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Clip: Beam returns

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  • Carl Z.
    Throckmorton is one of my favorite Pittsburgh-based drummers. He and Ben Opie have made some of the most interesting jazz I have heard over the past decade.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 22, 2006
      Throckmorton is one of my favorite Pittsburgh-based drummers. He and
      Ben Opie have made some of the most interesting jazz I have heard over
      the past decade.


      Beam's "experimental urban soundscapes" return with Chemistry.


      You could argue for hours about what makes Beam unique on the local
      scene. For my money, it's the curious alchemy that goes into the
      groove, a reverse engineering of decades of DJ and hip-hop culture.
      What began as just a drummer playing a kit became a loop, a sample, a
      programmed sequencer ... technology's transformation of groove that,
      in the hands of drummer David Throckmorton, comes out the other end as
      simply a drummer playing a beat. It's a little unsettling to hear and
      see a human playing the types of beats you're used to hearing from a

      "Sure, there was stuff on the Sugar Hill label in the '70s, when they
      were using a band," says Throckmorton, "but for the most part
      [hip-hop] was all based off of records and finding breakbeats on
      records, and that's just how the culture started. Until ?uestlove from
      the Roots or bands in the mid-'90s -- a few bands started
      incorporating drummers, but all of those bands are underground bands."

      Playing an improvised conglomeration of hip hop, ambient, jazz and
      electronic styles the members call "experimental urban soundscapes,"
      Beam got rolling in Pittsburgh in 2001. But the roots of the project
      go back a bit earlier. In the late '90s, Throckmorton and bassist Paul
      Thompson were touring in Maynard Ferguson's jazz band, "and we kinda
      got turned on to the jungle, drum-and-bass stuff," recalls
      Throckmorton. "We talked about, if we ever end up back in Pittsburgh
      or wherever else, we should try to put together a band doing this
      stuff live." Returning to Pittsburgh in 2000, the two soon found emcee
      Akil Esoon and DJ Supa C, and brought in Steve Landay to play the
      ambient, textural sounds they christened "space bass."

      Beam kept a busy schedule for several years, documented on Inception,
      an album of cuts culled from two years of live recordings. "That's
      when we were hitting it the hardest," says Throckmorton. "Once the
      lineup started to rotate a little bit, we may have lost a little bit
      of our momentum." Bass players changed. Jobs, kids and life happened.
      The group scaled things back, and got involved in other projects.

      But on Sat., Dec. 23, Beam's back, performing at Club Café with the
      original lineup for the first time in three years -- and with a new
      record, Chemistry.

      Starting off with six more structured studio tracks, the disc then
      returns to the live cuts of Inception. In more ways than one. "When we
      made Inception, I had four CDs filled with my favorite stuff from 50
      or so gigs," says Throckmorton. "I thought people who like the band,
      and liked the first record, would like to hear a little more of the
      old stuff." So a few more nuggets of live improvisation from the early
      years were recycled into the second half of the album.

      As for the new studio tracks, "It still sounds like us, but it's a
      little more refined," he says. "The drumming's a little streamlined,
      or the bass lines might be more repetitive. Live, there's no rules,
      the music takes us wherever we want to go.

      "But with this stuff, I had a clear-cut vision: I want this song to
      have this kind of vibe, and I was the one in the studio basically
      playing producer," he adds. "Most of the guys in the band haven't even
      heard the [final] studio stuff yet."

      But Beam's heart still lies in the live improvisation that draws a
      diverse crowd of hip-hop fans, ravers, jazz heads, rockers and Berklee
      College of Music types. Looking around the audience at a Beam show,
      you have to wonder if they're on to something with this experimental
      urban soundscape thing. Just don't be fooled into thinking you've
      heard it before ... or can hear it again.

      "It might sound like an actual piece of music," says Throckmorton.
      "Someone might come out to see us and hear Akil say some repetitive
      chorus-type phrase on a live improvisation, and come out and hear us
      again and ask, 'Can you play that tune again?'" He laughs. "And we're
      like, 'What tune?'"

      Beam. 10:30 p.m. Sat., Dec. 23 (doors at 10 p.m.). Club Café, 56-58 S.
      12th St., South Side. $10. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com
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