THE STATIC PORT
The Static Port
by J Hunter
There's always been a controversy about bringing other elements into jazz. On one side, you've got those who want to keep it real - i.e. keep it pure, or (more likely) keep it safe; on the other side, there are those who say, Why stop here, when we can go over there? Today, the new element is the Jam Band phenomenon, embodied by bands like Phish, moe., Gov't Mule and Deep Banana Blackout. This movement - which combines today's rock sensibilities with improvisational guidelines laid down by 60's stalwarts like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band - has embraced contemporary jazzers like John Scofield, Charlie Hunter, Bela Fleck and others, adding to an already-enticing synergy that may not be traditionalists' cup of tea, but is inspiring to those of us who want to keep seeing new things happen.
The Static Port is a product of this synergy, and their self-titled debut disc is the product you ought to check out. Static - aka drummer Neal Bernston, multi-instrumentalists Steve Gregory and Chris Jordan, and guitarist Bill Pyle - are definitely in tune with the past, even as they forge through the present. Their website informs us that the band has been given dosages of an experimental drug to come out of their shells in 1969, and is somehow driven by an outside force giving them extra arms, fingers, and a time machine
Moving beyond the Kesey-esque rhetoric, this Albany quartet makes music that comes at you from many different directions - flirting with Metal but not kissing it on the mouth, dancing with Progressive Rock for occasional split seconds, and Funking you silly for the most part.
Hipp Intro gives you a quick introduction to the basics of Static Port - or, more accurately, bass-ics. Gregory and Jordan both play bass, though that's sort of like saying Hendrix and Segovia both played guitar. Aside from their interplay and harmony, which gives the disc some terrific colors, Jordan primarily works with Bernston to lay down a hellacious bottom, Gregory acts as a second soloist, either playing at the bottom of the neck or through some wild effects that really differentiates the overall sound. You only get a taste of Hipp, as Static jumps into the James Brown-like raveup What Strut. Pyle lays down muscular guitar over Bernston's big-time drums to get you out of your seat. The meter changes ever-so-slightly, going back and forth between hot funk and hotter funk. Static doesn't like to be complacent, as we can see on Tapas. After the weird vocal Tapas Intro, Static lays down a goofy loping groove reminiscent of the less aggressive moments of Nirvana's Lithium. Lithium might be called for, though, as Static switches to Heavy Rock mode on the chorus. It's shocking at first, but you get with the program pretty quickly, because it's a lot of fun.
The most fun for me happened on Ocho Rios '75, a roots-rock-reggae bounce straight out of one of Jerry Garcia's Jamaican moments; Pyle's guitar is a dead ringer for some of Jerry's patented licks. When a cheerleader-like group yells out the tune's title in mid-track, you just chalk it up to more weirdness. The real weirdness comes on the supremely heavy Ominous Aromas and the disc closer Hippopotamus; the former tune is as close to Metal Prog Rock as Static gets, while the latter is Hipp Intro fully realized, with increasingly strange results. In the spirit of Static's love of the changeup, Jordan and Pyle pick up trombone and trumpet, respectively, to interject a drunken nightmare feel into both pieces. It's little touches like these that take the edge off, and stops the longer tunes from becoming overpowering.
I'm looking at The Static Port like I do when I watch musicians jam: The initial groove may be pretty cool, but I want to see what they do once they've laid down the framework for the piece. Static has delivered a pretty good debut disc. Where they go with it is anyone's guess, but I'll be watching with great interest.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.