PERSONNEL: Dan Weiss (drums, compositions), Craig Taborn (synthesizer, electric piano, piano, electronics), Matt Mitchell (synthesizer, piano, electronics), Trevor Dunn (electric bass), Ben Monder (electric guitar)
SET LIST: Annica, Depredation, A Puncher’s Chance, Ennio and Angelo, Cry Box, The memory of my memory, Veiled, Episode 8 (all by Weiss)
HIGHLIGHTS: Trevor Dunn’s unaccompanied solo on “Cry Box.” While strumming endless consecutive eighth-notes, he expressed three key elements of the music: drone, melody, and a physical approach to rhythm.
Starebaby, Dan Weiss’s new heavy metal-inspired quintet, extends the tradition of aggressive jazz-rock groups like The Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Naked City. Ben Monder, Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell all share Weiss’s interest in metal, and Trevor Dunn’s work with Mr. Bungle makes him an influential metal musician in his own right. A certain kind of cinematic ethos was also in play: “Ennio and Angelo” refers to Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti and “Episode 8” was a response to Twin Peaks.
The vamp that bookended the set served as a microcosm. Taborn and Dunn supplied an droning ostinato in 11/8, while Mitchell and Monder played a long, atonal melody. While these were straightforward on their own, together, the two parts created a complex composite rhythm. Formally, Weiss’s compositions featured multiple contrasting movements, allowing for a series of metallic styles as well as detours into free jazz and ambience. In addition to solos over vamp-based sections, every member of the band was featured in at least one unaccompanied solo, that could function as an introduction or a segue between sections or compositions. A sense of teamwork was on display as band members traded functions within the music, with no one voice dominating.
Sonically, the guitar section provided the extended low range and distorted tones typical of metal. Over this foundation, Taborn and Mitchell used a range of keyboard sounds and textures to fulfill their various tasks. At times these sounds enhanced the guitar section, adding low end or evoking additional distorted guitars. Alternately, they could compliment the guitars by using a string patch or an aggressive, buzzy lead sound. Perhaps best of all, they could use their synthesizers and electronics as sound generators, creating all sorts of buzzing and swooping electronic mayhem that created an atmosphere and context for the written material.
— by Noah Berman