POCATELLO — Jazz fusion is very much an acquired taste for most people. It’s a blending of rock and jazz music. The best fusion is very complex, with time signatures changing all over the place in the same song.
For the most part, if it’s heard anywhere in this part of the world, it’s more along the lines of “smooth jazz.”
A Chicago-based fusion band called Marbin played Sunday night at the Clydesdale Bar and Lounge in Pocatello. I’ve been familiar with Marbin since 2013, when one of the band’s two founders, guitarist Dani Rabin — saxophonist Danny Markovitch is the other co-founder — approached me online about writing an album review for their latest release at the time.
I gave it more than a fair shot, taking time to get a feel for their music. I came away mightily impressed. Rabin is a beast on electric guitar, his playing is fluid on the jazzier parts, yet he shreds when the music calls for more of a rock touch.
Markovitch has major skills on the saxophone, nailing fast runs while at the same time showing great feel when a more mellow mood is called for, especially on the jazzier songs.
When a song calls for a consistent groove, they keep it from beginning to end. For the most part, Marbin’s capable of throwing lots of curveballs into its music.
I’ve been following Marbin online ever since. The band’s Facebook page is very active, live streaming video is a common thing there, and it’s there you can see Rabin give what amounts to free guitar playing clinics. Watching and hearing him play gypsy jazz on an acoustic just like the great Django Reinhardt would play is a treat.
The lineup with Rabin and Markovitch has changed through the years, currently featuring Jon Nadel on bass and Everette Benton Jr. on drums, and this foursome makes up a tight unit onstage.
Through the years, it’s been tough for me to make it to a live Marbin show. But when I saw that they were playing just down the road last Sunday on the path of a West Coast tour seeing them play 45 gigs in 44 days with no days off, I had to go.
I had to do it out of curiosity in part. Pocatello was where I got my “education” in fusion and progressive music during my earliest college days, but I was the rare Idaho boy who “got it.” My tastes in music have never been totally “mainstream.”
My curiosity made me wonder a) how big of a crowd would Marbin get in Pocatello, and b) how would that crowd respond?
There were maybe 20 people on hand to see the show. Maybe a bit better than I was expecting without much promotion. As to how the crowd responded, I was glad to see the band get a very warm reception to the point of some people’s jaws nearly hitting the floor, standing within feet of the players to see how they do it.
They liked it well enough that bodies hit the dance floor as time went on. That pretty much answered a new question that came up in my mind: Can people dance to fusion? Wwwelll, apparently!
For a purely instrumental band, Rabin entertained the crowd vocally by telling stories that told how they came up with the titles to their songs, like “Sid Yiddish,” a tune that opens with a slow jazz duet between Rabin and Markovitch. That was when the first person felt the urge to get up and dance, and it built up from there. The other band members join in on the song as it gets busier and more aggressive.
As the show was getting closer to the end and Marbin played the title song to its upcoming album “Strong Thing,” there were more dancers on the floor. The involvement and excitement and amazement built through the extended jam of “Radio School.”
When it was over, Rabin came over, shook my hand, thanked me for coming.
“I think you impressed them,” I told him.
My Marbin education started from their YouTube days when they’d do videos on how to survive as a touring band on a very limited budget — sandwiches on the road, staying in people’s homes, that kind of thing.
”Things have changed for us completely in terms of income,” Rabin says. “We play bigger shows for more people and do a lot of festivals and even some rock cruises. We still run the band like an independent business so we are always trying to increase income and decrease expenses but it’s not as extreme as it was in those (earlier) days.”
This is not the band’s first trip to Idaho.
”We’ve played in Victor twice and Jerome as well,” Rabin added. “We love this part of the country and the people who live here. So far we were always welcomed with great enthusiasm and interest so I really have nothing but good things to say. A lot of our contemporaries don’t share this feeling about jazz audiences in the middle of the country, but our life experience taught us that people are the same everywhere and that if you play something for a person who is there to listen and it’s not happening, it’s not a geographical problem. it’s a musical one.”
Yes, Virginia, it is possible for an Idaho audience to dance to fusion.