Sound Tribe Sector Nine is a pioneering 5-piece band that dives into thought provoking musical journeys with unpredictable improvisation and group interplay. While people like to put labels and categories on fresh new types of music, this bands ability to seamlessly blend Jazz, Ambient, Rock and Dance music subgenres such as Drum ‘N Bass and Organica makes them extremely hard to classify. They mix the earthy grooves of soul jazz with elements of free jazz, fusion, and even big band/swing. Their songs are set in the sounds of dance and experimental art rock, with thematic overtones of ambient, techno tribal, and progressive electronic. Their jams are known to evolve into living organisms that transcend time and space.
Sector Nine closed out the first night of the High Sierra Music Festival (Quincy, CA) with a legendary performance. Within the limits of a one set show, the band delivered a well-balanced look into their current musical world. This was the perfect journey for those vaguely familiar or unacquainted with the band’s music. For those familiar with the songs, it was a brilliantly constructed set list that had us on the edge of our seats.
The main stage performance was a treat because it was an opportunity to see them outside in the middle of a fresh pine forest under a star-filled sky. There was plenty of room for everyone to gather with their friends and dance. The bands music has so many layers and nuisances that could be appreciated at new levels when heard on an arena-rock sound system. It was a vibrant feeling to see the music ripple out from the stage through the audience into nature and beyond, without the usual walls that contain us inside a club or bar.
The announcer asked for us to take a moment of silence in light of everything that had happened in the world since last year’s performance. It was a moment to reflect, meditate, and listen to the natural world around us. This refreshing moment seemed to linger on until she spoke once more, "Brothers and sisters, Sound Tribe Sector Nine." The understatement of the band’s introduction was grand.
The band opened with the experimental dance number MOON SOCKETS, one of their biggest hits from their debut album. This move a bold move because this song is often the meat of a second set show. This version began with weird science fiction effects that led to the usual fluttering cricket sounds. The stage was radiating and you could see the excitement in the band. When drummer Zach Velmer kicked in with the rolling dance beat the place exploded. The introduction was delivered with extreme confidence, and found the band skipping back and fourth between the dance beat and the funky groove of the bass.
After the songs introduction, it is an open-ended song made up of endless cycles through a similar jam, which starts with the theme delivered by guitarist Hunter Brown. This song has this interesting quality where Hunter subtlety moves the band from the theme to the jam, yet it all happens on a dime. While he took a free jazz solo on the songs theme, Keyboardist David Phipps played swirling ambient soundscapes around him. The short composed chorus section that divides the cycles of the jam then helped to build the songs intensity.
As we moved into a second jam that reversed the musical conversation, Phipps laid down a solo with a funky Seventies tone while Hunter wrapped flying rhythm chords around him. This jam got much further away from the theme. A second roaring run through the chorus led to an ambient conclusion with luscious jazzy piano and the returning cricket sounds. This was classic Nine!
The band slowed things down with AND SOME ARE ANGELS, a composed instrumental from the band’s second studio album. It’s a song that could be played scaled down acoustic on piano and percussion in a jazz nightclub setting. The happy melodies and accompanying harmonies and bring a smile to my face.
During the most improvised section of the song, Hunter played fluttering free jazz guitar while Zach showered him with a full range of rhythm chords from the drum-kit. Bassist David Murphy held it all together while Jeffree Lerner, who plays percussion and elementals, through sonic bombs over top of him. As the jam peaked and slowly broke down, Phipps came in over top of all it with jazzy free form piano.
Jeffree eventually solely accompanied him on hand percussion. It was beautiful to see the two of them distorting the theme in quite way. There was great anticipation, as one sensed in the music we were building towards the next section. As Jeffree continued on hand percussion, Zach took over with a short solo where he proceeded to deconstruct and shred the theme.
This led way to a second jam, where Hunter’s solo continued where the first one left off. As he wandered and fluttered like a butterfly through the sky, the rest of the band listened closely. They were locked in around him, and moved like a raging storm with thunder and lighting. As Hunter reached his destination, the jam peaked into a heavenly extended moment. The pursuing ambient white noise left me feeling like the sun had finally broke through the clouds.
After a long pause, Hunter played a sample from his computer that began with someone saying, "I wanna be your side kick." Making eye contact with Phipps, he then delivered the theme of the song from the computer, as Phipps played along lightly on piano. Zach then kicked in with a splattered drum effect, as the theme grew stronger on the piano.
It all came together when Murphy and Hunter began trading two distinct harmony lines. The first was a short phrased noodling sound. The second was a longer phrased soulful and uplifting sound. Zach was playing whole beats while also creating spirals of sixteenth notes placed erratically. He was constantly playing off of the multitude of textures being developed by Phipps and Jeffree, including the sounds of wind instruments.
This song revealed a tranquil feeling, like soundtrack music for time elapsed photography flying over High Sierra. We had never heard this song and later learned it is tentatively titled TODAY. Similar to other songs, this one moved through repeated cycles of the theme/jam/chorus combination. During the last cycle, Hunter began playing more free jazz guitar took over a rolling psychedelic keyboard from Phipps. This may give hint to the songs potential madness.
Out of songs lingering ashes came the opening chimes of STS9, and unrecorded high-energy dance song that is less then two years old. The first half of the song contains Phipps playing the patented crinkling tingly sounds of early Nineties acid house. Through the thick haze of a dance song arose an intense jam as Hunter picked a solo using the tone of the chimes. As he moved into a sustaining the chimes, the rest of the band swept around him with wild percussion, keyboards, flutes, and soundscapes.
STS9 is a song where the first jam flips and is inverted into the second jam. The first jam is based on the sixteenth notes of the drums and keyboards, while the second jam is based on the relaxed down tempo groove on the bass. There was great anticipation in the music as Murphy began the bass line of the second jam. Those familiar knew the first half of the song was reaching its conclusion, while those unfamiliar simply thought the song was over and segued into a second song.
The band slowed things down again with LIFE’S SWEET BREATH, a soulful song that made its debut earlier this year. This powerfully moving composed instrumental was the perfect way to inhale our natural surroundings. This song begins with the theme introduced in a duet between guitar and bass. After the entire band runs through the theme, Hunter plays a bluesy riff that is filled with emotion. It’s augmented it with the occasional sound effect and drum fill. The band then returned for a final run through the theme.
From the lingering white noise rang the huge sound of cathedral bells. For whom the bells toll, they toll FOR MY PEEPS! This hard to classify song also made its debut earlier this year. Zach began belting out a fast rhythmic beat that guides us through the entire song, as other flying stereo effects soon rose and fell, and moved from side to side across the stage. Zach incorporates a barrage of dancing high hats and cymbals that sounds like a hose spraying water. He leaves holes in various places to construct the rhythmic flow, much in the same way a hose spraying water sounds as it is moved back and fourth in a rhythmic and chaotic fashion. This was patented Zach Velmer.
Murphy played a slow and wandering bass line, while holding down the structure of the song. After finding their groove, the music took a short breath. I turned to my friend and told him things were about to get nuts! Zach had been playing with such confidence all night and everything seemed to build up to this moment.
Zach then turned the pressure in the hose on full blast, leading the jam all over the place playing in an electrifying nature. Jeffree interacted with him along the way on hand percussion and effects. When Hunter began to lay down free form jazz guitar, Zach played off him like electric rhythm guitarist sitting from his drum-kit. Phipps ambient soundscapes reach loud volumes as the jam peaked into an intensely blissful extended moment.
When Phipps moved to piano, the whole band followed and locked together in breakdown jam. Murphy soon broke off and began weaving the song’s bass line back into the mix. Slowly and seamlessly, they found they way back to the introduction portion of the song. When it was over, I was left breathless.
How can we top that off? KAMUY! This happy go lucky jazz dance song returned us to the band’s second studio album. After a number of newer songs, you could feel the warm welcome from the crowd. If this band had lyrics, the entire crowd would have been singing along. The moment seemed larger then life as the stage was lit up like a rainbow, and the energy flowed between musicians and the audience, all among mystic natural settings.
Hunter’s gorgeous guitar work continued on this number. The first jam featured him playing the theme by picking notes, while the second had him playing the same theme on fast and frolicking rhythm guitar. A very short first jam led to evolved into the second where Murphy took a delicious free-form bass solo over top.
The next jam was somewhat chaotic, as Hunter seemed unsure of where the band wanted to go. First he played rhythm, then he picked notes, and then the band went right past him. Phipps and Zach had been making eye contact across the stage, and seemed set on moving the song into the final dueling rhythm section. This was interesting because this is not an original section of the song, but something that gown and evolved out of live versions. As Jeffree began going off on hand percussion, Phipps soon spoke up, and the shouting match pursued.
Once this section was done, they moved into the final section of the song that is similar to the introduction. Hunter got to finish off what he appeared to want to say earlier, while Phipps added lounge style piano for a beautiful extended conclusion. As it appeared the reached the end, I had stopped dancing and was ready to clap. The band surprised me by running through the theme several more times, while having looks on their faces that they didn’t want it to end. This was a wonderful conclusion for the songs, and a immense way to close out the show.
Sound Tribe came back out and encored with SATORI, a composed song from their latest album titled SeasonsO1. This is another song whose mellow insanity makes its hard to classify, yet it is typical of the maturing sound of the band. This song focuses on the interaction of fast drumming with ambient soundscapes and free form keyboards. It’s all held together by the theme delivered repeatedly on guitar along with a slow grooving bass line.
The interplay between Zach, Jeffree and Phipps was magical as the song moved through its cycles of the theme/jam/chorus combination. In the final cycle, Hunter broke free and Phipps incorporated the rolling psychedelic keyboard as the drummers peaked. Hunter soon returned to the theme to move them through its final climatic ending. This revealed great anticipation, as the band appeared stuck in the groove like a broken record. For one last peak musical sentence, Zach deconstructed the theme while being accompanied by flying stereo effects. This peaked into the final chorus of the song.
When it was over, David Murphy added "Blessings and love, thank you." I was radiating and inspired in a higher state of conscious. This was a peak performance for the band where keen song selection took us on a journey as the music poured from the stage. It is the perfect show to share with others about joy of the Sound Tribe Sector Nine.
7.4.02 High Sierra Music Festival Main Stage - One Set: Moon Sockets, And Some Are Angels, Today, STS9, Life’s Sweet Breath, For My Peeps, Kamuy, E: Satori.