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Culture Reviews
Rubin Steiner Quartet
By Nathaniel Williams
It was Massive Attack meets Charles Mingus. On Saturday the 11th a privileged audience at Chocolate was in attendance for an exceedingly dynamic performance by the Rubin Steiner Quartet. Combining live trombone, double bass, keyboards and vocals with pre-programmed drum machines and samplers the French group presented something all too often lacking from the pure electronic arrangements so popular these days: raw energy.

The group is led by Frederick Landier who, speaking with a thick French accent, explained that “there is no concept to the music. Just an effort to avoid genres.” And while just about every musician will say that their music is so different as to defy categories, in the case of the Rubin Steiner Quartet it actually is true. Their trombone player, Benoit Lovette, and upright bass player, Sylvestre Perrusson, have technical skills belying years of musical education and still more years paying dues in small clubs, but the overall sound of the band lies somewhere between trip-hop, rocksteady, and be-bop jazz.

The performance started at eleven and at first the clearly wealthy and blas? dinner party set seemed skeptical. The four band members, dressed more like architecture students than hepcats, did not bring with them any aura of greatness- until the music started. While some bands try to start slow, soft or popish the R.S. Quartet jumped right in with aggressively funky jazz. The use of programmed drums actually benefited the sound. Of course programmed drums usually mean a sacrifice of spontaneity, but in this unique case the tradeoff worked. The rhythms used ranged from standard jazz beats with ever hypnotic ride symbol accents, to distinctly electronic percussion with hip hop and two-step beats.

The set consisted of songs from their two albums, Lo-Fi Nu Jazz Vol. 2 and Wonderbar Drei, as well as songs from their new album due for release around January. Their performance overall was more reminiscent of Wonderbar Drei with its focus on live instruments and original composition. While the band started out as a primarily sample based project, their last album featured a scant two samples. The only borrowed line in the show was in the well placed use of the melody from Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington’s Caravan.

While the band performed, an interesting set of visuals were projected above the stage. True, the majority of bands these days do the same, but the Rubin Steiner Quartet offered more than the glorified screen-saver or abstract imagery motifs usually slapped onto live performances. The bands’ keyboard player used a video control unit on stage which allowed him to synchronize with uncanny rhythm the video being played to the music. Images ranged from footage of Gagarin in a centrifuge to kitschy ‘60s gladiator films. But the end result was fascinating.

My only complaint is that the energy of the show- and the many frenetic young people that the group drew- would have worked better in a larger club with a dance floor. As it was there was some conflict of comfort between the younger set of the crowd jumping up and down, and the older clique just trying to eat dinner. That aside, Chocolate offered a fantastic show from a band you will definitely be hearing more of in the future.

11.07.03
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