J u l y   2 0 0 2

Aural Report

Dave Allen and Squall
Close to the cutting edge as possible
by Kurt Dahlke

e're waiting at a red light behind a bus. The bus proceeds into the intersection (turning right, actually, but this doesn't seem important). So we cruise on into the intersection following the bus (which had been blocking our view of the light), blithe in our lack of knowledge that the bus was turning right on the red. Cue the Trans Am, which punches us 20 feet over and spins us almost 180 degrees onto the opposite sidewalk.

Squall: deep, wide and difficult to describe. [Photos by Soren Coughlin-Glaser; click for a trip to Squall's Web site.]

Being on the receiving side of that blow, I got off damn easy. Just a week hobbling about on a cane. That, and a curious hand injury that makes me unable to fully touch my left thumb to the corresponding smallest finger.

I spend a few days on the couch, obsessively listening to The Infinite, a collection of tunes from Shriekback, a weird British post-punk art-funk band – that, in addition to being way ahead of its time, also featured some of the best, most interesting bass-playing in rock.

I must be delirious. “If Dave Allen can do it, so can I,” I think. Then I rush off to buy a bass guitar and begin my own dubious musical journey.

Dave Allen's musical journey, which also includes co-founding the polemically revered outfit Gang of Four in 1977, is certainly not dubious, and it's far from over. He's here in Portland, still chasing the muse, getting as close to the cutting edge as possible with his new outfit, Squall.

Squall, a self-described creative collective, appears manifest as a group of guitarists, keyboard players, samplers, DJs, MCs, video artists and percussionists who throw down music that's deep, wide, and yet as ephemeral as the air.

A recent early-May PSU Music Department gig was "too early in the day for us," Allen says. Though listeners have no clue anything is amiss, Allen admits the crew isn't exactly used to playing stone-cold sober at noon. That's OK, Dave, most of us aren't used to listening to music like yours in that condition either.

No longer sure what's coming from where: two turntables and stone-cold sober at noon.

And the idea is strong enough to survive unscathed, even without the MCs, video artists or booze. Squall's revolving-pro lineup of non-jam band jammers mix jazz, funk, turntable-ism, rock and more into a concoction that frees the tendrils of your mind while remaining bolted to the basalt by Allen's saurian grooves.

Numerous samplers load the air with rhythmic white-noise mantras, the drummer pours out syncopated funk beats and Allen settles into one of his trademarked angular ganks, a reflexive looping groove that stimulates the hypothalamus.

Thusly emancipated, Brian "Ice" Berg, the nicest man in Portland music, the DJ, and the guitarist are freed to follow sundry paths, providing the spaced-out digressions that are the aspiration of this type of music.

Squall provides a large group of eager-to-get-outside students (and one homeless guy doing interpretive dance) with a nice hour of fused grooves that never become repetitious or overlong, even with so many sound sources that the sound-guy admits he's no longer sure what's coming from where.

Ultimately, it's difficult to describe Squall. Jazz-funk hip-hop to dance, too? Maybe. I need to see the full show at the proper place, proper time and under the right conditions, to try to get it right. And I need to see it many times. So do you.

In fact, with such a group of highly talented, varied musicians hitting on so many genres, anyone who likes any kind of music probably has a good reason to get caught up in the Squall.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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