Live Reviews: Audio Birds

Edo Ramen House  Detroit, MI

Contact: seanblackman@msn.com

Web: facebook.com/audiobirds

Players: Sean Blackman, guitar; Larry Fratangelo, percussion; James Simonson, bass

Material: A blend of flamenco, sambas, contemporary jazz, world beat and instrumental pop is all part of Audio Birds’ musical play book. A few of the tunes have a distinctive Wes Montgomery-styled nuance. And that’s matched, with Earl Klugh-like harmonic flourishes and Mediterranean ambience. Classics by the Beatles, Cyndi Lauper and Sting factor liberally into the sets as well.

Musicianship: This trio is comprised of three top-tier players, with a collective history of service to artists like Kid Rock, Parliament Funkadelic and Alexander Zonjic, among others. In addition, they lead their own respective projects from time to time. With Audio Birds, each member is simultaneously a passenger and driver. For instance, Blackman might be playing a solo while Simonson and Fratangelo are laying back, riding the groove. But then, Simonson might be out front, and the others tastefully lower their dynamics in support. Blackman plays a beautiful and ornate semi-electric/acoustic guitar and is adept, not only with tasty chord combinations and solo ideas, but alters his register to sound like other instruments like the oud or sitar. Fratangelo employs an arsenal of shakers, hand drums and chimes to fill the performance space. Simonson plays electric fretless bass and provides rich sustain and deep flow to the band’s overall feel. 

Performance: The trio performed three sets and began with some nice and easy mid-tempo sambas. Blackman commands your attention at once as he dazzles, with seemingly sleight-of-hand arpeggio and strumming techniques. As the tunes progress, Simonson pulls out all the stops exchanging melody and lead lines with Blackman. Fratangelo responds in kind at various points, creating natural sounds via his voice, gourds, beads and finger cymbals. He embodies the well-measured ferocity of a full drumkit, with inventive beats on the cajon. The simpatico displayed among the band was instantly palpable. Looking at their faces, there were expressions of deep introspection and knowing confidence as they unpeeled each tune like an onion. Also, their interpretations of Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Orleans’ “Dance with Me” and, even “The Godfather Theme,” were surprisingly captivating and fresh. 

Summary: Audio Birds are a veteran band that brings something exciting and challenging to the music scene. Drawing from a treasure trove of sources, they create an alchemy that is truly magical and defies description.