Evil Genius – Experiments On Human Subjects (2018)

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Maybe it’s because I currently have a Makin’ A Move CD currently spinning in my car, but with its strange juxtaposition of a rambunctious guitar and a bustling tuba, Experiments On Human Subjects by Evil Genius is reminding me an awful lot of 1990s Henry Threadgill. The sharp-cornered rhythmic/harmonic communion is not quite the same, though.

Evil Genius is a trio only on its second album, but they’re already standing out from the herd of groups who make experimental music by culling from the extreme edges of rock and jazz. Guitarist Max Kutner, drummer Michael “Bonepocket” Lockwood and tuba player Stefan Kac follow the Threadgill prescription of using a tuba where a bass would normally go and pairing it on an equal footing with an electric guitar via through-composed pieces that blurs the lines between harmony and improvisation. But they succeed in developing their own language via a composition style with a greater openness to indie rock, tidier song lengths, and the simple math of interacting with just two other musicians instead of three or four.

Much of the album’s front end comes with a punk attitude: the sub two-minute “Skateboarders Versus Security Guards: Double Agents In A Proxy War Between The Forces Of Good And Evil,” is math rock of the three blasting through a gauntlet of notes and beats in perfect unison. The trio tightens up into a bulging groove for “Tour De Stadt” and Kac cuts loose with a tuba solo that has rockstar aspirations. “Asterisk” is three songs in one, consisting of some lively interactions and a punk-speed middle section. All three are syncing together on a sinuous pattern to start off “Arctic Circle,” then explode into free form sonic surfing. Here, Kutner follows Kac’s tuba explorations with some prickly picking with Lockwood and Kac soon joining in on the fun.

Except for the math-metal “Colonel Karl Marx and Keenan McCardell,” the trio’s gets artful in more subtle ways from there on out: “An Iron Post In A Velvet Footing” goes off in a decidedly more jazz direction and instead of unison lines, Kac and Kutner are co-improvising. The downshift finally occurs on “Art Lande’s Sound of Love;” Kac wrings anguished notes from his tuba, nearly resembling a trombone in the process. “Life Made of Stairs” similarly starts off sparse, picking up momentum and easing off again. Through it all, the tight interplay between guitarist and tubaist sustains the performance. The cheekily titled “The Great Pilling Of Pat Metheny’s Sweaters” won’t draw instant comparisons to the music of Metheny but Lockwood’s spry cymbals make it limber like a lot of PM songs.

Now out courtesy of Orenda Records, Experiments On Human Subjects is artful haymaking from Evil Genius. The tuba is having more fun than is probably legally allowed and if you’re predisposed for adventurous listening, you’ll have illegal fun too.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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