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 it does. This improvisational mash-up of jazz sensibilities, odd-timed grooves, Indian and Brazilian tinges, 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.