Friday, May 29, 2009

Our work and why we do it

Honestly, sometimes I get a bigger kick out of reading student reviews of the IJG than I do the sort of (often) self-important prose that passes for music criticism these days. Not that I have any lasting grudge against self-important prose -- I spew enough of it into the world myself. But, from the point of view of a bandleader who is tryin' to do somethin' different, it's refreshing every once in a while (or even more frequently than that!) to step out of the high-minded discourse community of music critics, and see what kind of impression you're making on the youth of the world.

(Of course I'm not the only one who feels this way.)

Witness this nice piece written by Manny Beltran, one of the attendees at our Bakersfield show back in April (pictured above with Jill Knapp and Tany Ling):

"Oh crap here we go!" these are the opening words sung by Jill Knapp, one of the two singers of The Industrial Jazz Group. And "here we go" is right: the 11-piece horn section is adorned with random hats that range from a wizard's hat to a lobster head. The trombonist, Mike Richardson, did not wear a hat; instead he appears on stage wearing nothing but a nude color speedo.

But don't let the Josie and the Pussycat ears, the metallic alien outfit or any of the of-the-wall hats fool you. Underneath the geeky and funky hats are musicians, skilled musician with tons of energy ready to be unleashed into the crowd.

The Industrial Jazz Group is the brain child of Andrew Durkin. He formed the band in the spring of 2000 as a straight forward jazz quintet that over the years evolved to what he calls the "big band monstrosity."

Durkin's influences early on were Frank Zappa, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Raymond Scott just to name a few. He played the classical piano as a kid and turned to rock as teen, then as he became older and wiser began listening to more jazz.

The 17 piece eccentric ensemble plays Durkin's loose form of jazz. His arrangements change tempos and styles going from swing to waltz to sultry latin flavors all in the same song. An entertaining style of jazz that Jill feels is more accessible to audiences that don't normally listen to the genre. "Jazz isn't scary," she exclaims.

The two vocalists, Knapp and Tany Ling would prefer to be known as part of the band as opposed to lead singers. Durkin's songs have few "true" lyrics, instead the vocalists use their voices as instruments, humming or making sound effects or repeating phrases such as "why I oughta!", "jazz pop jerk offs!" or "diarrhea!". And while the brass section goes in and out of short solos or whirlwind arrangements, you will find Knapp and Ling in funny quasi-synchronized dances. But the ladies can't have all the fun dancing the night away, so occasionally the horn section will do their own renditions of what can only be assumed is dancing. And as the saying goes they "dance like nobody is watching."

All these antics are to connect with the audience and get them dancing and the resulting effect is a reciprocal one. The more the crowd gets into the show and dances, the more energy the band gives back. Knapp admits that playing in the Dore Theatre is a challenge considering the audience is seated and had no room to dance. But it isn't hard to see heads and shoulders swaying rhythmically to the music along with the faint sound of tapping feet. During one song, Ling ran off the stage and began to dance and clap having the audience clap along with her.

Bassist Oliver Newell describes his experience with the band as "quite different from any other band" he's been in. He adds, "it's wonderfully excessive post-modernism."

The band also has a local resident of Bakersfield, Kris Tiner. He has been with the band for seven years and he teaches music part-time at Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield. He says of Durkin, called by some band members the evil genius, concerning the loose environment, "He lets people do what you want to do." This atmosphere seems to breed love amongst the musicians. Knapp can attest to this, "I have a crush on the band (as a whole). It's a love."

When asked if they wanted to add anything else Mike Richardson said, "Oliver trains albino rats" and Knapp adds, "Richardson has his way with watermelons." Can't you feel the love?

Described by its members as a big party, The Industrial Jazz Group had a big party on Friday night and everyone in attendance danced, laughed and had a great time.

Who could ask for anything more? Thanks, Manny!


Kris Tiner said... of the more accurate reviews we've gotten, right down to that line about Richardson's watermelons.

Anonymous said...

This question of a particular influence has somehow always evaded me during our many "discussions:"

You love Juan Garcia Esquivel, don't you? Don't lie!


Andrew Durkin... said...

Ian, apropos of nothing, but with your sign-off you just reminded me of a great song title that I want to use soon: "Ian C Catches Some Zs." Thanks!

And fuck yeah -- Esquivel! I don't care what Robert Christgau says, I love a lot of the space-age pop stuff that came back into fashion a few years ago.

Andrew Durkin... said...

KT -- Agreed.