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Band Jazz Avant-garde


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"The Score by Chris Delaurenti"

The Score by Christopher Delaurenti - The Stranger - 12/13/2007

Named after the cult John Coltrane LP Sun Ship, Sunship is a quintet whose obvious instrumentation—guitar, saxophone, bass, drums, and trombone—not only fulfills but deftly flouts expectations of jazz-inflected grooves and buzz-saw saxophone wailing.

Indeed, after a stellar performance at the Chapel Performance Space last May, Sunship's visibly exhausted saxophonist Michael Monhart gushed, "I can't believe we only played four tunes!"

That exclamation surprised me, too. We might have heard 4 tunes or 40, yet it was a blessing to float adrift: Rather than fill space with extended, riff-based jams, the five musicians aboard Sunship bracketed space and silence by scattering sounds above, around, and behind the audience. While guitarist Brian Heaney casually picked out a moody, slithering riff, Stuart Dempster roved behind the crowd beaming elongated analog synth blats from his didgeridoo. Dempster crept quietly like a ninja from a kung-fu movie; sound would appear and then vanish only to rematerialize a few feet away.

Near the end, Heaney and bassist Andrew Luthringer somehow locked into a fast strumming groove; I expected a segue into the incessant high-hat lick of "It's About That Time" (or the theme from Shaft) and hard-blowing sax solo. But Dempster injected some slurred, bent notes on the trombone; the tempo accelerated, and an avalanche of gongs, bells, and other small percussion instruments led to another molten transition of chimes, quiet gasps on the saxophone, and a single concluding drum stroke.

When I asked Heaney about Sunship's return to the Chapel, he said, "We're going after the same energy." I'm glad: Sunship is one of the few groups that not only plays in a space, but plays with space.


- The Stranger

"Interview by Peter Monaghan"

Sunship interview by Peter Monaghan - Earshot Jazz - January 2007

From about 1993 to 2003, no Seattle jazz band was less true to its name than Stinkhorn. Far from smellin’ things up, the quartet wafted sweetly squalling sound that was as arresting as its namesake’s pong is in forests and gardens. (There, as the biologist says, the rapidly growing fungi are so “extremely phallic” that they “thrust botanical invasion psychology into realms best analyzed by Freud.” Whence the name of the most common variety, Phallus impudicus.) Well, Stinkhorn is no more, but in its place, soprano and tenor saxophonist Michael Monhart and electric guitarist Brian Heaney have cultivated the formidable, soaring Sunship.

Again, there is much to glean from the band’s name. Sunship was arguably John Coltrane’s announcement of his final ascent. It had a ferocious abandon that Sunship shares, but with an asterisk: The band is now a quintet, altered in various, positive ways by the presence of one of the great new-music instrumentalists, trombonist Stuart Dempster. His rich, measured contributions, which his band mates readily admit causes them frequently to pause in contemplation, have proven a boon for the post-Stinkhorn project.

Renowned internationally in avant-garde new music, the UW retiree is far from having said his last, on stage and disc. He got to know Monhart in the mid-1990s through informal duos as well as large-ensemble celebrations of the late, intergalactic jazz traveler, Sun Ra, in whose spirit they both clearly rejoice. He’s been with Sunship for a year. “He played with Stinkhorn quite a few times, at the end, too,” recalls Monhart. “He’d come in and sit in on shows.”

Once Sunship was established, “all of a sudden he said, I’ll show up for rehears-als,” says drummer David Revelli. “We were really surprised, and thrilled. Now he’s totally integrated, and into it.” All the band members clearly are de-lighted. Dumpster’s trombone, they note, fills out the group’s sound, and with Monhart’s tenor sax provides more options for voicings, and stacking harmonies.

Says Revelli: “We made a big racket as a quartet. Having Stuart reminds me to be more dynamic. If I’m bashing away, when it comes time for his solo, I’ll pull back a little. He keeps us more tempered.” Heaney, who from a mid-teens start in punk rock has drunk in all the major developments in electric-guitar playing, with no prejudice against the heavy and the metallic, agrees: “I’ve gotten away from the aggressive, loud stuff, because of that.” But don’t buy altogether his humorous self-deprecation – “I mean, does he really want to hear some jack-off wailing on electric guitar?” – Because Heaney will always wail when the time is right. But Monhart, who particularly on tenor can rasp the paint off any venue’s walls, does say: “We both shriek a little less.” He continues: “Now he’s started writing for the band. His stuff is unlike our own, but it fits well. The time signatures are mixed up, but we do a lot of that, so it really fits our style.”

And, says Heaney, “he also brings such playfulness to the improvisation, and that changes the color or the mood of our improvisations. Playfulness wasn’t something we did much.”

Monhart and Dempster clearly share an interest in rarified aspects of music and aesthetics. Before coming to Seattle in 1980, Monhart studied at the Buddhist-infused Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado (home to such distinctive divisions as the Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics). He was studying music there with drummer Jerry Granelli, working with him in a band that backed poets like Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlowski. When Granelli moved to Seattle, to work at Cornish, he suggested that Monhart continue to working with him here, and with a certain bassist named Gary Peacock, who was already a crucial figure nationally, in free jazz, and who since soon after that time has been a third of Keith Jarrett’s top-flight trio.

In 1987, Monhart moved to Japan and studied Tibetan chant, as part of his graduate studies in ethnomusicology at the UW. It was, in fact, a year of participatory research, as he lived in temples, as a Buddhist monk, just as he had spent 18 months as a young man in a Trappist monastery in this country.

Stinkhorn was among various projects he maintained for several years, here. By about 2002, “it was inactive,” he diplomatically says.

Heaney is more forthright: “We played 10 years together and it was not as fun, and if you don’t have gigs to play, it just gets old. Dave and [bassist] Andrew [Luthringer] came over, and at first it was like Stinkhorn with a different rhythm section. We didn’t approach it any differently. We played Stinkhorn heads, etc., because we shared so many interests.” By now, says Monhart, “we’re at the point where we’re writing stuff that is really our own.” Their range and imagination are royally announced on the EP, Sunship, which is most easily acquired simply by going to - Earshot Jazz

"Dempster Diving by Bill Barton"

The day's diving concluded with a relatively brief but energetic set by Sunship. As one might gather from the group's name, the continuum of jazz slash avant-garde slash new music is their milieu. The program notes mentioned Sun Ra, John Coltrane, James “Blood” Ulmer and Nels Cline as reference points; I'd add Ornette Coleman's Prime Time and Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society to that list.

Saxophonist Michael Monhart and guitarist Brian Heaney (who were colleagues in Stinkhorn); drummer David Revelli, electric bassist Andrew Luthringer and the Sound Gatherer himself on trombone, conch shells, didgeridoo and “little instruments” comprise the group. As Dempster said in his introduction, “it's the 11th or 12th inning but we're still tied let's get untied.”

And get untied they did, not to mention unwound. There's a hortatory surging directness to their music. The second segment had an excellent tenor saxophone solo from Monhart, followed by Dempster playing the conch shell most engagingly. Heaney's solo led to a bass/drums segue back to the theme. Then Dempster started circulating through the crowd with his didg, spreading atavistic vibrations, a cyclic connection between the Dreamtime and the here-and-now.

Eventually he returned to the trombone and continued moving through the audience as he played, taking full advantage of the Great Hall's wonderful acoustics, culminating in a glowingly romantic full chorus of “My Funny Valentine” directed (I believe) to his wife. His nonpareil tone and spot-on intonation sang most eloquently of love and life. This touching vignette provided a fitting denouement for this generous “Happening,” this long afternoon filled with music, sound, color, light, spirit, soul and humor.

- All About Jazz

"Signal to Noise CD Review by Tom Djll"

Sunship- Sunship Music CD-R

From the ashes of the late Seattle band Stinkhorn rises Sunship, a solid post-fusion outfit that draws directly on some of the top-shelf jazz of the seventies: electric Miles, Ornette’s Prime Time, Sonny Sharrock, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Though it seems to be a co-op effort, saxophonist Michael Monhart contributes most of the compositions here, the first of which, “Spotless Pots,” takes cues from dirges like “Alabama” and “Lonely Woman.” Monhart’s tenor and Stuart Dempster’s trombone make a lovely sound together, limning this hymn of downtrodden-ness. “Moonlight” strikes a similar mood with its mournful melody, backed this time with dissonant, droning shades straight out of the Get Up with It playbook. Guitarist Brian Heaney contributes two tunes, “Psalm X,” which would seem to pay homage (in title, anyway) to O.C., but which rolls and roars more like Ornette’s disciple Shannon Jackson and his Decoding Society. Dave Revelli’s drums and Andrew Luthringer’s e-bass weave a richly textured polyrhythmic carpet (awesomely recorded by Doug Haire). Trickster Dempster lays out, except for the heads and a short squeaky-toy solo, a little off-mic—which may be just as well. Heaney’s other piece, “Ufology,” peels back your scalp and prods some burning alien implants into your cranium … too bad it all ends so soon! The album closes with another dirge, this one improvised---the tightest of the three improves on the disc. While it may not transcend it’s influence’s, this Sunship flies high and burns brightly on it’s maiden voyage. Tom Dill
Signal To Noise—Spring/2008 issue. - Signal to Noise- spring 2008

"Sea of Tranquility CD review by Richard Barnes"

Sunship: Sunship

Not to be confused with the club outfit of the same name or the early 70s Jazz band the Sunship Ensemble, this Sunship features jazz saxophonist Michael Monhart and guitarist Brian Heaney from the band Stinkhorn along with drummer David Revelli from the Grassy Knoll and Andrew Luthringer on bass. Trombonist Stuart Dempster from the world of classical and jazz music also contributes to this disk. The 6 tracks include both improvised and composed pieces and the album as a whole showcases a group of experienced and skilled musicians setting out to be fresh and innovative with their music. The opening 14 minute improvisation features a languorous sax, trombone and keyboard partnership with occasional interactions between a set of loose open guitar notes and a smattering of percussion. The overall effect is mysterious and eloquent with a fine sax solo raising the tempo near the close.

The band cite influences including Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane (from where, in his 1965 album, the band take their name) as well as James Blood Ulmer and Nels Cline. Some of Coleman’s wilder elements are highlighted in “Psalm X” where the trombone and sax swap places in a percussion rich background creating a schizophrenic image of nervous energy. The lamenting “Moonlight” sees a return to the mood of the opening improvisation with a guitar, bass and sax arrangement to the fore and shimmering clouds of muted trombone shading the backdrop. Some of Miles’ Bitches Brew influence may be seen in the chaotic instrumental fleapit which makes up the latter third of the work, while the whole piece concludes with a honking argument between sax and ‘bone. “New Africa” is a dirge which drags its percussive feet like a New Orleans funeral with a mournful muted trombone the highlight of the song.

After such restrained works, “Ufology” hits you like a steamhammer. Trombone and Sax together blaze away on the same melody (I think for the first time – most of the time they are at counterpoint or exchange positions). They soon split up though to adopt their juxtaposed blasts over an intense drum and bass conflagration. A short but breathless 3 and a half minutes including a drum solo which leaves you, and maybe them, with mad staring eyes! The final improvised number returns to the melancholy introspective formula of the opener.

An impressive avant-garde jazz fusion offering from 5 highly respected and accomplished musicians.

Track Listing
1. Spotless pots
2. Psalm X
3. Moonlight
4. New Africa
5. Ufology
6. Improv

Added: March 4th 2008
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: Band's My Space Page
Hits: 63
Language: english

- Sea of Tranquility web site


We have two Ep's one as a quartet and one with Stuart. We have recieved airplay on kexp,kcbs and wnur.



Members from the seattle band Stinkhorn, The Grassy Knoll and Bay Area musicians form Sunship in 2004. Joined by renowned trombonist Stuart Dempster in 2005. Sunship has performed in the Seattle area clubs and 2006,2007 Earshot jazz festivals and Sounds Outside.