Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)
Thursday night at Nectar Lounge in Seattle saw one of the venue’s most interesting bills in recent memory. Local contemporary jazz quartet Industrial Revelation started things off, and the headlining act was a super-jam between guitarist Andy Coe, drummer Pete Ciotti, organist Will Blades and DJ Logic.
Industrial Revelation brought a large contingent of fans out to catch their set. Nectar took on the vibe of a jazz club, with many patrons watching from the seats and those standing not pushed so tightly together. The band’s set was nothing less than prolific. The four musicians, drummer D’Vonne Lewis, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, trumpeter Ahamefule Oluo and keyboardist Josh Rawlings, are each among the finest musicians in Seattle at their respective instrument. Within the first track, I was extremely impressed at how well the four of them could play together. They somehow found enough sonic space for all four members to solo simultaneously, while still sounding tasteful and controlled. They walked a fine line between symphony and cacophony; if just one of them had gone a bit overboard the results could have been disastrous at some points. They clearly all place a lot of trust in each other to teeter on this edge, and the gamble pays off big time.
When it came time for the first proper solo of the show, Flory-Barnes drove the crowd mad with his smoothly executed upright bass work. He made the instrument absolutely scream, and was able to use hammer-ons and pull-offs with a proficiency I did not realize was possible on upright. He made brilliant use of his high notes, always adding in the perfect harmonies to his previous lines, but never missing a beat in terms of driving the melody. He passed the spotlight to Rawlings, who wowed us with his refined dynamics and effects usage. As the crowd focused on his keyboard solo, Lewis tip-toed back into the mix behind him, their apparent psychic connection flooring everyone in attendance. As Flory-Barnes locked into a groove with Lewis, Rawlings continued his solo over the top, adding in lots of wah-pedal. Oluo sat this portion out, dancing heartily on the side of the stage. He rejoined the band briefly to close out the song, but you could tell he was due for an explosion later in the show.
The next song was the title track to their new album, Liberation & the Kingdom of Nri, titled “Liberation.” This tune was best described as jazz-influenced space-funk. Flory-Barnes moved the song along with his melodic bass work, occupying the traditional role of a lead guitar beautifully. Oluo truly got his chance to stand out on this track, with his soulful trumpet vibrato and trilling skills displayed front and center. As Lewis kept time, I was stunned at how well he managed to blur the line between human and machine. Rawlings coaxed spacey noises out of his keyboard, using only minimal effects. During this song, I kept thinking that we should send these four musicians into space to meet the aliens, as a representation of the great potential of the human race.
To follow this, they began a tune with a snapping intro from Flory-Barnes and some a capella work. As the whole band came into the mix, he and Lewis again displayed their ability to effortlessly lock into a tight groove. Flory-Barnes continued to impress with his pinch harmonics, and was visibly getting highly involved in the performance, looking almost possessed as he kept up with Lewis’s tempo. Lewis had the biggest smile on his face, you can tell that he takes an enormous amount of well-deserved pride in this project. Over this tight groove, Rawlings started to get extremely funky with the clavinet setting on his keyboard. The entire band was clearly ready to break free of their jazz mold and do something different. Lewis could be heard asking, “Where is Grace Love?!” To answer this question, she came onstage from the crowd. The rest of the band entered full-on funk mode, and she began to sing over them. The jazz audience at Nectar could not believe this was happening, and started to get a bit crazier. Her vocal lines interplayed perfectly with Oluo’s trumpet lines, carrying the melody and moving all of the fans to dance with extra vigor. As the jam slowed down and came towards its end, she embraced Oluo and left the stage.
At this point, the entire band had loosened up significantly since taking the stage. The next song featured an astounding series of full-band, syncopated stops that brought the focus back to the death-defying instrumental talent available onstage. The next track returned a bit to the space-funk territory, visited earlier in the show. Oluo’s trumpet playing absolutely stole the show here, as he went down to his knees to belt his expressive part out to the heavens. Flory-Barnes strutted around behind him, his bassline always keeping the listener guessing as to where it might go next.
The band stopped after this song, and appeared briefly to be finished with their set. The raucous reaction of the crowd quelled these notions, and the band members selected a final song to appease the audience. Flory-Barnes unleashed a barrage of notes that was seemingly endless, until it settled into a smooth quote of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem.” This quote continued, with spacey noise effects in the background from Rawlings, until Lewis and Oluo also joined into the cover. At this point, I was powerless but to scream at this unexpected cover of a personal favorite song. Lewis flawlessly reproduced Phil Selway’s chaotic cymbal work, while Oluo managed to nail the song’s horn part and Thom Yorke’s vocals simultaneously. Their version was complete with an improvised section in the middle, which was tied back into the song after a few minutes by Flory-Barnes’s subtle teasing of the bassline. Oluo eventually brought the song all the way back as he switched back to covering Yorke’s vocal part for a beautiful reprise of the main verse. This was the perfect cherry on top of their set, showing that these artists can handle anything from jazz standards to some of the most contemporary, jazz-inspired music out there. They are bringing groove-oriented jazz to the people in an accessible manner, and it makes me so happy to say that this is something you can only see regularly in Seattle. If you can, try to make it out to see their next show at the Seamonster Lounge on November 30, 2015.
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