Algernon
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Algernon

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It’s not easy to peg Algernon. The young Chicago quintet, now on its second album, has the instrumentation of something close to a jazz combo (bass, drums, two guitars and vibraphone). The tunes, all written by twentysomething guitar wünderkind Dave Miller, flutter and bob in surprising patterns, taking advantage of a palate that’s unquestionably Blue Note–worthy.

And yet, despite having no vocals, Algernon isn’t that far from the land of rawk. Those same songs are too air-tight for improvisation: Arrangements lock together with the disciplined coordination you’d expect from a hardcore band. Where, the desperate record-store employee implores, do I file them?

If toying with the rock versus jazz dichotomy sounds familiar, that’s because Tortoise has been challenging its listeners in much the same way this past decade. And before that, Weather Report…and Mahavishnu Orchestra…and, well, you get the point. In that sense, this jazz-rock mind-melt isn’t post-rock but pre-, an homage of sorts to an era when jazz chops meant something in rock circles (King Crimson, Frank Zappa). But on Espionage, Algernon tweaks the Tortoise model in its own distinct way, opting for hooks over ambience. Miller plays with the refined restraint of someone twice his age, and he’s lucky to have such committed musicians on hand: Take Katie Wiegman, on vibraphone and glockenspiel, who supplies a deft and exacting touch that gives the group a magical air.

Although Espionage could benefit from some experimentation at the mixing board to match Miller’s daring pen, it’s still an impressive step forward for the group. File it under “keeper.”

Algernon plays Lakeshore Theater Wednesday 26.

— Matthew Lurie - Time Out


The wordless route is what Algernon are all about, and on their Familiar Espionage (Ears & Eyes) they reveal that you can say a hell of a lot without saying a word. I know, you probably read those same words in every other review for this album, but I haven't read any reviews, so consider that coincidence, okay? What you're really thinking is Algernon, cool sounding name, I have no idea what the hell that means but I'm intrigued, moreso by a title like Familiar Espionage? What are they about? I'll try to explain.

Algernon are a quintet who bring together elements of rock and jazz and combine that with a love for twisting textures, soundscapes, and semi-confusing time signatures. A select few of you read that last sentence and a thought balloon went over your head screaming MATH ROCK!!! If that's the term you're used to, I'll use that, but yes, the band will play what sounds normal and standard during one part of the song, and then you'll hear things move in 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, and maybe 14/4, only to twist itself into another equation that actually equals to a sum that evens everything out. They do this with a drums, bass, two guitar set-up, but also add to this a vibraphone and glockenspiel (both played by Katie Wiegman). Together, they create sounds that can sound frightful, eerie, and overly exciting at the same time, at times sounding more like a classical string quartet raised on punk than an average rock band who only know about 4 on the floor. "Beneath The Ailing Flesh" begins sounding like lounge music, but in the middle everyone in the group is playing at their own pace, complete with guitars run through effect pedals and turning feedback into digital tones of displeasure. Eventually the drummer (Cory Healey) gets locked down in a beat and they all morph into one flowing being, all before Wiegman takes the rest of the band to a sense of calm.

Those who find interest in the wordless sonics of 65daysofstatic will find Algernon a band worth looking into. While both bands are completely different in sound, they both share respect towards taking their music to whatever direction it leads them.

(Familiar Espionage is available directly from Ears & Eyes Records.) - The Run Off Groove


Ever heard of neopsychedelicpostrockjazz? You should, it's great. It's the kind the music that is made by Algernon, a Chicago five piece whose sophomore album Familiar Espionage is an all instrumental journey through feedback, blink-and-you-miss-them Beatles melodies, Zappa-inspired vibes, heavy metal outbursts and left field Syd Barrett weirdness. It's that good.

Guitar player Dave Miller is the resident musical genius of this band, the kind of composer that music critics will refer to in the not too distant future trying to pigeonhole other maverick six string wizards. - Here Comes the Flood


Zing! plays the Ears and Eyes Festival at 4 PM Sunday, and later that night Dave Miller’s group Algernon goes on. Miller, one of those polymaths who can’t seem to find enough bands to fill his time, has built this unusual quintet into a sleek roadster, using Katie Wiegman’s vibraphone to lighten and brighten the sound of the two-stroke jazz-rock engine—Miller and Nick Fryer, both on guitar—that powers the band. Miller draws from jazz and rock (prog, psych, and post-) but also aspires to a kind of latter-day chamber music: tautly composed lines and detailed, surprisingly delicate arrangements butt up against raucous free improvisation and splashy electronics. On Familiar Espionage, Algernon’s forthcoming second album, the tunes (with titles like “Eraserhead” and “(Don’t Press the) Red Button”) have a definite post-rock feel, but Miller pushes them into jazzier territory—all the while avoiding anything that sounds like a traditional jazz solo. - Chicago Reader


Someday, when jazz-rock protégé Dave Miller surpasses “alt.-music genius” or some other insurmountable rock title, having fed the indie circuit with enough reason to trade in radio noise for something a little more instrumental, he’ll probably look back at it all and think, “Hmm, I could’ve done more.”

Miller is the spry type of likeable kid who talks like he’s got the whole expanse of the world in front of him, a world that seems challenging but not unconquerable, musically conformist but certainly pliable and capable of evolution. His project roster fluctuates, and he rarely juggles fewer than half a dozen projects at a time. Right now, Miller contributes to about 10 different jazz and instrumental rock bands, not least importantly of the batch including an impressive “neopsycedelicpostrockjazz” band called Algernon. (Thanks to Algernon bassist Dr. Pants, by the way, for the classification.)

“It’s actually too much,” Miller admits, justifying the situation by telling me how each of the 10 bands only plays about once a month, even though they keep him in shows four or five times a week. “I’ve been thinking about that lately.”

He probably won’t change a thing, though, and that’s a good thing – for him and anyone else hungry for a new facet of independent music that unleashes the underbelly of Chicago’s dive-bar jazz with the city’s Schlitz-drinking rock crew and puts them in a boxing ring only to watch them shake hands. There’s nothing like a hardworking jazz kid in Chicago playing like he’s bound to change the world.

Re-enter Algernon, a quintet built out of Miller’s jazz friends from the group’s NIU alma mater. They’re the latest to appear on Chicago’s instrumental-rock (sans vocals) radar, a scene contemporarily kick-started by bands like Pelican and the Russian Circles, bands whose guitar complexities churn out a louder and heavier guitar-laden rock sound than instrumentalists have promised in the past.

Algernon’s jazz roots ring clear, but in an edgy way that hooks past dozens of surprise sharp turns before each song’s story reaches a close. This music isn’t afraid to step outside of the cake-and-tea/elevator-song stereotype to which post-college jazz seems so constantly vulnerable, and Miller doesn’t take the bait to lean otherwise. Algernon is a rock band whose guitar-and-vibraphone plot twists relish in static climaxes and bass that quivers for days. It’s a layered, space-age soundtrack for postmodern groove.

You know, like a David Lynch movie.

In earlier days, Algernon got a call from some independent film makers in L.A. toying with a Lynch-like movie that eventually never made it out of the gate. “I still don’t know how they got a hold of our CD,” Miller says. They asked Miller for a few of his Lynch-fueled scores, and he obliged.

It was an honor, if a strange one. Algernon’s music does culminate a dream-like quality (check the clip from “Eraserhead” on their MySpace page), but at the time, Miller had never really considered himself inspired by movie directors. After all, Miller wrote Algernon’s first album in a week, with few influences save for an upcoming show that needed music and a week off from school.

“I’ve never had a burst of inspiration like that,” he says now. “The idea for that type of music was something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Like every punk who grew up when Seattle’s grunge scene was hot and bands like Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips swept into town every so often, Miller wanted to be a rock star. It was a teenage dream for sure, but one that stuck with him even after the jazz bug had been seeded and sown.

“I grew up with rock and roll and wanted to play guitar,” he says. “During my last few years in high school, I started listening to jazz, but I didn’t know what it meant or how to approach it.”

The story gets better from there. With the instrumental-rock world battling for solid ground in his head, Miller took his high school-graduating, jazz-inspired self to the University of Illinois … for accounting. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped for. A year in, NIU and jazz guru Fareed Haque drew him back to Chicago’s other corn-town neighbor for a path more suited for, well, a musician on the brink.

Algernon formed three years ago, post Miller’s one-week jam session for the band’s first album, “Charlie Changed His Mind.” Last year birthed progress and loads of meticulous tinkering leading up to their second disc, an expectedly satisfying follow-up called “Familiar Espionage.” They’ve befriended several like-minded bands and in recent months have flown upward on the street-cred scale, playing venues like the House Cafe, Double Door, getting mentions in Chicago Magazine and scoring airtime with WNUR radio.

All the while, Miller remains focused. Don’t forget, he belongs to, like, nine other music projects besides this, plus a 10-hour-per-week side gig teaching guitar lessons. For now, he and the band are pretty much sticking to concentrating on hawking the new release to labels and above all trying to figure out how the hell to pimp a band with no vocals. It isn’t easy, even at a time when indie rock appears ready for an orchestral boost.

“Right now we’re marketing ourselves as more of a rock band,” Miller admits. “There’s going to be a much higher rate of success for that. Jazz is great, and I love it, but it’s not as easily marketable. 90 percent of it all is how you market yourself.”

So far, the rock angle is working, not that the band wants to pigeonhole itself more than it needs to, and they’re attracting people to shows. Beyond that, they’ll let the crowd decide which door to enter at an Algernon show: the one leading to a “neopsycedelicpostrockjazz” act, the one inviting naysayers to a swirling jazz showcase that surpasses fundamental jazz via the indie scene, or the one that most people end up submitting to: a pretty damn good rock show.

“It’s pretty much our music,” he explains of live sets, leaving a lot open to interpretation. “It’s not much talking or wooing the crowd really. We try to keep our sets seamless. There’s a little bit of improv, (but) more of the textured sound stuff.” If the music translates as well on stage as it does on disc, then Algernon need not stick a label to something that need nor be filed.

“It’s not rock and roll, and it’s not jazz; it’s somewhere in between,” he says,

And that good enough for now. - Beep Magazine


Algernon is one of those bands on the Ears & Eyes label that is pushing the boundaries of rock and jazz (and more) to the perimeters. They obviously don't care if it can be pegged to a genre, they only care if it's good, and it is!

Comprised of two guitarists, Dave Miller and Nick Fryer who work their interlocking lines like they've been listening to as much Gang of Four as Grant Green. The powerful "Deactivate the Motion Sensor" opens up their latest release - "Familiar Espionage" and you can immediately sense that the music is mature and interesting with clever changes and performed by talented well-rehearsed players with an original vision. Driven by a rocking rhythm section of bassist Tom Perona and drummer Cory Healey, the music is given an ethereal shine by shimmering guitar electronics and the presence of Katie Wiegman's heavenly vibes and glockenspiel. Her playing, along with the sudden shifts and turns reminds one a bit of the late Frank Zappa.

In the hands of lesser musicians, this could become a mish-mash, but to Algernon's credit, they have crafted a unique and highly entertaining sound. No 3 chord six-stringers, the guitarists utilize an advanced palette of chords, which adds to the jazzy feel. Strange noises merge into beauty and then the rhythm section kicks in with one of their patented riffs and all bets are off. At times (as on "Beneath the Ailing Flesh") it almost sounds as if avant garde composer Messaein were playing Delta blues, but the spacey free form outbursts contain enough substance to entertain and the more composed elements like "(Don't Press the) Red Button" are actually quite lovely and dare I say, "catchy."

I'm quite impressed by way the guitars and vibes dance and float over the hard charging rhythm section. Perona pushes the band along with Healey, while his bass lines comprise another important harmonic element that intertwines with and sometimes takes the lead on the melodic structure, as on the gnarly "Scene=Change" and the powerhouse "Eraserhead" - a hit song, if only on Mars, but nonetheless a greatly enjoyable mixture of rock, jazz and time-shifting experimental styles.

Obviously, the nasty distortion of effects-laden guitars, as on the ending track "Mission Protocol," aren't going to be for everyone, but they will satisfy those looking something new and different. Algernon are to be commended, as are Ears & Eyes Records, for doing their part to ensure Chicago remains the center of the experimental jazz/ music universe. - Jazz Chicago


I don't get many albums through the door featuring a vibraphone and glockenspiel player, but that's what Katie Wiegman brings to the table on this rather intriguing release.

At a base level, Algernon are a jazz fusion outfit, led by guitarist and song writer Dave Miller. But drummer Cory Healey spends as much time pounding out a rock beat as he does playaing splashy jazz rhythms, and at times it seems as though the band are actually battling against each other.

Which is actually a good thing, as the welter of ideas being thrown around leads to some exciting music. They also give themselves time to explore the music with the tracks reaching into six and seven minute territory.

There's a lot of good stuff going on here with the spacey 'Beneath The Ailing Flesh', a particular highlight, with some intricate arrangements and moments of near atonality.

It's an adventurous album from a young band who keep you listening from start to finish.

--Stuart Hamilton (4/8/08) - Zeitgeist


Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Algernon

8 p.m. Friday at Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway; $12

Fans of new-school electro-jazz fusion should be sure to attend this modestly priced event. Having combined elements of jazz, groove, rock, classical and electronic music, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey from Tulsa, Okla., presents a style of nu-jazz often associated with groups like Norway's Jaga Jazzist. Led by multi-instrumentalist Reed Mathis, JFJO, a trio since 2000, gets heads nodding while seamlessly bobbing between genres. The concert will begin with local quintet Algernon, which draws inspiration from the jazz-tinged post-rock machinations of Tortoise, Chicago's foremost group in the genre. Using two guitars, bass, drums and a vibraphone, Algernon combines gorgeous melodies with psychedelic effects and rock beats. - Chicago Sun Times


Let's be fair here... Algernon's latest disc, Familiar
Espionage, is not a jazz disc. However, if you've
never heard or heard of Algernon before, one look at
their members will reveal to you not one, but two of
Chicago's best young jazz guitarists, in Dave Miller
and Nick Fryer. Their rhythm section of Tom Perona on
bass, Cory Healey on drums and Katie Wiegman on Vibes
provides excellent support and helps to give Algernon
a very captivating sound. And since sound and sonic
pallet seem to be a good chunk of what Algernon is
about, that's a great thing.

The end result of that captivating sonic pallet is
that Familiar Espionage feels more like a suite than a
simple collection of songs. Each song feels like it
has a distinct purpose on the album, whether it be the
welcoming bombast of "Deactivate the Motion Sensor,"
the disconcerting white noise that pops up in "Beneath
the Ailing Flesh," or the skronky dirge that really
does seem like a send off on the closing track,
"Mission Protocol."

Between the grooves, the bombast, the white noise and
the terrific writing, Algernon has come up with a
winning album. They've also seemingly hit upon
something: jazz-rock fusion in the most equitable
sense of that phrase. This isn't fusion where jazz
guys play rock instruments at rock volume, this is
jazz guys playing something that splits jazz and rock
right down the middle. As much as Familiar Espionage
might owe to the grooves on Grant Green's Alive or the
power on John Coltrane's Meditations, it also seems to
pull just as much from Tortoise's Millions Now Living
Will Never Die or My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.

Fans of acoustic jazz groups doing standards or jazz
classics will understandably be turned off. But for
jazz fans that have appreciated recent works by Craig
Taborn, Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas' Witness or Happy
Apple, you're in for quite a treat.

As a review writer for a jazz magazine and as a music
director for a jazz radio station, I get an awful lot
of CDs coming across my desk every single week. I
listen to as many as I can, wherever I have the time
or space to listen to them. So, it's pretty rare that
something stays in the CD changer too long. Familiar
Espionage has been in there for the past month.
�Nuff said? Thought so.

By: Paul Abella - Chicago Jazz Magazine


Flowers for returning musicians
By Hank Brockett

The members of Algernon won't need a map when they arrive in DeKalb.

The group, made up mostly of NIU music department grads, returns with an eclectic brand of instrumental music when they open for Family Groove Company Friday, April 25 at The House Café in DeKalb. Band member Dave Miller recently answered some of Take ONE's questions by e-mail.


HB: You mentioned that you and some of the band members have some NIU ties. Is that where the band started? How did it start? And what are everyone's connections? Does being from NIU impact your sound in any way?

DM: The band did start at NIU. I had a gig booked for a funk band that I fronted. It turns out we couldn't do the gig but I still had the date booked. I decided to use the gig as an opportunity to write some new music for a different type of band that I had been thinking about starting for a while, which turned into Algernon.

The first lineup actually did not feature anyone from NIU, but the second and current lineup, which formed in the fall of 2005, features Katie Wiegman, percussion major at NIU; Cory Healey, jazz drumset major at NIU; Tom Perona, who was not an NIU student but an old friend and Nick Fryer and myself, who were both jazz guitar majors. Now, all of us live in Chicago.

The wide variety of music that we studied, including jazz, classical, Indian, Brazilian, African and avant-garde, has definitely had a huge impact on both the compositional and performance sides to Algernon. We were all definitely exposed to lots of music we would probably have never heard otherwise.




HB: Your MySpace page describes your genre as “Neopsycedelicpostrockjazz.” When you're writing songs, does it take a while to create that wide canvas, or is it easier when anything is possible?

DM: When I write music, I do not necessarily set boundaries for myself. If I end up writing something that doesn't sound like it would be an Algernon song, I won't use it for Algernon. However, Algernon is a product of the music we as a band listen to, which is extremely wide-ranging.

The writing process kind of adheres to the concept of “you are what you eat” - we end up writing neopsychedelicpostrockjazz because we listen to all of those types of music, and more, very intensely. I try not to think about it too much and just let the music come naturally.




HB: What brought you into music, and when was the moment when you believed you could create music?

DM: I started playing guitar when I was 11. I was really into bands like Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Creating music was never something I really grew into. It was always just a natural thing. I started creating music right away.

It never really worried me if it was good or bad to other peoples' ears. It was just pure fun. As I grew older, my tastes obviously broadened, but, for some reason, I always leaned towards 'weird' sounding music. I was constantly searching for records that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. I remember freaking out the first time I heard Frank Zappa or Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Both sounded like alien music to me. I loved it. All those “weird” sound ideas I feel finally came into fruition when Algernon began.




HB: I don't mean this as an insult, but when I hear a song like "Don't Press the Red Button," I picture a very cool Sesame Street mini-montage about how something is made. Do you ever consider what mediums your songs are heard in (live vs. recorded vs. other media) or would work well in?

DM: We've heard a lot of interesting descriptions of our music but that is one of the more interesting ones! I think everyone in the band would agree that a live show is where Algernon really shines. It is hard to communicate on record the energy that we put forth on stage. On our newly released album, Familiar Espionage, we recorded all the songs, more or less, how we do them live. It worked out great, and we're really excited with the way it turned out. However, I think we're all leaning towards making a more studio-oriented record for our next album, just for a change of pace.

Being an instrumental band lends itself well to accompanying visual media. We'd jump at the chance if the opportunity arose. I have composed for film, theater and dance, and I love incorporating the visual element into composition. It's an amazing experience to see the elements come together in the final product.




HB: What can one expect at an Algernon show?

DM: Energy and emotion. We like to play loud (as long as the vibraphone is mic'd properly)! We love playing to an audience of any size. As long as they are listening and digging it, it's worth it. - The Daily Chronicle (Dekalb, IL)


Discography

Charlie Changed His Mind (full length)--Ball of Knowledge Records, 2004

Familiar Espionage (full length)--ears&eyes Records, 2007

Photos

Bio

Fostering an atmosphere that relies on composition and a large sonic palette, Algernon creates a fusion of indie rock, jazz, and classical chamber music. The effect is that of a distinctly modern band, providing musical clues to our modern landscape. In the process, Algernon engulfs the listener in an entirely different world of its own making. With combined experience in genres from jazz to hard rock, from punk to classical, the band is well equipped to deliver on the promise.

Listening to their 2004 debut album, Charlie Changed His Mind (which then 21 year old Dave Miller (Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls) conceived of in just one week), or one of the band's fiery live performances, one is run through the entire human experience: joy, sadness, passion, exhilaration. You won't walk away the same or be likely to forget what you've heard.

Fast Forward to 2007…with only two days in the studio, Algernon has now finished their new album, Familiar Espionage, direct to analog tape. This new set of music finds the band pushing the compositional aspect of their music to exhilarating new heights. Breathtaking melodies, jazz-tinged harmonies, and cacophonous noise-scapes make the new record a milestone in the career of this young group of musicians.

In short, the band can't be summed up neatly. Algernon simply rocks too hard to be considered jazz, and they play with too much finesse and sheer musical ability to be called just another rock band. Algernon doesn't simply wish to play songs: the band is here to turn your entire world upside down.