Of all the great bands who’ve had monthly residencies at Barbes over the years, one of the most consistently entertaining and even paradigm-shifting ones was by Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized. Throughout 2016 and into the fall of last year, the guitarist and his nine-piece group careened through a more-or-less monthly series of shows there. Crowds were good, and word was out about Csatari’s enigmatically orchestrated, scruffy, individualistic mashup of jangly Americana and improvisational jazz.
Then disaster struck.
Long story short: Csatari survived a brush with death, and has reconvened the band for a show this Thurs, Aug 23, starting at around 6:30 PM at Pioneer Works. The band’s Barbes gigs were always on the epic side, so if you can’t make it to Red Hook by the time the doors open, don’t stress. The show is free; you probably can just walk in although the venue wants you to rsvp. It’s the big comeback jazz show of 2018, and this blog will be in the house.
Throughout the residency, Csatari and the crew played mostly originals, although they did a surprisingly tight and trad Chico Hamilton night and explored other composers as well. The best of the cover nights, by a country mile, was Twin Peaks night in October of last year. It earned a mention as one of the year’s best concerts here, and serendipitously, the entire show was recorded and is streaming at Csatari’s music page.
For that show, Csatari had his tremolo on, but not with as wide an angle as on Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic soundtrack. The group began by skirting the Twin Peaks title theme, hitting on the offbeat instead of nailing it right from the start and ending up with as much if not more suspense as the original as the high reeds – flutist Tristan Cooley and alto saxophonist Levon Henry – misted and veered in and out of focus. Without flinching, they gracefully fluttered through the end, as closely as a nine-piece jazz ensemble can approximate a four-piece rock band. Without a hint as to what they’d play next, they vamped slowly and built to a mighty crescendo fueled by a couple of emphatic Csatari clangs, then the instruments fell away….into a haphazard jam on one of the more unctuous Christmas carols out there. Jethro Tull once used it as comic “relief,” if that means anything to you. Csatari reprised Badalamenti’s haunting, minimialist riffs at the end with a spare, lingering presence.
Listening back to this show a year later is a trip, to say the least. Rashomon memories fall away, while the more indelible ones spring back to life. Drummer Rachel Housle’s stunning dynamics, from hushed, Lynchian suspense to a four-on-the-floor rock swing are a big part of the picture – although happily the mic was positioned so the drums don’t drown anybody out. Likewise, bassist Nick Jozwiak’s slinky pulse and occasional thunderous chord are toward the back in the mix.
The band also played a lot of originals that night, many of the intros slowly coalescing only to slowly unwind later. Rowlings, with its nebulous, Frisellian intro and tempo changes; the haphazardly twisted little waltz Yellow Rose; Just Friends, a starrily brooding duet between Csatari and fellow six-stringer Julian Cubilllos; and the hypnotic Lullaby Stomp (hardly a stomp, actually) are early highlights.
With torchy, soul-infused grit, singer Ivy Meissner leads the band through a couple of her songs, Races Are Run and Shelby as well as the Julee Cruise valium-noir hits Questions in a World of Blue and The Nightingale. Organist Dominic Mekky is most present in the best of the originals, the catchy, nebulously pulsing Pale Rider.
The rest of the Twin Peaks material is also choice. The group reinvent the stalking Pink Room theme as a sway, and then practically a soul strut. Laura Palmer’s theme is all the more menacing for its sparseness, mostly just Csatari and Cubillos the first time around. And bass clarinetist Casey Berman adds welcome gravitas to the sardonic Audrey Horne stripper theme.
Csatari can be hilarious when he wants, with a cynicism that’s pure punk rock. Voices diverge and fall off the page. The momentary detours into into punk, new wave and free squall can be priceless. But he can also be as unselfconsciously dark as you would expect from a guy who would take the trouble to come up with his own Twin Peaks charts. The band should be especially psyched to tackle whatever he throws at them in Red Hook.