Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio sound like the footsteps of three tiny cartoon men running up and down a stairwell at extreme speeds. Smith’s organ ramblings lay a quietly complex framework for the dancing guitar of Jonathan Kreisberg and the psycho-syncopation of Jamire Williams’ drums. Smith’s scatting, occasionally bubbling to the top, almost always consisted of the syllables “ba ba dee ba dee ba da!”
Listening to the swelling and deflating sounds of JG Thirwell’s least electronic, most orchestral project, the all-instrumental Steroid Maximus, it is hard not to imagine a movie in one’s head. While Thirwell has a knack for high-energy, fight-scene music, this particular program boasted many subtler, more gradually mounting compositions. “I saw a chase through a swamp on motorboat,” came one audience member’s interpretation of the third piece. In the opinion of this reporter, however, the correct interpretation was, “The montage in a heist movie in which all of the members of the team get into position.”
Thirwell closed the evening with a rendition of perhaps his most famous composition, the score to The Venture Bros. An essential element of the heavy stylization of the cartoon, this music takes on a different dimension in live performance. Though certain instruments (mostly horns) lacked the aggressive loudness of their recorded counterparts, the greater dynamic range and number of tonal voices allowed for a different intensity and an ending epic enough to appropriately conclude the evening’s sonic drama.
Although Thirwell seemed to have little communication with the musicians onstage, the 20 or more instrumentalists executed his opuses with a flawless tightness regardless of his conducting. But as the final medley came to a close, his passive motions finally began to intensify until he leapt into the air, slamming back down on the stage and gesturing the cutoff with both hands. He then quietly acknowledged his band, thanked the festival organizers, and walked offstage.