21st July | Fleece
Photos: Albert Testani
There’s no question that Moon Hooch‘s musicianship is unparalleled.
James Muschler on percussion and Michael Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, both on saxophone, create a genre of music unlike any other. With a style that combines avant-garde jazz, drum and bass, breakbeat and punk rock, Moon Hooch live sets evoke a primal urge to dance, even in the one guy standing in the back with his arms crossed for the entire show.
During their set, Wilbur and McGowen play with virtuosic speed and dexterity on their saxophones, choreographing their movements to be as animated and acrobatic as someone can be with a body-sized baritone saxophone strapped to their neck.
For the majority of the set, they shared only the occasional glances with each other with Muschler cueing in and out of breakdowns and seamless transitions from an interlude to the next songs. As I’m sure it’s been citied, many times, the trio met met at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City and began start busking in the city’s subway stations. Their session on the train platforms became so well known that the ensuing dance parties ended up getting banned due to too many people gathering and busting moves near the tracks.
By gaining popularity through this medium, Moon Hooch’s early albums are filled with tracks that emphasise short and catchy hooks and refrains in order to gain the attention and spare change from passers-by. As their sound evolved from these early records, like their 2013 self-titled and 2014’s This is Cave Music, to the more recent Light It Up EP, Muschler, Wilbur and McGowen began composing tracks and records that drew more on their jazz training and were influenced by electronic music.
I don’t want to presume to know anything about what attending a musical institution such as The New School does for you, but I feel that one of the paradoxes of the jazz training that Moon Hooch received comes from learning how to improvise, or practising to create in the moment.
The mechanised precision of the set was amazing on its own, but the moments when you really saw and heard how special Moon Hooch is as a band came during their solos and improvisation: when their communication came not from pre-determined cues and looks, but through their music and body language. Late in the set, during one of these moments, Wilbur and McGowen began laughing at one another as they exchanged short, staccato phrases, as if they were two kids making funny faces at one another, all while Muschler soloed with a crazed look in his eyes.
It always felt as if the set was one or two beats away from erupting into a cacophony of saxophone-wailing chaos, but Moon Hooch’s sets are performance at its best. Moon Hooch are at their best when they are breaking their own rules.
See the video for ‘Acid Mountain’ here: