Last updated on November 20, 2020
Saxophone and horn have definitely moved out of marching band. Moon Hooch is a trio consisting of James Muschler (drums) and Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen (saxophone). Students at The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, they honed their performance style in the subway system of New York City and recorded Red Sky at The Bunker in Brooklyn. Red Sky brings together a host of talents in composition coupled with raw energy: the energy of the city turns the album into a trip on the dance floor–no matter where you are. A captivating third release, this fourteen track album (including bonus track) dances its way into a transcendent experience for the listener.
“I think Red Sky is more focused than any of our past albums,” reflects McGowen. “We practice meditation and yoga, and I think that we’re more evolved as people than we’ve ever been right now. That evolution expresses itself as focus, and through focus comes our energy.” Thoughtful sequencing is part of this release. They open with the title track, then follow with “That’s What They Say,” where the celebrated baritone sax flows into the first intoxicating melody. Influenced by electronica, there is an auditory rave going on here. Making a sax sing is an amazing talent, and the jazz influences are evident. Intricate tenor sax runs only punctuate the complex composition. NY Mag got it right, once referring to their sound as “Jay Gatsby on ecstasy.”
Bringing it down a notch is “Sunken Ship,” featuring introspective, seductive lyrics. This song reflects the fact that the band uses found items to manipulate the sound of their instruments. It is also just plain cool. Stomping back in with trademark horn runs is “Love 5”; the horns give a familiarity that kicks toe-tapping into dancing gear. The reference points range from John Coltrane to Clarence Clemons and beyond, coming together into a unique tongueing style that makes this music magic.
“Psychotubes” goes ethereal, leading with a beastly percussion invitation to fall in head first. Having spent time in India and practicing meditation, “On The Sun” flows in a stream of consciousness set to music. “I went to India, and the first morning I woke up, it was like 5am, and I followed this music along the banks of the Ganges,” McGowan remembers. “I eventually ended up finding this amazing tabla player, and after his performance, I asked him for lessons. He agreed, and I went for daily lessons with him and another guy for the next two weeks. After that, I took a train to Calcutta, where I met with the guru that I’d studied with in New York, and I did morning lessons with him and practiced throughout the day. It was an incredible musical immersion experience.”
Kicking in with the only countdown is “Booty Call” as a return to the exuberance of the now-familiar melodies twisted up a notch. The song continues to evolve in new ways with a subtle jazz vibe. “Shot” redefines what the music here is and how the instruments are used. Energetic and expansive mixes help the vocals on this song feel special, making it an integral piece of the puzzle. Tripping into “Something Else,” the music soars and plunges like a roller coaster with mini breaks in exuberance. “Rough Sex” brings back that rave club vibe, driving and sexy sax blended with the DJ thing that keeps the party rocking. From high hat to the building melody, the experience is real, all the way down to the final breakdown.
Taking the album out is an “Alien Invasion,” which at this point does not feel alien at all. The out of this world musicianship of this trio from Brooklyn shines: funky beats with the trademark bass lines make this song shine out of this world. Intricate melodies are layered with stellar grace, giving each instrument a chance to shine. Moon Hooch is continuing to tour in support of Red Sky with upcoming dates in Reno, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Pawling (New York), Providence, and Portland (Maine). In the meantime, make sure and listen to Red Sky by Moon Hooch. This album is out of this world.–Lisa Whealy