Joshua Tree will be the fourth album from Moon Hooch, the jazz-fusion-dance group born out of the subway systems of New York City. Their sound is unique but it’s been heard before, especially to anyone that has lived in or spent time in a city.
Unfortunately, their newest album won’t be something listeners will be fighting to get their hands on. On their website, Moon Hooch themselves admitted that they could not think of what they wanted the album to sound like, so they just improvised and “somehow the process created 8 songs.” Their original intent was to seclude themselves for a few days in the Mojave Desert, just outside of the Joshua Tree National Park. They rented a house and turned it into a studio but no inspiration came to them, so they played whatever came to their minds. The idea sounds like a lot of fun for any musician and his or her friends, but as a third party it’s a bit hard to find enjoyment in it.
Although it is good to see such talented street musicians make their way to the studio, their voice isn’t necessarily studio appropriate and sounds better in the echoing subway system of the big apple. They sound much more epic in a vast open area while in the studio, their sound is too empty and spacious. There is the opportunity to fill in those gaps, though. Granted, the three of them are astounding musicians that have a near mastery of their instruments, but there just isn’t enough of them to make a big enough sound. The drummer can be heard trying to compensate for that lack of power which can be overbearing in itself, never mind the fairly frequent squeals coming from the saxophones as well as other sounds that no one ever expected to come out of a reed instrument.
Hearing this collection is shocking considering their prior studio works are pretty well done and well known, such as “Number Nine,” a track off the Billboard Jazz Album Chart that allegedly peaked at the number nine spot, according to Wikipedia. The musicians are highly trained but they’re starting to get a little avant-garde and highly improvised. But when a group is limited to only three instruments, players will tend to stretch that voice out as much as possible, and the voices of the baritone, alto sax and drums have been maxed out and it’s time to move onto bigger things.
The attractive part of a street band was that literally almost anyone could enjoy it. New York City, obviously, has one of the most diverse populations in the world and that means street performers need to appeal to a larger, more general crowd. Right now they’re only appealing to a small majority of the entire U.S. population. But bands need to experiment before they become widely recognized and this album will undoubtedly yield some interesting results, both positive and negative.
Now, most people can enjoy a decent amount of wild improvisation, even though it gets a little unintelligible, but this is a new level. The track titled “Improv” really opens a door into what was on their mind when creating this. Before the song starts, there is an intro with one of the members describing how he wanted the rest of the band to go about creating the song “Improv.” He says, “Hit it as hard as possible…everything we do is intentional…literally no mistakes…mean every f*****g thing we do… zero hesitation.”
It seems this technique is applied to almost every song and can be a little overbearing at times. It’s usually evened out by melodic tones and organized songwriting, but all of that can be very easily overpowered by improvisation and a very odd sounding baritone sax.
If listeners can look past the odd parts of the album they will find some enjoyment in it. “Sandstorm” comes first and it starts out on a promising tone, but is quickly overshadowed by the baritone sax. “Jiggle” is pretty refreshing- still a little out there, but it’s comparably more upbeat and tight. It’s definitely a fun a get-up-and-go groove with loads of technical percussion and catchy sax licks. It’s one of the less complex tracks but definitely one of the most fun, which is the goal of street music.
But just as quickly as it came, it’s gone when “Criminals” comes on and one begins to wonder if they’re just screwing around behind those microphones. They’re trying to accomplish this incredibly heavy tone that just doesn’t work. “Mountain Lion” is a more successful attempt at creating a heavy sound. It’s more organized but still has a sense of improvisation.
It would be great to see these guys expand into a group with more people. They have the confidence and talent to be great band leaders and create something spectacular, they need to move past what they were raised to do but keep some of the attributes that make street bands so great. They’ve reached the limits of what they can do with the three of them and it most likely explains why they drew a blank out in the desert. The have put out an album almost every year so hopefully next year will bring something truly amazing from these very talented New York natives.
The album is up for free download on their website.
Key Tracks: Sandstorm, Jiggle, Mountain Lion, Outer Urge