Guitarist Tim Motzer was trying to make his way offstage at a club in Zurich, Switzerland, weaving through a crowd of people after a 2008 gig with hip-hop and spoken word artist Ursula Rucker, when a persistent voice kept calling his name. “Finally, somebody grabbed the back of my shirt,” Motzer recalls.
Motzer turned and found an enthusiastic audience member whom he didn’t immediately recognize, still intent on relaxing backstage. As it turned out, the man complimenting his guitar playing was not just any fan, but jazz guitar great Kurt Rosenwinkel. The two axemen quickly formed a friendship and spent the next several years discussing the possibility of a project together.
Those conversations eventually took them into a Brooklyn studio, where they recorded the self-titled debut of Bandit 65, their new trio with drummer Gintas Janusonis (who was also on that gig in Switzerland). The three will reform for their first ever live show on tonight at Underground Arts with visuals by Motzer’s longtime collaborator, multi-media artist Dejha Ti.
Writing via email, Rosenwinkel calls Bandit 65 “a free improvisational experimental soundscape multidimensional textural psychedelic groove monster… with soul!” That about captures the range of mesmerizing sonic territory covered by the album’s half-dozen lengthy excursions, culled from nearly six hours of music recorded in that one day’s session. The music varies from the album’s most jazz-like track, the fusion haze of opener “Ever the Horizon,” to the dub-accented psychedelic haze of “The Cycle,” through the evocative, sinuous 17-minute “Lost Temple” and the wall of sheer noise that envelopes “Racing the Precipice.”
The trio may come as a surprise to fans of Rosenwinkel’s sleeker, tighter jazz playing. (He’ll be in more familiar territory the following night, when he guests with Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band at World Café Live. According to Motzer, “Kurt has a massive jazz audience and we’ll certainly be getting into that kind of thing, but I think we’ll be exploring some other realms as well.”
Exploring multiple realms is familiar territory for Motzer, whose restless imagination and inventive guitar playing takes him from electronic soundscapes to sharp-edged hip-hop and raucous jazz-funk, among various others. He also regularly collaborates with dancers and choreographers at the University of the Arts.
Bandit 65 is named for Rosenwinkel’s first guitar amp, a model that many young guitarists have started making noise with, if the feedback that Motzer has been getting to the name is any indication. Both guitarists have come a long way with their equipment since then, which is reflected in the album’s vast and eclectic sonic palette. “When we first got together we laughed because we had so many pedals,” Motzer says. “I’ve always been way into sonics and sound and lots of pedals and guitar synthesizers as the fabric of the music I make, and Kurt’s totally the same. It was just a way of exploring together as two guitar players.”
Though based in Berlin for the last decade, Rosenwinkel is a Philly native and a graduate of the famous CAPA class that also produced Christian McBride, Joey DeFrancesco, and members of The Roots. Motzer has called the city home since the mid-1980s and says that connection helped forge the bond represented by Bandit 65.
“Philly is so strong,” he says. “There’s a buzz here, a resonance. If you’re from here or live here and take place in the arts scene, there’s a struggle involved to get people out and to work, but there’s a lifeblood here and I think Kurt and I share that.”
The audience at tonight’s show will be the first to hear Bandit 65 and will also have the first opportunity to take the music home. The trio’s album will be available that night for presale, with buyers taking home a digital download to be followed by physical CDs a few weeks later. Not that what they hear live that night will exactly resemble what ended up on the album, as the band is focused on free, in-the-moment improvisation.
“We just set up, start playing playing, we have ashared vocabulary and it just comes out,” Motzer says. “We’re really looking forward to Tuesday because it’s a chance to play some new music together and find some new stuff. It’s pretty exciting.”
Bandit 65 performs tonight at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill Street, at 8 p.m. Tickets to the 21+ show are $7 and available here.Bandit 65, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Motzer