When guitarist Anthony Pirog organized a 22-piece performance of Terry Riley’s “In C” for DC’s Sonic Circuits Festival last year, he created a sensation in the local media. A media sensation, however, doesn’t always translate to a large audience: Seven people were on hand for Pirog’s trio performance at Twins Jazz on Wednesday night. (This wasn’t necessarily a reflection on Pirog; across town, the popular jazz club HR-57 was paying tribute to the much-beloved, recently deceased local drummer Junebug Jackson.) That gaggle of curious listeners on hand at Twins witnessed a unique, experimental musical concept that might best be described as “jazz/indie-rock fusion.”
The format of the group was nothing new: a trio of guitar (Pirog), bass (Mark Foster) and drums (Larry Ferguson). Ferguson, a veteran of the Army band Pershing’s Own, wielded a standard drum kit; that, however, was where convention ended. Foster brandished a six-string, fretless electric bass, while Pirog augmented his electric guitar with a small army of effects pedals. Together, they launched into a set of mostly Pirog originals, frequently unnamed but mostly characterized by the distorted guitar and slow, heavy drumming associated with post-rock bands such as Slint and Bedhead.
Much of it was creatively imagined and impressively executed. Pirog’s tune “Salt Sea” surprisingly meshed that trudging rhythm and overdriven timbre with folk elements, including major chord progressions and guitar harmonics. Foster added another layer of intrigue with a fluid, slide-guitar-like bass solo that evoked Jaco Pastorius—the patron saint of fusion bassists. Elsewhere, the trio gave a novel spin to Thelonious Monk’s jazz standard “Misterioso.” Foster gave it a fairly straight foundation, including a string of tried-and-true bebop devices in his solo, while Pirog treated it as a blues-rock jam with virtual buckets of amplified reverb and bent notes; occasionally, his phrasing channeled Jimi Hendrix and his jazz-based disciple, John McLaughlin. Ferguson split the difference, constructing a hard-swinging matrix with a hefty rock crunch, down to the extra power he thumped into the backbeat.
Not everything in the set, however, was so effective. Its penultimate tune, “Ra,” was another swinger, with effects-drenched guitar and a confident walking bass. While the tune was expertly played and got the basic ingredients correct, taken as a whole it resembled nothing so much as “Jazz Odyssey”—the shambolic fusion piece that the titular band performs at its lowest point in the film “This Is Spinal Tap.”