Down at the jam lab
Deconstructing Uncle Dad’s new music series
On the small stage inside the Naked Lounge coffee house sat a big piece of poster board. Affixed to it were enlarged copies of the sheet music for Al Green’s classic love song “Let’s Stay Together” divided into moveable, stick-on sections, sort of like a giant-size, musical version of those refrigerator magnet poetry pieces. Audience members were invited to reorganize the pieces into a “decomposed” arrangement that the house band would perform at the end of the show.
This evening (Jan. 3) was the first installment of Decomposition, an experimental concert series hosted by Chico’s Uncle Dad’s Art Collective. The four-week residency was curated by the collective’s managing director, Joshua Hegg, and features guest artists joining the house band for a night of “visual, auditory and performance art based on the concept of decomposition as it relates to art, science and culture.”
The Uncle Dad’s house band—led by Hegg and featuring his Bogg bandmates Michael Bone on bass and drummer Madison DeSantis, plus a horn and woodwind section composed of flautist Samantha Nickel, Roxanne Winslow on trumpet, Evan Goodson on French horn, and trombonist Aria Radick—started the concert with “Tapestry,” a spoken-word piece recited by writer Angela Youngblood over music composed by Hegg. The horn players delivered their parts from different parts of the room, giving the piece an ambient, surround-sound effect, and the slow tempo of Hegg’s music perfectly complemented the rhythmic flow of Youngblood’s words, which unfortunately often became submerged and obscured beneath the rolling waves of sound.
Bone then took to the mic for his new song, “Same Old Same Old,” a piece that resonated with subtle dynamics and reminded me a bit of some of XTC’s moodier moments.
The Uncle Dad’s set ended with Hegg’s luxuriously languorous “592,” which gave lots of space to the horns, which were highlighted by Winslow’s bouncy trumpet solo followed by the dulcet reply of Goodson’s French horn, all underpinned by the dexterous interplay of the rhythm section.
After a short intermission, the night’s featured act, the Shawn Thwaites Rebel Trio, took the stage, which at this point was dominated by the Sacramento-based band leader’s highly polished pair of steelpans. Accompanied by bassist Ben Kopf and drummer Lem McEwen, Thwaites upped the energy in the room with a quick-tempo, calypso-flavored opener titled “Black Fist,” that in a more open space probably would have inspired some spirited dancing. An ascending bassline led into the next piece, with Thwaites exploring the tonal and dynamic parameters of his very musical percussion instruments via runs of notes from trilling vibrato rolls to chiming clear single notes and metallic low notes. Trumpeter Winslow stepped in for an improvised solo that closed the song and garnered a round of enthusiastic cheering.
Mixing original compositions with such classics as Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” and Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” Thwaites’ set left the audience in high spirits and open to enjoy the performance of their interactive “decomposition.” “Let’s Stay Together” sounded fine, but came off more as an enjoyably clever parlor trick than a high-concept act “centered around the theme of decay” as stated in the preshow press release.
High-concept or not, the quality of the house players and the range of visiting artists is more than enough reason to come out to the Naked Lounge on a Wednesday night to enjoy some well-played new music in an intimate venue while sipping a beer or coffee drink. Still to come: the surreal comedy of the creators of the local Dream Show (Jan. 17) and a collaboration of acclaimed San Francisco musicians, pianist/accordionist Rob Reich and clarinetist Ben Goldberg (Jan. 24).