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Jazzfest: Moon Hooch brings cave music to the Capital

By Marina Irick on June 25, 2015

From the subways of New York City to the Ottawa After Dark stage in a glowing tent at Jazzfest, “Moon Hooch” – one drum kit and two saxophones – awed an Ottawa crowd on Tuesday night with their unique “cave music” sound, which they describe on their website as wild, jagged, free and natural to live in.

The moment the trio stepped on the stage, their chemistry and youthful energy was apparent – the first pound on the drum kit and blasts of the saxophone turned the mellow mood of the audience into a moon-walking mosh pit. The result was a non-stop series of songs off their albums – full of incredibly long runs on the saxophone that left the audience waving their hands in the air, wanting more.

Moon Hooch pic 2Moon Hooch met while studying at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, and the result is a blend of fresh, funky, and unusual music, which brought a unique and original flare to the Tuesday night line-up.

Saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, and drummer James Muschler first played together in the summer of 2010 in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From there, they moved to the underground, busking and bouncing their sounds off the bustling NYC subway walls.

Although different from traditional jazz, and more of an authentic electronic dance party, Moon Hooch embodies the “true meaning” of jazz – improvisation and mood creation.

It was easy to get lost in the twists and turns of the piece – one moment you are at a standstill, mesmerized by the trills of the saxophone solo, while the next you are jumping up and down, convinced that you are in a high-energy club with the sounds being mixed by a DJ.

As the show went on, the energy in the room only continued to build – people started spontaneously shouting “Moon Hooch!” and “Thank You!” and imitating Wenzl McGowen’s groovy moves. Mike Wilbur fed off the energy by jumping into the crowd, giving the audience an up-close view of his technique.

About mid-way through the show, drummer James Muschler, now shirtless and still full of intense concentration, left his drum-kit to sit cross-legged on the floor playing the bongos.

The group undoubtedly loves what they do – a smile stayed plastered on the lips of Muschler, and when Wilbur and McGowen were able to catch a real breath, large grins took over their faces.

Near the end of the show as the clock was just about the strike midnight, Wilbur shouted into the microphone, “Canada! We are here from New York. And this is cave music!” The crowd cheered an appreciative response.

Watch Moon Hooch’s Tiny Desk concert online here, but hopefully they will be back in our city soon for more live foot-stomping and cave-raving good times.