From the moment he stepped out onto the tiny Joe's Pub stage tonight, Wade Schuman wasted no time in asserting his credentials as a musician to be reckoned with. Pulling out a harmonica, Schuman played an unaccompanied solo of stunning imagination and skill. He made the tiny instrument sing and growl; he blew multiphonic lines punctuated by sharp, percussive pops. During one stretch, he created a doppler-like effect; the closest comparison I could make would be a speeding train winding through a hilly countryside, the sound shuttered by trees and swallowed by the occasional tunnel.
The stage thus set, Schuman brought out the rest of his band, Hazmat Modine. The band offers the following description of its sound on its MySpace page: "Hazmat Modine plays the kind of blues one might have found in a whorehouse in New Orleans had the city been built on the Black Sea somewhere alongside Macao and inhabited by Gypsies." That's actually a pretty good line, although it doesn't account for the band's fondness for ska and reggae rhythms; maybe the brothel in which they work is frequented by vacationing Jamaicans? I did my best to describe the band in a review of its debut CD, Bahamut, that appeared in this week's TONY. Filled with joyous sounds, piquant arrangements and memorable songs with clever lyrics, the disc is warmly recommended to fans of Taj Mahal, Leon Redbone and Tom Waits. (I'm not entirely sure how the CD can be acquired except at the band's live shows, but you can hear samples on the abovementioned MySpace page as well as the band's own site; the latter also includes Schuman's contact information.)
Intrigued by the notion of a group that could hold the stage at both the urban-blues stronghold Terra Blues and the more eclectic Park Slope joint Barbès, I trudged out tonight as the first snowflakes began to fall. I was concerned that the weather might stall the audience tonight, but needn't have worried; by the time I arrived at 7pm, people were being turned away from the sold-out show.
Following that striking opening solo, Schuman brought out his fellow Hazmats: harmonica player Randy Weinstein, guitarists Pete Smith and Michael Gomez, trumpeter Pam Fleming, tuba player Joseph Daley and drummer Rich Huntley. Scott Robinson, a shockingly proficient, versatile multi-instrumentalist most closely associated with the trad-jazz revival of the early '80s, came out on crutches and sat in with the band all night, contributing saucy clarinet, boisterous euphonium and bumptuous sounds from his absurdly large contrabass saxophone. Trombonist J. Walter Hawkes joined the band for its opening blast, the reggaefied blues "Yesterday Morning."
One decidedly retro touch that lent the evening a brisk pace was an insistence on concise solos. Any of these players could no doubt have held forth at lengths more common in modern jazz performances; instead, reined in to a tidy chorus or two, each was compelled to turn in a tight, focused statement, then cede the spotlight. "Broke My Baby's Heart" was the closest Hazmat Modine came to playing a conventional blues; "Grade-A Gray Day" gave Weinstein a chance to shine on chromatic harmonica while the leader took up his resonant lute guitar. The whimsical mythology of "Bahamut" provided a showcase for Robinson's contrabass sax, which resounded with a flatulent huff that played nicely against Daley's ripe, round tuba lines.
"Everybody Loves You" is one of three songs on the CD that feature Tuvan throat-singing marvels Huun-Huur-Tu, who were in Seattle tonight -- somewhat closer than Mongolia but not close enough, it was reported. Even in their absence, the song didn't want for color: Dobro, Stratocaster and lap steel at stage right mixed with harmonica, flügelhorn and euphonium at stage left, while Daley provided a positively gymnastic tuba solo. Huntley's animated swing beat paced one of the CD's highlights, "Who Walks In When I Walk Out?" -- the drummer took a brief but robustly Gene Krupa-esque break, while Weinstein snuck a few bars of Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" into his own solo spot. A cover of obscure bluesman Jaybird Collins's "Man Trouble," which Schuman dedicated to his patient, long-suffering wife, closed the set. But even as the band left the stage and the speakers started blaring Tom Waits's "Filipino Box Spring Hog," the crowd wasn't sated. Schuman obliged them, closing as he'd opened with a torrid harmonica solo.
On the way out, I bought a finished copy of Bahamut, as well as a slim catalog from a 2004 Wilkes University exhibition of Schuman's paintings -- all of them rich, realistic and accomplished, several of them vaguely disquieting. (Google turns up a fascinating article about a priest who curates exhibitions and teaches art appreciation; two of the paintings in the catalog I bought are described briefly in the opening paragraph.) Truly, Schuman is a man of many talents; I was glad to have finally caught up with him, and look forward to renewing the acquaintance regularly. (For New York readers, Hazmat Modine plays Terra Blues at 7pm on February 24, March 11 and March 25, and opens for Th' Legendary Shack Shakers at the Mercury Lounge at 8:30pm on April 6.)
I headed across the Village to meet up with friends for the 9pm set by the fine modern-jazz guitarist Ben Monder, whose latest CD, Oceana, is a remarkable thing even by this consistently satisfying player's already high standards. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the Bar Next Door at La Lanterna di Vittorio only holds about 30 people in a tiny space that affords a bassist maybe half an inch of space between his instrument's headstock and the ceiling. By the time I arrived, there was no chance of being seated or even finding standing room. I listened to the first ten minutes or so in the doorway, then headed out into a by now well-established snowstorm.
Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium (Noise/Sanctuary)
Hazmat Modine - Bahamut (Geckophonic)
Charlie Parker - The Complete Live Performances on Savoy (Savoy Jazz)