STEUART LIEBIG/THE MENTONES:
Steuart Liebig's six string contrabass guitar is a welcome sight at any performance. Driven by wit and a ferocious technique, Liebig plays well oiled and accurate, seemingly capable of anything within his expanded bass' range. Joined by drummer Joseph Berardi in the rhythm section of the Mentones, Liebig has a playful ally equally enamored of extra. The frontline includes the solid soulful alto sax of Tony Atherton, and the surprisingly flexible and skilled Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica. Barrett possess the chops to keep up with these wild boys, while making sure the blue stays true.
"Broom" opens wiith Liebig, Barret, and Atherton leaning together on the theme, as Berardi boils on drums. Barrett hits like at train jumping the tracks, followed by Atherton's tongue twister on alto. Liebig's bass riff inches along on "Graveyard," becoming a shuffle with Berardi's arrival. Atherton wades through the increasingly free Barrett/Liebig dust storm leading back to theme with Barrett. The harmonicat throws some haunted tones on the boneyard. Liebig dusts off a sinister take on "Peter Gun" for "Mojave Boxcar." With Berardi low-key, Atherton wails. Barrett keeps the blues alive and finds some tones I've never heard on a harmonica.
Berardi sets up the boss on "Drifter," hitting everything twice in a high endurance performance. Liebig gives a thrill ride tour of the contra bass guitar, Berardi machine gunning cans off a fence. Atherton emerges from the next run through the theme. He plays restrained with Liebig exploring harmonics and Berardi still dancing on hot coals. Barrett gives his own interpretation of speed jive, Liebig swells slightly off time, and Berardi ends it alone like hail on kitchen pans. Loping along on "Honky Tonk Burn," Liebig and Bernard support Atherton's soul twists and Barrett's exotic eastern turns.
On "Waterfront Mississippi" Atherton and Barrett double the sparse theme over Berardi's busy drums. Barrett contributes unholy wail, but Atherton plays it cool, circling with Liebig. The leader takes over with a suicide solo on "Burnt Umber,"Atherton and Barrett trade runaway measures. The intro to "Nighthawk" has Barrett blaring, before Liebig brings it down. Berardi changes the rhythm for Atherton's solo. "Howl and Tumble" catches an old time feel with Liebig's bottle neck bass. "Lightning Bug" again builds on a small sustained riff of LIebig's, before the all-out rave of "Nowhere Calling."
There's a 21st Century blues current flowing through this overheating hybrid. Including many strains of American popular music, the Mentones weave them together to expand the language of each."
(Rex Butters, jazzweekly.com)
The music burns with searing heat when bass guitarist Liebig and the Mentones on (1) face the microphone. The program fuses Jazz and Rock sensibilities into a raucous round of freely flowing dynamics. Alto saxophonist Atherton pours fuel on the fire with rampant sound waves that surge unabated from his horn, and drummer Berardi energizes the band with concentrated volatility. Barrett's chromatic harmonica may at first seem to be an unusual selection for this potent unit, but his ambitious tactics on the instrument extend significantly the velocity at which the group speeds. Liebig acts as the foundational backbone for this music that has its roots in the power bands of earlier explorers such as Ronald Shannon Jackson. Liebig expands and updates those concepts by allowing the players free rein to scorch the earth while still maintaining a foothold in the compositional structure of his 13 tunes.
The harmonica and alto, although seemingly strange bedfellows, produce an abundance of sparks that weld together to form a strong improvised bond. Barrett introduces feisty phrases and Atherton accentuates the brusque behavior as the two carry the load as primary improvisers. Atherton always has his switch in the 'on' position, and he and Barrett keep the pot constantly bubbling while they roam the upper register. Behind them, the core ingredients for pulsation and diverse rhythms erupt. Liebig assumes the soloist's role often; on "Burnt Umber," for example, he plays a cat-andmouse game with Atherton as they exchange barbs of molten steel. Liebig expands his leadership role throughout this metallic-plated session, and the Mentones tell an electrified tale that is anything but a bedtime story.
(Frank Rubolino, Cadence, February 2005)
The Mentones, although nominally headed by Steuart Liebig, known on the LA jazz scene as a stellar electric bass player, devote equal time to each of their members, and they succeed because of this. The front line is completed by Tony Atherton (alto saxophone) and Bill Barrett (chromatic harmonica), while percussionist Joseph Berardi brings up the rear. Atherton's tone is clean and funky; he has a good ear for the swing that underlies Berardi's funky and challenging rhythms. In terms of phrasing, he's kind of a cross between Eric Dolphy's forceful inventiveness and Skerik's manic wails.
Although Atherton's playing is skillful, I paid far more attention to Barrett's harmonica, in no small part due to the instrument's incongruity in a jazz setting. After listening to his playing it makes sense, but it never would have occurred to me that the harmonica can provide bluesy soloing and the chordal foundations usually covered by piano. As I can't think of any other harmonica players within the genre, I cannot make comparisons. Nevertheless, because of Barrett's skillful use of the instrument, his intuitive playing, and his inventiveness (it sounds like there's some electronic manipulation going on), I find it difficult to imagine many players outclassing him.
Finally, there is Liebig himself. Like a skillful boxer, Liebig dances around the rhythm, hitting the notes when they are least expected, yet making the entire process seem natural and graceful. For example, on "Drifter"'s initial solo he lets loose over a remarkable percussive backdrop, and the reason for his high regard within the scene becomes obvious.
The true measure of any band is the sum of its elements, not the quality of the various pieces. Here, the band members pay as much attention to each other as they do to their own moments in the spotlight. This is important, because it gives the solos added punch and also sets up exciting run-ins during the main melodic statements. By bringing together four smart and inventive musicians, the Mentones offer soulful, funky and fascinating jazz.
(Ron Davies, splendidezine.com)
After Ornette's Free Jazz and Sir Joe Quarterman's Free Soul, here comes free R&B - if that isn't a contradiction of terms - in the form of a four-piece band from LA fronted by the alto sax of Tony Atherton and the harmonica of Bill Barrett, and directed from the rear of the limo by bassist Steuart Liebig. At the wheel is testosterone-dripping drummer Joe Berardi, who, if he isn't quite Ronald Shannon Jackson (who is?), was probably weaned on the Decoding Society like the rest of them. Liebig's rubbery bass lines when things get funky certainly recall the finest moments of the Rev Bruce Johnson, but the real revelation here is Barrett, eloquently described by GE Stinson in his liners as "Little Walter crashing his Coupe de Ville into Ornette Coleman's harmolodien". Track titles like "Drifter", "Nighthawk" and "Gasoline Jelly" say it all; unless you're lucky enough to catch these guys live, and I would certainly like to do so, this is one to slap into the car stereo and cruise the streets to. From the Naked City style surf of "Burnt Umber" to the harmolodic punk funk of "Nowhere Calling", it's one fun drive.
(dan warburton, paristransatlantic.com)
Three parts free jazz, two parts bebop, and one part circus music equals the genre-defying and mind boggling LA four-piece known as The Mentones. The brainchild of bassist extraordinaire Stuart Liebig, The Mentones bleed skill from their pores with their raucous blend of drums, bass, alto saxophone, and chromatic harmonica. There's truly never a dull moment over the course of 13 free flowing tracks that make up Locustland.
Let's take a look at the culprits. Percussionist Joseph Berardi's drums are way beyond 'busy,' and I thought one of Liebig's frantic fingers were going to lead straight out of my speakers and into my lap. Bill Barrett rips the harmonica with John Popper-esque clarity - but at such speeds and with such intensity that I'm sure he'll never need to have his stomach stapled. But the glue to this technical behemoth has got to be Tony Atherton's sax playing. He never oversteps his bounds and always manages to play within his bandmates' expansive output, giving a sense of sanity to their schizophrenic blasts.
The most amazing aspect is the musicians' ability to give each song its own identity amidst the near cacophonous hyper soloing taking place. At first I assumed this was one of those 'every man for himself' freestyle jam bands, but it soon became clear that there are definite blueprints and melodies to each sonic idea. The frenetic pace is what makes this so unique and impressive; most musicians, even good ones, would have a hard enough time keeping track of their fingers. The Mentones somehow manage to make their scale-burning jaunts sound like walks in the park.
It's hard to make this kind of music sound good, and even harder to make it actually please the ear, but The Mentones do it. As incredibly technically difficult their music is, they manage to not take themselves too seriously. They have a lighthearted playfulness and freewheeling style that first lets the listener in emotionally before blowing said listener away mentally. Anyone who appreciates pure music absolutely has to appreciate the Mentones. The musicians' obvious skill demands and deserves attention. This is a new type of jazz, and new type of fun, and a new type of music. I never thought I could like music that pushes the boundaries of technique. But I'm sold - ship me off to Locustland.
(Wil Holland, 6/17/2004, adequacy.net)
Anybody heard this album? This really turned my head around-Stu Liebig is a electric bass player and exceptional composer, and this album features Joseph Berardi on drums, Tony Atherton on alto, and Bill Barrett in chromatic Harmonica. This album is easily some of the most original writing I've heard since Henry Threadgill. It's almost like Ornette Coleman hired Little Walter for the quartet instead on Don Cherry. The writing is edgy and powerful-imagine King Crimson as a jazz group with an alto-harmonica front line, and you are almost there. There's an excerpt on the site-very wild ride: http://www.pfmentum.com/locustland.html
Very much worth checking out, especially if you have gotten turned on to Cuong Vu's explorations."
I don't get to write these words very often, but on this disc Steuart Liebig and company seem to have an instinctual talent for knowing how to find a groove and rocking out. They also know when to reel it back in and always mind the details, which keeps things aurally interesting throughout.
Liebig (contrabassguitar), joined here by Tony Atherton (alto saxophone), Bill Barrett (chromatic harmonica), and Joseph Berardi (drumset, percussion), combine to form The Mentones-best known around L.A. where they do most of their gigging (until about a couple years ago under the name Beutet). I could start doling out the accolades-like for Barrett's impassioned harmonica playing on, well, the whole disc but especially tracks like the appropriately titled "Howl & Tumble"-but each player adds a unique voice to the ensemble and more than holds his own. Now, since this isn't a heavy metal tribute album, there's plenty of time for the quartet to lay off the beats and languish in the development of the ideas. Tracks like "Westpoint, Mississippi" and "Gasoline Jelly" give the boys a little more time to take a breath and dig a little deeper into the material.
It's the kind of disc you could turn the volume up on at your next social gathering to keep the energy high (the opening track, "Broom," I think is virtually guaranteed to get your party started), but then after the guests have gone listen to it all over again and soak up all the subtleties you missed.
Steuart Liebig calls his group "The Mentones," as the muscular alto sax of Tony Atherton pummels his way over a power trio of Joseph Berardi's hard-hitting drums, Bill Barrett's chromatic harmonica, and the leader's volcanic contrabass guitar. Liebig's sophisticated writing sets the tone with a rock-infused beat that pounds relentlessly. On "Mojave Boxcar," to cite an example, the strong, loud rhythm underlies and emphasizes an appealing jazz riff. The steady beat with the sax riffing above is reminiscent of similar experiments by the Italian saxophonist Carlo Actis Dato, but Liebig molds his own flavors with refreshing solos on contrabass guitar, and the addition of the chromatic harmonica...impressive chops of Barrett, whose intense solo steals the show. What is refreshing about it all is the way in which Liebig unabashedly explores the niche of jazz-rock fusion with a touch of the Avant-Garde in a mostly original manner. On "Honky Tonk Burn," for example, the catchy melody is gently subverted by the corny rhythm while the more abstract "Westpoint, Mississippi" opens with delicate percussion before eventually hitting its stride, with a solid solo from Barrett. In the end, the recording succeeds on several levels: its special arrangements, the complex ensemble voicing, and the often superb solos. The pieces are deceptively simple, as there is almost always something going on beneath the surface, and the difficult rhythms are navigated with aplomb.
(Steven Loewy, All Music Guide)
Jazz/rock quartet with a harmonica in the front line. You get a taste on the first track, with the electronically enhanced harp carving blazing guitar-like lines. Everything springs off of Liebig's Ornette-minded composing, usually leading to a set of brisk solos.
This is the opposite of Liebig's previous CD, Pomegranate, which was a set of lengthy, sophisticated, near-classical pieces. These are short, down-and-dirty, guitar-minded songs . . . without the guitar. GE Stinson's liner notes imply this is Liebig's "primal molten state" . . . seems apt.
(Craig Matsumoto, zookeeper.stanford.edu)
A rockin' quartet record that definitely sounds like jazz but involves hard-driven beats deserving of truck-stop rockabilly (maybe a little slower than that.) Quickly becoming one of my favorite records of the year.
(Craig Matsumoto, zookeeper.stanford.edu)
From the label's name comes a moniker for Steuart Liebig's creative blues band: The Mentones.
Creative improvised music has many forms. This Mentones session combines the swing of jazz with the spirit of the blues. Each of the foursome participates equally, as harmonica and alto saxophone step up to the front line, and bass and drums provide a strong foundation. Liebig's electric bass leads the quartet over hills and valleys, through exotic designs that fit his piece titles in a rather loose fashion.
The broom has a special significance in blues jargon. So do boxcars, honky tonks, graveyards, drifters, and the Mississippi. As the Mentones take this show on the road, Bill Barrett's chromatic harmonica lends an authentic touch. His solos light campfires all around the world.
Liebig leads "Drifter" with an extended solo that sets the mood. Drummer Joseph Berardi provides a continuous claptrap rhythm to glue the solos together. The leader's pulsating cascades thump their way around the room a few times before focusing on what drives us from within. It's inspirational. Alto saxophonist Tony Atherton follows with an exotic dance that's made for travelers. Locustland appears to be filled with elements from all over the world. Barrett's harp solo follows with energy-laden phrases that dance in and out of folk music. Berardi pushes him to the limit. Finally, the four creative artists settle back on the piece's theme. It's sheer delight.
Not every piece jives, however, as do "Drifter," "Broom" and Lightning Bug." Several require repeated listening in order to establish an impression. Suite-like in manner, Liebig's compositions sometimes ramble through repeated changes in meter and mood that leave the listener wondering. Scored passages may change direction abruptly, without warning. The Mentone's improvised solos, however, tend to follow a logical direction around the leader's theme.
Liebig's big bass makes itself known as a melody-maker as well as an accompanist. The leader's melodies and improvised solos soar with a powerful, yet lyrical force. Unison phrases with saxophone and harmonica amplify that concept.
(Jim Santella, allaboutjazz.com)
As far as I know, Little Walter Jacobs never sat in with Ornette Coleman, nor was the reverse known to have ever happened. Paul Butterfield never toured as a member of King Crimson. And I never believed the story that members of Brother Weasel, Bazooka, and Unique Cheerful Events were hatching unnatural musical strategies in the back of an unmarked van parked outside of Mr. T's Bowl.
Listening to this CD, however, confirms the suspicion that the aforementioned fables, rumors and outright lies exist in some sort of musical continuum, and that the Mentones are leaders in their particular field. After gigging around LA under the name Beutet since the turn of the century, bassist/composer Steuart Liebig changed the band's name about a year-and-a-half ago, but their music remains a collision between the familiar and the far-out. Liebig and drummer Joe Berardi step away from UCE's space n' groove approach for more tightly-wound lines and quick fills. The alto saxophone lines of Tony Atherton come from both jazz and r n' b, recalling at times the work of British jazz-rock greats of thirty years ago, like Dick Heckstall-Smith, Elton Dean and Jack Lancaster.
But it's Bill Barrett's chromatic harmonica playing that is the main jaw-dropper here. After convincingly covering Monk with Brother Weasel, it was clear he wasn't going to be content staying within the bounds of any tradition, but this album is definitely a breakthrough. His smears and distortions challenge the curvy contours of each tune, dive-bombing one minute, then moaning the next. You can hear his mainstream roots, like Toots Thielmans and Little Walter, being exploited, even consumed by this music, but never being limited by it. For the most part, this group features the aggressive side of Barrett, in contrast to his more civilized ensemble, Circle of Willis.
Now, not every tune grabs you by the throat. "Honky Tonk Burn" nods to a gentle one-drop for a moment, but soon enough, you stumble onto "Howl & Tumble," which sounds like a Capt. Beefheart backing track, looking for prey.
It may be a little strange for a band with this much of an r&b aspect to it to wind up on Jeff Kaiser's PF Mentum, but I guess every label needs at least one in-yo-face party band.
(Michael Davis, jazzweekly.com)
This is a very unique grouping of musicians, the which create interesting music. Usually one doesn't see a harmonica and a sax in a foursome. But these guys certainly aren't the usual. I mean check out "Mojave Boxcar" for a tune that melds some blues, jazz, and other infuences. "Drifter" (7:47) offers creative sounds that are based on just good playing rather than electronic effects. I really dug that bass part.
"Honky Tonk Burn" is a long tune that just has a slow burn to it. It marches forward with a steady pace. The longest track on this project is titled "Westpoint, Mississipi" at 8:19. The sense is more experimental or maybe even a bit avant garde on the song. "Burnt Umber" is a short cut--one that has a fiery edge to it. A bit of blues, Delta, and other influences meet on "Nighthawk." Solid playing make this work a good number.
On "Howl & Tumble" we get more blues and other tough sounds. The rough feel is right for the song. A strange track is #11 "Gasoline Jelly" which takes a while to ignite. Maybe like napalm you can't put it out. Like hot coals there's glows and sparks as the guys jam. Harmonica work and the sax make for a very creative blend. I liked "Lightning Bug" because it recalled hot summer nights full of insect sounds and movements. The beat is infectious and makes this selection work. The album ends with the somewhat jazzy funky "Nowhere Calling."
This CD is one of the best I listened to from pfMENTUM. It's not too experimental nor is it commercial. The band plays music that will appeal to fans of blues, jazz, and even experimental. These talented players deliver a very solid and creative musical effort.
(A. Canales, The Critical Review Service)
Locustland di Stuart Liebig (pubblicato dalla pfMENTUM) ci spiazza immediatamente con un clima quasi da blues-rock particolarmente angolare, guidato dall'armonica minacciosa (e cromatica) di Bill Barrett. Per un progetto proveniente da una delle etichette pi laterali nel versante dell'avanguardia, una sorpresa non da poco. Ma una sorpresa del tutto piacevole, anche perch strada facendo la grande abilit dei quattro musicisti impegnati in questo gruppo (The Mentones) diretto dal contrabassista elettrico Stuart Liebig viene fuori nella sua pienezza, recuperando sonorit del tutto coerenti con le aspettative, seppure incanalate in strutture bene delineate. Il sax alto di Tony Atherton delirante quanto basta e sa innestare scartamenti improvvisi verso aree zappiane e medio-orientali. La scansione ritmica del bravo batterista Joseph Berardi si incrocia perfettamente con le linee profonde e zigzaganti del leader, certamente uno dei bassisti pi interessanti e meno noti della scena musicale. I quattro si prendono una sorta di vacanza dalle lande della sperimentazione pi radicale alle quali ci hanno abituato. un invito da raccogliere al volo, anche perch la terra delle locuste sembra assi meno desolata di quanto ci si poteva attendere.
[Locustland by Steuart Liebig (published by pfMENTUM) guided by the menacious (and chromatic) harmonica of Bill Barrett, it immediately takes us by surprise with a climate that is reminding of particularly angular blues-rock. It's a great surprise for a project that is arriving from one of the most lateral distributors of this avant garde genre. It's a pleasant surprise because the ability of these musicians in the group (The Mentones), directed by electric bass player Steuart Liebig, comes from the fullness of its sonority that is perfectly coherent with our expectations even channeled through their well-defined structures. The alto saxophone of Tony Atherton is exhilarating and knows how to graft some sudden tones from Zappa and Middle Eastern Music. The rhythmic modulation of the great drummer Joseph Berardi is intercrossed perfectly with the deep, zigzagging bass lines of the leader, certainly one of the most interesting bass players and less known to the musical scene. The four of them are taking a vacation from the most radical experimental landscape that we are accustomed. It's an invitation to take because the land of the locust is less desolate than we expect.]
(Maurizio Comandini, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/italy)
"This CD gathers an interesting experience of musical creativity. The music oscillates around the Experimental Jazz, with apocalyptic atmospheres with subtle reminiscences of Chamber Music and Psychedelic Rock."
(DEREK DOARN, amazings.com)
Locustland (pfMentum 017) Featuring Tony Atherton on alto sax, Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica, Joseph Berardi drums & percussion and Steuart on contrabass guitar and compositions. Steuart is one of the best electric bassists to emerge from the LA underground, as any one of his half dozen fine releases on Nine Winds, Cadence or Cryptogramophone can attest to. His collaborations with Nels Cline and Vinny Golia are always great. The Mentones is his new quartet with the unusual line-up of alto sax, chromatic harp, el. bass and drums, they sound like no-one else. The other three players are all new names for me and blend of harp and alto sax is really something else. Steuart's often burning and busy el. bass remains at the center of the storm, pushing hard as that feisty blues-harp and alto sax wail together, both taking strong solos throughout. The Mentones' sound is a earthy blend of jazz, blues and rock with a bit of funk groove thrown in. I dig the way the drummer fuels the rhythmic flow on some bent metal on "drifter," which features an exciting el. bass solo from Steuart. From sections which are stripped down and skeletal to the high flying and ultra-tight.
I haven't seen Born Into This, the new documentary about Charles Bukowski, so I don't know if John Dullaghan used Locustland as his soundtrack, if not, he missed a big opportunity. Like Bukowski's, Steuart Liebig's Los Angeles isn't the sleek, stylish metropolis of FOX-TV so much as a gritty, smog-choked burg on the make. You don't need the hazy cover panorama of the L.A. basin to tell you where you are; the song titles do that: "Honky Tony Burn," "Nighthawk," Graveyard," Mojave Boxcar." Liebig has chosen a band with blue-collar instrumentation - - alto sax (Tony Atherton), rock-ish drums (Joseph Berardi) and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica that is miles away from the sighing urbanity of Toots Thielemans, and he's placed his contrabassguitar right up front in a DIY mix that's appropriately ugly. That suits the 13 compositions, most in thudding 4/4, whose syntax is an unambiguous and direct as the late post's. This is not subtle music, but like Bukowski's poetry, it's full of evocative scents of taco stands, beer breath and exhaust fumes, born to hustle roses down the avenue of the dead.
(John Chacona, Signal to Noise)
Steuart Liebig's latest group expression will burn your tail. First off, this is an instrumental quartet that grooves , no matter what kind of cross-eyed time signature is spinning. Second, the manfully constructed compositions tug at your guts as well as your gray matter. Third, lawdy mama, can these knuckleheads play . Liebig can go absolutely nuts on bass while maintaining perfect time and articulation - - try it sometime. Joseph Berardi has so much fun careening around on his drums that you forget how tight he's hugging the curves. Tony Atherton's alto sax builds dimensions by switching from lead harmonies to free-jazz honk & twist. And Bill Barrett's chromatic harmonica is a hot wind indeed, full of nasty blues and reckless endangerment. Together they conjure rummy seamen, sardonic spies, lascivious lumberjacks, and all things poisonous and tempting. You will smile crookedly.
(Greg Burk, laweekly.com)
This is The Mentones' 2004 album, which gravitates around the very same coordinates of "Nowhere Calling" and is just as energetic and beautifully composed and executed. Liebig's bass riffs, a dissonant mixture of robust, slightly oblique "rockbluesyjazzy" cat walks, are sustained by Joseph Berardi's sensitively brisk drumming; what could at a first listen be comparable to offshoots of Curlew and Virgil Moorefield is instead shifted to wholly different scenarios by the extraordinary prowess of alto saxophonist Tony Atherton, whose solos incinerate conventional idioms with good degrees of sensual rage, and chromatic harmonica virtuoso Bill Barrett (also a member of Gutpuppet with guitarist Scot Ray, check them out!), one of those players who completely redefine their instrument's vocabulary while maintaining both feet firmly grounded in their influences' humus. The final results coming from this commission of lucid visionaries are utterly galvanizing, their ironic diplomacy well portrayed by a track like "Honky Tonk Burn," which crosses dramatic goofiness à la Nino Rota with Brecht and Eisler on dope, the whole sounding like a demented circus band led by a Daniel Denis/Lars Hollmer hybrid. The Mentones are a group that transcends genres by touching many of them and, as such, are destined to be appreciated and dissed in equal measure. I appreciate.
(Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes)
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.