Klaxon Mutant Allstars

Jazz Station

We are so honored to make Arnaldo DeSouteiro's list for Top Instrumental group of 2014.  Special additional shout out to Henry Hung (trumpet) and Colin Hogan (keyboards) for making the list as well!

East Bay Express

Robot Invasion, the debut album by the Klaxon Mutant Allstars, represents the voracious appetite of the Bay Area jazz scene, where any and all sounds are fair game for sonic repurposing. Led by drummer Eric Garland and trumpeter Henry Hung, the Allstars first came together in 2011 at San Francisco's Amnesia, where Garland was in charge of the Wednesday night jam session. He used the slot as an opportunity to try out different lineups, and hit paydirt with saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, keyboardist Colin Hagen, and bassist George Ban-Weiss.

"Holy cow, that was a good group!" Garland recalled. "Henry came in with a lot of energy, primed to do more originals and experiment with electronics. We're all influenced by straight-ahead jazz, but there's this rock element in all of our histories. I've gone through all my phases: reggae, trip-hop, Radiohead, St. Vincent. We were drawing on all of that, even the contemporary classical stuff."

The foursome continued jamming at Amnesia for a year and a half. "Usually someone would bring in something new, and they're all such great sight readers we could try it out without being afraid of messing things up," said Hung. The musicians finally became a band when they were invited to play the Offside Festival in 2012.

The band's moniker was chosen with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but the "allstars" billing isn't a stretch. Knudsen has quietly become one of the essential voices on the Bay Area scene. Aside from Klaxon, she plays in more than half a dozen of the region's most interesting ensembles, including Schimscheimer Family Trio with keyboardist Michael Coleman and drummer Jon Arkin; guitarist Nathan Clevenger's chamber jazz quintet; trombonist Rob Ewings' Radiohead-inspired project, Disappear Incompletely; and the Holly Martins, with vocalist Lorin Benedict and guitarist Eric Vogler (a wildly inventive trio that's recording a live album at the California Jazz Conservatory June 21-22).

Hung recently earned a Grammy with the Pacific Mambo Orchestra; he also blows brassy funk with Con Brio and gets tapped for singular events like the David Byrne-assembled Atomic Bomb project, which explores the music of Nigerian funkster William Onyeabor. And Garland is a ubiquitous presence who can be found powering various Jazz Mafia outfits, as well as the Realistic Orchestra and the Brass Monkey Brass Band.

As Klaxon's primary composers, Hung and Garland supply an array of soundscapes for investigation. The centerpiece of Robot Invasion is Hung's picaresque "Jamie Moyer," a twelve-minute piece inspired by the major leaguer who set numerous records as the oldest pitcher in baseball. "He did it by being smarter, using his wiles," Hung said. "I want my life to be like that. I want to have a career like that."

Crafty is the best way to describe Hung's use of electronics, a defining element of Klaxon's sound. While Miles Davis wasn't the first trumpeter to plug in his horn, he was so influential that any musician who employs effects has to contend with his shadow. Hung has been very conscious about avoiding Davis' patented wah-wah sound. Instead, he warps and compresses notes to fill out textures and provide a wide palette of hues, from sonar pings to translucent watercolor washes.

"Over the last ten years I've dabbled with effects, borrowing pedals from guitar-playing friends," Hung said. "For Klaxon gigs I bring a pitch modulator, so that whatever note you play, the pedal can play a perfect fifth or third above. I use pedals with my left hand so I can manipulate them when I'm playing. It's a search for new textures, and you try to get as far away from the recognizable horn sound."

Klaxon has occasionally been described as a fusion combo. But to the extent that fusion is associated with chops-laden shredding, the stylistic tag misses the mark. With a wide-open aesthetic and an eagerness to tackle new ideas, Klaxon combines the experimental ethos of an improvisers' workshop with the rough-and-ready vibe of a punk outfit.

Said Garland: "We almost think of ourselves as garage-rock band, but with jazz."

Wedge Radio

A former pickup band that, frankly, I thought I’d never see again, the Klaxon Mutant Allstars have not only stuck together but have also produced an album — a slice of enjoyable modern jazz with clean horn lines, pop sensibility, and layered writing that sends the five-piece group in unexpected directions of syncopation.

There’s definitely a “new musical terrain between jazz, electronica, pop, and indie rock,” as the Klaxons’ web site proclaims. It’s a quasi-genre I loosely called “indie jazz” in the early ’00s. I had aggressive bands like the DIY trio, Birth, in mind, but others have emerged with a stronger nod to the jazz tradition, and with electronica more deeply embedded in their psyches. Kneebody occupies this space.

So do the Klaxons, now, with Henry Hung’s trumpet and Kasey Knudsen’s sax up front, putting up the jazz lines that might have been transported from a ’60s combo but presenting music that those audiences would consider alien. On a track line “Klaxon Tom Bomb,” the “jazz” gets put behind a heavy, infectious pulsing. It’s aggressive and fun.

“Desaparecere” starts out with a grooving, relaxing bass solo from George Ban-Weiss, gracefully backed with Colin Hogan’s electric piano. But later, Knudsen ignites the band into a fiery groove fueled by twisting, growling sax solo.

This kind of idea-mixing is all over the album. The almost too-smiley funk of “Riled Up” makes you tap your toes, but it gives way to a stretch of free improvisation against a skipping beat that all the players ignore. “Dear 70% (We Are Being Ruled by the 15%),” which features a deceptively simple, poppy theme that builds into some nice syncopation and, eventually, another searing Knudsen solo.

There’s one near-straightahead track, “Taxi Driver Blues,” that’s heavy with swing and funk, replete with walking bass and very — I don’t know the term, but Eric Garland sticks to conventionally jazzy drumming. It’s plain jazz, in a sense, but it’s fun.

I’m happy to see that Robot Invasion includes the Klaxons’ most memorable song, “Jamie Moyer,” an initially pretty tune that — like its namesake baseball pitcher — messes with your mind by changing speeds. Stretched here to a glorious 12 minutes, the song was a highlight (for me, anyway) of their appearance at the SF Offside Festival back in 2012; here, it becomes a showcase for Garland as the band “trades fours” between normal speed and way-too-slow speed.

You can find the album at Bandcamp and CD Baby, among other places.

Wedge Radio

The Klaxon Mutant Jazz All-Stars preceded The Supplicants and were quite a hit. This was a pickup band organized by drummer Eric Garland, who’s been playing Wednesday nights at Amnesia with a variety of musicians. They played one another’s compositions, showing off some clever writing and of course some crack musicianship. They had a casual, warm stage presence and brought a real sense of fun to their music.

The tunes weren’t ordinary jazz fare. They started off with one of Garland’s that I think added up to 4/4 time but had the sax and trumpet playing a beat or two off from the rhythm section, creating two pieces intertwining in a non-intuitive way. It was a nice effect and also catchy. Subsequent songs would play similar tricks with rhythm, keeping us on our toes.

Trumpeter Henry Hung had one composition called “Jamie Moyer” — the only song title I remember, because I got the joke. Moyer is a 49-year-old major league pitcher (that’s forty-nine) who’s known for a slow fastball that, for whatever reason, can be unhittable. The song, towards the end, appropriately playing with that, alternating on a rhythm played fast and then slow, with each slow part slower than the last. It got some laughs, even from the non-baseball fans. (Shortly after the show, the Colorado Rockies began the process of cutting Moyer, but his fastball is immortalized in a passage of the book Moneyball.)

Untapped Cities

"The Klaxon Mutant Jazz All Stars matched the hard grooves of Secret Sidewalk, though from a more jazz-oriented perspective. Drawing from electronic music, they played with layers of sound, often pulling the rhythm section in and out from under a repeating horn line, as well as adding and subtracting different interlocking parts. Perhaps the highlight of their set-and another example of effective arranging-was a series of abrupt tempo changes from fast and funky to slow and incredibly deep, which elicited audible shouts and groans from the audience for a good minute and a half."