Happy Birthday, Zubatto Syndicate! Reflections on a Two-Year-Old

Posted by in Blog, Zubatto Syndicate

Photo by Bruce Moore

To celebrate Zubatto Syndicate’s second birthday, all merch is 20% off for November. Grab a t-shirt, stock up on CDs or LPs, or buy one for a music-loving friend for the holidays (vinyl makes a great gift!). Just use the code “itsyourbirthdaytoo” at music.zubattosyndicate.com

It’s hard to believe that it was two years ago this week that Zubatto Syndicate made its debut at Seattle’s Town Hall on a particularly blustery November evening. For me, the evening was a blur, the culmination of months of work writing, arranging, and rehearsing new music for a brand new group. There were all of the usual details – scheduling, promoting, organizing – and some unusual ones – mainly the last-minute venue switcheroo necessitated by a genuine “senior moment” for the bandleader. In the end, thanks to the kindness of friends and a miraculous opening in the Town Hall schedule, the event came off, the music was premiered, we sold enough tickets to make me think it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all, and a good time was had, hopefully, by all in attendance.

Listening back to the performance from that night, my impression is of a group that hasn’t quite yet found its identity. It feels a little hesitant over-all – a combination of unfamiliarity with the material and the challenges of playing with a large amplified group in a tall, spacious and lively room. It’s all very low key, and not quite the rocking affair that I had imagined. The band is mostly seated at this performance which, combined with our dressy attire, gives the show a formal vibe. Given the benefit of hindsight, it’s kind of funny to listen to myself in the interview segments of the Front Row broadcast of the concert, explaining the elements that set Zubatto Syndicate apart from more traditional large jazz ensembles, as very few of those elements are present or well-defined in the performance.

Which is not at all a criticism of the band or of the concert itself. Everyone played extremely well, and the music was well-executed with some very nice moments, especially in the solos. The second half of the set, in particular, sounds loose and confident and even with a near-trainwreck “A Brief History of Time (Travel)” was a highlight, especially Jim’s bari solo. Byron’s drum solo before “Green Boy” was humongous. All of the solos on “Lords and Ladies” are stellar. And “The Trouble With Earth Women” sounds great. I recall somewhere in the middle of that song deciding on-stage that everything was going to be oooo-kay.

All in all, it was a fine start, even if it wasn’t quite yet what I had in my mind when I put pencil to paper. For me, it wouldn’t be until our next show, at Seattle’s famous Crocodile, that everything would begin to fall into place and the music would start to come alive as I’d hoped. From there on, the group’s identity and sound began to cohere and take flight.

Since that first performance, I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on the sound and identity of the band, on what worked and what didn’t, on how to get even closer to my original concept and how to go beyond. The challenges of wrangling a group this size have paled in comparison to the joy and excitement of bringing this music to life, recording it, performing and sharing it. This has only been possible through the support of fans, friends and family. In the next few weeks, I will be sitting down at the drawing board to begin writing the next batch of music for the band, which will be coming your way in one form or another in early 2012. I promise it will be even louder, funkier, and more fun than the last bunch of tunes. With plenty of oboe.

You can watch most of the Town Hall performance in the Front Row special here, but some of the better numbers of the night were cut for length.

You can also enjoy this interpretive dance, performed behind the back row of Town Hall, to the tune of “Lords and Ladies of Venus.”