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Red Square
Albany, NY
November 15, 2006

by J Hunter

During a pre-show talk last year at North Pointe Cultural Arts Center, Dave Leibman lamented the decline of jazz-fusion since the time of Miles Davis' mind-blowing album Bitches Brew. Leibman's contention was that the genre (as Miles defined it, on Brew and other releases) degraded as new iterations arrived until, as Leibman tartly put it, “You got Jeff Lorber.”

While Leibman's premise was true on its face, it ignored a new generation of musicians combining lessons from the past with elements of late-20th-century musical schools. The result is a slew of exciting young groups that have been embraced and nurtured by the Jam Band movement, as well as by old-school fusion fans that were tired of the same old saxed-up Prog Rock. This new sound is spectacularly represented by Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing, who just laid waste to Red Square.

Let's play Six Degrees of Punk Jazz: Coalition drummer/founder Previte plays in Groundtruther alongside uber-guitarist Charlie Hunter; Hunter (who's getting more love from Ropeadope than he ever got from Blue Note) also plays in Garage-a-Trois with one-name sax phenom Skerik and Galactic drummer Stanton Moore (Moore appeared on the Coalition's Ropeadope disc,, but was not in attendance on this evening.); Skerik plays with Previte in the bands Beta Popes and Ponga; Beta Popes keyboardist Jamie Saft appeared on the Coalition disc, too, though 20th Congress founder Robert Walter was handling the keyboard chores for this East Coast tour. Got all that? Me neither.

The instruments were laid out in a C on the stage when the crowd filed into Red Square's backroom concert space. Previte faced Walter, while Hunter and Skerik stood at the back of the stage. As the band prepared to kick into “Ministry of Truth”, the guy next to me noted with surprise that Hunter - who usually plays from a chair - was standing. This was for sightline purposes… not for the crowd, but for the band. Eye contact was essential as the players flew through a labyrinth of time changes and transitions. All four musicians worked from sheet music - unheard of at this level, but exceedingly necessary given the complexity of the compositions.

Previte, who resembles a recently reformed punk rocker, was the anchor. During “Versificator”, he brought an organ-laced space jam between Hunter and Skerik back to earth with a hissing riff on the cymbals. Everyone took cues from everyone else, but it all came back to Previte. Coalition is his vision, and his expression throughout the set was that of a man who had not only realized his dream, but found it was better than he thought it could be. Previte wasn't the only one smiling, either; looks of pleasure and approval were frequently swapped around Red Square's minuscule stage.

Instead of his trademark 8-string guitar, Hunter did business on a blond Fender Stratocaster. Freed from maintaining the bottom, his fretwork was streaks above every high-water mark he'd set to date. (Makes you wonder what would have happened if Hunter had a bass player all these years!) It's apt that Walter looks and dresses like Ray Manzarek's grandson; Walter's keyboard play was on a par with the man who kept the Doors together, going from 70's synthesizer to hellfire-and-brimstone church organ, with plenty of old-time Hammond B3 sound thrown in for good measure.

Skerik was all rubber legs and attitude as he channeled everyone from Wayne Shorter to Maceo Parker through a black-and-gold tenor sax. At one point, Skerik sang/screamed an impassioned (and unintelligible) rap into his sax mic; at another point, he held that mic over the drum kit so Previte's solo would play through Skerik's effects box. I'm not a fan of effects boxes, but Skerik made it work in this context, turning himself into an army of reedmen one minute, the bari sax from Hell the next.

Coalition of the Willing takes no prisoners, and Red Square gets top marks for booking them. Albany needs a concert space for electric groups that aren't big enough - yet - for the Egg or Troy Music Hall. Here's hoping Sex Mob, Screaming Headless Torsos, and Galactic aren't far behind.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.