Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Vintage in the Making...Sellaband's Rooga

Pop music has taken on many faces since February 9th, 1964 when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their performances on national television ushered in the age of the pop-rock act as a self-contained unit. I remember watching the show and realizing how different this was from all that had come before. This wasn't Elvis gyrating to the rhythm of an anonymous rhythm section. And only the most die-hard fans know the names of Buddy Holly's Crickets. Yes, this was different. And so powerful has been their influence that now, forty-three years later, popular music is still dominated by the image of the self-contained band.

American pop-culture of the fifties was considered by young musicians in England to be "the shit" and when the music came back to America as the English Invasion, American teenagers returned the compliment, adopting the hairstyles and clothing of this fresh new movement. In the ensuing years, pop music has gone international with influences from every corner of the world adding to the mix.

Rooga is a young Viennese band that drips from the massive distillery of pop-rock music with a fresh combination of influences. The self-described "Funky nu-rock" quartet are an unexpected product of Vienna, a city built on international influences but known for music of a more academic flavor.

Rooga's line up is nothing new, a guitar/bass/drums power trio fronted by the very able voice of Kati. What's new about Rooga is the maturity of the arrangements. In a larger ensemble, there is room to hide. A mediocre rhythm section can be compensated for by flashy solos, or lack of solo skills can be balanced with group vocals. A power trio must stand on its own three legs and if one leg is shorter than the others, the vocalist will be constantly shifting weight to stay balanced.

The three musicians in Rooga shoulder the load with equal doses of power, chops and commitment to the ensemble. Drummer Klaus, Bassist Victor and Guitarist Alex are like a matched set of thoroughbreds. Any weakness or strength is unapparent as they charge confidently through their sometimes ambitiously challenging arrangements.

One of the attractions of a small ensemble is the transparency of the soundscape. As stated, there is no place for a weak link in a trio. Rooga's sound is clean and accurate while maintaining an aggressive attitude. The benefit of clean, accurately played arrangements are twofold. First of all, as a musician, it's really fun to play louder than possible in a larger group. The second aspect is what I call the "ghost by-product." When a small ensemble plays with a great degree of accuracy, the frequencies tend to have more room to mingle and merge into parts that are heard but not played by any one instrument. This phenomenon is strictly subjective and each listener will perceive these ghost by-products differently. In the early days of acoustic recording, large orchestras playing into the horn of the Victor Talking Machine's recording equipment sounded thin and tinny whereas recordings of smaller jazz and dance bands had a fuller, more dynamic sound. The musicians in Rooga hold down their share of the frequencies in a way that allows the final result to sound bigger than the individual parts would indicate.

As the focal point of the band, Kati is well on her way to carving out an identity. There are many influences apparent in her phrasing and delivery, but she gives the listener a strong dose of individuality as well. She more than holds her own on a stage dripping with testosterone and counters the band's aggressive output punch for punch.

Rooga is well on their way, but to say they are complete would be premature. They have so many of the technical aspects firmly in place, but their next phase of growth will surely be in the area of feel. The music feels good, but with seasoning and experience it will grow to feel great. This isn't a matter of education, chops or intent. The intent to be amazing is clearly present in Rooga's music, If maturity and experience were plug-ins, we would be cheated out of the pleasure of watching a band like Rooga grow into the monsterhood that may well be their destiny.

Fresh moonshine will get you drunk alright. But it only gets to be Jack Daniel's by hanging around in the barrel for a while. I'm eager to hear the result of Rooga's next foray into the studio. This is a band made up of all the right ingredients and with time in the barrel will certainly be comparable to the finest liqueur Vienna has to offer.

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