You might think that Spencer Katzman’s resume, which includes accompanying singing, dancing buildings and sword-swallowers, selling out shows across the country with a ska band, exploring micro-tonal chamber music, playing marches, waltzes, and mazurkas with a mandolin orchestra, serving as musical director for an 8 piece soul band, and plenty of rocking and rolling makes for an excellent lead-in for a bio. It doesn’t. We haven’t said a thing that leads you to imagine what 5 Is the New 3, the debut recording by the Spencer Katzman Threeo, sounds like.
Or maybe we did. This improvisational mash-up of jazz sensibilities, odd-timed grooves, Indian and Brazilian rhythms, and indie-rock energy might well be the logical summation of the influences Spencer picked up from a diverse gig calendar and a musical curiosity stoked by his tenure as a college DJ. We might do better trying to come up with the prerequisite comparisons (Bill Frisell meets the Velvet Underground? The Bad Plus vs. the White Stripes?) but in the end, that leaves just as many gaps in the story.
In a handful of highlights and a nod to his radio roots, 5 Is the New 3 features inventive reinterpretations of indie standards “The King of Carrot Flowers” by Neutral Milk Hotel and “Emma J” by Brendan Benson – using their classic singalong melodies as a springboard for spirited group interplay. The original compositions, including the tabla-driven tribute to Brooklyn neighborhood “Clinton Hill” and the swinging yet off-kilter mood piece “Guiding Light” (inspired by late guitar hero Danny Gatton’s cameo appearance on the TV soap), are equally engaging.
The Threeo is filled out by two friends and fellow musical free spirits: Dave “Sharmaji” Sharma (drums) and Keith Witty (bass). Dave is a fellow veteran of the ska and dingy rock club scene and also has a tenure on Broadway under his belt as well as a growing reputation as a producer both in the studio and as part of the Subswara collective. Keith, a student of bass legend John Pattituci, is quickly becoming one of the most in-demand musicians in New York (as recent gigs with David S. Ware, Guillermo Brown, and Mat Maneri will attest) and Spencer is glad he had the good sense to book him several months in advance for the recording session.
Spencer has honed his craft in private study and master classes with heavyweights such as Bill Frisell, Steve Coleman, Jim Campilongo, and David Fiuczynski as well as time spent on stage and in the studio alongside internationally renowned talent such as Bang on a Can, members of the English Beat and Skatalites, Judith Malina, Corn Mo, Grammy winning producer Pete Keusch, and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus to name but a few (and omit far too many). In addition to writing music for and leading his Threeo, he regularly performs with ska juggernaut Bigger Thomas, indie-soul artist Dexter Myers, accordion impresario Benjamin Ickies, OBIE winning off-off Broadway production troupe Peculiar Works, and an array of singer-songwriters, jazz combos, and musical chameleons he is proud to call his friends.