Surprisingly, local sextet ¡Bucho! doesn’t sound like a band with three trumpets
Believe it or not, there are people who make pilgrimages to Sacramento because the Deftones originated here. Believing that they will soak up something essential, that mythical intersection of emo-rock expression, hip-hop texture and Black Sabbath dynamics, which can only be sussed by walking the same streets or eating at the same Jimboy’s as Chino and company, these faithful tourists visit our city.
Still, there is another signature sound that radiates from the downtown grid. Apparently, not every one of those thrift-store Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass albums continues to gather dust. Somebody must’ve listened. For one, Vince Di Fiore, part of the popular Sacramento export Cake from the start, shaped that band’s sound via his instrument of choice, the trumpet, working it into a pop-music context.
The trumpet is a difficult instrument to work into a rock-band format because its extroverted, chromium-plated brassiness tends to be out of place in most rigidly four-on-the-four bands, the kind powered by amplified guitars, bass and drums. Trumpet demands a more fluid sound bed in order to shine properly—think jazz, or Latin rhythms.
¡Bucho! is a local sextet, designed around singer-songwriter Gerald Pease, which triples the Cake formula: If one Vince Di Fiore is good, then three (here played by Anthony Coleman, Leon Moore and Justin Williams) must be better. And, like Cake, ¡Bucho!’s rhythm section—bassist Josh Lippi, who co-writes most of the band’s material with Pease; and drummer Derek Taylor, with Pease on the occasionally John McCrea-sounding rhythm guitar—doesn’t mind shambling along like a blunted mariachi band or launching into a tense, rhythm-guitar-driven 1970s funk-band vamp if the music calls for it.
Bucho!, released earlier this year by the San Francisco-based indie label House Cat Records, is similar to Elixir Vitae by formerly local band Low Flying Owls, also released earlier this year, in that both albums likely will be viewed as transitional works once their respective bands get around to recording their follow-ups. Both albums offer glimpses of familiar ground; both point toward startling new territory and show a better-than-average amount of musical growth.
What’s surprising, in ¡Bucho!’s case, is how well Pease has segued from his former vocal approach, which owed much to Eddie Vedder (whose arena-rock bellowing, ironically, always sounded like Blood, Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas stripped of his supporting horn section), to a style that owes more to soul crooners like Al Green. And though Pease is still light years from Green’s perfection (which isn’t a harsh criticism; most everyone else on the planet is, too), he’s managed to incorporate the spirit of Green’s graceful vocal slides without resorting to cartoonish melisma—often the bane of would-be soul singers. The band’s rhythmic subtlety in the softer passages allows Pease the choice to over-sing or explore a softer, more jazz-like vocal style, too. Fortunately, he opts for the latter most of the time. He also sings like a real rock singer in places, too.
The cover of Bucho! features a black-and-white rehearsal-room photograph, of instruments and cases stacked in a corner on the left, and a solid olive-green field on the right, with the band members’ names listed in alphabetic order. It’s an aesthetic statement; substitute a David Stone Martin illustration for the photo, along with a “Verve High Fidelity” logo, and it would look just like a 1950s jazz record.
However, the songs are not likely to become jazz standards, although it wouldn’t be fair to call the songwriting here “weak” by any means. These songs work well within the band’s chosen context, from funk (“Lost Weekend”) to soul (“That’s What I Say,” which mutates into heavy-handed blooze rock) to Cake-like Latin pop (“Hammer” and “Wam”) to interesting fusions of muted trumpet- and organ-fueled groove pop and boilerplate alt-rock (“Old Friend”). What’s nice is how well it works most of the time.
OK, so here’s the short version: This record surprised the ¡infierno! out of me. These guys are on to something. Even if they have three trumpets.