Rockin’ Indie Jazz or Jazzy Funk Rock? By Any Name Boston’s Ro Sham Beaux Isn’t Playing Games
Self-Titled March 13 Release on Red Piano Records
The time-tested hand game known as Ro Sham Beau is hard to beat as a quick and efficient method for settling disputes. But the Boston band Ro Sham Beaux seems more likely to start arguments than to end them. Is this a jazzy indie rock combo, a slinky funk quartet with a jones for improvisation, or a rockin' jazz ensemble with a knack for sophisticated hooks? The answer is yes.
A fiercely grooving foursome hailing from New England Conservatory, RSB features Luke Marantz on piano and keyboard, bassist Oliver Watkinson, drummer Jacob Cole, and saxophonist Zac Shaiman. The collective quartet announces its arrival on March 13, 2012 with the release of a combustible self-titled album on Red Piano Records that blows apart binary musical categories.
While fluent in the post-bop canon, the band is equally influenced by indie rock pacesetters like Deerhoof, Björk, and The Dirty Projectors. Artfully employing electronic effects and looping in real time, RSB has honed a compelling book of original tunes that embrace pop's concision, indie rock's textural resourcefulness and jazz's improvisational imperative. Rather than serving as launching pads for extended solos, RSB tunes are vehicles for jaw-dropping group interplay and quicksilver shifts in tempo, texture and momentum. Above all, RSB infuses their music with a sense of unabashed joy, as if exalting in each other's company.
We thrive in the spaces between order and chaos," Marantz says. We're playing acoustic instruments, but electrified, including saxophone with effects and pedals, which is a sound you don't hear very much. We improvise the forms, which means we've developed a whole language among ourselves out of necessity. Zac brings in new tunes every week and the old tunes keep expanding. We have a whole lexicon of places we can go."
The band's sound has evolved considerably since recording its debut album, but Ro Sham Beaux captures the quartet's singular sound. The album opens with Bearblade," a funk-tinged anthem with a soaring saxophone line that gives way to a shimmering keyboard passage. The slow-burning Tejas Drive" is built on Cole's pummeling trap work. While sounding nothing like The Bad Plus, the tune's surging and retreating tidal energy brings to mind a Dave King opus.
While still moody and mysterious, RSB's interpretation of Björk's Jóga," ratchets up the intensity several notches, maintaining the melody's smeary quality while suggesting darker currents underneath. Even spookier is the episodic Dreamulator," which opens with the unsettling strains of a toy piano. An Afro-Brazilian groove transforms the vibe, and then quickly gives way to carefully latticed saxophone lines.
Part of what makes RSB such an exciting ensemble is the sense that they're still mapping the sonic territory into which they've wandered. Though the quartet is a collective, there's no mistaking Shaiman's saxophone as the lead voice, much like a singer in a rock band. A highly expressive player with a bright, clear tone (until he alters it with one of his trusty foot pedals), he often employs effects in subtle and crafty ways.