Review: Jingle Jam 2009 @ Ace of Clubs

The closer was Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and as in earlier highlights like All of My Friends and You & Me, Buzz-U flexed those jammy muscles without overdoing it. Some of their originals sound under-realized at times, but Buzz-U is great — especially with the help of regular guests Meredith Bogacz (violin) and Rosie Lazroe (vocals) — at juggling many different ideas and allowing them to complement each other on the fly. A lesser band, in other words, lets a sax and violin bounce off each other — listen to those sonic collisions, dude! — while the bass rides a pocket to keep a formless “jam” going. An astute improvisational unit, on the other hand, lets each member get creative knowing that said member is actively listening to the others, attempting to deliver passages of improv to rationalize what the group is collectively thinking. Buzz-U does this again and again, and even their flimsiest songs seem to end up with a lot of meat on their bones.

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Earlier in the evening came a sterling set from Jason Crosby, he of the astounding virtuosity and humbling resume. The band he brought — versions of which appear regularly at Ace of Clubs and at the Living Room — had soulful folk-rock jams in mind, very cerebral sometimes and sometimes to its detriment. But Crosby always brings such heart to what he plays — especially when sawing away on that violin — and that infects his bandmates, too. Two electric guitarists — one of them Bill Titus, the other whose name I regrettably didn’t catch — both brought serious heat, and were the standouts among a large, six-person ensemble that stuffed the stage. They had trouble getting the sound mix the way they wanted, but tucked inside a setlist of mostly affecting originals was a mesmerizing cover of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter that upped the terror quotient to great effect, and tied the whole set together.

I arrived too late and had to leave too soon to get the most out of Licorice, playing in an acoustic format early, and The MixxTape, playing a late night set. Each commands respect, however. The former earns accolades — and gains converts left and right — with a kind mix of reggae, funk and gypsy jazz, and the latter is starting to do the same with a sort of sophisticate folkie’s spin on funk-rock, if that makes any sense. All four bands alone are unique and more than a bit odd. Together on one bill — nice work Buzz-U! — they’re pieces of the same puzzle

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