Three Sets, Vol. 2
Wise Monkey Orchestra - They Live
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2001, Volume 8, #3
Written by John Metzger
Lauan Records is the latest independent label to jump into the jam band ring. Following in the steps of the Home Grown Music Network, Lauan is leveraging their success against their ability to develop a community around their artists. Also like the Home Grown Music Network, Lauan is issuing sampler albums, offering prospective fans a taste of what their bands have to offer. The latest sampler is appropriately titled Three Sets, Volume 2, which features music from Larry, Ancient Harmony, and Wise Monkey Orchestra.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Larry kicks off Three Sets with a solid rendering of Southern boogie-blues. Just Ask Yourself serves as an inviting entry to the album as the group tears into a lengthy jam that merges Blues Traveler's harmonica-driven sound with the Grateful Dead's Eyes of the World. Unfortunately, the band fails to live up to the standards put in place by this opening selection, though its invigorating energy and knack for melodic spontaneity certainly keep things interesting.
The Albany, Georgia-based group Ancient Harmony is the true gem of Three Sets. It's not so much for their songwriting ability, which is fairly typical jam band fare — although in all honesty, it's hard to knock them too hard since the Three Sets, Volume 2 offers only a single track. Instead, the band deserves much praise for the manner in which they deliver Memory — a 25-minute epic performance that rages with all the intensity of Phish at its absolute best.
Rounding out Three Sets is Wise Monkey Orchestra, whose heavily horn-laden sound has made them a staple on the San Diego music scene. At times, lead singer Alley Stewart's vocals can be a bit overbearing, but there's no question this band has a unique jazz-funk sound. Faring better than their outing on Three Sets is their latest album — a high-energy concert recording titled They Live. There is some overlap between these albums — two of the tracks from the former release also appear on the latter. In addition, a third track (Movin' Free) appears on both discs, albeit in different versions. But what a difference it is as the song is significantly perkier. Andy Geib's trombone acutely punctuates the song's fluid rhythmic beat and on the subsequent bossa-nova jam SLM, Geib again comes alive in a dynamic exchange of leads with guest saxophonist Dave Ellis (of Ratdog fame) and guitarist Marty Schwartz. Later the band, along with Ellis, embark on an intriguing jam titled Space, which leads to the R&B-flavored Brainchild. Here, the interplay between Ellis and Geib — this time on flute — brings to mind the instrumental exchanges found on Marvin Gaye's classic What's Goin' On.
Don't misunderstand me. The bands on the Lauan label still have quite a distance to travel before they are anywhere close to creating a classic album — or even a career-defining one. Nevertheless, these bands do have talent and energy, and they all put forth something a little bit different that helps them to stand out against the backdrop of the many groups making the jam band rounds. By uniting together, the Lauan forces just might inspire each other to greater heights, bringing a bit of focus to the genre to lift it above its tiresome mediocrity.
Three Sets - ½
Wise Monkey Orchestra - They Live - ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box