The first time you listen to the fourth track on Betweenwhile, the new LP from Mike Pride’s latest modern jazz concoction, you’ll most likely remove the CD from the stereo to check for scratches. That’s because the song contains a series of brief interconnected passages, each filled with short repeating farts of music that sound eerily similar to a skipping CD (or, dare I date myself, a broken record). However, after you check out the tune’s title (“It Doesn’t Stop”), the name of the band (From Bacteria to Boys), and the titles of some of Betweenwhile‘s other tracks (“Reese Witherspoon”, “Emo Hope”), you’ll realize that the CD isn’t scratched, but rather you’re dealing with four young musicians who possess a wicked sense of humor and, perhaps most importantly, some serious jazz chutzpah.
One of the major criticisms you hear about modern jazz is that—with its lack of lyrics, the absence of an easily discernible melody, and its often purposefully cacophonous vomitude—it lacks a sense of irony and playfulness about being “out” of the mainstream. Betweenwhile will not fall prey to similar criticism. If nothing else, it is the work of a quartet of conscientious musicians who are well aware that their chosen art form is often mistaken for (and grouped with) the sound of a misfiring hedge trimmer (or a skipping CD) by many music fans.
Fortunately, From Bacteria to Boys does not live up to its name. The band is filled with neither single-celled penicillin-fearing organisms nor adolescent lads. Instead, we’ve got a cadre of experienced musicians with something to say (often with tongue firmly planted in cheek) and the chops to say it. Alto saxophonist Darius Jones, whose previous releases have shown tremendous imagination, and drummer Mike Pride in particular really shine, while pianist Alexis Marcelo and bassist Peter Bitenc prove to be essential to Betweenwhile‘s great swinging rhythms.
Betweenwhile, like much modern creative jazz, is hard to pin down. It’s got elements of free jazz, bebop, hip-hop, and rock. The aforementioned “It Doesn’t Stop”, with its consecutive “CD-skipping” segments, almost comes off as artful dub or techno. “Reese Witherspoon” starts off as a downtempo funk workout featuring some serious polyrhythmic drumming reps by Pride, then the song gradually morphs into a noisy, bottom-heavy free-for-all (like the actress?). “Betweenwhile” shows that Pride and his associates can still swing. With a melody made up of a sequence of unison stops and starts, the song comes off like the mad stuttering step-child of any number of mid-‘60s bebop tunes. Jones adds the dunce cap with a wickedly wild sax outro.
The remainder of Betweenwhile is equally zany with shifting tempos, sputtering melodies, and spastic solos—all the while somehow remaining reasonably accessible, consistently interesting, and nearly always swinging. If anything, Betweenwhile shows us one sure-fire way to make a sizzling jazz record in 2010: gather a group of stellar musicians, add copious amounts of humor, and have a blast.