Steuart Liebig’s Mentones: Chamber Jazz Rocks
I love that Steuart Liebig has a bar band. The Mentones not only stomp through some rocking beats, they also pair up the saxophone with a chromatic harmonica, one that gets played like an electric instrument. It’s a buzzing, flailing, bluesy good time.
But under the surface, the band is playing the same kind of complex chamber-jazz music that Liebig uses on his more “serious” albums.
Pomegranate, one of those “serious” albums, was my introduction to Liebig. He’s part of the southern California crowd that includes Vinny Golia, G.E. Stinson, Nels Cline — and Jeff Kaiser, the guy who’s kept the scene documented for the past decade on the pfMentum label.
Pomegranate consists of four long chamber pieces,
each featuring a different guest soloist. I love the mix of cerebral jazz and thoughtful composing here — especially on the Nels Cline track, which ditches all chamber-jazz pretentions and goes for a total noise freak-out. Yeah!
But back to that bar band, The Mentones. This is fun stuff that evokes images of dive bars just outside town, where the motorcycles kick up the desert dust. But with sheet music. Bill Barrett‘s harmonica adds a honky-tonk touch to otherwise chamber jazz-y compositions, and then he blazes through his solos like he’s ready to throw beer bottles back at someone.
A track like “Empty” or “Locustland” manages to rock out amid complex twists and turns in the writing. “Headlock” is a great head-banger. “Wool” and “Slow Burn Fever” go for the slower, swampy tempo of a dusty 110-degree day, although the latter ends up in a brutal battle of harmonica versus Tony Atherton’s sax.