Thursday, April 22, 2010

The High Life and the Sub-Conscious

Last night I caught a performance by Jason Ajemian and The High Life at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. The band, a conglomerate of New York and Chicago musicians, has been on tour for about a month now to promote their new album ("Let me get that Digital"), and they will continue to perform through the rest of April.

The High Life’s show at Issue Project Room was not only a great performance, but it was also an excellent example of the art of programming. They played continuously for about an hour, and it was one of those rare occasions where the longer the performance lasted, the more convincing the performance was. In the beginning of the show I was amused, if a bit skeptical. By the end, I felt like I had experienced something truly special.

The ensemble slid from one stylistic bent to another, from sea shanty to rock to free jazz, to name a few. I felt as though I were being guided through different rooms within the subconscious – mine or The High Life’s or Jason Ajemian’s – and it turns out that these “rooms” are more literal than one might expect. The musical scores are arranged like blueprints for a house, with entranceways and exits.

The most consistent thread within the group’s set was perhaps Jason Ajemian’s voice, acting as a narrator throughout the journey (his voice was occasionally joined by the voices of the entire band). He yelped and belted lyrics, and fragments of lyrics, beckoning the listener through the hallways of his music. Jason’s vocal delivery was reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. In fact, the tunes themselves occasionally reminded me of the Magic Band, with their off-kilter looping rhythms, and their oscillation from one meme to another and back.

One thing that surprised me was that the pastiche of styles never really felt ironic. It was never insular in that fashion – it led the listener in and not out, despite the fact that the soil was always shifting under one’s feet.

All of this musical surrealism would not have gone off as well as it did without the talent of The High Life’s musicians. They are all excellent instrumentalists and improvisers, and have projects of their own that are very much worth checking out.

Many bands will describe their sound by simply listing their iPod playlist and not sound like half of the artists they claim to channel. The High Life is not one of them. They perform a bizarre and wonderful collection of songs that a mere “shuffle” key can’t replicate. Don’t miss them next time they visit a performance space near you.

Jason Ajemian and The High Life is:

Jason Ajemian: bass, vox
Jacob Wick: trumpet, vox
Peter Hanson: saxophone, vox
Owen Stewart-Robertson: guitar, vox
Marc Riordan: drums, vox

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