Portland has a diverse music scene. All flavors of bands manage to get their name out and about. One band that adds to this diversity and performs from time to time around town is Freight Train Casanova. They have a swanky, creeping, whiskey-drenched sound spiced up by interesting instrumentation and a singer who sounds a lot like Tom Waits.
Their Portland State connection is bass/cello player and PSU student Jason Kuttner. Kuttner���s bass is joined by a revolving mix of guitar, saxophone, clarinet, violin, percussion and accordian.
They categorize themselves as street or alternative jazz and cite influences Tom Waits, Dr. John and Captain Beefheart.
Indeed these references make sense. Their debut CD, Last Train/Harsh and Tender Mercies on 6 Pane records blends bar blues, swingin’ jazz and melodic ballads. It���s all offered up with some sassy, zip-zang-pow horn hits, throbbing low end and alluring vocals.
Initially, the most notable aspect of their sound is the gravely, Tom Waits-esque vocals of Rich ���Lizard���� Oyarzabal. His voice, music and lyrics all bring Mr. Waits to mind. That���s not really a bad thing though. The violin, accordian and horns all add nice flavor, especially when arranged together.
The sound, or at least the sound on the album isn���t too captivating or challenging, but fun. The lyrics become more interesting on repeated listens and Lizard���s voice is great. There���s something about that low, gravely growl that ���� even if it���s hard to get used to ���� is damn good. The songs are pretty simple and straight ahead. Some swing but maintain a standard verse/chorus/verse structure, while others swing and some just kind of roll along.
They know how to set a mood. The songs that sound like spy or mystery soundtrack tunes are the most fun, and the best. Songs that try to be straight blues, shuffle or pop swing don���t work as well. ���Perfect Gin Fizz,���� sounds a lot like a sauced up ���Peter Gun����, ���Biscayne Murders���� sounds like a song from a murder mystery and ���Bike Heist���� sounds like a bike heist.
The band performed at the NXNW festival every year since 1997. In 1998 they travelled up to Toronto, Canada to play NXNE. In a tour diary published in the Willamette Week, violinist Jon McDaid and drummer John Duke wrote, ���we discovered an amazing new scene popping up, a rebirth of new school jazz. We think of it as jazz interpreted for an audience raised on punk ��������
Freight Train will have to keep working and pushing their boundaries if they want to fit into this scene. In the mean time they are, if nothing else, fun. That and the Tom Waits thing, did I mention the Tom Waits thing yet?
If they put on a great live show, which I would hope and imagine they do, they will be worth checking out. I don���t remember hearing about a show of theirs lately, so either they���re laying low on purpose or, like so many other bands just can���t make time for music. It���s a good thing Kuttner is getting his education taken care of. I hear that helps, sometimes, if you���re lucky.