Buddha's Belly
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Buddha's Belly

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The best kept secret in music

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"Buddha's Belly, Skybar, Somerville MA - 4/17"

When I showed up at the Skybar in Somerville MA, a very small venue virtually empty on this beautiful Saturday evening, the Bruins were tied 1-1 with Montreal in game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Watching the game at the bar occupied my time before Buddha's Belly, a Chicago based blues/rock/jazz band, set up their equipment on stage and started their set. The Skybar is a great place to see a lesser known band on the rise; it appeared that the bulk of the tiny crowd had randomly ended up here without foreknowledge of Buddha's Belly and their music. Only a few people placed themselves before the stage as the music started, most of the people in the joint were content to stay at the bar.

There are only four members of the band, Evan Cobb on tenor sax, Dan Golden on guitar and the majority of the vocals, Pete Wojtowicz on Bass and Jason Hanggi on drums. Don't let the smallness of the band mislead you into thinking that their sound is simple; the first song made it clear that the compositions are complex mind bending proactive pieces that exercise the listener's ability to separate lucidity from music. There were no vocals in this song; it was mostly devoted to a lead riff played by the sax over a thumping bass line and crunchy guitar power chords. The guitar then melded with the sax for a dual textured solo and a slap bass solo ended the song. An aberrantly funky guitar and bass amalgam appeared out of nowhere to start the second song. A screaming sax solo and throbbing drumbeat maintained the hysteric atmosphere as the guitar dipped a little into the surreal with some underwater effects.

Following this, the band threw us a changeup by breaking into a cover of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." It was played exactly like the original except a sax line replaced Eddie Vedder and his lyrics. While this song was an interruption from the frantic spirit of the other songs, it was very tight and well performed. This also gave me a chance to swing my head around to the bar and check on the Bruins. They were losing of course. The dejected feelings I felt toward the Bruins were wiped away with the onslaught of the next piece. A slow, vocal driven intro paved the way for a high energy bass and sax composite solo. The middle part of the song was the climax of the entire show; a boisterous and absonant crescendo shifted the song into high gear before it quickly slowed down into a compact reggae section. The small crowd and the people at the bar cheered loudly during this impetuous but effective permutation from fast to slow.

Incubus's "AntiGravity Love Song" was next. This was another cover where the band stayed true to the original, but this time had a guest vocalist to sing the lyrics. As "AntiGravity" wound down, the intimate character of the venue caused Evan to ask the audience to come closer to the stage. The band proceeded with an accelerated ho-down type song that brought the level of intensity in the room up a notch. The first part of this song was very fast, standard and vocal oriented, but the second part let the musicians take off the gloves in an explosion of solos and haphazardly improvised bits of music. A berserk drum solo underneath all of this ended the last song of the set.

As the band was removing their equipment from the stage, I glanced at the television over the bar to find that Montreal had forced a game 7 with a 5-2 win. The feelings of discouragement and frustration returned, but not for long. After a little thinking, I realized that I would rather experience a small show of a talented band such as Buddha's Belly than experience a win from one of my favorite sports teams any day. (And hey, the Sox beat the Yanks earlier in the day, so it's not all bad.) Buddha's Belly is certainly a band to check out if you like piquant music of an experimental nature. The best way to describe them is that for a jazz band, they play a lot of rock and for a rock band; they play a lot of jazz.
- Jambands.com


"BUDDHA'S BELLY AT THE CUBBY BEAR"

Like Gatsby’s green light, the lawn gnome shown like a beacon of musical hope as fans awaited Buddha's Belly on Saturday night. Fresh off a successful seven-city East Coast tour, including a headlining show at the Elbow Room in New York City, Buddha’s Belly was welcomed home by an enthusiastic Chicago crowd on April 18th at the Cubby Bear, sharing the bill with Urban Funk Ordinance.

A synthesis of musical influences, the Belly’s sound is an eclectic blend of rock, jazz, and funk. The band features Evan Cobb on the saxophone and oboe, Eric Miller on the trombone, Daniel Golden on the guitar and vocals, Pete Wojtowicz on the bass and Jason Hanggi on the drums. Their improvisational style has created quite a stir in the jamband scene, but the Belly appeals to jam, rock, and jazz fans alike.

While the warm up was slow, the wait was well worth it when the band finally took off around 10pm. After cruising through “Moon Rush” and “Pablo’s Red Wagon,” the Belly launched into a raucous cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City,” proving that they rock as much as they jam. Segueing into their own “Mrs. Ogynist,” guitarist Dan Golden led the crowd in a resounding cry of “bow wow wow, yippee yo yippee yay.”

The Belly really showed its unity, depth, and improvisation skills on the crowd-favorite “OSUB.” The melodic intro and chorus of this harmonically complex original showed the technical skill of each musician. Wojtowicz’s slapping solo on the bass set the pace and energy for the rest of the tune. It was during Hanggi’s extended drum solo, however, that the song reached its peak. The highlight came at the end of the drum feature when Hanggi counted the band back in through a series of improvised, synchronized beats hits. The crescendo of tension and anticipation reverberated throughout the band and the audience, rousing the entire club to its feet.

Building on this climactic energy, Buddha’s Belly reprised an old band favorite, “Preacher Man,” with a guest appearance by vocalist Caitlin McKechney singing lead. Rounding out this diverse set was a fresh vision of the old jazz standard “My Favorite Things” in a new groove arranged by trombonist Eric Miller. With lyrical sensitivity and stylistic range, Miller and Cobb, on tenor, both impressed on solo features. If you enjoy diversity, skill, and contagious enthusiasm you have to check out Buddha’s Belly.

The year 2003 has been the Belly’s best yet with a variety of new music, a tighter sound, and a growing fan base. From the February 1st headliner at Chicago's House of Blues, to sold-out shows at Nevin's Live in Evanston, and highly praised performances at the King Club in Madison, Wisconsin, Buddha’s Belly is making waves across the Midwest, and beyond. The Belly has shared the stage with top acts from across the country, including Umphrey's McGee and Ray's Music Exchange. Look for Buddha’s Belly to appear with Psychedelic Breakfast, ulu, and more in Madison on April 26th at 12:30pm at the WSUM Party in the Park Festival in James Madison Park. Locally, the Belly will headline the Lakeview Mayfest on May 16th at 8pm, as well as the Deutsche Autofest 2003 in Springfield. Check out www.thebelly.net for the summer tour schedule. - Jambase.com


"Buddha's Belly at the Bottom Lounge"

On Friday night I headed over to the Bottom Lounge, formerly know as Lakeview Links, over in Wrigleyville to catch the Chicago based funksters, Buddha's Belly. I had never been to Bottom Lounge & hadn't looked up the address, so it took a little longer than it should have to find the spot. I arrived around 10:00 & had a quick look around the venue. As you walk in, you see a large bar right in front of you & a couple of Golden Tee machines to the left. Just before you get to the bar there is a doorway to the right that opens up into another room about the same size as the previous. Inside this room (which probably holds about 300 people packed) was a decent-sized stage & several tables. I situated myself at one of the tables nearest the stage & prepared for the music to come. I was not too familiar with the music of Buddha's Belly, having only heard their studio release, "Wake Up Ugly", so i was excited to hear how the tunes would translate to the stage. I would have to wait a little while longer, however, for there was an opening band.


After a little time for setup, Buddha's Belly took the stage around 11:30 and started off with what I would describe as jazz and rock-based funk, reminicent of the New Orlean's sound made famous in the jam scene by the likes of Galactic and The Greyboy Allstars. The quintet consists of: Evan Cobb on the saxophone, Eric Miller on the trombone, Daniel Golden on guitar and vocals, Pete Wojtowicz on bass and Jason Hanggi on the drums. Jason and Pete definitely hold down a nice rhythm section filled with ass-shakingly funky grooves, while Dan creates interesting textures and fills with a more rhythm based guitar method. The brass section really holds the Belly's sound together, giving their songs a very distinctive and full sonic landscape.

After the first two numbers, the boys played "Mom, Where's the Honey?". I was enjoying the first familiar song of the night, when they unexpectedly segued into "Jeremy", by Pearl Jam. There were no lyrics until the ending "hoo hoo hooh hoo" section, but the horns did a great job of conveying the eerie vocal parts that you can probably hear Eddie Vedder sing in your head as you read. After finishing up the familiar cover, the Belly floated seemlessly back into "Mom, Where's the Honey". The band took a moment to wish a friend a happy birthday and then started "Trance for Sir Fancy Pants". This track had a slightly different sound, which included a dark, metal-funk feel that really took the show to a different level for me. After what I would consider a pretty serious number, the guys lightened up a little and introduced themselves as Jessie Spano, Screech Powers, AC Slater & Zach Morris. This introduction was followed by a hilarious rendition of the "Saved by the Bell" theme song and the original tune, "O.S.U.B." to finish up the set. O.S.U.B. was a great closer, complete with a slappy bass solo, an extended drum section, and a totally rock & roll ending. All in all, I was really impressed with the set played by Buddha's Belly and am anxious to see what the future holds for these talented individuals. - RevolutionsLive.com


Discography

Waking Up Ugly (March 2001)
Live 2002 (April 2002)
Live 2003 (Sep 2003)
The Governator (March 2004)
Live At Mississippi Nights (August 2004)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Filthy grooves. Freakish songforms. Unabashed virtuosity. Combining influences and studies in jazz, rock, classical, and world musics, Buddha’s Belly creates a unique form of entertainment: Crime Jazz. Rock fans headbang. Funk fanatics get down. And jazz enthusiasts are blown away by the mind-teasing, ear-pleasing experience of Buddha’s Belly. Although they don’t sound like a typical rock, jazz, or jam band, all of these scenes welcome the Belly due to their strong improvisation skills, astounding stage presence, and catchy melodies. The Belly's humble roots—playing at frat parties and college dive bars—ensure that they can entertain any type of crowd with unexpected covers and explosive energy.

Born in the dorm rooms of Northwestern University in the fall of 2000, the band has quickly transformed from a college band into a top regional act—and is fast breaking into the national scene. 2003 was a breakout year for Buddha’s Belly as they played over 70 shows, expanding their Midwest fan base and touring to the East and West coasts. Buddha’s Belly has shared the stage with a wide array of bands, including Umphrey's McGee, the Virginia Coalition, ulu, and Rachael Yamagata. They've also headlined shows at Chicago's House of Blues, New York's Elbow Room and festivals across the Midwest.

The talented quartet features New Jersey’s own Evan Cobb with sensitive melodies and ferocious solos on tenor saxophone. From Washington State, Dan Golden adds tight rhythms and infectious riffs on the guitar and provides pointed vocals. On bass guitar stage left is Chicago native Pete Wojtowicz—the man who only dances from below the belt—thumping and bumping a dynamic display of bass lines. Atlanta’s Jason Hanggi rounds things out on the drum set with driving beats and maddening grooves.

Buddha’s Belly recorded their debut album “Waking Up Ugly” in December of 2001, and quickly made a splash in the Chicago music scene through independent sales. Ever since, they've continued refining a distinct sound. Their latest effort, “The Governator,” coming in spring 2004, showcases their progress as musicians and songwriters. The new EP encapsulates a blend of funk, rock and improvisation—a.k.a. Crime Jazz—into an experience any listener won’t soon forget. Adding to the mix are two tracks featuring Johnny Showtime, Liquid Soul's Grammy-nominated trombonist. Aside from these two studio projects, Buddha’s Belly has sold and distributed thousands of copies of their live album series—appropriately titled “Live 2002” and “Live 2003.”

Rarely can an audience member place Buddha’s Belly in a particular genre. However, smiling faces and groovin' feet on dance floors across the country show that Crime Jazz entertains from head to toe. Look for Buddha’s Belly as they tour extensively through 2005 in support of “The Governator.”