Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Primate Fiasco at the Lake Eden Arts Festival, October 2011

Primate Fiasco does an impromptu renegade performance while another band sets up on the lakeside stage.

This is an unusually good band.

Yes, they play the same sorts of standards that your typical student jazz combos might play, but these guys go further.  They don’t just take a page out of the Real Book™ and fake it… there’s actually some thoughtful arranging going on here.  They put a new spin on the chords to Summertime to give it a sultry, swanky undercut.  They alter the tempo on the “do-wop” section of Don’t Mean A Thing.  And whatever they do, they give a Dixieland spin to it.  So tunes that you normally hear in a nostalgic hipster lounge music pastiche get this energetic independently voiced tour de force that is engaging, playful, and fresh all at once.  This music is alive.  It reminds me of going to see the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the triangle area.  No one went to see them in order to hear “old timey music.”  People went because they rocked.  This band is like that.  The sheer force of their personalities, the cohesion of their group, the cogency of their musical statement: it is simply darn good music.

The banjo is hooked up to a wah-pedal for the hypnotic Phish-like solos.  When strummed on the beat, it gives a Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five kind of feel.  The Sousaphone player sounds like he just walked off from a gig with The Dirty Dozen Brassband.  He brings a sensibility to his bass lines as good as any upright bass player’s while bending notes and seamlessly integrating Motown riffs.  The clairnet and trumpet players are great whether playing off each other, taking a solo, or punctuating the rest of the band’s melodies.  The drummer is an animal, literally… as you’ll see when they do their rendition of the Muppet Show theme.

Speaking of the Muppet Show, it’s something of a tragedy that this band was not chosen to contribute to the recent “Green Album“.  A cursory listen to that record by yours truly reveals that mainstream “rock” has yet to recover from the affected, depressed coolness of the early nineties.  Primate Fiasco repudiates all that, thankfully.  They are postmodern in the sense that they are willing and able to integrate almost any style of music into their sets… even to the point of doing Hava Nagila if it suits the moment.  But they are not cynically de-constructing previous decades’ popular music.  There is an optimism to what they do… a joyfulness as they rework Stevie Wonder and Nine Inch Nails songs into something that is infectiously accessible to a bewildering assortment of folks: kids, parents, drunk college kids, randomly assorted people that happen to be passing by….

Eight foot tall fairies rock out to Primate Fiasco as they lead the big LEAF parade

And that accessibility is a big part of what is so wonderful about these guys.

I have a stack of old jazz records… Monk at the Five Spot, Mingus at the Bohemia, Art Blakey at Birdland….  I really think it is some of the greatest music ever made.  But to share that with anybody… seriously, I can think of few things more nerdy than going up to someone and insisting that they listen to some random CD.  I occasionally try to put them on surreptitiously while people are hanging out, but if I step out they are usually replaced with something else by the time I get back.  As far as I’m concerned, something supremely important happened as jazz music developed over time… and it is almost impossible for me to convey this to anyone.  But that doesn’t matter any more if I can just get people to go anywhere near to where Primate Fiasco happens to be.  I don’t have to say anything– the Star Wars Medly will nab them every time.  And when people hang around for more, all that is good and praiseworthy of the 20th century musical idiom will wash over them.

It’s like that moment in the seventies when it was thought that jazz was dead as each great and giant packed it up or faded out….  People thought it was all over.  They really did.  For a moment, it looked as if no one would ever play that way again, but then out of nowhere, Wynton Marsalis appeared and it was never so good to be that wrong.  Primate Fiasco is like that… and they are literally taking it to the streets.  They can play anywhere and with almost anyone.  They are mobile… they use guerilla self-promotion tactics… and when they do a festival, they are liable to turn up anywhere.

Give these guys a listen, but do yourself a favor and see them live.

They are a barrel of primates.

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