Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit Drop Jaws with Tour-Closing Show at Brooklyn Bowl

Posted on Monday August 17th in

Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit :: 2015.08.16 :: Brooklyn Bowl

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Before the word jamband had any meaning, groups like the Aquarium Rescue Unit treated the elements of Western music like a personal chemistry set, combining, tinkering, and experimenting, more often than not creating something new, usually quite combustible and explosive. It’s been a while since Col. Bruce Hampton and ARU have played together, their original members having graduated on to grander touring acts, anchoring acts like the Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic. So, to catch the chemists back in action at the end of a reunion tour of sorts, playing a Sunday night show at Brooklyn Bowl, was a special treat for all involved. And while there was plenty of nostalgia in the air, Hampton and his old jamming mates proved they were no nostalgia act, delivering an eye-opening, jaw-dropping pair of sets on the Sunday audience.

The band — Hampton backed by Jimmy Herring on guitar, Oteil Burbridge on bass, Jeff “Apt. Q-258” Sipe on drums, and Matt Slocum on keyboards — took the stage and seemed to pick up right where they had left off however many years ago it had been, easing into a high-level jazzy noodling session before busting open the set with “Yield Not to Temptation.” The crowd consisted of two types: those who already knew what they were in for and those who were quickly going to find out. The murmured commentary from those standing around me could best be paraphrased as “Holy crap!” “Time Flack” followed on an undulating bass riff from Burbridge and a clock-beating cha-cha-cha rhythm from Sipe. While ARU’s members always had the chops to match anyone else out there, this revitalized version has a new and even better energy to it. The band played like it had four different leaders and, thus, like there was no leader at all, oozing as a unit through a stellar version of “Elevator to the Moon,” which unleashed their full improvisational power. Old goofy antics abound throughout the set, the whole enterprise playing like a massive, cosmic inside joke with Hampton playing both the Zen-master guru and the jester, providing both the setup and the punch line.

Over the course of the two sets, no genre was safe from the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Whether it was the blues of “Spoonful,” the swing of “Jack the Rabbit,” the gospel of “Fixin’ to Die,” the lounge of “Trondossa,” or the soul of “Compared to What” the band turned it inside out, upside down, and spun it around until dizziness set in. “Compared to What” was an illustrative highlight with a first jam forming out of a freewheeling Slocum organ solo while the rest of the band warped almost independently. A second jam followed some odd-metered theme, Herring as explosive as ever while Burbridge and Sipe played an alien rhythm section. The second set built in strength as it went, the big guns saved for the last quarter of the night, with a mammoth “Zambi” > “Space Is the Place” Sun Ra tribute that truly went interstellar with multiple excursions and call-and-responses between Hampton and the band and the audience alike. The set closed with “Time Is Free,” which played like liquid ARU, a perfectly distilled version of the sound that flowed and bubbled as the band built to a single ecstatic peak together before cresting into a double- and then triple-time closing section. The high energy in the room remained until the end, the crowd rapt in Hampton’s spell through the fitting encore, “I’m So Glad,” the entire audience singing along with the Colonel and meaning every word. —A. Stein | @Neddyo



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