If you’ve been lucky enough to see the local band Absynth Quintet play live, you know they’re amazing. Sometimes the improvisational jams may go on just a tiny bit too long, but the individual band members’ undeniable talent quashes any negative aspects on that front.
The collective picking styles presented by Ian Davidson on banjo, Bird Jowaisas on mandolin and Ryan Roberts on guitar are hypnotic. Drummer “Tofu” Mike Schwartz and upright bassist Rudy Luera hold down the beat and are essentially responsible for the band’s ability to switch from bluegrass to gypsy jazz to Latin, sometimes all in one song.
Some bands record amazing studio albums, but can’t recreate the brilliance live. Others are incredible live, but their studio work just doesn’t measure up. The Absynth Quintet pulls off both live performances and studio recordings quite well. Their just released album Indigo Shoes flawlessly mixes different styles of jazz and bluegrass together, without any awkward transitions and with no bad tracks.
Among the highlights: the third track, an instrumental called “Let’s Just Cuddle Tonight,” which sounds like the opening credits to some unknown movie. A healthy dose of banjo and some lovely fiddle work by guest player Zebulon Bowles remind us that Absynth plays more than just gypsy jazz.
By the time “the Rev. Sam” rolls around, the groove is there. On the bluegrass side, it’s perfect music for cruising through town, radio cranked up and windows rolled down, singing along like no one can hear you.
Track six, “D.C.A.,” starts with some gypsy jazz then takes a sort of unexpected foray into Latin rhythms. It literally got stuck in my head for hours the first few times I listened to the album.
“Dorado’s Chest” has a very distinct flavor of David Byrne, both in musical and vocal style, combining elements of gypsy jazz with bits of swing, and features Steve Porter on the musical saw.
“LMNOP” is my fave. Seductive and sultry, it's the album’s slow dance number. The addition of Rob Diggins’ violin adds to the beauty of the straightforward jazz tune.
To say I like this album a lot is a complete understatement. Indigo Shoes is not a replacement for experiencing Absynth live, but it will get you by during the week, without leaving you hung-over in the morning.
And speaking of seeing the Absynth Quintet live, the band is celebrating the new album with an official CD release party at the Jambalaya Friday, Sept. 5. You know I'll be there.