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Wooden Wand with Jack Rose and Owl Sounds - Kingsland Tavern (Brooklyn) - Friday, January 13, 2006

23 January 2006

Local favorites OWL SOUNDS opened the evening with a bracing blast of free improvisation that referenced ORNETTE COLEMAN and ERIC DOLPHY (in style) and ALBERT AYLER (a thematic quote) in a set consisting of one extended excursion.

I could’ve done without upright bassist GENE JANAS’s vocal ranting on a few found phrases, but it didn’t put a dent in the musical glee. Drummer/leader ADAM KRINEY’s occasional over-enthusiasm for his crash cymbal hogged the upper register in key moments, but maybe if alto saxophonist RANDY BORRA had just kept his instrument’s bell closer to the mike, it wouldn’t have mattered.

What did matter, and triumphed, was the organic development of the improvisation, at which thrilling moments of unanimity—Kriney’s introduction of spiky rhythms in these moments seemed like the linchpin on which the trio swung – were arrived with a sense of joyous discovery that transcended the arrival and suggested a sort of elusive satori.

JACK ROSE, as famed for his solo acoustic derring-do as for his six-string adventures in neo-psych band PELT, captivated the bar’s back room with an intensely focused six-song set split evenly between slithery lap slide and finger-picked acoustic guitar. He opened with the raga-esque “Now That I’m a Man Full Grown,” a hypnotic showcase that immediately captivated the crowd. That piece recalls the style of American guitar icon SANDY BULL; finger-picking tunes showed more of a JOHN FAHEY influence – in Rose, the two most important post-blues styles of the American acoustic guitar movement are united.

The results, uniquely Rose’s own, could be heard on “St. Louis Blues,” which obviously sounded too familiar to be a Rose-penned number, yet seemed so original in his hands that one could questioned whether it was really a cover. He explored more roots styles with some originals: The rag “Linden Avenue Stomp” (from Opium Musick), and the title track and “Cross the North Fork” from last year’s Kensington Blues, plus a piece of which I didn’t catch the name that had a down-home grittiness.

WOODEN WAND is tough for me to get a handle on (no pun intended), and not just because the headman made a plea for us to beseech Major League Baseball Commissioner BUD SELIG to let PETE ROSE (whom I despise more than any other player in the sport’s long history) be admitted to the Hall of Fame. Way too many God references for this atheist to be comfortable; way too many in-jokes to know what’s going on; lyrics so odd and insular that for all I can tell they’re non-sequiturs, or randomly generated.

Why does JAMES TOTH call himself Wooden Wand? Is the lead guitarist’s name CHARLIE WILSON or KEITH WOOD, or neither? Are they really religious or does female singer SATYA SAI’s frequent ass-wiggling signal irony (or at least ambivalence) in spite of rocking set-closer “Babylon the Great,” with its reference to a puritanical ranting bit from Revelation?

Yet their/his music nonetheless bewitchingly enchants me (much more than DEVENDRA BANHART’s, to whom they’re often compared). It’s freak folk (or freak gospel??) of many moods, all fairly shambolic, whether quietly strummed, intro’d with a JIMI HENDRIX-like meandering electric guitar solo (“Didn’t It Rain” from the soon-to-arrive Wooden Wand & THE VANISHING VOICE album Gipsy Freedom), or sounding like the early-Dylanesque ditty that Wilson/Wood mumbled/drawled in his only lead vocal. Perhaps I’m too hung up on pinning down meaning precisely to go with this band’s flow, but I found it fascinating.


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