Taper’s Choice (Bleeker, Harrington, Tomson, Tenorio) Embrace Improvisational Sparks At The Sultan Room Rooftop (SHOW REVIEW)

With the haze of a certain band’s Madison Square Garden residency still floating over New York City, those in the know gathered on Sunday night (4/24/22) in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, on the rooftop of the psychedelic, Turkish-themed venue The Sultan Room for what was to be the weekend’s hottest aftershow.

Taper’s Choice, a new jam supergroup featuring guitarist Dave Harrington (Darkside), drummer Chris Tomson (Vampire Weekend), bassist Alex Bleeker (Real Estate), and keyboardist Zach Tenorio (Arc Iris) made their East Coast debut, just their fifth show ever after a smattering of dates in LA over the last couple months, with two captivating sets played to an excited, sold-out crowd.

“This band started in LA, but this is our first hometown show” announced Bleeker, alluding to the member’s deep ties to New York (or “Jam Hollywood” as they referred to the city later in the night). This group of relative jam outsiders fully embraced the ebbs and flows of the genre while infusing their own style, and have the potential to be one of the most refreshing acts to come out of the jam scene in quite some time. 

They opened their first set with “Running from the Rain”, a loose number featuring lead vocals from Bleeker that quickly morphed into a jam spearheaded by Tenorio’s frenetic keys work, one of his hands slapping out a distorted organ groove while the other laid down slippery lines on his Wurlitzer, before shifting the lead to Harrington as the group’s playing escalated into a charged ending.

After keeping things moving with the shorter, funky “Lick the Toad”, which set the stage for another impressive keys-led jam, the band kicked things into high gear on the dissonant prog-jazz instrumental “The Dave Test (Yes)”, stretching their legs on a more drawn out jam that shifted from downright dirty grooves to a gentle slow-build that crescendoed masterfully until Harrington signaled a return to the number’s opening riff and they transitioned seamlessly into “Walkin’ Around”, which saw Tomson take on vocal duties singing about “walkin’ around on the inside of your mind”. 

With the sun nearly set behind them, the band closed out the set with the hard-rocking (and cheekily-titled) “Darkness on the Edge of Midtown”, building up an afrobeat-style groove around a bluesy guitar riff, with Tomson on vocals again, before they were joined on stage by saxophonist Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) who locked in seamlessly with the quartet as they dug deep on a nearly 10-minute jam. Their freewheeling musical exploration brought them into a soft section until a tumbling drum groove courtesy of Tomson pushed the song into its finale with Harrington letting it rip on a slide guitar solo before coming together in unison with Bogie’s horn on a triumphant melody as the group surged with energy around them.

Joined by percussionist Kenny Wollesen, a regular Harrington collaborator, the band kicked off set two off with perhaps the strongest tune of the night, the Tomson-led “Above the Timberline”, which had strong echoes of the Dead, especially in Harrington’s catchy Mutron-laden guitar lines. While the earlier set had been plenty exciting, they clicked in on a different level here, embracing the second set tradition with one stunning jam after the next. “Every Bubble” thundered upwards on an unstoppable krautrock groove before a sudden keyboard riff from Tenorio led them into the twisting prog-rock melodies of “Born to Burst”, with Bogie hopping in once again. They followed that up with “Lilac Palace”, which opened with some beautiful piano playing from Tenorio, augmented with counterpoint playing from Harrington and Bleeker, before a heavy Pink Floyd-esque groove gave way to a wild, wriggling jam interspersed with vocals shared between Tomson and Bleeker. 

The most unexpected moment of the night came when the group welcomed to the stage Cameron Winter, lead singer of Brooklyn post-punk upstarts Geese, for a rendition of his band’s “Low Era”, one of the most memorable cuts off their 2021 debut Projector. While he appeared just a touch out of place in this ensemble, the Taper’s Choice crew (along with Bogie) seemed to enjoy the experiment of stretching out and bringing their own flavor to the song, and Winter nailed his performance and gave the show a jolt of genuine frontman energy.

They closed things down with a lengthy jam on “Döner Wrap”, which grew from a winding guitar intro to be joined by the rest of the band for a constantly shifting series of proggy compositions and finally opened up into a dreamy jam section with features from Tenorio and Harrington. After Tenorio led the group into what seemed like the song’s conclusion, they picked back up for a big jam, towering upwards with Harrington’s guitar leading the way to a grand finale, with one final return to the number’s opening riff sending the band out and bringing the concert to a close. 

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