By Chris Jisi
The brave new face of bass was alive and well a few doors north of the former CBGB’s at The Bowery Electric, in New York City’s East Village, on July 8th. The triple bill boasted Owen Biddle and drummer Zach Danziger (minus their Mister Barrington keyboardist, Oli Rockberger); Felix Pastorius with the Hipster Assassins (second bassist Mike Bendy, guitarist John Bendy, saxophonist Chris Ward, drummer Kenny Gronowski, and guest keyboardist William Tatge); and Panagiotis Andreou, keyboardist Jason Linder, and drummer Mark Guiliana—better known as Now Vs. Now (whose critically acclaimed self-titled 2009 CD, was produced by Meshell Ndegocello).
Biddle and Danziger’s set, billed as Edit Bunker, employed video footage and the closing theme from the classic TV sitcom, All in the Family as fodder for their cutting edge, computer-aided improvisation. Decked out in Edith Bunker wigs and Meathead mustaches, Owen (on his plexiglass Callowhill 6-string) and Zach engaged in their tradermark cyber-sleight-of-hand. Playing their instruments, engaging effects, and spontaneously triggering each others laptops led to interaction that created a wondrous wall of sonic freedom.
The Hipsters hit the stage next, seven young aces who have as much fun exploring their angular pieces as writing them. Gronowski is the multi-geared motor, John Bendy the harmonic center, and Ward and Tatge (who play in Felix’s other band, Social Experiment) the rainbow colorists. Down low, best buddies Mike Bendy (on his home-made, Carl Thompson-esque 5-string) and Felix (on his custom Fodera Emporer II 6-string) know how to stay out of each other’s way, and when to lay out altogether. Late in the set, Felix led the ensemble through some of his harmonically compelling compositions—something he hopes to eventually contribute to the Yellowjackets, with whom he returns to the road in late summer/fall.
Bringing the night to a rousing conclusion, Now Vs. Now debuted material from its upcoming (in late 2013) CD, Earth Analog. Linder, on vintage synths and keys, Guiliana, and Andreou (on his headless G.V. Design 5-string, built by Greek luthier George Vasiliou) are masters of melodic and meter manipulation without ever losing their funky pocket. Panagiotis, one of the bass guitar’s most original, unsung voices—with his ethnically-informed ostinatos and cascading fills—upped the rhythmic quotient on the mike, via his ability to sing in the Indian percussive syllabic style known as konnakol. Similarly, surprise guest Baba Israel reprised his role on Now’s debut disc with a socially and rhythmically riveting rap. By evening’s end, the appreciative audience, which included fellow bass visionaries Steve Jenkins and Evan Marien, left feeling impressed, informed and inspired.