Unsinkable Heavies 1.20.16

The Seamonster Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J. Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Unsinkable Heavies is a side project for most of the members of Seattle’s Polyrhythmics. The group features Ben Bloom (guitar), Art Brown (alto sax, tenor sax and flute), Jason Gray (bass guitar), Grant Schroff (drums) and Nathan Spicer (organ). They are similar to the Polyrhythmics, but lack two horns and a Latin percussionist. This enables the group to focus more on deep-funk improvisation, and places the emphasis even more firmly on their groove. Basically, they are a stripped-down, Polyrhythmics-style jamband.

They have a residency at the Seamonster Lounge, in the Wallingford neighborhood, where they play the third Wednesday of each month. With the Polyrhythmics’ busy touring schedule, this builds a night into each month for the band members to let loose at home and try out new things in a relaxed setting. The Seamonster is known for attracting a great neighborhood crowd, as well as fearless booking of jazz and funk-influenced music on most weeknights.

Musically, the Unsinkable Heavies feature a whole lot of outstanding lead guitar playing from Bloom. His role in the Polyrhythmics is generally more to sit back and set the stage for the horns to lay waste to the room, but side projects like this one and Rippin’ Chicken allow you to see the full extent of his chops. The man can flat-out shred, and he can do it while dancing up a storm.

Another big emphasis is Spicer’s spacey organ work. He notably did not employ a keyboard for this show, instead dedicating himself completely to the organ. This is crucial to the band’s ability to take the audience on fifteen-minute space odysseys. This is something you will rarely see at a Polyrhythmics show, but each band member clearly loves. Brown’s smooth, jazzy sax work adds in the perfect textures to keep things sonically exciting, while Schroff and Gray ensure that the listener’s feet never stop moving. It is a delicate balance that the band must strike, to be spacey and driving simultaneously, but they manage it skillfully.

Of course, you don’t see Brown perform just for the saxophone. He busts out the flute pretty extensively here, and to this day I still have not gotten over how unconventional and brilliant his use of this instrument is. If you had informed me a decade ago that I would be spending my evenings listening to a man-bunned jazz flutist play deep-space-funk music at a place called the Seamonster Lounge, I might not have believed you. But I’m so glad that it happened!

Most of their compositions seem to be constructed bottom-up, or at least they usually start off with Schroff and Gray laying down a thick, syrupy groove as a template for the melodies. The group relies on them to be in the pocket and mixing things up extensively. After the basic parts are established, it is simply an exercise in musical communication for the band members.

These shows are gimmick-free deep-funk improvisation. The music is extremely polished, and I definitely think that these artists could have success touring with just this project if they weren’t so busy with the Polyrhythmics. This will probably have to remain one of those shows you just have to get yourself to Seattle to see.

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