Is This Jazz?: Moon Hooch Takes Over at FMH

MoonHooch-by-KennethKearneyOn April 18, New York City-based Moon Hooch dropped by Fete’s Ballroom as part of their co-headlining tour with fellow NYC group Too Many Zooz. The band is a sax and drum trio made up of saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, and drummer James Muschler, who all met and formed the group while studying at the New School. While I had previously seen their performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert a few years back, I didn’t have much of an idea of what their live performance would be like, so I was intrigued to see how this trio had evolved from performing acoustically in subways to what they are now.

Although the set began with little fanfare as the crowd was still filing in, within seconds of walking out on stage Moon Hooch launched into what would be a packed onslaught of non-stop music. Their first song was a fairly straight-forward house-music styled tune with McGowen providing a solid bass for Wilbur’s melodic lines over Muschler’s locked-in pocket. If this was an indication of what the rest of the show was going to be, it would have been a fun night, but you could feel there was another level bubbling up just under the surface. As soon as they dove into the second tune, from then on they were out into another universe. Wilbur began tearing through lines of interweaving harmony while McGowen backed him with deep bass and harmonic overtones that swept through the horn with ease, all happening as Muschler is crushing solid beats and peppering in quick drum fills between saxophone madness.

To be a saxophonist and to watch these guys play was like watching a course on what having virtuosic command of the horn can get you. Because they made it all sound so effortless, it’s hard to describe just how difficult the techniques they were using were, but it is imperative to note the incredible musicianship of this band. Both Wilbur and McGowen were blasting out perfect altissimo (wicked high notes) with beautiful tone right after circular breathing through lightning-fast arpeggios up and down the entire range of the instrument, and nailing incredibly fast articulations and multiphonics in between. While there were a few digital effects applied to the various instruments — and a sparingly used Moog synthesizer for a few added bass lines — most of the effects were a direct result of something each player was doing on the horn. And that’s not to say anything of Muschler, whose rock-solid groove and precise playing was a lesson in staying in the pocket.

Moon Hooch played straight through more than an hour’s worth of material, transitioning seamlessly through every song, only ebbing at moments to feature each player and give them some space to stand out before launching back in full throttle. I was extremely impressed by the use of expertly crafted dueling horn lines, the musicianship of the entire band, and the incredible energy they brought to their whole set.

While unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay to see much of Too Many Zooz, what I did see was just as exhilarating and I hope that next time they come through I’ll be able to see more.

Music at its core is about bringing something out of people, whether it be emotional, physical or otherwise. The movement generated by the crowd watching Moon Hooch could’ve powered Olneyville for a week. Next time they’re in PVD, be sure to grab tickets and be ready for one hell of a show.

For more information on the band and to listen to their music, visit

Happening Around Town:

The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; first Monday monthly @ The Met (Pawtucket)

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Leland Baker Quartet; Wednesdays @ Acacia Club (Providence)

Jazz At The Parlour; Sundays (jam held every third Sunday) @ The Parlour (Providence)

Modern Sound Series; last Sunday monthly @ Tea In Sahara (Providence)

Is This Jazz?; (Providence) visit for listings

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Ben Shaw is a local composer, performer, and writer. Find him at

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