DRKWAV – Regattabar, Cambridge, MA 2/27/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

Futuristic impressionists DRKWAV channeled the performance space of the Cambridge Regattabar into a canvas of deep, intricately textured jazz fusion. Two lengthy sets provided the trio of John Medeski, Adam Deitch, and Skerik to ability to explore some of the more menacing aspects of psychedelic jazz, all the while keeping a pulsing, funky rhythm that dominated their musical landscape.

The band’s onstage configuration described their plaintive style: with Medeski’s keyboard open-faced to the audience, and a tablet computer propped beside Skerik with which he could alter the signal of his saxophone, all cards were on the table. That is to say, the band was in town to perform unabashedly far-out music, while employing some heavy-duty electronic gadgetry to create the most mindbending noises possible and successfully penetrate – and titillate – the psyche.

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The earlier portion of the first set prominently featured complex interplay between John Medeski and Adam Deitch – on organ/keys and drums, respectively – that would fit comfortably within the realm of live dub music. Medeski’s organ painted an array of beautiful chords that provided Deitch the opportunity to pound out some extraordinarily funky beats before “dropping” the beat and letting the organ’s colorful tones hang in the air momentarily. The effect was like that of a thickness in the air that was penetrated intermittently with blasts of Skerik’s soulful and at times challenging saxophone, and that allowed the drums to share a pivotal role as lead instrumentalist.

The early portion of the evening was also marked by a measured approach toward the more menacing aspects of the DRKWAV sound. It was only after half an hour or so that the band emerged full-bore into the textured, Live-Evil-like sound, which then dominated the remainder of their set. Deitch’s drumming became more tribal, almost primitive sounding as Medeski utilized foot pedals to create fluid basslines. Skerik would begin blowing atonal sounds, then suddenly shift gears into clear and booming notes.

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At one point, the saxophonist was playing along to prerecorded samples that created a particularly eerie atmosphere. Meanwhile, by using pitch control and other sonic tricks, Medeski’s keyboard took on the sound of a retro-futuristic computer from some other timeline.

Deep in the experimental nature of their playing, DRKWAV truly took off. By individually using their most idiosyncratic talents – Medeski’s colorful organ, Skerik’s piercing and dexterous saxophone, Deitch’s groove-laden funk – to their full potential, the band’s sound did not wash gently over the audience, but rather drenched listeners in notes both jarring and angular.

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The final portion of the band’s early set saw an additional musician join the band onstage. With the addition of David Zinno on upright bass, the capacity for extreme groove increased even further; Medeski’s organ pushed the band into a fiery instrumental – which sounded ever so similar to The Doors hit “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” – and landed them comfortably in a tune that was most similar to “conventional” post-bop jazz than at any other point in the night. The addition of an upright bass, eventually balancing out the bottom-end loud and clear, provided a wonderful counterpoint for Skerik that resulted in quite a few beautiful solos. This showcased a completely different side of the sax player than the blistering blasting soloist of early on.

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DRKWAV’s tour opener in support of their new album was an unabashed celebration of the deep and psychedelic area that many jazz players from the past have touched upon. Tapping the same vein as Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson or Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, DRKWAV played incredibly cerebral, yet fully accessible tunes which both inspired moments of deep contemplation and brought on irresistible bouts of hip-shaking and head bobbing. Although fully capable of expressing their bebop chops and engaging in some incredible solo playing, Medeski, Deitch and Skerik are truly at their best when penetrating the atmospheric darkness with unorthodox and remarkable ensemble playing – and in so doing, fulfill their mission of bringing the beauty within the darkness to light.

Photos by Marc Lacatell

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