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The New Bohemians: Live at Club Dada, 2003-12-13

You may think you know about the New Bohemians because you've heard of them. But if all you know is their one big hit with Edie, then you haven't seen the whole picture. The New Bohemians are an incredibly talented and creative instrumental improvisational rock group.

This is a really crispy recording, thanks to the work of recording engineer Stan Smith and Dada's sound engineer Tom Bridwell. Brad Houser's bass and Kenny Withrow's guitar are very distinct and up-front, with Brad on the left and Kenny on the right.

Skip the first track, basically an equipment-fiddling sound check. Start with the second track, which slowly draws you into a sweet groove between Brad's tasty fretless, Kenny's rhythmic guitar figures, and a nice beat from John Bush on congas. Kenny even layers in some synthesized textures, through clever sonic trickery. The groove continues to flow into track three, but with some nice fuzzy distortion on the bass.

On track 6, Brad switches to fretted bass, and kicks out some of the most aggressive bass playing I've heard in a while, with full-on fuzz. It's a good attitude adjustment track.

Track 7 then takes you into a nice happy island-like groove, which leads into an eerie minor '60's-ish jam on track 8. A desert island, perhaps? You can almost taste the sand. Ten minutes into this journey we encounter spaceships, or a mirage, or perhaps just a hallucination.

As the beat fades away, we pass through a cloud of distortion, and the ostinato from John Coltrane's "Acknowledgement" emerges on the other side. Or does it? It's certainly easy to hit that set of notes by coincidence. But if you listen carefully, after a while you'll hear Brad play the opening notes of Trane's lead melody. Cool. A chaotic breakdown and some thunderous dive-bomb bass notes close out the set.

Kenny makes some cool sounds with his guitar on the first track of CD 2, but again, it's just a warmup, and you can skip right to the real meat of the set starting with track 2, a nice upbeat jam. The drums are a little more evident in the mix now; they were a little buried on CD 1. There's a nice percussion break a bit into this track, followed by a great extended solo from Kenny. The tune morphs into a merry 6/8 feel by the end; get out your kilt and dance a jig.

Brad then treats us to a wonderful little rendition of "Moon River" that is almost as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn. Track 4 then takes us into a zone of backwards loopy stuff and multiphonic bass clarinet overtones.

Track 10 of this CD is a real treat. They get into a very tasty Tortoise-style groove on this one. Yeah, I know it's uncool to compare groups to other groups, but it's a useful basis for comparison, and this track has the sort of sounds and tonalities that I love about Tortoise, so I mean the comparison in a totally good way.

The New Bohemians play on the third Saturday of every month at the AllGood Cafe and semi-regularly at Club Dada. Go see them.