At first listen, A>S>H>S could easily come off as a stereotypical jam band. But to dismiss the group as just another one of the crop of bands spawned by Medeski, Martin, and Wood would be a mistake. Where MMW and similar groups sometimes fail to maintain a steady concept throughout their albums, the Houston-based jazz ensemble A>S>H>S (pronounced “ashes”) takes experimentation and improvisation to another level.
The opening “Kleen” begins with a “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”-like, synth-laden intro that quickly moves into the band's trademark playing, interspersed with repetitive samples about testing an atomic bomb. This twelve-minute song is the perfect introduction to the group: its immaculate beats, subdued keyboards, and moody, sometimes punchy saxophone showcase each member's talents well. Similarly, “Corpus Raton” flows with melodic precision, and its eerie samples (”Choice is an illusion,” for instance) offer fair warning that A>S>H>S is not an ordinary jazz group.
The unexpected hilarious snippets of Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Vacation (”Excuse me, Holmes...”) on “Nova” show that the band doesn't have to take itself too seriously in order to create good music. The song's tribal rhythms, along with its smooth sax and '70s-style keys create a dynamic, driving force.
It is immediately obvious that this band is in its ideal element in live performance—it's infamous for downtown Houston warehouse parties—but its music translates well on record. Audible Stellar Hyponotic Situations also includes two in-studio improv tracks, ”Situation 1” and “Situation 2,” which drive the point home. Both songs, recorded in 2004 at Houston's legendary Sugarhill Studios, are indicative of these players' penchant for letting the music speak through their instruments, yet they never meander too far.
And this is their strongest feature: the fact they can weave elements of jazz with hints of funk, hip-hop and classic rock, but still maintain cohesiveness throughout. Pulling this off would be a challenge for most bands, yet A>S>H>S makes it seamless and nearly effortless.
David A. Cobb - Allaboutjazz.com
A>S>H>S's music sounds like a downtown street, one where the rich and poor mingle, and gleaming glass buildings sit on top of filthy parking garages. It's jazz created in the underground, informed by hip-hop and any sound that has ever been produced with an electrical current.
Sara Cress -Houston Chronicle
Based in Houston, Texas., this jazz-fusion sextet pursues an android-like sound. Featuring Joseph Berryman’s wah-wah/echo-laden sax licks, ethereal keys, revved up rhythms and space groove stylizations, the band also injects hi-tech hip hop into the grand mix. Fortunately, they move forward with a detectable sense of good-cheer. Therefore, this outing does not fall into that stigmatized electronics debacle where processes are over-utilized, often equating to digital slop.
It’s a fun listen indeed. And it’s an album that reveals subliminal nuances and textures upon additional spins. Sure, they cross various genres, yet successfully merge these elements into a cohesive, group sound. Marked by toe-tapping rhythms, vivacious soloing and electronically altered spoken word, the band unveils a potpourri of interesting concepts, and applications. Conga performer Xavier Gonzalez adds a world-beat edge to round out this action-packed endeavor, enhanced by the musicians’ witty maneuvers. With that notion in mind, the group morphs a sense of antiquity -- partly due to Chad Hilger’s Moog-based lines – with a nouveau mindset that looms rather large.
– Glenn Astarita - ejazznews.com
Jason Williams: Drums, Percussion, Programming, Synths, Producer
Scott Nichols: Bass Guitar
Xavier Gonzales: Congas, Aux Percussion
Christopher "BezerK" Karl: Turntables
Joseph Berryman: Tenor Saxophone
Chad Hilger: Keyboards
(Audible Stellar Hypnotic Situations)
There are two things you should know about A>S>H>S: it's a philosophy that combines the latest in technology and instrumentation to create consuming rhythmic environments; and it's the real deal—not some gimmicky, genre-enslaved crowd chaser.
A>S>H>S sprang from two musicians experimenting with drum and bass over recorded loops and exploded into a scion of the urban underground rave party scene, throwing illegal parties with Spiral Tribe (infamous techno nomads in Europe) and building their own reputation out of a 12,000 square foot warehouse in the Houston area. Their now-legendary events there were deemed "a hotbed of alternative entertainment" by member of the local press.
"We're not hippies or college kids trying emulate the rave/party culture," says Jason Williams, who in addition to being the group's drummer also handles aux percussion, serves as producer and develops visuals. "We've come from, have digested and are already leaving that behind."
Williams' bandmates are Scott Nichols on bass guitar; Zavier "Jay" Gonzales on congas and alt persussion; Christopher "Berserk" Karl, the group's turntablist who also contributes to visuals and design; Joseph Berryman on tenor saxophone, and Chad Hilger on keyboards.
He says that A>S>H>S art is evolving to the "next level beyond emulating a rave with live instruments and laptops." The five-year plan is to create "full-blown multimedia environments"—the first experiment will be in Houston and will incorporate live music with live lights, laser, visuals and dance.
David Cobb of allaboutjazz.com said A>S>H>S has a "penchant for letting the music speak through their instruments… they can weave elements of jazz with hints of funk, hip-hop and classic rock, but still maintain cohesiveness throughout. Pulling this off would be a challenge for most bands, yet A>S>H>S makes it seamless and nearly effortless."
A>S>H>S expects to leave its audiences spellbound. "We want them to be excited; to realize that they weren't aware that sounds and environments existed like that," Gonzales said. "They're happy to hear something totally new and refreshing, and they're smiling because they've been grooving and jamming all night."
"A>S>H>S's music sounds like a downtown street, one where the rich and poor mingle, and gleaming glass buildings sit on top of filthy parking garages," wrote Sara Cress of the Houston Chronicle. "It's jazz created in the underground, informed by hip-hop and any sound that has ever been produced with an electrical current."
The band is in the final stages of producing a new debut CD that will carry the essence of this sensory experiment to listeners worldwide. Considering A>S>H>S' talent for taking a space and expanding it—and the minds within—it's likely that it will be bringing its unique artistry to cities everywhere soon after.
An excellent way to wrap your mind around the A>S>H>S experience is to visit its website at www.ashs.us for news, information and music.