Thursday, January 12, 2012

Herculaneum Came to Pittsburgh

Playing right now: Herculaneum - Uchu

I got to see the above Chicago-based band and thought it fit to spin their album while writing about them this morning. They played at AVA, which hosts a Monday night jazz jam each week but doesn't usually have live bands. Most of the time, they present d.j.s.

There had been some confusion about this show, because at first I wasn't sure if it was going to happen at the Shadow Lounge (the older venue that's connected to AVA) or here. Then, not seeing any listing for it anywhere, I wondered if it was still happening. But I heard from the band's drummer Dylan Ryan that yes, it was going to happen and things would start at 7 p.m. Which of course meant 8 p.m., which is also fine, since that allowed for me to run across the street and get some pizza. (I hadn't had dinner.)

Herculaneum consists of four horns - trombone (Nick Broste), alto sax (David McDonnell), tenor sax/flute (Nate Lepine), and trumpet (Patrick Newbery) - plus Ryan on drums and Greg Danek on bass. A review in NPR described them as "like Charles Mingus if he lived in the 21st century" which gets to the heart of the matter, I suppose. But their tendency to play in non-4/4 time made me think of Dave Holland's larger bands, or something in league with another great horn-heavy band, Dead Cat Bounce.

Their tunes, many written by Ryan, with some by McDonell, Lepine and Newbery, often have simple chordal structures, with Danek holding things together with a steady riff, which leaves the horns to play melodies and countermelodies and harmonies on top of them. Things never got too free, though it was often at arms length. I especially liked McDonell's approach on alto, since he sounded pretty melodic but he wasn't after to overblow a little or get into a high trill for dramatic sake. There simply aren't enough trombone players doing this kind of music so I always seem to get caught up what they do. Broste was no exception. I thought of Roswell Rudd during one of his solos and I'm not sure if that's an accurate assessment or if it came to mind because he sounded gruff. Ryan really kept things swinging too, especially in the 5/4 tunes. Every so often he'd let fly with some killer accent during a solo. One time he even started a song sounding like George Hurley. (I heard he's actually from California, so maybe that's why.)

Uchu, the album I'm playing, is out on vinyl, so I had to buy it. I had a no-cover advance sent to me that didn't even have the song titles on the one-sheet, so it was a necessary purchase. I also got a copy of a previous disc that Clean Feed put out. Look these cats up at

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