The aptly named The California Honey Drops (CHD) made their Boston debut before a comfortably crowded room Friday night. The Bay Area band released their fourth full-length original studio album A River’s Invitation in September and sold out two nights at The Fillmore in San Francisco in support of the album.
Starting with the opener “This Time” the band dropped a salacious, three-chord soul groove, and gradually front man, lead singer Lech Wierzynski’ trumpet, Johnny Bones’ tenor sax and Lorenzo Loera’s keys exploded into seemingly random notes and meandering melodies. However from a distance, due largely to Beau Bradbury’s silky bass lines and drummer Ben Malament’s steady hand, the seemingly randomness of the improvised sound gels into a delightful cohesive jazzed upped whole.
The boogie-woogie juke of “Junker’s Blues” had the late arrivals thinking they were on Bourbon Street in New Orleans with Wierzynski’s trumpet and Bones’ sax wandering aimlessly over Malament’s skimmed beat. The band’s sound is wholly original and fresh incorporating everything from 1920’s jazz/blues to late 60’s psychedelia; the charismatic Wierzynski switched to guitar as the band lyrically wove Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” around “I Believe” the choruses displaying soaring three-part harmonies while the band extended the verse musically at every opportunity.
Before Malament came from behind the kit to play the washboard on the old time blues of “Pumpkin Pie” the song’s intro explained how they got their start jamming at the San Francisco area BART train stops. They’re live show retains that loose feel, working without a set list and seemingly without a net no one including the band seems to know what is coming next. While the sound became somewhat dissonant at times overall the band makes the spontaneity work. Wilson Pickett’s bouncy, “Don’t Let the Green Grass” had Bones bringing down the house with spiraling over the top solos until the song concluded with the band leading the audience in a call and return. The musical tone was reminiscent of the 1970’s jazz inflected sound of groups such as the Sanford Townsend Band of “Smoke from a Distant Fire” fame.
The party continued with doo-wop of “When It was Wrong” with Wierzynski offering a lengthy ad-lib interpretation of the lyrics then dividing the audience by gender into an extended sing along. While it played well to the heavy drinking Friday night crowd, the novelty of the moment took away from the band’s musical abilities which are substantial. There are many diverse musical influences of the California Honeydrops, but they make each one count by nailing those chops and offering a musical package that just “feels right.”
Photos by Marc Lacatell