BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Improvisation is usually the purview of jazz. (Jam band guitar wank doesn’t count. No, not even the Grateful Dead.) Clearly, Double Naught Spy Car didn’t get the memo. Session dudes by day, the members get to blow off some seat-of-the-pants steam in DNSC, keeping their instrumental and arrangement instincts sharp. For Panorama City, the band invited singer/songwriter Stew, erstwhile leader of the Negro Problem and creator of the fabulous Broadway stage show Passing Strange, to join in the fun.
Recorded about ten years ago with a grant from the American Composers Forum, Panorama City puts the five musicians in a room without a net – no pre-production, rehearsals or second takes (though Stew has since copped to going in armed with a few scattered lyrics already written). Fear not, however – this isn’t free jazz nuttiness. The band’s years as studio musicians give them the ability to impose structure on the fly, which ain’t a bad thing, and Stew has always displayed both a willingness and an ability to ride the winds whichever way they blow. Thus the quintet comes up with songs that are identifiably blues (“Bumpin’ Morton Subotnick”), roots rock (“Blue Dust”), early 70s Miles Davis (“Bodhi Tree Mama”), an emulation of Daniel Lanois-style atmospherics (“Blowoff Therapy”) and straight-up rock & roll (“President”). There’s even a surprisingly pretty ballad called “Batgirl.”
None of this is to say that DNSC + Stew worry about accessibility – nearly every path taken sounds like it was walked by worshippers of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. But improv freaks expecting a collection of free-form dissonance and barely organized chaos may be shocked at how disciplined, listenable and ultimately musical Panorama City is.
DOWNLOAD: “Blue Dust,” “Bodhi Tree Mama,” “Blowoff Therapy”