Human Ottoman: Cello & Vibes Get Amped Up
Human Ottoman — Farang (self-released, 2015)
First, because I don’t want it lost too far in the shuffle: Jordan Glenn’s trio, Wiener Kids, is playing at The Starry Plough (Berkeley) on the abovementioned March 18 show. Their sax-sax-drums combo is always a treat, mixing whimsy with serious improvising — I wrote about it back when. Always a treat to see them.
I found out about Human Ottoman in 2014 via the music-review blog A Closer Listen. A cello-vibraphone-drums trio with occasional rock distortion and a jazzy vibe? I was intrigued enough to give their album Power Baby a try, and I liked it.
With Farang, Human Ottoman has turned the corner to become an out-and-out rock band. Jazz was always an arm’s reach away on Power Baby, with a straight vibes sound, cello-as-bass rhythms, and the occasional world-music turn. The distortion, the aggressive drums, the occasional vocals — they were all there on Power Baby, it turns out, but my brain kept slapping a “jazz” label on the music (albeit modern, attitude-laden jazz).
Farang leaves no doubt, as the distortion, the vocals, and Susan Lucía’s hard-pounding drums are all unleased to do maximum damage. Half the album, including the two opening tracks, consists of out-and-out rock songs with lyrics and everything. “Infernal Mechanisms of Commerce” has Matthew Cartmill (cello) and Grayson Fiske (vibes) turning up the distortion for a dark, driven sound that reminds me of the two-cello indie rock band Rasputina. Their instruments darken with curls of synth or guitar smoke.
Lucía’s dominates many tracks — the insistent pounding of “Denim Enigma” or the world-music influenced “Painting” and “YDKWH.” The latter track, relentless and in-your-face, is a good taste of the band and their attitude. Check out the video.
The jazzy side of Human Ottoman really does exist, though. I didn’t imagine it. Modern, indie-style jazz is still in the mix, in the odd-time prog/jazz beat of “3(5)+4” or the tumbling, uptempo rhythms of “Codename: Fulano.”
Finally, note that Human Ottoman’s March 19 show is in San Jose, at a comic book store near downtown. It’s a neighborhood that’s seen occasional attempts at starting something cool and artsy. I haven’t visited in a while, and I’m anxious to see what Art Boutiki has going on.