A Small Jam Session in Boston

IMG_3674 ribbonb.jpgI mentioned being in Brooklyn recently. It was part of a family-related east-coast trip — a rare visit to New York and Boston without any time to see music.

Or so I thought. On a rainy night in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, walking back to the hotel, we passed Virtuosity, a music shop. A serious music shop with a wall full of horns, a bookshelf built from an old piano, and a counter area stuffed with paraphernalia for woodwinds and brass instruments. The store is blocks away from the Boston Symphony, and of course it’s surrounded by colleges, so it’s got a built-in local clientele.

Turns out, I’d stumbled onto a regular Tuesday night open jam. It was open to the public, with donations requested for the band and the free coffee and tea — but I was the only pure audience member, with the other seven or eight people being there to play, just for fun.

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They didn’t pay me much mind as they cycled through several pieces out of ’50s and ’60s songbooks. Each song was played by a quintet: two horns, keyboards, bass, and drums, with guys (they were all men) taking solos in that order, ending with everyone trading fours with the drums.

It was a cozy way to spend a rainy evening. This wasn’t a “show” so much as a friendly venue to practice, hone, and experiment. They talked about each piece beforehand — how many bars of this or that to play, for instance — and they tried a few experiments. Trading eights with the drummer worked nicely and was a change of pace. TradingĀ sevens, something one of the drummers suggested in the middle of a song, had more mixed results, as the soloists sometimes stumbled through.

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Some solos were clearly better than others, but nobody was calling that out. The idea was simply to play, to create spontaneous music in a group working toward a common cause — something that can’t be experienced any other way. I was glad to be welcomed into this world for a short hour.

Eric Hofbauer: Pocket Chops

source: myspace.com/hofbauer and the infrared bandFighting jetlag on my recent run through Boston, I tossed my sleep cycle into the shredder, hopping the “T” one night to take in a jazz show at the “Y” on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge.

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer is a young guy with a casual and charismatic stage presence, and his Infrared Band was worth staying up for. Its compositions are jazz at heart, with the occasional free-form diversion and some adventurous soloing. Very nice outside-in stuff, fronted by Hofbauer’s jazz guitar but drafted with ample soloing space for everyone.

“The Chump Killer” is a standout of their playbook. You can’t miss it. Hofbauer explaned that the Chump Killer is a hero who searches the earth to go defeat evildoers and generally nasty people (“chumps”), and not necessarily in violent ways. After a cool, overlapping call-and-response theme between sax and guitar, the music took an extended break for saxophonist Kelly Roberge to play the roles of the Chump Killer and the Chump, using electronically enhanced, cartoony voices. His dialogue had the Chump Killer taunting the Chump but then winding up in some sort of trap. Pretty funny stuff (inspired by a kung fu movie, it turns out). The rest of the mini-suite followed, and given its chipper nature, you have to assume things turned out OK.

Eric Hofbauer (right) & the Infrared BandThere were also some tunes at once catchy and tricky, like “Pocket Chops.” Hofbauer explained how the term arose in conversation, when someone asked him — I can’t recall the story exactly, but I think he was telling someone about the contrast of playing in Boston versus somewhere else. “Oh, man, you gotta have pocket chops,” he said at the time. Of course, Hofbauer had no idea what that meant, but he rode with it and, years later, wrote it up as a piece.

In the rental car the next day, I took a quick sampling of the CDs I’d bought at the show: The Infrared Band’s Myth Understanding and Hofbauer’s solo acoustic American Vanity. Not the best listening environment, but it was the one available to me, and I thought a car listen would be an interesting blogging experiment.

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