Imagine what John Coltrane’s music would sound like today if he was still alive.
That’s the idea behind Brooklyn’s Moon Hooch, which uses instruments to create electronic sounds.
The trio has a name for its unique musical genre.
“We call it ‘cave music’ because it’s house music but with live instruments, so it’s more primitive,” said Michael Wilbur, who plays tenor and soprano saxophone. “We (humans) live in houses now but we used to live in a cave.”
Wilbur’s high-tone horn is complemented with Wenzl McGowen’s low-baritone sax and contrabass clarinet, a nearly 5-foot long and 100-year-old instrument. James Muschler plays drums.
Coltrane was a hard bop and bebop jazz player who collaborated with other jazz icons such as Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. He was a pioneer in spiritual free jazz when he died at age 40 in 1967.
“Coltrane showed me what the saxophone can do, what you can really say with it,” Wilbur said. “His music was going more of the cosmic route. It was a cosmic language that was more energy than anything. I know he would have kept going with that.
His last album (‘The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording’) is like pure energy screaming through the universe. There are pictures of him with acoustic electronic manipulators and I am sure he would have gone into that realm. I can’t say we picked up where he left off … But without his music we would not exist. There’s no way.”
Moon Hooch’s horns go through a laptop to create, if you will, a reverse DJ. For now, it is popular with jam and jazz scenes, rather than the electronic world.
Wilbur said he had an instant rapport with Muschler, but not McGowen, who he met at an audition for the John Coltrane Ensemble.
“He was into the intellectual, rigid, mechanical side of jazz, where I was more from the energetic, exploring free-flowing side of jazz,” Wilbur said. “We were polar opposites. The vibe he gave me was just awful, like, ‘Who is this guy who thinks he can play saxophone?’ ”
But the two became friends outside of music, attending bartending school together so they could help pay the bills in pricey New York. While each of the three band members attended jazz school, only Muschlerhas graduated.
Before Moon Hooch, the musicians played for tips on the streets and on subways platforms.
“It’s super competitive,” Wilbur said. “It’s cut throat, literally, almost. People threaten you. There are some tough cookies down there but we stand our ground.”
Moon Hooch was formed, well, organically.
Muschler and McGowen were busking in Washington Square when they met by happenstance with Wilbur and a drummer, who were also playing on a sidewalk.
“We started playing together, all four of us, and a giant dance party erupted, kind of like magic, with hundreds of people, and we made tons of money,” Wilbur said. “It was like, ‘Holy shit, we have to do this again.’ ”
McGowen had produced house music and started adapting it to saxophone and a drum set.
As they developed their organic-electronic sound, success came quickly.
“We went viral on the Internet and eventually we started touring the country in gigantic music venues,” Wilber said, referring to a tour with Mike Doughty, formerly of the experimental rock band Soul Coughing.
In September 2014, Moon Hooch released its second album, “This is Cave Music,” which, in contrast to the instrumental debut, has four songs with Wilbur on vocals.
“The vocals just happened naturally,” Wilbur said. “We wrote the songs early in the morning at motels or really late at night after shows, always in a car or motel lobby. Wenzl would lay down a line on the contrabass and I would just come up with the melody, a stream of consciousness.”
Review of Moon Hooch’s Lake Tahoe debut on March 11, 2015 in the Crystal Bay Casino. LINK