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Gleaming the Cube

Shot X Shot and Nozal Cube, Red Room, May 20

By Jess Harvell | Posted 5/31/2006

The four members of Philadelphia’s Shot X Shot are probably half the age of the average working jazz band. They look like fresh-faced indie rockers who got surreptitiously dosed one day with Jimmy Giuffre’s Free Fall or The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy. Matt Engle’s skinny arms barely look thick enough to cart his bass from gig to gig. The four Shot boys didn’t listen when someone told them to trade in their horns for guitars if they wanted to pull chicks. And thank God, ’cause the world can always use one less rock band and one more person sticking up a middle finger at the idea of jazz being dead.

Under a romantic backdrop of empty cardboard boxes at the Red Room, Shot X Shot began at a rustle, the low moan of bowed bass and gently stroked cymbals. Things slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, built into riots of bent notes and awkward rhythms. The saxophones traded long, lyrical asides from a written score only to arrive at untranslatable bird squawks. At one point tenor player Bryan Rogers was simply passing air across his reed like the whimper of a chained dog.

The real highlight was drummer Dan Capechi, one of those players where no smackable surface is safe. He flipped his mallets to tap the frame of his kit, brushed cymbals, dropped shakers onto drumheads, and occasionally even swung, albeit in a twitchy, jerky kind of way. Talking to Scofield after the set, he mentioned that Shot X Shot was playing a more traditional jazz club the next day in Washington, and while the band wouldn’t exactly be breaking into standards, it had gone clomping a little further into the high grass of improvisation tonight given the venue.

Nozal Cube had little to do with jazz, or any genre for that matter. In the grand tradition of Frenchmen making a hellafied racket by turning some knobs, the three middle-aged Francophones of Nozal hunched over their keyboards, computers, mixing desks, contact mics, and everyday objets, all webbed together via group mind and a tangle of wires. This was music that could be appreciated on two levels. Close your eyes and suddenly you’re in an underwater grotto on Neptune or listening to an orchestra of car alarms. Open your eyes and you could try and figure out how a man rubbing a candlestick could produce the sound of huge, distant footsteps. And despite a few thrilling bursts of static, Nozal also resisted the urge to bully the audience with noise, always appreciated.

There was an impromptu third set, as the Shot boys and Nozal and whatever remained of the audience squeezed in among the chairs and books and general detritus for a seven-man improvisation. Perhaps in deference to the folks making music with fingers, tubes, wood, and breath, Nozal scurried around the edges of this group noise like mice, though occasionally one of the machines belched smoke and fire, prompting a fusillade on the traps from Capechi. It didn’t always work: The urge in these situations is toward scribbly modal chaos, and a little bit of breathing room would have helped. But it was also the performance of the evening that hewed closest to the Red Room’s mission of throwing players together and seeing what happens. Sometimes jazz is where you find it.

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