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The Second Family Band, "Veiled Gallery"

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Every music city in America has a group like the Second Family Band. Musicians will go to each other’s shows, hang-out, tour together, and maybe share rent on a house or practice space. Eventually they all end up in the same room together, jamming. Someone sets up a microphone, turns on the tape recorder and soon thereafter another album of “shadowy” group improv is set loose on the world. The Second Family Band matches the pattern, but with an important distinction: Their music is worth listening to.

Brave Mysteries

Theorists would have us believe that improvisation is a democratic art, built on consensus through musical dialogue. It’s a wonderful ideal, but if a band isn’t air-tight there’s usually one or two musicians tasked with holding back anarchy. On Veiled Gallery the distinction goes to the banjo player and drummer (The musicians are not credited with any specific instrument).  Together they supply the backbone of the album, an interlocking exchange of hypnotic riffing with the metronomic thud of a floor-tom. The arrangement is spacious, giving momentum while allowing the rest to drone, bleat, and squawk their heart’s content.

Typical to these communal jam-sessions is the drifting coherence and shaky performances that crop up occasionally on the album. This is not to say that Veiled Gallery is a mess. The recordings was edited by someone with an ear for the band’s strengths as wells as a sympathy for the audience. The Second Family may play on with ecstatic abandon, but the listener is, for the most part, spared from having to hear the musicians run out of inspiration.

Releasing improvised music used to be more of a gamble, but the proliferation of new distribution and recording technologies has lifted cost and labor barriers, making it easy and cheap for any odd group to get together, hash together a few songs, and then throw out product into an already saturated market. The Second Family Band avoids that cycle by judicious self-editing. When so many groups today trade in images of mystery, it’s good to listen to one that believes some things are best left unheard.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 July 2010 21:23  


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