Genius comes in threes when it comes to Moon Hooch. The creation of a jazz party in a trio of three cuts, Light It Up finds its way into the party songbook of the exceptionally cool Mike Wilbur (horns), Wenzl McGowen (horns), and James Muschler (drums). The trio has in a very short time exploded; jazz and funk collide into an experimental collision of improvisational dance jams delivered here in a triple hit of mind blowing cuts from Hornblow Recordings.
Recorded at Gnomehaus outside of Burlington, Vermont, the idyllic setting of the studio and its country vibe is a complete contradiction to the energy that the band delivers here. Incessant touring has created an incredible stage show, but translating that energy to a recording could be challenging; bringing in Tonio Sagan to co-produce and reproduce the primordial connection of the live experience results in the capture of lightning in a bottle.
A trippy tidbit could be that Sagan is the grandson of astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, whose expansive ideas and study of the universe opened the minds of many. Musically Moon Hooch has done the same in a very short time. They thrust the single “Acid Mountain” out for listeners with a visual to go with the auditory mind trip. Sensual, sexual primal energy is erotic at its finest; masterful composition makes an individual dance floor orgasm imminent from the opening Wilbur shout and first attack of McGowen’s baritone saxophone.
The listener falls into “Growing UP” with its soaring sounds. What the band calls “cave music” has no confines other than the imagination, and that is the point here. Growing up requires focus, but the main element here is enjoying the ride. Somehow Moon Hooch is accomplishing the impossible; ask anyone who has experienced the classical saxophone scales and runs woven into asymmetrical dance grooves, pulsing with millenials lit up with laser lights in the club.
Closing a mere ten minutes of music that is simply as mind blowing as the universe, the title track eases in with no tell of what is to come. It’s much like anyone having the first virgin Moon Hooch live experience: slack-jawed grin possession muscling out disbelief. Playful jazz is jammed with smooth breaks of warm embrace like a lover’s caress. The masters are at work on us all. It’s hard to stay still when the band does not– they began a national and international headlining tour on March 21. The EP is available today on all streaming outlets, and is available to pre-order. In the meantime, Light it Up! — by Lisa Whealy
March 23 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom ^ March 24 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^ March 25 – Reno, NV – The Saint ^ March 27 – Eugene, OR – HiFi Music Hall ^^ March 29 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom ^ March 30 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge ^ March 31 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge ^ April 3 – Lille, FR – L’Aeronef April 4 – Nantes, FR – Stereolux April 5 – Rouen, FR – Le 106 April 6 – Cenon, FR – Le Rocher de Palmer April 7 – Puteaux – Paris, FR – Festival Chorus des Hauts de Seine April 8 – Rambouillet, FR – L’Usine a Chapeaux April 12 – Saint-Jean-De-Vedas, FR – Victoire 2 April 13 – Marseille, FR – Le Molotov April 14 – Cully, CH – Cully Jazz Festival April 15 – Annecy, FR – La Brise Glace April 19 – Oslo, NO – National Jazz Venue April 20 – Trondheim, NO – Dokkhuset April 21 – Bodo, NO – Sinus April 24 – Skien, NO – Folque April 26 – Bergen, NO – Garage April 27 – Kristiansand, NO – Vaktbua April 28 – Gjoevik, NO – Kulturhus May 4 – Stavanger, NO – Mai Jazz May 5 – London, UK – Roundhouse May 6 – Bristol, UK – Thekla May 18 – Asheville, NC – Highland Brewery * June 7 – Stephentown, NY – Disc Jam Festival June 14 – Hammonton, NJ – Beardfest June 15 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom June 17 – Minneapolis, MN – Turf Club June 18 – Fargo, ND – The Aquarium June 24 – Rochester, NY – Rochester Jazz Festival June 25 – Rochester, NY – Rochester Jazz Festival July 1 – Montreal, QC – Montreal International Jazz Festival July 6 – Saint-Denis-de-Gastines, FR – Au Foin de la Rue Festival July 10 – Rotterdam, NL – North Sea Round Town July 21 – Stuttgart, DE – Jazz Open Festival August 10 – Croydon, NH – Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival
1. “Silverlake” – Underlined Passages. The dreamy indie-pop of UP’s previous work is traded for a punchy indie-rock model; Michael Nestor’s vocal lines are still flowing and smooth, but the now-more-crunchy-than-jangly guitars and snappy drums give this tune a new-found pep.
2. “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow;” – Glacier. Dense, heavily distorted, pounding guitar chords set the atmosphere for this 13-minute post-rock/post-metal epic, but there’s a lot more going on in 13 minutes than just chug (including a found-sound clip of an old time voice reading the end of Matthew 9).
3. “English Weather” – Fick as Fieves. British rock that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines, propelled forward by an indomitable syncopated guitar riff.
4. “Like Lightning” – Cosmo Calling. Fun vocal rhythms and melodies take the lead on this indie-pop-rock track. The guitars are neat and accompany well, but this one is all about the staccato, syncopated vocal delivery.
5. “Canary” – Holy ’57. There’s a certain type of major-key, drums-first vintage groove that reminds me of fuzzy home videos of summer in NYC during the ’60s and ’70s. People are rollerskating. A dude is playing a trumpet on the corner. There’s a hazy glow around everything. This indie-pop song sounds just like that (even includes a trumpet!).
6. “I Can’t Say No” – The Crayon Set. Smooth, appealing acoustic indie-pop with some fuzzed-out guitar and shimmering synths adding color. The chill vocals fit perfectly over the backdrop.
7. “Bedford” – Too Many Zooz. If you’re into Moon Hooch’s mad sax blast, you’ll be equally thrilled by the sax-trumpet-drums maelstrom that is Too Many Zooz. This video sees them bringing their incredibly infectious rhythms and powerhouse melodies to the NYC subway–at 3:33 in the morning. Stuff like this just happens at 3 a.m. in New York, I guess?
8. “Keep the Car Running” – Silver Torches. If Bruce Springsteen had emerged in this era, this might be what like he would have sounded like: surging drums, melodic piano, yearning vocals, and a serious-yet-warm atmosphere. Just a great tune.
9. “International Dreams” – Farm Hand. A rubbery, loping electronic beat underlines distant, almost-droning vocals for a tune that sounds like “My Girls”-era Animal Collective in a sleepy (yet still happy) mood.
10. “Like Going Down Sideways” – Cut Worms. Lo-fi tape hiss, Beatles-esque songwriting impulses, and “eh-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-perfect” performances make for an endearing tune.
11. “Old Fashioned Way” – Todd Kessler. Ah, yes. A calm, gentle folk love song talking about slowing down and looking back to the old fashions. It doesn’t get much more folky than this, y’all, and it doesn’t get much more chill.
12. “Enjoy It While It Lasts” – Easy Wanderlings. Strong female vocals lead the way through this easygoing folk tune. The video has an actress gallivanting around in a field, which is a pretty much perfect analogue to this wistful, nostalgic tune.
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
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.