[GROOVY JAZZ] Pianist Ben Darwish is best known as one of Portland’s brightest straight-ahead jazz players, but his band Commotion’s debut album is hardly jazz as we know it. But, as Miles would say, “so what?” As with Davis’ once-panned, now-praised On the Corner, Commotion’s steady beats, danceable grooves, wide-ranging musical wanderings and irrepressible sense of fun make it an ideal summer album.
Darwish’s vintage electronic keyboards make some numbers (all originals composed by Darwish, bassist Sam Howard and guitarist Chris Mosley) reminiscent of ’70s fusion excursions, minus the meandering self-indulgence. Commotion breezes through guitar rock (“Hip Joint”) to the Herbie Hancock-style “Intencion Sexual” to the up-tempo “Fiasco,” which sounds like a lost ’70s jazz-rock classic. The strutting horns (trumpeter Greg Garrett, saxman John Nastos, trombonist Daniel Lamb) and punchy percussion (drummer Russ Kleiner and local world-music maven Chaz Hastings on tabla and congas) provide rich textures that pump up the deep grooves like a 1990s home-run hitter on steroids.
Whatever the category, Commotion rocks the headphones, but this loose-limbed summer music really needs to be experienced somewhere you can animate your nether regions without knocking over the furniture or frightening the house pets. BRETT CAMPBELL.
SubArachnoid Space Eight Bells
[MONOLITHIC FREAKOUT] Melynda Jackson has never been one to stay put. As the leader of lysergic-acid-rock outfit SubArachnoid Space, Jackson inherited the band’s sound after co-founder Mason Jones left in 2003, remolding an already heavy cauldron full of dense, sprawling noise rock into something slightly more song-oriented. One of her first steps was to move from San Francisco to Portland, something that’s readily apparent on Eight Bells, the band’s new full-length and first with a lineup of local players.
Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Eight Bells never manages to get too comfortable, which is exactly what one wants in a record like this. Mixing one towering, monolithic, mindfuck of a noise jam (the 13-minute “Akathesia”) with shorter, punchier expulsions like “Bird Signs,” it’s an album of guitar tones both primal and ethereal—one minute Jackson’s beating you senseless with a riff, the next she’s kissing you in an attempt to make nice.
Still, the record just sounds dark, like those terribly gray fall days when it looks like the sun might never peek out through the clouds. Even though it’s a heavy, mostly instrumental jam (aside from a few bloodcurdling screams and Jackson’s wordless yawn), all five of the record’s tracks feel like actual songs. And that’s the difference between Eight Bells and SubArachnoid Space’s past: Guitar freakouts are nice, but they work a whole lot better when you don’t know what’s coming next. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Commotion performs Friday, Aug. 14, at Someday Lounge. 10 pm. $8. 21+. SubArachnoid Space plays Friday, Aug. 14, at Berbati’s Pan. 9 pm. $7. 21+.