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Special CD Review: Northcountry Jam - Viperhouse and Strangefolk


Here are some latest releases from two fine Vermont bands.

Viperhouse/Lap Hen (Magic Hat, 1999)

Recorded live at Brattleboro’s own Common Ground during the summer of 1999, Lap Hen signifies Viperhouse’s first release since 1997’s Shed and their first official and widespread available live recording (in 1996, the band released a limited edition live recording of their performance at the 1996 Ottawa Jazz Festival.) In recent years, the band has slowly being sucked into the "jam band" mold. With the engrossing explosion of funk jazz, the bands Vermont disposition and singer Heloise William’s appearance on a Phish stage a few years back, Viperhouse has become a legend within the noodling aficionado circles. Although the ten person Viperhouse can incite just about any audience to a dancing fervor and they can create the most hypnotic of grooves, Viperhouse belongs in a category of its own. With most of today’s groove jazz bands – Ulu, Addison Groove Project, and the Slip – the bands are usually trios, quartets or quintets. Viperhouse harks to the big bands of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie and Sun Ra. They play complex arrangements, either written by their influences or themselves, and then add a groove, pop-oriented touch. The opening "Blue Pepper" is a rare Duke Ellington song, and the finale is another Duke tune, "Virgin Jungle". During the middle of the set, there is a version of Sun Ra’s "I’ll Wait For You." As for originals, sultry singer Heloise Williams contributes her first writing effort – "Good Thing." For a girl who claimed to not be a singer seven years ago, she has already proven her vocal abilities three-fold. Now she has shown her compositional skills as well. Keyboardist Ray Paczkowski continues to be the song writing work horse of the band with his two new brilliant compositions – "Pugsley System" and "Something In Between". Lap Hen is a perfect look at the Viperhouse live experience. All of the elements of their show are there – cunning interpretations of standard jazz tunes, frenetic grooves, random time changes and the cross pollination of lounge lizard appeal and dance hall energy. To date, there has not been a disappointing Viperhouse release and Lap Hen continues the trend. (www.viperhouse.com)


Strangefolk/Live (Mammoth Records, 1999)

To keep their fans satiated between 1997’s Weightless in Water and their upcoming albumslated for this Spring, Strangefolk released this five song CD consisting of some of the band’s concert favorites. You will find "Lines and Circles" from Lore that has a little touch of David Crosby’s "Music is Love" thrown in. There is also the popular "Reubens Place" (which sounds like a restaurant that serves Corned Beef) from their first album and two previously unreleased songs, Eric Glockler’s "All the Same" and John Trafton’s "Chasing Away". The tunes were recorded live at 1999’s Gathering of the Vibes Festival in Bridgeport, CT and easily represents the combination of intelligent lyrics and energetic improvisation that embodies the Strangefolk live experience. There is only one way to hear this record and that is to head out to a Strangefolk concert and pick one up for free. The supplies are most likely limited, so check out their website at www.strangefolk.com and find a venue near you.