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Master bassoonist Paul Hanson joins Bizar Bazaar

Bizar Bazaar is the appropriately titled name of a group of Bay Area musicians getting together every Tuesday night at the Boom Boom Room. Musically, it's an open market of improvising and jamming on a variety of styles from jazz/funk to dance hall classics that are infused with the energy of rock and roll. The local ingredients in the market change each week, adding to the flavor of the show.

This week's theme ingredient was the unique taste of Paul Hanson on Bassoon, a Bay Area musician and composer rapidly gaining international recognition. Hanson is a master bassoonist who approaches his instrument with techniques not associated with the classical instrument. One way he achieves this is by brilliantly manipulating his sound with a variety of MIDI controls. Hanson, a graduate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is a frequent collaborator with Bela Fleck and appears to have a similar philosophical musical approach.

Bizar Bazaar is led by event creator Michael Bizar (AJ Croce, Wayside, Citrus) on lead and rhythm guitar. Rounding out the rhythm section is Murph (Citrus, Freddy Jones Band) on bass, and Jim Richards (Soultree) on drums. Bizar's Wayside companion Josh Paxton joined them on Hammond B3 and electric piano.

In a seven song first set, the band opened with a jazzy warm up that showcased the special ingredients. Although the guests are supplied with sheet music for the songs, the shows are spontaneous without rehearsals. Hanson and Paxton both took straightforward solos in what appeared to musical introductions.

The meat of the second song focused on Hanson, who wasted no time in getting freaky and letting us know what we were all in store for the evening. Accompanied by fast flying choppy drums, Hanson used MIDI effects to turn his bassoon into a Hammond B3. Adding to the impact was his ability to phrase notes like a keyboardist. His solo was a special collective moment that brought smiles to the faces of the band and the audience.

Up next was the Medeski, Martin, and Wood composition "Where's Sly?" a song that Hanson originally wrote the horn arrangements and played on Saxamaphone. This tune was a perfect pick to showcase Paxton on Hammond B3, who delivered with a layering of sound between individual notes and sustain. Bizar then delivered a dazzling solo, his first of the night, and appeared as if he had been waiting to explode.

The fourth song of the evening electrified the place. With a funky backdrop, Hanson and Bizar teamed up for a cat and mouse game that ran through spirals that moved through a kaleidoscope. The rest of the band was with them at every step, pushing the two even further. The fireworks continued with the full collectively jamming on "Watermelon Man" and "Hang Up Your Hang Ups", both by Herbie Hancock.

The last song of the set was a frequently played Bazaar song reminiscent of Eighties style King Crimson. Murph and Richards steal a bass and drum lines out of the Tony Levin and Bill Bruford catalog. Hanson seemed to enjoy this flavor and laid down an absurd and eclectic solo on the Saxamaphone. Bizar frantically played around all of them, weaving the song together.

By set break, the crowd had begun to swell and had doubled in size since the show started. This was very encouraging for a Tuesday night. The eleven song second set began with a session of musical chairs. Wayside members Justin Hellman and Lucas Carlton joined the band on bass and drums, and immediately fed off the anticipation of the crowd. What followed was one of the most brilliant things I've ever witnessed standing 3 feet away from a musician.

A perfect choice, the first song was another frequently played number that features Bizar's delicious wah-wah guitar that sounds like Jerry Garcia ala Dancin' In The Street circa 1977. This set us up for Hanson to give us schooling in the art of MIDI, as he turned himself into a A horn section! He slowly moved from one brass instrument to the next, stepping on pedals to control the output. He had at least 5 different sounds going and would play them with and against each other. This fed into the rest of the band who were creating more and more energy. Hanson began to switch sounds more frequently as the song moved into the final climax. He then held a sustaining note and used his pedals to sound like an exploding horn section that was layering higher and higher on top of itself, until it couldn't possibly go any higher. It was a jaw dropping moment.

The next song was a Wayside original, giving Bizar an opportunity to expose us to his cohorts. The song featured an extended bass solo by Justin, who was really enjoying himself on stage. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him join the line-up as a guest one week.

Murph and Richards returned to the line-up for Jimmy Smith's "Root Down", which was a welcome and familiar number to many in the crowd. This version was slightly different then past versions because of Paxton's influence on the song playing the Hammond B3. He owned this number and took the band to new heights. Hanson followed with a short but sweet solo returning to the basic bassoon sound.

The next number brought Hanson back to the effects, playing with artificial sound I can only associate with Jerry Garcia, because he introduced me to this unique MIDI sound. For all I know it could be a pre-programmed MIDI sound that is a standard out of the box sound. Although the tone is quirky and machinery and fake, Hanson used beautiful jazz phrasing to demonstrate the contrast. I really enjoy it when people take a weird tone and treat it in a normal classic style.

The second set focused more on collective group improvisation. The set continued with classic like "The Sanford and Son Theme", "Livewire" by The Meters, "Cantaloupe Island" by Herbie Hancock, "Slow Down Sam" by Jimmy Smith, "Shank" by John Scofield, and closed out with "Mercy, Mercy, Mecry" by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. All of these songs featured spectacular interplay between the band members and frequent mathematical games of constructing and deconstruction. This kept the dance floor shaking and swaying during the entire set.

This installment of Bizar Bazaar showed a new comfort level between the musicians as the band moved closer together as a single unit. Although the song selection is similar each week, the approach and resulting sound is always different. It was an interesting perspective to hear these songs with Paul Hanson on bassoon. Bizar Bazaar has become a great way to get exposure to the special ingredients taste, while witnessing how they can blend the flavor of their own world into the Bazaar world.

Word on the street seems to be getting out about Tuesday nights at the historical Boom Boom Room. The blossoming jam scene in San Francisco finally has a weekly home where everyone can come together for a unique but reliable night of improvised and jammed out music. More people have been coming out each week to get their groove on. It's nice to see many familiar faces in the audience, including other local musicians, all supporting the scene and having a positive uplifting experience.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Paul Hanson
  • Concert Date: 5/21/2002
  • Venue: Boom Boom Room
  • City State Country: San Francisco, CA
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