Dan Adler watching Gary Thomas’ Pariah’s Pariahs live-recording.
Why name a band using the word pariah? Well I ventured to my friendly neighborhood Johns Hopkins Club to watch a group of alleged pariahs last Saturday. That is the band Pariah’s Pariahs, which can now be translated to outcasts’ outcasts, which doesn’t make complete sense to me, but we’re going to go with it for now. Officially Pariah’s Pariahs is a jazz group led by saxophonist Gary Thomas. The band hosted a two-set live recording for a future album release—I attended the second.
My first impression walking into the venue and seeing about 20 stands cramped together on stage was that I was in for a night with a big band. I haven’t seen a big band since I used to play in my own and was about a 4’ 11’’ pianist with a full set of braces. Though I didn’t quite get a big band, I did get to watch a 12-piece group, equipped with a bass clarinet, violin, cello and two guitars. I was a little disappointed there was no piano…but I’m a little biased and self-absorbed. Regardless I found my normal Hopkins Club chair, in the left-hand section of the room – front-row, second from the right – and got comfortable. The waitress came by and I ordered a Blue Moon – my normal budgeted drink – and I stretched into the comfortable armchair. After my pre-show rituals were finished (we all have them, let’s be honest), I was ready for some jazz.
A little after 10 the outcasts gathered on stage to begin the show. The first tune played, called “Exile’s Gate”, began with a dissonant opening – instruments were intentionally clashing with sporadic rhythms and disputed tones. I noticed the bass player, unlike the contrary metal peg typical of double bassists, had a large wooden peg that was dug into the ground. By the end of the song I was very interested in the two guitar players, who were jamming together adding enough weight to the rhythm section, and proving my desire for a piano false. They soloed with each other, breaking from the entire ensemble into a small group – themselves, the drummer and the bassist.
After the first song, which included the trombone player struggling to not hit his stand with the slide, the band resolved into their self-titled track, “Pariah’s Pariahs”. Again, the guitars caught my attention, specifically a solo that got the trumpet player – oddly playing the band lead mid-song, instead of Gary himself – grooving. In addition, the melodies were intricately layered in the track, and they combatted each other until agreeing on a general resolution. I could not hear the strings unfortunately, which was something I was looking forward to…maybe it was my fault for sitting directly behind them.
Then things got interesting. I noticed the obvious differences between a first jazz show and a live recording. Normally in jazz shows, artists will take creative freedom – sometimes to a fault – and solo for indeterminate amounts of time, until some nudge from the crowd or other band members argues to move forward. In a live recording the cuts need to be clean. One cut that wasn’t clean was the beginning of the third tune, “Who’s In Control”, which started ironically without much control. At this point the mis-beginnings started to hold through, as the solos seemed to be more cautions than the previous tunes. On the plus side – I heard a violin, finally through the louder instruments!
The last two songs were utilized as do-overs from a previous set. At this point the comfortable chair and the late night may have gotten to me – I absorbed the performance. The fourth song was entitled “Out of Harm’s Way”, and included a bass clarinet solo. I’ve never heard a jazz bass clarinet and it was a good introduction. The last song, “No Mercy Rule” cruised along as the band and I seemed to almost be ready to call it an evening.
As I stood up to leave, sometime around 11:30PM – a late night for an old soul like myself whose life begins at 6:00AM everyday – I attempted to consider the performance I just saw. Jazz shows are normally more individualized, and highlight the personalities of the players and where they came from. A saxophone player who studies bebop jazz will be adamant about quoting Charlie Parker, while an avant-garde player will showcase John Coltrane. In a sense jazz is about a bunch of outcasts – or pariahs – coming together to move between moments of uniformity and individuality.
Yet, during the recording, apart from my mentioning of the guitars, most of the show – solos included – seemed planned out, breaking the normalcy of the late-night jazz club. The group seemed to opt-out of the individuality that defines jazz and continuously play as a whole. Even during solos, the individuality was kept at bay. This is not a criticism, just an interesting revelation: jazz must almost be sacrificed to produce a unified sound that lasts while the dollars spent recording continue. Thus Pariah’s Pariahs were not really pariahs at all, unless outcasts’ outcasts are the double negative it might entail. This made sense for the night, and resolved my original confusion with the band name, at least for the time being.
Pariah’s Pariahs is a jazz group led by Baltimore-based saxophonist Gary Thomas. You can checkout the full band here. All photo credits are to Kevin Clark.
Dan Adler doesn’t wear braces anymore, and was not that great at piano. He’s more into science now and thinks it’s a really cool thing. You could find out more on his blog at: dadler.co/engineering-beauty.