One half-expected Gabriel Marin to levitate halfway through Friday evening's Consider the Source show in the Tralf Music Hall.
Dressed head-to-toe in loose-fitting white cotton, his long hair tucked beneath a fez, the guitarist appeared like some otherworldly ascetic, a deity inhabiting a human form, perhaps, or at least a swami of some sort. His playing only added to the aura of otherness his appearance cultivated. Favoring Eastern and Middle Eastern modalities, Marin was a whirling dervish of virtuosity, his fretless double-neck guitar evoking sounds more akin to an Indian sarod or a tenor saxophone than to the standard output of electric guitar. The combined effect made the listener feel compelled toward a semi-mystical state.
You can't say as much for many modern rock bands. But Consider the Source has always occupied a space that seems either above or slightly to the left of temporal concerns or musical trends. Their self-described stew of "sci-fi Middle Eastern funk" is heady, heavy, complex and ebullient. This is not music for the faint of heart. It's exploratory, improvisation-centered stuff, and it is as emotionally exhausting for the listener as it appeared to be physically strenuous for the trio of CTS men -- in addition to Marin, bassist John Ferrara and freshly recruited drummer Louis Miller.
The interplay between the three musicians is the wellspring of the CTS magic, clearly. The arrangements of these instrumentals are daring and adventurous. Most were taken at a brisk tempo, and the shifts in meter, syncopation, dynamic and key signature sped by in a blur. Pulling off music that is this complex is akin to walking a tightrope in high winds. Making all of it groove, move and breathe organically is an even more-daunting challenge, but all through Friday's show, CTS did just that. Rarely is music this progressive so well, sexy and exotic are the words that come to mind. Music for the brain and the body, then.
A five-tune chunk of songs comprising "Keep Your Pimp Hand Strong," "Blue Steel," a still-untitled new number, "Thai for the Straight Guy," and "I'll Fight For the Imp" formed the core of the set and offered a primer in the CTS ethic. Unquestionably, Marin is the primary soloist, and he echoed Mahavishnu Orchestra-era John McLaughlin often and well during his mind-bogglingly sophisticated solos. Marin also brought to mind the "sheets of sound" style of chord layering pioneered by John Coltrane with his mid-'60s quartet. Over the five years that CTS has been frequenting Buffalo, Marin's playing has continuously evolved, and Friday's show was notable for the depth of the Coltrane influence in his phrasing and note choice.
That said, bassist Ferrara -- a slap-funk maestro with dazzling technique and an intense conception of the groove -- and drummer Miller were not exactly there to sit back and provide low-key accompaniment for their guitarist. Propulsive is the only word that can accurately describe this rhythm section's interlocking performance, though "sick!" and "Oh My God!" might do the trick in a pinch, too.
Speaking of jaw-dropping displays of virtuosity, opener Armcanon -- a Buffalo band dedicated to interpreting and often "recomposing" video game soundtracks in a hyper-speed hybridization of metal and jazz fusion -- tore the place apart with a well-received opening set. The guitarists -- Mike Willard and Dan Behrens -- displayed such incredible techniques that the proper reaction seemed to be laughing and shaking your head in wide-eyed wonder. These guys proved to be unbelievable musicians throughout a set that even had the members of the headlining band gathered near the front of the stage in appreciative awe.
Funktional Flow got the whole thing rolling with a strong collection of jams, centered around the strong, dynamic interplay between guitarists Jeff Kubler and Jason Staniszewski. Again, the groove was of primary importance here, and bassist Ben Whelan and drummer Jim Edgar manned that groove like champs throughout, whether laying down a supple reggae or a caffeinated funk foundation.
A fantastic evening, even if Marin never did manage to levitate. Next time, maybe.
Consider the Source
Friday night in the Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.