The basement of Finally Fred’s is like U-571 with a full bar. Dark, cold, crammed with unexplained pipes and wires. And a pretty decent Rob Roy. That’s where you’ll find Brock Mumford. Not a guy-not anymore, anyway (I’ll explain in a minute)-but a band. Jefferson “Brock” Mumford, you see, was the guitar player in Buddy Bolden’s band. You know, the first jazz band? Down in New Orleans? Talked about him on that Jazz thing? On PBS? You didn’t watch it, did you? Bad American. Bad, bad American. No matter. Funny thing is, this Brock Mumford’s no Dixieland band.
What kind of band they actually are is another question. The rhythm section, Jim Whitney on bass and Rob Garcia on drums, says modern jazz: The bass is acoustic, the drum kit tiny, the guys swinging. But the front line’s a different matter. There’s Jon-Erik Kellso, traditional jazz’s hottest Young Turk, on trumpet. So Dixielandóalthough here he’s playing a suspicious amount of modern horn. And then there’s this guy playing the accordion. And by playing, I mean playing the piss out of it: Will Holshouser plays as much accordion as there is to be played, in an ultrasuave, continental style. So I dunno, a Creole Gypsy swing thing? Not that, either. Because holding it all together is Matt Munisteri, guitarist, singer, songwriter, MC. And I don’t know where to put him.
Munisteri’s a genre of his own. This former Flying Neutrino (the band, not the particle) plays a dazzling jazz guitar and looks like he belongs in one of the less freaky Fellini films while doing it. And he’s got a goodly amount of charmóslightly spacey, soft-spoken yet confidentóthat comes through in his singing. His voice (did I mention that he recorded with Little Jimmy Scott?) is a dry, slightly smoky tenor. But he’s not just another singing jazzman. He writes songs. Real songs, with complicated, ultrasophisticated wordplay, strong structure, melodies that are more than just fragments. A couple snatches of my favorite, “Let’s Do Something Bad”: “It’s easy to play the cad/When you need it bad” and “Would you like a clinical label?/Well, if you’ll facilitate/I’ll gladly enable/Let’s clear off this table.” Wicked. Jazz musicians aren’t supposed to write lyrics that good.
Buddy Bolden took ragtime, blues, a couple of other kinds of music, and stitched them together into something seamless: jazz (I watched the show). And that’s exactly what Brock Mumford does. Their music is their own, neither jazz, nor rock, nor cabaret, but at the same time all of them. I’ve never heard anything like it; catch them now, while they’re still playing basements. Bands like this are why you move to New York.