Live Tonight: Decibel Fest, Phosphorescent, Billy Cobham

Dirty Beaches The Earshot Jazz Festival kicks off its 25th year on Tuesday, but overly eager jazz enthusiasts need not wait till then to soak in one of the best jazz performances next month. It might just happen tonight in the dramatically lit underground confines of Barboza—the kind of place where jazz belongs, actually. There, Taiwanese-born sound artist Alex Zhang Hungtai will perform with his band Dirty Beaches for the Decibel Festival, the premiere Seattle electronic multimedia festival that celebrates its 10th year this weekend.

It actually isn’t that strange to align the two festivals. In their most rewarding moments, a certain segment of both electronic and jazz musicians have always shared a sensibility—maintaining the duality of theme and improvisation, anchoring the listening experience in the familiar while encouraging the artist to go far out. Hungtai and his band go far out.

Hungtai started Dirty Beaches by emulating hip-hop and experimenting with sampling sounds. Then he toyed with rock ’n’ roll and created his most celebrated release, 2011’s Badlands, an LP built out of old rock-song samples. But Hungtai has moved past that accomplishment. In fact, he recently took to his blog to formally reject that work. “No songs from badlands,” he wrote about his current tour. “Over it. Done.” Instead Dirty Beaches will play from its two most recent releases, albums that embrace what has long been an undercurrent of improvisation within its music.

This can be heard most clearly on the band’s Hotels EP, a collection of quiet and contemplative piano interludes recorded by Hungtai on hotel-lobby pianos during 2011 and 2012. It’s a quietly astounding work that proves the artist’s ability to pull beauty from the ether. That experience inspired Love Is the Devil, a melancholic collection of mostly instrumental songs released earlier this year. Hungtai’s wayward, sparse piano parts, Francesco De Gallo’s sax playing, and a coy flute solo act as genre signifiers, but what really makes this album jazz is its adherence to themes, though they are less melodic and more temporal. The album spans musical multitudes while not really moving the emotional needle, as if the artist is seeking to dig directly into a particular bundle of synapses to unearth some truth. It is insistent outsider music that rewards patience. Drifters, also released earlier this year and potentially a part of tonight’s show, is less meditative and more beat-driven and features vocals, recalling at times the avant-garde work of Arthur Russell—an apt referent, since that late Brooklyn artist updated jazz for the post-disco generation and proved that jazz finds a way. With Sisu, Chasms. Barboza. 8 p.m. $10/Free with Decibel Pass. MARK BAUMGARTEN

Peter Hook and the Light This performance by the original Joy Division and New Order bassist will serve two functions. First will be a history lesson. Hook and his band will perform Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies, the two albums that New Order recorded in the wake of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. Movement is the sound of the band still anchored to Joy Division’s darker post-punk sound, while Power, Corruption & Lies is the sound of that band finding its footing, with a little help from Italo Disco, and turning into a full-fledged dance-pop band. Which brings us to the second function of this performance: dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. With ADULT., Slaves of Venus. Neumos. 9 p.m. $25 adv./free with Decibel pass. MB

Phosphorescent The songs that Matthew Houck writes as the primary member of Phosphorescent come from his broken, battered heart. From there they go to his brain, where words are formed, first heated by the Alabama native’s Southern-rock heritage, then cooled by the indie-rock awareness granted by his current Brooklyn home, and finally baited with a casual knowledge of pop culture. This lyrical processing can be heard in “Song for Zula,” his biggest hit yet from the recent full-length Muchacho. “Some say love is a burning thing, that it makes a fiery ring,” he sings, teasing Johnny Cash over a pulsing electronic thrum. “Oh but I know love as a fading thing, just as fickle as a feather in a stream.” From the brain, his songs travel back to his lungs and then over his vocal cords, where they are imbued with a Southern twang; past the nasal cavity where a touch of pathos is applied; and then into your ear. From there they go to your brain and then straight to your heart, which they will subsequently break. The Neptune. 8 p.m. $16 adv. MB

Billy Cobham He may be 69, but he still plays drums like a young man, and he’s arguably one of the greatest the instrument has ever seen, having played with Miles Davis, James Brown, and scores of others. You won’t be disappointed. The Triple Door. 7 & 9:30 p.m. $25 adv./$30 DOS/$35 front row. DAVE LAKE

 
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