Coalition of the Willing
At SOhO, Tuesday, May 23.
Reviewed by Ethan Stewart
I lost my car keys last Tuesday night and showed up 30 minutes late to the Coalition of the Willing show at SOhO. It had been a while since I had felt the sweaty panic and jaw-clenching frustration of searching for something that “f*&*ing vanished 10 minutes after I put them on the goddamn kitchen table!” Similarly, it had been quite some time since I had felt the sweet rush of relaxation you get after you find your keys stuffed in some weird corner of your house, sitting under a hanging window curtain as if that was where they belonged all along.
The transition from freakout to blissed-out is instantaneous in such moments of discovery. What, you may ask, does any of this have to with the truly transcendent jazz show brought to us by the Coalition last week?
Well, toward the end of the first set, as organ player Marco Benevento was tweaking listeners deep into a super-scary outer-space world of Herbie Hancock meets really bad acid, I found myself oddly agitated — almost angry that this quartet of genius musicians was playing such freaked-out, melody-lacking music. It was déjà vu really — losing my car keys all over again. And then blammo! Like finding your wallet hiding under your car seat, eight-string guitar sorcerer Charlie Hunter rips a sugar-soaked lick that blows up the whole outer-space vibe and brings everyone back to a sunny day on ass-shakin’ planet Earth. The transition was seamless and perfect — more organic than lettuce grown in Goleta.
The well-attended show was perfect really — a well balanced and enjoyable exercise in genre-bending and mood-making. While the early 8 p.m. start certainly caught a few concert-goers off guard — leading to a noticeable swell in attendance for the second set — the evening progressed in a wholly unpredictable and fun procession of world-class jazz that refused to be boxed in and labeled. As is often the case with jazz supergroups like the Coalition, the band — all of them all-stars in their own right — rolled through the night trading off solos and coming back to center when you least expected it, but wanted it the most. From Benevento’s one-handed organ mastery and second-set space laser tangent on something that looked like a cross between a skill saw and a Nintendo controller, to saxophone-god Skerik — who, beside playing duets with his own echo, somehow managed to make his horn sound like a Jimi Hendrix solo — to Hunter’s standard issue, mind-blowing, simultaneous guitar- and bass-riffing, to drummer and band leader Bobby Previte’s hyper-fast punk-jazz stylings, there was enough action going on to make even the most seasoned avant-garde jazz fan’s head spin. All told, you could not have asked for anything more on a Tuesday night. Except, perhaps, for also finding your keys.