Cast In Concrete #1: Meet The Jittery Improv Quartet Sistine Criminals


Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City’s street musicians.

Who: Sistine Criminals
When: 6/4/11, about 5 p.m.
Where: Washington Square Park

Quite the debatably fortuitous beginning to this enterprise, getting run over by a mobile mariachi quartet’s accordionista the moment I jumped on the subway out by Prospect Park. But they declined to participate because they didn’t have their uniforms, which seemed to me a very good reason to refuse. So instead I was off to Washington Square.

If you’re lucky, Greg “Torch” Sgrulloni’s drums will pretty much rule the park when you arrive, jumping out over the fountain and right through the crowds milling about with their ice creams or homework or whatever it is the NYU kids do out there. What could otherwise probably pass for a straightforward jazz head with a slight Middle Eastern modal flavor gets warped into a nerve-wracking monument to paranoia by jittery mile-a-minute jungle breakbeats that you’d assume were programmed specifically to sound inhuman if you weren’t right there watching it all unfold from a park bench.

But his band members in the pulsing pseudo-electronic improv quartet Sistine Criminals are no slouches either—bassist Nick Jozwiak only stopped madly dancing around with his upright when it was time to start howling along, which may seem ill-advised on paper but actually ended up being the best thing about the song since Torch started playing. All around, a combination of finesse and urgency that suggests well-schooled jazz musicians who quite sensibly decided they prefer the bitches and drugs of the rock world.

And indeed, they’re all highly educated conservatory types, though they mostly seem to shrug off that training as insignificant when it comes to this band. As for the vices—well, this piece is called “The Blunt Sets In.” So “this is your brain on drugs,” then? Doesn’t sound half bad, now that I think about it.

In the hat: Nothing—they didn’t have one! All they had was a dry-erase board advertising the tickets for the Big Up Festival, which I have absolutely no intention of attending (sorry guys).