United States of Mind
Wednesday, Feb. 23, 8 p.m.
They've shared the stage with the Roots and KRS-One. They highlighted last year's Allotropy Festival. They meld hip-hop, bebop, and beatboxing for a sound that goes both back in time and shoots to the future. And next Wednesday, IsWhat?! is returning to United States of Mind for a night that's a guaranteed knockout. Based in Cincinnati, Is What?! mixes the jazz flute and tenor-sax of James Walker with the upright bebop bass of Matt Anderson. Poet, scat-singer and beatboxer Napoleon Maddox tops off the trio. What, no drummer? With Napoleon covering all bases, no drummer is necessary.
"I've been a vocalist since I was 5 years old and beatboxed before adolescence," Napoleon says over the phone en route to a Chicago gig. "I feel like that's as much an instrument as any other part of playing music. I felt good about what I was doing, pushing myself and expanding my vocal musicality."
While Napoleon's duties cover lots of ground, the members mix like liquid and no one is drowned out, making IsWhat?! a true power trio. "It's definitely a group effort," Napoleon says. "One of the things that makes IsWhat? effective is the time we spent playing together. We have a musical relationship - my voice relies on the voice of the bass and the voice of the sax and vice versa. We're basically communicating musical ideas. The time we've spent playing together allows us to communicate effectively."
Like Indy's own Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery, most Midwest cities have a strong jazz heritage, and Cincinnati is no exception. While IsWhat?! might be Cincinnati's hottest power trio, they're no strangers to working with other musicians. Napoleon was recently in town dropping his vocal stylings when label-mate Moceanworker played at Radio Radio.
At Wednesday's show, Napoleon will probably be trading performances with Wingnut, another hot jazz trio on next Wednesday's bill.
For those who favor bass and organ over bass and sax, Wingnut is the trio to see. Based in Ithaca, N.Y., Wingnut takes the Hammond sounds of Jimmy Smith and Moog of Stevie Wonder and mixes with bass and drums for a brew that has the bite and flavor of early '70s Herbie Hancock or Ramsey Lewis and some of the cool ambience of The Philadelphia Experiment. They've also hosted Napoleon on a few tracks like the scat-poetry epic "No Blood For Oil." If a politically updated Eugene McDaniels lapsed into a shamanic experience while singing "Headless Heroes," this would more or less be it