• Jam Session alerts

The parts that comprise the Ensemble Off n On, namely, guitarist Nate Jarrell, double bassist Harley Magsino and drummer Jeanette Kangas are each virtuoso, daring musicians in their own right. As a unit, they haven't quite come to that point in their development that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts...yet. I'm quite confident that if they were to acquire a residency somewhere, that equation would reverse itself.

In jazz, though, you have to love a band that takes big chances, even if, or especially when it doesn't work out perfectly.

That's the impression I came away with after checking out the CD-release party for their self-titled disc last night at 3rd Space. Their approach was very loose — sometimes so loose that things began to fall apart — and those were frequently my favorite moments--perhaps because the danger factor was so imminently palpable.

The show began with a short set by the percussion duo of Kangas and Tim Bender, performing under the moniker of Harold's Hobo. Kangas and Bender each sat in front of a variety of garden-pots, plastic buckets, stainless steel bowls and a variety of noisemakers, bells, and even penny-whistles. Together, they pounded out a delightful assortment of second-line extrapolations, African-sounding beats, militaristic cadences, and more pointillistic efforts that reminded me of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Ensemble Off n On began their set with a Jarrell original from their new disc, "The Turtles Are Racing Tonight," which aside from it's cumbersome title, has an inherent, attractive flow. Jarrell's sly voice-leading animates this start and stop composition--but Magsino's double-bass plus electronics took it to a whole 'nother level.

Special guest, vocalist Leonard Patton joined the group for an oblique reading of the Ornette Coleman classic, "Happy House." The band, and Patton, seemed to be feeling their way through this, and with Patton taking on the role of instrumental soloist, the momentum started to flag early. Soon, he locked in with the remarkably strong drumming of Kangas to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat--although victory had some wounds that needed tending to. The band began to coalesce around Magsino's pedal-point, which acted as a strong platform for Jarrell to head skyward with a gritty, grainy solo. The bassist was up next, laying it down with a feature that navigated the divide between Charlie Haden and Dave Holland to rich effect.

Kangas' arrangement of Monk's "Think Of One," in 11/4 time was super ambitious, but it left me with a serious doubt of my own ability to count past ten. It seemed to fare better when the band went into free-time, for me.

Magsino's "When The World Ends," came off brilliantly, a sort of "free-rock", highly rhythmic adventure over a wicked, loping bass line and the protean propulsion of Kangas. Jarrell let loose with a winding improvisation, and the drummer's support grew nastier by the measure.

It's probably a generational thing, but to me, choosing to close the concert with three straight rock cover tunes by Radiohead, Soundgarden and Nirvana was taxing.

I mean, the band basically used the themes as jumping off points to free-improv, and once they got to the free-improv, they played the hell out of them. Patton, especially, soared in his vocal interpretation --mostly because Patton can belt out a song like nobody's business.

The smart-aleck in me wishes they would just go for broke in these cover situations--why not a free-jazz version of "Who Let The Dogs Out"? or Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy-Breaky-Heart"?

But that's probably just the old-guy in me whining about the decisions younger people make.

The larger point is, that it was a great concert, made even better because risks were taken.

Photo by Ian Tordella

  • Jam Session alerts


pattbush43 July 9, 2012 @ 6:10 p.m.

There are many risks in music (and life) but w/out risks things don't change and grow.


Sign in to comment

Get $5 off any Reader event

Sign up for our email list to get your promo code