Brain Melters - GrasshopperBy Nat Roe
So there’s a rumor going around the Brooklyn experimental scene. That scene is basically about ten people, but nevermind. Word on the street has it that our favorite trumpet-thru-electronics duo Grasshopper had a tentative LP deal with Northern Spy (the label which rose out of the ashes of the legendary ESP-Disc), but when the band submitted their recording the label was all "man, fuck this wah-wah Miles Davis bullshit," and the deal was off.
It's true that Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis looms large over Grasshopper, but where Miles was fusing jazz solo-age to hard rock aesthetics, Grasshopper fuses Miles' disembodied trumpet tone to a hazy, loop-driven drone. Also, while Miles' electric music got more manic over time, Grasshopper's sound seems to mellow more and more.
Onstage, the audience zones out, band-member Josh Milrod often puts on an American flag bandana and does a quick karaoke version of "Santeria" to get everybody in the mood. At a show last 4/20, Grasshopper was literally too stoned to play their instruments and ended up ranting nonsense at the crowd and giggling for 5 minutes before they could remember how to play their songs.
Jesse and Josh met at Indiana Uni's conservatory, where they both were trained as classical trumpeters. Despite the band's goofball attitude, their sound is definitely influenced by the twentieth century classical and electro-acoustic traditions. As it happens, most of the band's imagery comes from the example of "lower" but equally legitimate psychedelic and krautty synthesists. These days, Josh and Jesse both work at an ad agency. Josh, who worked on the digital campaign for that Old Spice guy who did 50 random things in every commercial, has told me, "yes, ad agencies are just like in Mad Men. Including the misogyny."
The EVI, a synth controlled by breath.
Jesse still plays traditional trumpet for most Grasshopper sets, but some of his most amazing moments come when he picks up a trumpet-synth called an EVI. Originally popularized on Sun Ra records, breathing into the synth can affect the timbre and volume of the synth, while twisting the horn creates arpeggios that sound like you're beaming down from Saturn. Check this synth nerd rocking out (a word to the wise—the linked Youtube channel Matrix Synth and the blog of same name are deep, dark K holes of out-there electronics).
Not long ago, Grasshopper teamed up with another similarly minded Brooklyn hesynth duo, Telecult Powers. When the four play together, they are called Hexbreaker Quintet. I believe the fifth member is a ghost. Hexbreaker just released a new tape on the always-amazing NNA label. To tell the truth, this is actually my favorite material from either band. In the video below, you'll see that since the synths that Telecult plays handle the textural side of the band, the Grasshopper fellas are freed up to the acoustic faculties of their trumpets. The below Youtube video is a real trip from dense synth textures to loosely linked trumpet melodies evoking Don Cherry's Eastern jazz fusion.
Previously - Chris Corsano
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