Live review

Telepathic Band at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn

Telepathic Band – Electric Telepathy Vol. 1 album launch
(Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY, 10 September 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Album launch sets come in all shapes and sizes: sometimes they are a short greatest hits, sometimes they are a direct recreation of the album, and sometimes they are something else entirely. The launch for Electric Telepathy definitively falls into the latter category; This gig’s relationship to the album is in the personnel only, and even then, only for the first set.

Telepathic Band (Publicity photo)

For many bands this might seem an unusual move, but for the Telepathic Band – Brooklyn’s longtime free improvisational quintet – this seems fairly natural. It is a fool’s game to enquire about track names at a live show. Like asking what the name of a snowflake is.

Hilliard Greene starts, bowing his electric upright bass, his hand sliding up and down the fingerboard. He is startlingly tuneful in partnership with Patrick Holmes’ clarinet slipping and squealing with it. With drums and keys quietly joining in, it is the bass which remains at the heart of all the big moves and changes.

Everyone in the band was ready and started. Apart from Daniel Carter, who is still fussing with his instrument(s) and microphone and wandering around in front. Until he cuts through with the flute, and everyone else changes, and drops back. The flute is just the first instrument in the one-man brass and woodwind section that is Daniel Carter, closely followed on stage by trumpet (mute optional), clarinet, tenor, alto and soprano saxes.

With Carter involved they are all away, heads down and going for it in a pensive mood; playing as a unit but seemingly in their own worlds. Telepathic. Only Federico Ughi at the kit has eyes up and around, taking a visual census of the direction.

The partnership of Greene and Holmes is impactful, but occasionally reset by Matthew Putman with some key pumps, or with the drums swinging through or snapping at the hi-hat. When improvising alone Ughi is tastefully restrictive of his percussive palate, working the toms like a tabla tuned with his elbow.

The second set started with four new arrivals to the stage (a pair of Violas and Violins) and a clean moment of sawing, scuttling intensity before the bass joins in doubling them down the octaves. Slowly the rest of the Telepathic Band join in, long and ponderous, Carter’s trumpet mute enveloping the mike and the addition of a 10th musician on stage armed with a flugelhorn adding a melancholic tinge.

Matthew Puttman isn’t leading the band, but he’s certainly hosting it at the venue. As well as a pianist, he’s also a physicist, a member of the board of the venue, Pioneer Works, and contrastingly snappily dressed. Pioneer Works is worth mentioning: a fantastic late 19th century ironworks with a dramatic timber and steel rod double height truss framing a triple height atrium space, the whole volume smelling enticingly of old wood. Ivy covers the masonry buttress fins on the exterior hinting at the roof structure inside.

But the gig wasn’t in the hall, it was outside in the dusk of the garden with the more modern industry of the Red Hook container port basin peaking over the willows just behind the band. Being outside, the sound balance was a little unusual. Carter dominant, Greene’s electric upright bass well represented, and Ughi adapting well (he has to, as he has so much power in setting the tone) and bridging the gap to the quieter clarinet and keys. Either way, outside and with the ranks swollen to ten, some of their telepathy is dulled, and more listening and looking is necessary. They still enjoy the treat of the extra players.

Finally, the album in question that is being launched – Electric Telepathy Vol. 1. Unlike the outdoor mix, this has a hint of ’70s prog rock production with booming deep drums and some sneaky guitar. It is also intriguingly well balanced as a record: a first side entirely taken up with a single, searching track; the second a collection of four bright vignettes, vibrant, souped up and different. The shortest, Ease Tease, starts with a Miles Davis/ Gil Evans intrigue before quickly folding into the next piece, blending together, but still each a piece on their own.

This is only Vol. 1, with the rest of that same recording session in September 2018 on its way soon. 577 Records have recently hit their 50 album milestone, and are ramping up. It’s a label to be reckoned with. But whether playing live outside between two centuries of post-industrial landscape in Red Hook, or recorded in the studio, the tight knit unexpected spontaneity of the Telepathic band shines through.

LINK: Electric Telepathy Vol 1 on 577 Records

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