacity crowd immediately and earned the trio a standing ovation after their half-hour set.
Dan Treanor's commitment to the roots of the blues is clear in the lyrics to his tunes, songs that proudly claim an exclusive love for the bedrock compositions of the genre. That devotion was also pretty easy to spot in Treanor's instrumentation for his live set at the Showcase with the Afrosippi Band.
Treanor kicked off the set with an instrument that look as if were pulled from decades back, a stringed instrument with a body like a banjo that could have come from the golden age of the delta blues. Treanor attacked the neck with a slide for the band's first song, a tune built around a classic call-and-response field holler structure. Treanor's love for the old-school approach to blues was also clear in his harmonica solos and spirited vocals.
If the crowd seemed to grow suddenly for Young Austin and NO difference's set, it positively exploded in the minutes before the Informants took the stage. Finding a place to stand in the back of the room was a challenge as soon as the sextet kicked off their high-energy fusion of vintage soul, danceable R&B and high energy worthy of any punk outfit.
Lead vocalist Kerry Pastine delivered soulful and spirited vocals from the first moments of the set, as guitarist Paul Shellooe, bassist Mac McMurray and drummer Nate Nicholson laid down a solid rhythmic foundation. Saxophonist Jonny "Motherf'n" Love was a fount of constant energy, climbing down from the stage and delivering solos from the middle of the crowd. The band switched between new and old material, playing to the hard-core fans who'd made the trip to Dazzle and the casual attendees who'd been around for the previous bands.
The instrument may figure into the title of Greg Harris's ensemble, but the set of vibes in the center of the stage didn't really play a role until the end of the band's set on Saturday. Instead, most of the performance was centered around Harris' piano work, an expansive style that drove riff-based, driving compositions. Harris and the other four players laid down catchy lead melodies early on in the tunes, a musical foundation that set off impressive vocal solos from guest vocalist Venus Cruz.
The accessible mix of jazz and R&B was a dip in energy level after the high-octane performances of the Informants and Young Austin, but the room remained packed. The crowd followed Cruz's emotional renditions of Mr. Rogers' "Won't You Be My Neighbor" anthem with attention and interest, and they gave due attention to Harris when he finally switched from the piano to the vibes. His solos on the latter were meditative and nuanced -- it was worth the short wait to hear him play.
The crowd thinned a little by the time Carmen Sandim took the stage with a few familiar players. Raincheck guitarist Matt Fuller and bassist Jean-Luc Davis joined Sandim and two other players for an impressive set, a performance that highlighted an impressive flair for composition and songwriting. Indeed, Sandim's tunes balanced musical complexity and live energy, mixing airy and graceful solos from the pianist with unexpected shifts in song structure and harmony. The ensemble offered a wide range of contours in the band's thirty-minute set, veering from the intensity of some of John Coltrane's latter bands to the nuance and subtlety of Vince Guaraldi.
-- A.H. Goldstein
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