Although it might be a cliché, The Slip - playing Sunday at Harkness - is not just a clever name. Trying to describe the New England based trio, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Brad Barr, percussionist and drummer Andrew Barr, and bassist Marc Friedman, is like trying to catch a greased watermelon.
A typical Slip song may begin with a tightly composed jazz head and then move into a traditional 'solo-over-changes' section before suddenly - and, more often than not, subtly - the tune's entire structure begins to morph as the band departs on an excursion into uncharted waters.
Picking one instrument to listen to as the band improvises is a tricky proposition. Guitarist Barr might lead the jam for a bit, but a quick turn of phrase by Friedman sends it hurtling off in another direction, and only to be twisted further as the band follows a whim suggested by a percussion fill from the other Barr brother.
The band's performance history is elusive, adding more difficulty in the attempt to define them. The Barr brothers first met Friedman in their high school jazz band. Together, the trio entered the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where they studied for several semesters, steeping themselves in the technical and theoretical aspects of music.
Simultaneous to the absorption of theory, the band has also wished to acquire the ability to "forget themselves" and to play as one instrument, void of the constraints of rules. Speaking of how a recent trip to Africa effected the band, drummer Barr said that "what struck [him] the most was seeing how everything [the native African performers] did was unified. Everybody was on an equal plane. There is no ego involved at all, and to see these people with so little - it is something I think we try to do with our shows."
The band, sounding a bit like (if you can imagine) a stripped down version of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, recorded and self-released their first album in 1997 entitled, From The Gecko. Since then, the band has moved gradually and surely out of their northeastern home base, travelling across the country to bring their ongoing musical conversation to new audiences.
So in the words of Village Voice music critic, Richard Gehr, "Just go."
The Slip will perform two sets, beginning at 8 p.m. in Harkness on Sunday. Admission is $3.
We came to get down: Though they might be scruffy, the music of The Slip is smooth as silk. (photo by courtesy of Harkness House)
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 22, April 30, 1999
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