Josh Stamper Live
In concert in NYC – March 12, 2011
In Manhattan's Church of the Advent Hope, the atmosphere was similar to that of a downtown art exhibit: low-key, intimate and – dare I say it - hip. Hey, maybe this is the way church is supposed to feel! Josh Stamper himself looks the part of a musical prophet (or at least a member of The Band in its heyday) and has been busy creating a musical legacy as composer, arranger, band member (Ben + Vesper, Danielson and others) and all-around go-to guy for string arrangements, guitar parts and such.
Tonight, sandwiched in between Aaron Roche (Sounds Are Active) and Chris Schlarb, Josh Stamper and his group - the core of which being a pair of multi-talented woodwind players, a trombonist, and (of course) Josh on guitar and lead vocals - delivered an eclectic mix of chamber music featuring elements of classical, pop, and jazz.
Working mostly from Stamper's newest project, Interstitials, the quartet played with taste, precision, and careful dynamics to produce a warm-toned, inviting soundscape. In contrast to last year's instrumental gem, Wend, Stamper's current project features the composer as a vocalist as well – a prospect that certainly adds all kinds of potentials into the mix. Thankfully, not only does Stamper sing well, but his vocals have a warm timbre and musically conservative attack that respects and compliments the compositions. No vocal dramatics here, just good singing – never sharp or flat – that becomes an element of the structure of these fine songs. Comparisons often fail and are seldom fair, but one might think of Kenny Rankin as a distant vocal sound-alike, at least in tone.
Looking at the group from audience right-to-left, Stamper stayed behind a music stand and microphone, facing the rest of the players as guitarist, singer and conductor while playing musical host for the evening. On the far left was trombonist Paul Arbogast, with the center spots ably filled by Michael Cemprola and Jon Rees on woodwinds.
Stamper's guitar parts were sparse and melodic, relying on patterns and repeating melodies more than chord work, allowing the other players to counterpoint and and interact with his fretwork. The interplay of flute, sax, trombone and guitar often brought to mind some of Frank Zappa's small 'low budget' orchestra pieces that were often buried in the gaps of his otherwise more outrageous albums, Lumpy Gravy in particular.
Hearing Stamper's current work performed live is a wonderful way to spend an evening – offering the warmth and intimacy of a chamber ensemble with modern sensibilities. The music is melodic and a bit romantic while staying sophisticated enough to flirt with being called avant-garde. The often playful melodies weaved and danced and were effectively intertwined by the four musicians to the delight and appreciation of the hard-to-impress New York City audience, and the night was won by Stamper and the wonderful musicians that brought this unique and very human music to life.
Stamper followed the excellent Aaron Roche, who's impressive music and vocal work was an unexpected pleasure, bringing a somewhat new-age, semi-acoustic Sufjan Stevens-influenced vibe to the proceedings. Chris Schlarb and his group followed Stamper, closing the slow with more free-form improvisation and ethereal stylings than either of the other two acts.
For more information about Joshua Stamper got to: http://joshuastamper.wordpress.com