Arts Desk

Kung Fu Bastard: As Awesome as Its Name

Bobby Muncy

In advertising its first-ever gig last night, the awesomely named Kung Fu Bastard kept its description simple: "The only thing to say is that it is something completely different." This is true. Indeed, there were times during the group's 8 p.m. set at Twins that even back-to-back tunes were completely different.

"The idea behind this group was to play stuff that was hard for us," saxophonist Bobby Muncy elaborated from the bandstand. "And to be free and open." That's also true. Muncy and guitarist Anthony Pirog were responsible for the quartet's entire repertoire, and it was difficult, avant-garde-leaning stuff. The band had the advantage, however, of also being brilliant—and one of the most exciting new jazz projects to hit D.C. in recent memory.

Kung Fu Bastard is an equation in which there is no constant. Drummer Larry Ferguson seemed at first like an anchor, holding down swing where it was needed and shifting at all the right spots on Pirog's "Song in Five" (which actually had sections in four and six as well). But he was more devious than that, stretching and contracting the time in unexpected places, hiding the one here and there, and scattering around accents on "Motian." Bassist Mark Foster didn't even offer that suggestion of stasis. His electric six-string was elastic and abstract on the opener, Muncy's "Tough Guy," but had no compunction about walking, or going funk. On "Paraphoresis," probably the set's highlight, it joined with Pirog's guitar in a fearsome post-rock drone.

Speaking of Pirog, he was the most powerful weapon in the band's arsenal, and the most representative of their versatility. He switched attacks and effects with seemingly every piece, although a certain proggy, melodic wash did recur. Undoubtedly Pirog is one of the area's most eclectic musicians: He plays jazz, Slint-influenced rock, contemporary classical (his performance of Terry Riley last year will not soon be forgotten), and the folkish experimentalism of his most prominent project, Janel & Anthony. All of that comes to the fore in Kung Fu Bastard.

As for Muncy, he didn't even stick with one axe. Skronking tenor and mesmerizing soprano saxes came out (an alto was set on stage, but didn't make an appearance in the first set), as did a bass clarinet in "Paraphoresis"—where, surprisingly, it shrieked. The commonality between them was simply the momentum that Muncy was able to build on each instrument, winding into long, powerful lines that could startle in their heft or melodic charm.

Put these four protean sounds together, and all at once, and you have some serious adventure happening. This first gig was six months in the making, and Kung Fu Bastard doesn't have another scheduled. When another one comes along, drop everything and flock to it.

Photo via bobbymuncy.com.

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