Music » Critics' Picks

Brokeback with Califone and the Eternals

Monday, June 30; Rocket Bar


Don't skip ahead. It's an early warning, but it's necessary. When people read the phrases "two-bass band," "Chicago sound" and "jazz-influenced," they assume the band is another free-jazz, avant-skronk, power-noodling outfit, and they move on. Don't move on: Brokeback may embody all of those phrases, but they're something other than what those phrases imply. Yes, the primary musicians in Brokeback are bassists Douglas McCombs and Noel Kupersmith, and yes, they have ties to the Chicago scene, but Brokeback is not the aural assault of two spotlight-hungry bass soloists; Brokeback is jazz as the idea of beautiful melody turned over, examined, abandoned and then revisited for no other reason than to enjoy its inherent beauty. It is not a polyphonic avalanche of notes, nor an attempt to overpower through blinding (or numbing) technique; Brokeback is a seduction, an enticement, an invitation to join in.

Mountains are shaped more beautifully by wind than by explosives; riverbeds are carved more sinuously by water than by bulldozers. And so McCombs and Kupersmith hew their course slowly and patiently, carefully listening to each other and their instruments. The deeper timbre of the double bass, the lazy ringing overtones of the six-string bass churn and hum delicately amid wordless voices, pittering hand drums and the lonesome reed organ. Brokeback is a softer-toned, orange-hued spareness, vast without being desolate, solitary without being abandoned. What better soundtrack for a summer Monday night could you ask for?