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JAZZ REVIEW : Bazooka Fires Away With Humor, Originality at System M

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Though its music may be acidic, Bazooka is no acid jazz band. In fact, the aggressive sax, bass and drums threesome that’s often billed as an acid band has more in common with traditional jazz trios than it does with the current wave of monotonously rhythmic, riff-swiping acid aggregations whose main attraction is the hypnotic quality of their sound.

No, Bazooka doesn’t rap, sample or steal from other musicians’ recordings. They play real instruments on strangely assembled, sometimes convoluted themes that often change chords and rhythms (something apparently taboo in the world of acid jazz). Improvisation, something that comes off as contrived from acid bands, is a major factor in their presentation. But the real difference is the edge they bring to their music, an often stunning declaration that expresses the pace and uncertainty of modern life.

But this approach isn’t without humor. Just when its attack threatens to become overbearing, the band throws in some laughs in the form of saxophonist Tony Atherton’s bird squawks or drummer Vince Meghrouni’s offbeat delivery. In short, this is a band you’ve got to love.

There were times during their first set Friday at System M that Bazooka recalled rock bands in the vein of Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis Bold as Love” period. More often, they brought to mind the slant of outside jazz ensembles, such as those of saxophonist Ornette Coleman, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, M-Base movement leader and saxophonist Steve Coleman or the 1970 edition of drummer Tony Williams groundbreaking Lifetime trio. But most often, Bazooka sounded like no one else.

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“Turkey Tenders” was typical of the material aired this night. A slightly sinister, minor-key theme based on an ascending line gave way to a passage of suspended rhythm through which Meghrouni groused his way across the drum set.

Then came a punchy, five-note chorus played with snap and certainty. The tune then folded back into the opening theme, this time with Atherton’s tenor battling Bill Crawford’s electric bass for center stage. The cycle was repeated a couple of times with dynamic ebbs and flows before the band drove hard into a dramatic close.

Other tunes, including “Painful Therapeutic Process” and “Scrucifer” followed suit, with a series of caustic vamps and tooth-gnashing themes firing into point-blank, single-shot climaxes. This is not a band for those who want to hear music that leaves a warm glow. Rather, the conclusion of a Bazooka number leaves listeners wiping their brows and feeling slightly agitated.

As relevant as this approach may be, Bazooka still leaves something to be desired in its execution. Through breakneck passages and against sudden stops and turns, drummer Meghrouni often sounded like he was playing catch-up with his band mates, and the free-form melding of sax, bass and percussion often failed to fall together. Still, this rhythmic sloppiness contributes to the band’s attraction, though there were times when one couldn’t help but desire the kind of tightness and seamless performance that the bands of Coleman or Shannon Jackson bring to their hellbent electric sounds.

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Atherton’s most cohesive moments came on alto as he squealed and squirmed through twisted tales of Angst and heartbreak. On tenor, his delivery was less narrative, his power-packed improvisations carrying less depth though just as much sound.

The only respite from the head-banging rhythms came during a bass sax interlude while Meghrouni repaired some trouble with his snare drum. And when the band came back with “Painful Therapeutic Process,” introduced by Crawford’s wah-wah colored bass lines, they were as tight as any time during the set.


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