By: Greg Byers
Having moved to the Twin Cities in 2010, I was unable to experience the fabled Monday night jazz that went down weekly at the Clown Lounge. When several reliable sources told me that Icehouse had the potential of a top-tier music venue coupled with JT Batesʼ Monday night Jazz Implosion, I got very excited. Despite its June launch, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t get around to scoping out the bar until this Monday, when Dave King brought his Trucking Co. band to Icehouse. It’s right across from the venerable Creation Audio and it certainly gives Eat Street Social a contender for “best dressed bar” at Nicollet & 26th. And while the drummer had performed at the venue only ten days earlier with Happy Apple, he was still able to draw a crowd of 40-50 people on a weeknight. The audience was a good mix of ages, with the majority being in their 20s or 30s, hanging out in medium size groups. Speaking with a trio of women while the band set up, I learned that they had been introduced to jazz music via the Clown Lounge. When Icehouse started hosting similar acts, they came to find similar music at a venue drastically different than the previous. The grime and special je ne sais quoi of too many clown faces was a radically different atmosphere than the wood-finished überloft we sat inside.
Although Dave King is the leader, the jazz/metal band, featuring Brandon Wozniak on tenor, Eric Fratzke on guitar, and Adam Linz on bass work in a very democratic fashion. At least that seems to be how they decided on stage to cover “Lonely Olʼ Night” by John Cougar Mellencamp. They approached the tune with a free sense of time, yet they made quick work of the melody, each member vociferous in their role. That quickly devolved into an improvised guitar solo, with any sort of key center abandoned. As Fratzke began to wail, King got more and more animated, grinning madly behind the drum kit. The few couples taking earlier quickly stopped as the musicians asserted their presence through sheer energy invested in their craft. As the solo ended and the melody came back, King continued his fiery comping, ending the song explosively. The room could tell that the bandʼs rapport was astounding, with musical communication of the highest level. Afterwards, while King was announcing the song, he quoted the lyrics “She calls me baby, but she calls everyone baby” in reference to how he lives his version of Minnesota nice.
The rest of the two sets that night were devoted to original compositions, with many sections heavily relying on the improvised content of members, and most allotting multiple solos. One prime example of this was “Payphones” by Dave King. A lengthy solo guitar rumination lead to a relaxed melody doubled by guitar and sax. As the song ran its course, it seemed to devolve into rubato, only to segue to a more lively section. The first solo is by Wozniak, who deftly maneuvers the tenor through the fast swing feel with no chord changes. His audacity is further heightened by Fratzkeʼs lack of comping, leaving plenty of space for free-wheeling phrases. Wozniakʼs solo slowly diminuendos into a bass feature, where Kingʼs hushed groove leaves sonic openings yet is almost more intense. Perhaps thatʼs because Wozniak slowly drops out, leaving plenty of room for King to showcase his frenetic talent. After a blistering solo, the band comes back in seamlessly on a shortened melodic statement before an abrupt end. The band demonstrated throughout the night how impeccably a piece of improvised art can come together, yet equally exciting was the respect paid to the music by the vast majority of patrons. It was a thrilling night to hear great modern jazz and discover a respectable venue. But is the Icehouse comparable to the Clown Lounge? In correspondence with Wozniak after the show, I got his take on the matter. “I’ve heard some people bitch and complain that it’s not the Clown Lounge. Look, the Clown Lounge is just a place, a basement. It was Dave’s love and passion for the space that made it truly a magical place. Then the jazz happened and “boom!” you got two things coming together that just fit. It was our place and that was taken away very abruptly after 11 years of Monday night music. Icehouse fills that void and gives us a bigger space with more possibilities. If you’re not coming to see creative music on Monday nights ‘cause it’s not the Clown Lounge, get over it and come down and enjoy yourself.”