Friday, February 27, 2009

New groups bring musical diversity to Potsdam

Something exciting is happening in Potsdam. People are getting stoked on playing music the way they want to (not the way their school wants them to) and sharing their music at big gigs. Others are coming out in droves to check out this new music. The latest additions to the growing list of engaging, talented groups are The Max Howard Band and Third Rail. Playing jazz and funk respectively, the bands have all but given the boot to Potsdam's infamous singer-songwriter/adult contemporary cover band set. The most important thing about these groups is that they are not afraid to play out and they are making music fun again. Both groups played at Hurley's on February 6 to over 100 people through the night.

Intimate lighting by floor lamps scattered across the stage drew the listening audience into the Max Howard Band's performance. The group, consisting of six musicians, played music that ranged from introspective to grooving, from soft to loud and gnarly. The crowd shouted with approval during a particularly rousing solo from trombonist Max Scholl.

A quick intermission set apart the two groups. Although attendees may have been uncertain as to why such a nuanced jazz show would be standing room only, they found out when Third Rail took the stage. Third Rail, a newly established funk band, completely turned the atmosphere of Hurley's around. Wailing out a hit parade of familiar funk tunes, the group's undeniable stage presence and musicianship had everyone in the room dancing. The group's leader, Drew Coles, sang and shouted into the mic and also played keys on some charts. Songs like "Brick House," "The Chicken" and "Groove Oriented," an original tune by saxophonist Nick Natalie, provided an unflagging powerhouse of music worth dancing to. Battling solos between trombonist Alex Slomka and saxophonist Taylor Clay astonished the crowd. The band's entire set was punctuated by shouts of disbelief from listeners. All bets were off musicians from the Max Howard Band came up to join in and members of Third Rail brought their instruments down off stage, playing and dancing their way through the crowd. This unique interaction broke down the invisible barrier between the stage and the audience.

The huge turnout for this show, unlike the medium turnout for the prior weekend's Left Ear Trio, proved that nothing packs the house like student musicians. In a small room where it's difficult to accommodate groups like the Crane Jazz Ensemble, there is no better solution than to invite in these smaller collectives.

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