By Ryan Garmoe
This past Monday, two jazz groups with an electric tilt showcased their stuff for the final evening of March Madness Mondays at Icehouse. The evening opened with 69 Dodge, which features Zacc Harris (guitar), Cody McKinney (bass), and Dave Power (drums). Labeling this group as strictly jazz is difficult. They turn the volume down to 1 and incorporate elements of post-rock, ambient, and electronica. While the music is undoubtedly rooted in improvisation, normal jazz distinguishers of form and melody became equals with the 69 Dodge’s emphasis on texture, space, and development.
Harris’ tasteful use of guitar pedals allowed him to occupy a realm of gestures rather than full-blown melodies. It’s a guitar vocabulary reminiscent of Gilhad Hekselman and his work in John Raymond’s Real Feels. Underneath, McKinney patiently plucked a balance of droning basslines and glacially developing rhythmic ideas, which were given room to breathe below Power’s equally tempered approach to the drum set. The group played four tunes in their 45-minute set, but each composition was engaging and thoughtful. Most groups create excitement by getting louder, but 69 Dodge went the opposite direction. The group’s most triumphant moments were also the most delicate.
Following 69 Dodge was Thoughtcast, a new ensemble led by bassist Graydon Peterson. Joining Peterson in Thoughtcast are Jake Baldwin (trumpet), Joe Strachan (keys and synthesizers), and Ben Ehrlich (drums). Like 69 Dodge, Thoughtcast shrugs off the normative jazz moniker and incorporates metal, punk, electronica, and indie elements. A close comparison might be the Kneebody, fronted by Ben Wendel, or the Norwegian group Jaga Jazzist.
Thoughtcast emphasizes rhythm but still manages to groove. The odd time signatures and expansive melodies lock together in what could either induce headbanging or a trance, depending on your mood. Much of the rhythmic force comes from the interplay between Peterson and Ehrlich, which provides measures of continual rhythmic displacement and then finally resolves into a blood-pumping unison hit. This excitement amplifies during one of Baldwin’s trumpet solos, where his fire-breather lines add another layer of energy on top of an already galvanized foundation.
Perhaps the hero in codifying Thoughtcast’s sound is keyboardist and synthesist Joe Strachan Sound design and synthesis are art forms; it’s much more than pressing down a series of keys! Strachan’s carefully crafted tones added perfect texture to the ensemble’s sound, rather than bogging it down. When combined with Baldwin’s adventurous use of guitar pedals, Strachan’s electronics give the ensemble an extra expressive gear inaccessible by purely acoustic formats.
Overall, 69 Dodge and Thoughtcast indicate a broader trend in jazz to explore and incorporate seemingly disparate genres and sounds. It leads to exciting music, and the Twin Cities are lucky to have musicians pushing the jazz envelope. There’s also a rumor that Thoughtcast is heading into the recording studio sometime next week. Keep your eyes peeled for what will surely be an excellent release!