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great gooey gobs of sound: BLOB by Peter Aaron

To many listeners the worlds of jazz and psychedelic rock seem universes apart. For a lot of rock fans, jazz is an intimidating minefield they somehow feel they have to “understand” to appreciate; while to legions of beard-stroking jazzheads, most rock, psychedelic or otherwise, is dopey kids’ music, the shallow domain of wannabe pop stars. So wrong, both arguments. After all, yes, the sounds and instrumentation between the two can vary but the goals remain the same: to take the music to surprising new places and blow as many minds as possible along the way.

But despite any knee-jerk reactions on either side of the fence, the parallels between the genres are glaringly obvious to anyone with a pair of receptive ears. And among those musicians whose ears are wide open are the members of BLOB, a local super group, of sorts, comprised of three of the Hudson Valley’s most adventurous improvisers—guitarist Ted Orr (420 Funk Mob, Sly Stone), drummer Harvey Sorgen (Hot Tuna, Paul Simon), and bassist John Lindberg (String Trio of New York, Anthony Braxton).

“Coming from a jazz background, I’m much more familiar with that stuff than I am with psychedelic music,” says Lindberg, who studied with Orr at the renowned Creative Music Studio. “But psychedelic music is also an improvisational art, just like jazz. I mean, look at Jimi Hendrix, one of the best improvisers of all time,” Lindberg says about the rock icon who jammed with Miles Davis and informed the trumpeter’s vaunted “electric” period. “But as far as the ‘psychedelic’ aspects of BLOB’s music? I don’t know, maybe that happens mostly because we record in Woodstock. The whole hippie thing just kinda bubbles up out of the ground when we’re playing there. (Laughs.)”

And, indeed, the five trippy albums BLOB has recorded—which includes the newly out, download-only You Can’t Get There From Here (Independent) and the soon-to-be-released Earphonious Swamphony (label pending)—have all been made at Woodstock’s Sertso Sound, where Orr also works as the house engineer. The town is also home to Sorgen, who, in addition to having worked with numerous rock acts, has performed with the cream of the jazz scene, artists like Ahmad Jamal, Bill Frisell, Dewey Redman, Dave Douglas, and many others. In terms of marketing, however, Orr prefers to downplay the use of the j-word as a band descriptor.

“I don’t call BLOB a jazz band,” the guitarist explains. “Because unfortunately when you say jazz you really limit your audience. So I refer to us a psychedelic jam band instead. It kinda hit me not long ago when I went to see Medeski, Martin & Wood in Woodstock. Those guys come from the downtown New York jazz scene and basically play free jazz, and the show was sold out—and jazz shows hardly ever sell out around here. But, because they’re known more as a jam band, they get huge crowds. And since BLOB has a very similar approach, I think jam band fans would dig us, too.”

BLOB began its musical gelling in September 2006, with the lineup of Lindberg, Orr, and drummer Bill Bacon (the trio’s name was originally an acronym for Bacon, Lindberg, and Orr Band). Sorgen took over the drum stool the following year, after Bacon moved out of the area. “It’s been really great playing with Harvey for me because with everyone he’s played with he kind of straddles the rock and jazz worlds all on his own,” says Lindberg. “With his background Ted of course brings a deep funk element, and with his midi guitar effects and sampling he always comes up with some really wild sounds.”

Such wild sounds are in abundance on Earphonious Swamphony, which features special guest Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello) on clarinets, bass saxophone, tuba, flute, and bass trombone. On wonderfully freakish, ever-unfolding excursions like “Robust Bog” and “Heavy Droplets,” Carney’s low-grunting horns mysteriously evoke the frogs that, Orr explains, served as the set’s inspiration. Another of BLOB’s frequent stage and studio guests has been Woodstock composer and vibraphonist Karl Berger. “What appeals to me about BLOB is that the music is made with no preconceived idea of where it will go,” says Berger, who was profiled in the October/November 2008 issue of Roll. “I think it would appeal to fans of jam bands and the Grateful Dead, but at the same time it’s much more advanced than that music.”

“We really get to go wild and have fun,” Lindberg says. “We go into this no-holds-barred, rubber room—‘the BLOBosphere,’ I call it—and just experiment. Every time we play it always goes somewhere interesting.”

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