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McTuff: Serving Up an Improv Masterpiece Until the Cows Come Home

In this day and age, using “Mc” as a prefix implies phoniness, commercialism or anything of the cookie-cutter variety. Considering their antithesis to those definitions, the name of the band which played at the Crazy Horse on Friday October 18 is rather ironic. Not only did McTuff channel an ultra cool moniker in an era when decent band names are few and far between, but it somehow pins the tail on their essence. Your correspondent lucked into one of their regular Seattle gigs almost three years ago where they made an indelible impression. In the friendly confines of a dark, neighborhood bar, endless torrents of improv spewed forth with tactical abandon. When they got inked on the Crazy Horse calendar, the news was met with great anticipation.

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We always like to chronicle significant firsts at the Horse. This show was notable for the maiden voyage of a Hammond B3 organ on our stage. The Cadillac of keyboards is one of the most stately instruments known to humankind and tends only to be played by those with the utmost respect for its intricacies. Joe Doria is a rare breed who seems like he was born to fulfill the honor of B3 chosen one; like Arthur and the sorcerer’s stone. Appearing akin to a Jersey mobster who could rock the track suit, gold chain and Kangol look, his laid back Seattle persona defies that stereotype. From the moment he took the mic, Doria candidly expressed how enamored the band was with the Crazy Horse and Nevada City in general. It set a tone of gratitude which volleyed back and forth all night long.

Raving with an aficionado later on about this show, he remarked how admirable it was that an all-instrumental unit could infuse such unique character into each song despite the lack of lyrics. This clearly stemmed from the fact that Doria’s keyboards and the guitar work of Andy Coe are eminently conversational. Any talented musician uses their instrument as a communication medium, but there is something about the style of this duo which weaves a story within every passage. Then there’s the trio’s newest member, drummer Tarik Abouzied, who is pretty damn verbose himself. Playing the most minimalist kit possible, he’s one of those jazz savants who is incapable of a dull moment. Thinly disguising ferocity behind understated, Zen power, he glowed with a satisfied grin while continuously lighting a fire beneath each of his bandmates. Given ample opportunity in the spotlight, there was one solo which definitely transcended what any drummer has ever achieved on the Crazy Horse stage.

McTuff played one of those shows which was simply too good to step away from. Audience members of all ages stood (and danced) completely captivated at the ingenuity unfolding before them. These guys were so incredibly thoughtful in the way they listened to each other and the manner in which they attacked each improvisational flight. It was only natural to hover close to Doria, beholding his dexterity, as he laid out the road map for one torrid sonic adventure after the next. While his fingers waltzed along the ivories, his feet accomplished a dazzling task of their own. Using toes and heels in syncopated harmony, he played the bass notes with the Hammond’s panel of wooden pedals. Seeing this in action made it evident why the band’s octopus logo on their CDs and t-shirts is perfectly apropos.

McTuffNot to be overshadowed for a minute, Coe turned every song into a personal exposition to explore the outer reaches of melodic frontiers. Intent on playing the unexpected and bending his sound in ways unfamiliar to even the most seasoned ears, the plot continued to thicken as we ventured deeper into the night. We couldn’t help but think how phenomenal it must be to have achieved such synchronicity between one’s instrument and synapses, firing off streams of consciousness in seemingly effortless fashion. Well, effortless in the sense of coding coordinates for the space shuttle by a veteran NASA programmer. Finally coming to a halt at 1:30am, the elated crowd refused to let the band go. Despite not having paid a dime for admission, they voraciously demanded an encore which stretched to the last possible second and might still be going if not for, you know, the law.

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