Matisyahu the Band...


When  Matisyahu  first  started  touring  to  packed  clubs  more  than  eleven  years  ago,  it  was  prior  to  the  release of Live at Stubbs, the now Gold record, and prior to that record’s single “King without a Crown” reaching  #1  on  the alternative  rock radio  charts.    His  performances  were  a  raw  expression  of  his  spirituality  at  that  time  and were  supported  by musicians  who  played  a  foundation  of  roots  reggae augmented by the energy of a rock trio. Fans latched on quickly for a variety of reasons, but in August of 2005, just months after the release of Live at Stubbs, Matisyahu found himself on stage at the Bonnaroo Music  and  Arts  Festival  with  the  de  facto  leader  of  improvisational  rock-­n-roll;  Phish’s  front  man  Trey  Anastasio.    Many  early  fans  of  Matisyahu  remember  that  moment  clearly  not because of  the  songs  he played  in  front  of  the  80,000  person  crowd,  but  because  of  his  seemingly  unfettered confidence  (or  perhaps naiveté) in helping lead Trey and his band through an improvisational display of beat boxing andlyrical gymnastics during the two songs performed. It may have been unrefined, but Matisyahu’s passion for full band improvisation was laid bare.  


Fans within the improvisational-­jam scene began flocking to Matisyahu’s shows shortly thereafter.  “King without  a  Crown” climbed  the  charts  and  Matisyahu’s  follow  up  record  Youth  was  nominated  for  a  Grammy, but the blessings and curses of mainstream success each took root. While Matisyahu’s bands have  always  been  comprised  of  serious  multidimensional  players  who  have  artfully  molded  the  foundations of roots reggae into many genres, that early; if only a brief display of complete surrender to the music, seemed in some way to take a back seat.  Through his lyrics however, Matisyahu developed a more personal, artistic, and sophisticated way to express the yearning for deep spiritual meaning, and as his own beliefs opened up to find more variety and depth, the desire for his performances to match the unpredictable flow of life developed as well.


Now, more than a decade later, Matisyahu has formed a band that truly gives itself over to the music on par  with  his lyrical desire  to  connect  to  something  beyond  the  self.    The  band  features  original  Stubbs  guitarist and longtime staple of the downtown New York improv scene Aaron Dugan, Dub Trio bassist and long-­‐time Matisyahu collaborator Stu Brooks, percussionist and Cyro Baptista go-­‐to-­‐drummer Tim Keiper, and Addison Groove Project founder Rob Marscher.  Combined, the music and lyrics transcend their parts. At its most basic moments the music now feels alive; an entity unto itself, being born in the moment and evolving each night. No two performances of a song are alike.  At its most exultant moments the music becomes  full-­‐band  improvisation.  Lyrics  are  rearranged  on  the  spot  to  serve  the  energy  of  the  jam,  no instrumentalist is playing simply to demonstrate individual skill, and Keiper’s percussive mastery finds the subtle  cracks within  Matisyahu’s  beat  boxing  to  propel  the  music  beyond  anything  it’s  ever  achieved  previously.  


What  makes  this  music  so  engaging  and  unmatched,  is  that  Matisyahu;  a  vocalist  with  no  other  instrument at his disposal, is an integral creative part in the improvisation. Dugan and Marscher work well beyond  the  constraints  of  the “solo”  constantly  working  to  modulate  the  improvisation,  while  Brook’s  pocket is so deep and harmonically smart, that regardless of how far the melodic elements of a jam may get pushed, it’s impossible not to feel rooted to the core of any tune performed.  Matisyahu allows his band to breathe within each tune, finding his place with a wordless melody that serves to enhance the harmonic elements of an improvisation, developing the rhythmic ideas with his beat boxing, or crowning a jam with a full-­‐on lyrical call-­‐to-­‐the-­‐heavens and the great unknown. It’s that cathartic moment as a jam summits and the audience lets out its release that tells the performers we are all in it together. During the most  recent  Fall  2015  tour,  video and  audio  posts  of  these  moments  inspired  a  steady  stream  of  comments and inquiries asking, “What album is this song on?” It’s not on any album.  It is the song of that moment, and that moment only.  


These  moments  have  the  ability  to  connect  the  many  different  kinds  of  Matisyahu fans.  The  fan  going  through  a hard  time,  looking  to  connect  to  lyrics  about  faith  and  searching.    The  fan  looking  for  that unmatched connection inherent in the risk-­‐reward of improvisational music. The fan who finds pride or representation  in  some  of  the ancient  sources  of  Matisyahu’s  inspiration.    All  of  these  fans  share  the  space together with Matisyahu who is now both a player and a playee, bound to his bandmates’ creation in song and in spirit.   It’s been more than a decade for Matisyahu the singer; this is the time of Matisyahu the band. 
 


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Listen to Matisyahu live from November 10, 2015 in Rohnert Park, CA .