It’s Alex Toth, the trumpet-playing founder of Rubblebucket on the phone. He’s just finishing breakfast in Columbus, Missouri, a long way from home in Brooklyn. His band is touring in support of their latest, Live in Chicago. The nucleus of Rubblebucket, a fusion band with great pop hooks, dates back to 2006 when Toth met saxist/vocalist Kalmia Traver at college in Vermont. Within two years they had accumulated additional band members and self-released Rose’s Dream. Today, they are an eight-piece horn band backed by an inventive rhythm section. I tell Toth that I like the Bucket’s use of odd time signatures. “We started out as an Afrobeat band with a tribal, rhythmic groove,” he says. “What keeps it interesting for us is using irregular loops while keeping a strong backbeat.” When Toth invokes the name of Don Ellis — the father of all strange time signatures in modern jazz — I know this is going to get interesting.
Anything other than standard song meters are foreign to most American ears, which are used to four beats per measure. Still, exotic time signatures are not unheard of in pop music. Led Zeppelin worked out a 5/4 rhythm puzzle in “Black Dog,” and the Fab Four recorded the bridge for “Here Comes the Sun” in a complex web of meters, including 5/4. “The Beatles sometimes did it, I think, just to shorten their songs.”
But the late Don Ellis, a 1960s trumpet player and experimental jazzer, went deep into esoteric time signatures such as 13/8 and 7/4. “I don’t know how much Rubblebucket is influenced by that,” Toth says, “but we have a lot of jazz-informed people in the band.” But when I say that Rubblebucket has possibly updated jazz without knowing it, he is quick to disagree. “We’re all capable of playing long solos, but we don’t. We’re on a rock-and-roll tour, playing in rock-and-roll clubs.”
The Heavy Guilt and Big Tree also perform.
RUBBLEBUCKET: The Casbah, Saturday, April 7, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.