ulu: Another American Jam Powerhouse is Back
Words By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
We’ve spent the last couple weeks talking about major jam bands in the scene and will return to that path next week. However, this week I received some incredible news that I thought was worth sharing: ulu is returning for a three show run in September! Ulu is a funk jazz outfit that was very much a part of the early jam scene in New York. Known for being Wetlands and Knitting factory stalwarts, they toured relentlessly and really did epitomize what jam at its peak was all about. They were known as the band that nailed a funky cover of the Super Mario Brothers Theme long before it became all too common. I still think they pulled it off the best.
My initial experience with ulu happened when I caught their second lineup at Summer Camp in 2001. They began as a five-piece group that was anchored by Aaron Gardner’s saxophone and flute and propelled into the stratosphere by Scott Chasolen’s keys. Over the years, however, they played with an ever-changing group with Scott and Aaron as the constant, the glue that held the original vision of melding jazz, jam, and funk together.
When I saw them in 2001 they had already shed Luca Benedetti on guitar to play with the musical formation that they would stick with for the rest of their career. Keys, sax, drums, and bass were the core that they stuck with, giving Scott room to soar as he passed lead back and forth between himself and Aaron. It was at the second Summer Camp that I was really became infatuated with the band because after the fest was pretty much over, I was roaming around the site and I heard a saxophone in the distance. As I made my way past some tents in a small clearing, there sat Aaron surrounded by about fifteen hand drummers and flanked by a few acoustic guitarists. He sat in that camping chair playing along with the kids in a very organic way. He would listen and join in when he felt the groove. This went on for hours before someone finally came and dragged him away. From that point forward, I was truly an ulu fan.
It was through their thick touring days from 2002 – 2004 that I got to know their 5th and my favorite lineup personally. I was almost asleep at my house when my roommate showed up with four disheveled men and told me these guys were in a band that just got done playing at the Green Room. I stayed up most of the night with Josh Dion and Brian Killeen playing video games and bullshitting. From then on, I never missed an ulu show in Iowa City and even went on a couple of mini-runs with the band. I was always impressed with their dynamic sound. Ulu is everything you could want from a live experience. Their brand of jazz is fresh and not confined by tradition; anything is fair game including awesome versions of Space Oddity and Us and Them. Gardener’s sax would take the part of the vocals rather than trying to belt them out. Ulu has a very approachable sound.
One of the things I liked about going to see instrumental bands was that I never felt like a noob when seeing them perform. If you know music you can jump in with both feet and just roll with the experience. When you see a band like Phish, there is so much background knowledge needed to really appreciate what is happening onstage. I’ve never felt that way with ulu… they just jam for the sake of jamming.
Eventually, in 2004, the years on the road took their toll and the band members went their separate ways. The real reason why I am discussing a band that broke up in 2004 is that after seven years, they are reuniting for a three-show run. Here are the dates:
9/9 – Backwoods Pondfest – Peru, NY
9/10 – Meeting Of The Minds Festival – Ponytelle, PA
9/11 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
You can stay informed with their news on their Facebook Page…
Or their website…
I really do hope this spawns another era for this band; they were well loved not just by me but many across the country. If you’re on the east coast, I suggest packing up your friends and hitting one of these shows. I promise you won’t be disappointed.