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Grimace Federation – Bassist Jimmy Calvarese


Grimace Federation – Bassist Jimmy Calvarese

Have you ever stayed up all night, watched the sky lighten, and felt that all was well with the world? Not only that, but also that things were going to keep getting better? And then savored that feeling as long as you could, even through morning rush hour, when the world got ugly again?  The music of Philadelphia ensemble Grimace Federation has quite a bit of this “feeling”. At other times, the full onslaught of modern angst and chaos seems to express itself through their sound. But no matter how chaotically intense the sound gets, there always is a golden sunrise just ahead.

At times they remind me of early Weather Report, way before Jaco, especially on “5679”, from their 2010 release “On Velvet”. But again, there is that relentless onslaught of “futuristic happiness” that always lurks around every corner. Perhaps their name references what happens when one smiles too much………..

There definitely is a strong connection sonically with Chicago ensemble Tortoise, as well as King Crimson, and Phillip Glass. GF definitely like to work the sus4- Maj7 tonal realm. Hypnotic ostinatos emanating from chief composer/ visionary Wes Schwartz on guitar is a chief component of the Grimace sound, as are Xack Xweig’s vibraphone and Rhodes. There are climactic buildups in their songs, which sometimes plateau out into ambient breakdowns; much similar to the way dance music DJs work. Of course this also gives Drum Punisher Christopher Wood a chance to catch a breath before the next round of frenetic beat-crushing ensues. In sort of a Dave Grohl-meets-Bill-Bruford sort of way.

Live, they have a formidable assault. Punk rock has by and large done good things for Music, in our times. In the mid- Seventies I could imagine music this contemplative only reaching the 60% level of intensity, but it seems like Punk just raised the ceiling in general. Musicians discovered their Inner Thrash.

I had the chance to catch these guys at the North Star, a venerable old club in Philadelphia that has been around for quite a while.  Great show. Tons of energy. Afterwards I had a chance to chat briefly with GF’s newest member, bassist Jimmy Calavrese. Struck by the complexity of some of the songs, I asked him how he was able to memorize them. By playing them over and over at home, and lots of listening. JC eschewed making charts because he didn’t want to become dependent on them. Calavrese has a fluid, nimble style that while prominent in the ensemble, never sounds “busy”. The night I saw them he was working it on a MusicMan 4 string. He also DJs late nights on a local indie radio station.

On the band’s MySpace page they list Gong-Tortoise-Fela Kuti- Stereolab-Bad Brains-Dilla-Zorn-Dick Dale-King Crimson-Black Sabbath as influences.  Yikes. Check ’em out.


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