Thursday, March 27, 2008

THE CDS: 33.3

It was 2000. You could still smoke in bars in CT. I was at the drinking person's establishment of downtown New Haven, Rudy's, to hear 33.3. My introduction to their music had been a few years previous when they were one of the many local bands opening for Yo La Tengo's concert in the courtyard of Pierson College. I don't remember who else played that day, but a band with an electric guitar (Brian Alfred), a drum kit (Steven Walls), a double bass (William Noland) and a cello (Dominique Davison) was the sort of the thing that would get my attention. It was a lovely afternoon that first time I heard them and the memory of it was enough to get me to Rudy's, for the first time ever. Subsequently Rudy's would become the site of post-Pynchon seminar drinks on three occasions, and in a sense 33.3 inaugurated that too. Ah, local bands. There are precious few in my CD collection, so it pleases me to be able to start this account of the latter with a few words about this music.

I have two discs by the band: 33.3 and 33.3 Plays Music. The second, for which the Rudy's show was a CD release party, includes a trumpet/trombone player (Joseph Grimm) as well. All the better: percussion, strings, brass, each with its distinct voice offered so melodic and pristine. On CD the tracks blend with one another so well it's hard to keep them straight; it's perfect coffee-shop background music: unobtrusive but inflected with the kind of rhythms and graceful transitions that stimulate forms of internal attention, like reading, writing, spacing out.

It's not spacey music though — I suppose if I had to characterize it I'd call it "architectural garden music." It makes me think of comfortable urban spaces -- plazas maybe, with landscaping and interesting styling in the stone and wood surfaces. It could also be perfect soundtrack music for that contemplative train ride the heroine of your alternative film takes somewhere in the third act. The song on right now, "The Odds," communicates, when the horn starts that clipped staccato sound at the end, the arrival after a long journey. And then it segues into one of my favorites, "An Open Letter to Buckminster Fuller," where the guitar and the cello complement each other so well, creating this lovely floating texture that then gets stirred a bit by the trombone . . . a feeling as of an incipient encounter just around the corner because those guitar lines are so perky, so clearly up for something, but still mellow, y'know, not at all desperate or distracted. At times I pick up traces of a sound I associate with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass -- as on the fifth track, "Oval Cast as a Circle," where the tempo is just a little bit cha-cha and the horns, while never "hot," have some spice.

Probably my favorite is the concluding track: "An Evening in Park Slope." It's a slow crawl at first, tentative and still getting the lay of the land, but when the strings come in we feel an elegiac tension. It could say a lot about the light on brownstones perhaps, but it also says something about that kind of trip around the block in which the flow of a prolonged thought ebbs away like ripples in a pond, till you barely hear the instruments in their long fade.

In person, 33.3 was more dynamic. There was a lot more tension in the music, it seemed to grope more and to crescendo (drums in Rudy's make a big noise), not with abandon, but with the energy of a packed room the size of a double garage. I don't know if the band is still together, but I imagine that wherever I go and whatever I do, this music will stand for turn of the century New Haven on a November night. I'll drink to that.

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