With Gambier’s harsh winter in full swing, Associate Professor of Music Ross Feller promised “heat” to a mid-January Rosse Hall crowd last Friday. Brooklyn outfit Gutbucket, the latest act brought by Kenyon’s Warner Concert Series, provided an evening of jazz, rock and more.
The Warner Concert Series is dedicated to “chamber jazz,” the music of small acoustic ensembles emphasizing live interplay between musicians. Gutbucket, described variably as “art-rock-tainted chamber jazz,” “avant-jazz” and even “punk jazz,” promised an intense take on the Warner Series’s format.
The quartet immediately shook the audience with a loud, dissonant chord on a fast, steady beat delivered perfectly in time. Ty Citerman, the guitarist, dressed all in red to complement his guitar, worked through daunting counter-melodies. Ken Thompson, in muted blue and green, swayed vigorously with his saxophone to keep track of the aggressive and constantly shifting beat. Meanwhile, Adam Gold, in rock drummer’s flannel, efficiently switched mallets before continuing his nimble work. Between the three of them, Pat Swoboda, in concert white and black, channeled punk-level energy into an upright travel bass, plucking with vision-blurring speed and, when necessary, lifting himself off the ground for full effect. Toward the end of their set, concluding a piece fittingly titled “Exercise,” each quarter of Gutbucket relaxed into an exhausted breath.
Self-described as somewhere on the “rock/jazz spectrum,” Gutbucket inhabits a confusing space between traditional genres, according to Citerman, one of the group’s founders. “Ken and I, in the 90s … were playing with musicians who were broad listeners: contemporary, classical, improvised music,” Citerman said in an interview with the Collegian. He, Thompson and two former members formed Gutbucket in 1999. “We were interested in creating a group that could be a vehicle for a lot of these ideas. We weren’t so much concerned with genre.”
Swoboda, who joined in 2012 on bass, felt confident in the band’s unique inter-genre sound. “When I started playing with the band, and listened to the whole back-catalogue, my thought was like, ‘I’ve never heard music like this before.’ And it is kind of cool to think about it like that,” he said. “Everything we’re experiencing we’re influenced by, but we’re not in the great lineage of anything specific.”
Gutbucket challenges the generic conventions of jazz. Thompson described the more traditional jazz format as a “melody and the chords behind it,” bookending improvisations on that melody.
These challenges continue the work of previous jazz innovators. Citerman specifically cited the systematic genre interrogations of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and other figures of the free jazz’ movement, which flourished in the 1960s.
The members of Gutbucket challenge not only jazz but also each other. Each member of what Gutbucket calls the “composer collective” writes music intending to “nudge people out of their comfort zones,” Thompson said.
Gutbucket’s work also features improvisation. “I don’t think we have anything that doesn’t have any improvisation … without exception,” Citerman said.
Swoboda considers this an important part of the group’s music. “When I was writing for the group, it was something specific and controlled, but the entire time I was imagining Ty’s guitar solo,” he said. “It was a huge influence on the compositional process.”
Improvisations aside, each audience gets the same Gutbucket. “You never know how they’re gonna react, so we’re gonna play the same show we’d play for anyone else,” Thompson said. “I hope that people are willing to just kind of go there with us, and be willing to hear it.”
As the band suspected, the audience had a range of reviews.
“I didn’t really like it,” Hanaa Ibrahim ’22 said. “It’s maybe not my type, but it was interesting watching them perform. They’re really passionate about what they’re doing.”
Oliver VandenBerg ’20 had a different perspective. “I really enjoyed it,” he said. “They were super cohesive, which I have not experienced to this level in an avant-garde group.”
“Sick,” added a smiling Avery Campos ’18.
A “sick” band requires a sick name, and after reviewing “hundreds” of options,” Citerman said the group settled on “Gutbucket.”
“[It] refers to the Prohibition Era,” Citerman said. “Where there were juke joints and illegal distillation operations. The gutbucket caught some kind of stuff — ”
“The spillage,” Thompson chimed in.
“It came to mean jazz with a certain amount of … edge to it. We liked that idea.”
“We do not play period piece music,” Citerman assured this reporter. “We took the name because it had that kind of spirit. The ‘grit,’ and the idea that music was for regular people.”