Popular DJs bring bands, funky Bullfrogs and loud Logic

DJ Logic, Bullfrog.
Tues Oct. 12
Aladdin Theater.

I am adding the saxophone to the list of instruments that annoy me. The reed instrument that comes in four equally annoying flavors; soprano, alto, tenor and baritone is now next to the electric guitar on my list.

Don’t get me wrong, the electric guitar and saxophone are amazing inventions that can create immense beauty by themselves or with an ensemble. I love John Coltrane and I could probably think of a guitar player I liked if I tried real hard.

When played incessantly as a lead or solo instrument without finesse or restraint, these instruments become like fingernails on a chalkboard or a bee in your ear as your train goes by a construction site.

I really wasn’t out to see any saxophones last Tuesday night at the Aladdin, I was out to see two progressive, funky bands that featured great turntablists. DJs playing with bands, rather than replacing them, is a source of much joy for me.

Fortunately, the annoying saxophone element of an intensely uninspiring set from DJ Logic’s Project Logic came after a somewhat lackluster but thankfully lighthearted set by Kid Koala and Bullfrog. Bullfrog had just arrived in town from Canada and seemed tired, or maybe they were stoned. They moved kind of slowly but were saxophone free, attempted to have fun and were pretty damn funky for some goofy Canadians. The sound was made up of restrained guitar riffs over funky percussion laden rhythms with vocal melodies, backing harmonies and clever rapping.

Kid Koala added scratches and samples into the mix subtly, as an ensemble player should. When his traditional interlude solo set came, he laid down some richly textured atmospherics rather than showing off his chops. People sat back and people danced as the band maintained an even-keeled sound with enough variety to just barely avoid monotony. They seemed like nice young Canadians who knew what restraint and groove was.

Then came New York’s much more serious and unrestrained group, DJ Logic and Project Logic. With them came the fortissimo wailing of a tenor saxophone that plagued Project Logic’s set. The sax attack started rather mildly during a great opening cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” then increased in frequency throughout the set.

Due to boredom and animosity toward the shiny-valved instrument, I left before the band’s set was over and missed this sax player’s name. After referring to DJ Logic’s album The Anomaly
I’m pretty sure his name is Casey Benjamin, a sax player working with the group as a multi-instrumentalist who actually wrote some good sax-free songs on the album (more about the album later.)

By choosing to leave after one of a number of long songs that moved along without actually going anywhere, it’s possible I also missed some much-needed variety, dynamics and spontaneity which would have redeemed the ensemble and spared them a negative review. The crowd was starting to move around a little more, and it’s possible they could have inspired Project Logic to work some magic, but at the halfway point, things didn’t look, or sound too good.

The band had initially grabbed me with “Watermelon Man” in which said sax man played, then looped, the recognizable funky flute intro. He then jumped on the Rhodes (I wish he’d have stayed there), while DJ Logic scratched samples from the Hancock version and the band demonstrated their New York jazz scene proficiency (i.e. very proficient and professional, almost to the point of appearing like jazz robots, fueled by bus-trip chops and angry to be playing to a relatively small crowd of us little Portlanders.)

They alternated between mid-tempo songs that begged to climax and sax filled up-tempo drum n’ bass grooves that should have, but wouldn’t relent. Dynamics stayed loud, the rhythm section was tight and unfaltering but robotic. Unlike Kid Koala moments before him, front man DJ Logic’s turntabalism, when noticeable, didn’t add the textures and ear catching sounds it could have.

On The Anomaly
Project Logic’s core group of turntables, drums, keys, bass and multi-instrumentalist/sax man Benjamin are joined by an awesome cast of guest musicians including vocalists, tabla players, guitarists and funky organ from John Medeski (whose collaborations with Logic in the popular jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood put Logic on the map.)

The result isn’t an amazing album but a pretty decent and eclectic mix of modern jazz, hip-hop, turntabalism and electronic. It’s a creation that would be damn hard to recreate live. One hopes that at least the better offerings from the core group would be re-created well, maybe next time.

Project Logic is obviously great musicians capable of working some magic if they wanted too. The problem here, on a Tuesday before a small crowd, may have been that they didn’t want to.