Shot X Shot: Free Radicals

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Most art-school group projects involve awful modern-dance movements or round-robin haiku sessions. This is why so many people wind up in business school. For University of the Arts students Matthew Engle (bass), Bryan Rogers (tenor saxophone), Dan Scofield (alto saxophone) and Dan Capecchi (drums), getting together meant forming spacious, improvisational jazz group Shot X Shot (pronounced “Shot By Shot”), whose eponymous debut was released by the High Two label.

The Philadelphia group formed as a full-time unit rather than a loose collective of jazz players who come together whenever it’s convenient. This sort of stringency—strict rehearsals three times a week—is probably necessary for the breathy, avant jazz Shot X Shot writes. Its music is akin to the heaving cool of Lee Konitz, the spiritualized hum of John Coltrane and the sinister squeal of Ornette Coleman.

“We used to cover Ornette’s ‘Blues Connotation’ and ‘I Heard It Over The Radio,’” says the 26-year-old Capecchi. “But our own stuff has grown further out.”

This growth has also meant sticking to the sense of expression and looseness that defines the band members’ heroes (such as fellow Philadelphian Sun Ra) while forging their own musical magnetism. Whether improvisational or planned, the integral components are the twin tones of saxophonists Scofield and Rogers leaping from brash to softly sensual, Engle’s steady, studious bass lines and Capecchi’s rainbow-toned rush of malleted drum and cymbal.

“Chains Of Agree” is as formal as Shot X Shot gets. It starts with a clear melody and counter-point bass line that crashes into a totally free section that gets denser as time continues. On “Bee Assassins,” Scofield and Rogers embrace simultaneous drones of matching melody over a clipped rhythm.

“Various tunes have various levels of freeness,” says Capecchi. “We always allow each other the right to do whatever one feels. But we believe that each piece should have an identity that is greater than us.”

The members of Shot X Shot—all of whom are music teachers—aren’t out to convert rock fans. (When pressed, Capecchi admits to listening to the Replacements and Flaming Lips on occasion.) They do, however, want to break down some barriers.

“I guess if I had one rule for listening, it is to not be scared or intimidated in any way,” says Capecchi. “That’s my main frustration with our music: that many people view it as above their level, that they don’t know enough about music. But once you realize that it holds no secrets in order to ‘get it,’ everything opens up and either you like it or you don’t.”

—A.D. Amorosi