What Gems, Plural

A four-piece Keirkegaard could love
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 9, 2014



You know those people predicting Bayside/East Bayside are the new Congress Street (which was the new Old Port)? Maybe the existence of Bunker Brewing, a nano-brewery and event space on Anderson Street, doesn’t prove them right, but it’s a solid addition to the Bayside Bowl-Portland & Rochester-Mayo Street Arts constellation.

(BTW, the Sahara Club may be a private club for recovering alcoholics, but they do have an open mic for sober musicians on the first Saturday of every month. Given all this, Bubba’s looks like the vanguard of a movement if you squint a bit.)

Anyway, Bunker this Friday is where you’ll find Jaw Gems, maybe the most intellectually satisfying band in Portland, releasing their first full-length album, the 13-song Blades Plural. Perhaps that classification is counterintuitive for a band with few lyrics, but the quartet forces you to fill in the blanks, to consider what else.

It’s not simply their non-traditional arrangement, with no guitars and multiple keyboards and synthesizers, but also their composition, where there is so much repetition and so many layered phrases that you don’t even consider verses or choruses. There are waves coming at you, but no distinct melody. Jaw Gems is the ultimate jam band, as you can completely lose yourself in their works.

Ultimately, they’re absurdist, keeping you searching for meaning as they exercise absolute freedom to go wherever their whims lead. Ahmad Hassan Muhammad will hold a note on the Wurlitzer for two full bars. Drummer DJ Moore might use only a kick drum and a sample pad on some tunes, but then control the melody with a full kit on “Pitch Bend,” presenting a smoothly flowing contrast to the halting Muhammad on Wurlitzer, jagged and clipped. Tyler Quist is mentioned by musicians in hushed tones and with good reason: it wouldn’t be weird for him to be playing two keyboards, triggering sounds with his feet and blowing through a vocoder all at the same time.

And Andrew Scherzer — just listen to the way he fills a song with bass in “Akai Floss.” As a recurring rift bubbles up like carbonation, he hops from the slippery top of one bubble to another, like a Plinko disc falling through pegs. He’s at a gallop in “Blonde Face,” riding right alongside Moore’s insistent nail gun of a rhythm.

They share qualities with Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet, but because it’s not all programmed (Jaw Gems will capture a line, loop it, then play another line over it), they possess more elasticity. It’s jazz and it’s hip hop, particularly in “Young Pulp,” but it’s really neither of those things, like Jamiroquai on peyote.

Of course, psychedelics aren’t for everyone, but if you’re into having your mind expanded just a bit, Jaw Gems will fit the bill.

BLADES PLURAL | Released by Jaw Gems | with Endless Caverns + Contrapposto + Altered Gee | at Bunker Brewing, in Portland | May 9 | jawgems.bandcamp.com

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