Sean Cronin and his pals at the Snoring Sasquatch on Sunday took me back to a time and place where I have never been. The Sunday evenings performance would not have been out of place in a smoky Greenwich Village jazz cellar in the mid-50’s. This was a time when rock and roll had yet to be invented; Charlie Parker was either dead or dying; Miles Davis was a young musician of great promise struggling with his heroin addiction and bold experiments in literature were the purview of Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg and the beat poets. In retrospect it was the complete antithesis of the “Leave it to Beaver” world of popular culture that was considered the norm of the day. So in a sense Sean Cronin and his band may also be out of step with the current cultural fashions of this new century. With their eccentric mix of jazz, rock, literature and theatre they are either way behind the times, way ahead of the times or maybe not even on this planet. In describing his music Sean tagged it with the label “Art Rock” and as such he is attempting to pigeon hole a style that somewhat defies description. Having said that it had nothing in common with the screaming guitars I associate with “Art Rock”. The music of this evening was a very finely calibrated performance with lots of sonic variety and full of surprising twists and turns in the performance.
The leader, Sean Cronin (bass, piano, guitar and banjolele) immediately brings to mind a young Charlie Haden fresh off the farm before his immersion in the turbulent free jazz waters of Ornette Coleman. In the middle of the ‘beat’ era the vocalist, viola and violinist Meredith Bates would have look elegant and right at home on the arm of a young Miles Davis. Martin Reisle (cello, guitar, vocals) in his straw hat looked like he just stepped out of a French Impressionistic painting. Even though his Gibson Firebird guitar had yet to be invented in the 1950’s Tom Wherrett would have been stylistically consistent with the era. The drummer Andrew Millar, whose back ground includes Scottish Pipe Band drumming and bebop, has the look of a somewhat dishevelled character straight out of a Jack Kerouac novel.
What about the music? Well it certainly isn’t straight ahead jazz or straight ahead rock. There are too many interesting twists and turns for either of those genre. While the music has a song base it is, to quote from other reviews, “…. the music is at times zany, the results of Cronin’s creative escapades are often quite subtle, and many of these songs are just plain good songs, with an air of melancholy sweetness”. Throughout the evening there was an incredible sonic mixture of literature, theatre, finger clicks, vocal harmonisation, banjolele (a hybrid banjo / ukulele from the 30’s), home made percussion and general weirdness. But it was not all off-the-wall performances. Their ‘off the stage’ performance of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” was a classy string version of that all time jazz classic. And, although I am not familiar with the original James Brown version, I will certainly check out the inspiration for their version of the bluesy “Down and Out in New York City”.
After winning the Galaxie Rising Star award at the 2010 Vancouver Jazz Festival, and recording a brand-new album or two, “Vancouver’s most original band” is ready for the streets, or a bar, or a living room and of course, the Snoring Sasquatch. Thanks Paul Hutcheson and his staff of the Snoring Sasquatch for giving us the opportunity to experience this wonderful music.
More images from the performance: