Hazmat Modine can never be accused of settling into their sound and getting too comfy…they make it very clear on their latest release, Cicada, that they are still very much about exploring and evolving. Whilst their debut album Bahamut plucked chords of familiarity and dazzled with ingenuity, their latest release, Ciciada, hauls the boat out even further for an explosion of exotic colour far away from where they launched.
Lead man Wade Schuman who formed the band way back in 1998 must have a restless soul, constantly refining his sound in each incarnation. What becomes clear over time is that the influences at play in his music are far from simple and localised:
Hazmat Modine tries to get to the core of what makes American music work, and American music is informed by the immigrant experience. There’s an organic evolution that takes place. American music is world music in essence since it is a product of all the diasporas that have come here.
The album title, Cicada, hints at the bands inner-feeling of acheivement, like that insect which spends most of its life underground as nymphs before emerging after 13-17 years to sing it’s song. All eight members have a lot to pleased about.
Their keystone sound is built around Schuman’s guitar, diatonic harmonica and his bluesy gritty vocals, but what spirals out of that central point is a huge concert hall presence of sound featuring tuba, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, tenor and baritone saxes, piccolo and duduk, mandocello and guitar…and if that wasn’t enough they chose to expand that sound even further on Cicada with collaborations featuring the Gange Brass Band, the incredible genre defying Kronos Quartet, the Tuvan throat-singing ensemble Huun Huur Tu, and the ever popular American singer Natalie Merchant.
Schuman offers an enlightening insight into his music when asked about what has inspired him, he gives a lot of food for thought…
We are living in one of the golden ages of world music. Music is coming from all over, and this is reflected when you play festivals – you have musicians from everywhere: Africa, Asia, the Americas. The cross-fertilization is natural. It’s how musucians see and hear the world. We are in a period in which so many kinds of music have already been influenced by other kinds. Gangbe, for example, has absorbed so much of the Americas in its music: Latin, funk, jazz and, of course, the music from other countries in Africa. But we all relate because we have absorbed a lot of this too. When they play a song you can hear the music of Dizzy Gillespie. It is as if you are having a conversation, or throwing a ball; we all know the points of reference but they come from our own experiences. It’s all connected, how they feel American music is reflected in how we hear African music and vice versa.
Cicada was no easy project, it took four years to pull all the various strands together and a lifetime to create them. The horn section has developed since the last release to bring a whole new language to the band which has clearly heightened their creative senses. This creative core energy crosses over to those they collaborate with. On Child of a Blind Man Natalie Merchant and the Gangbe Brass Band join Hazmat Modine for a tour-de-force of a track which was which was co-written by Wade and American author Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything. The lyrics are beautifully visual and poetic:
Child of a blind man, dog behind the door, bees in a tin can, nails upon the floor
Eyes on a highway, keys beside a bowl, rain on a Monday, bones turned to coal.
Every track is a page turner leading you on to more surprises throughout the album. It’s a tide of world music borne upon a wave of American Roots through which each tune, both self-penned and covered gets Hazmatized! Schuman lays the bands eclecticism at the door of New York, a city that reflects:
the essential immigrant and mongrel nature of American Culture, the beauty and soul of what it can be to be American
Cicada is astounding and refreshing, not only for Hazmat Modine’s ingenuity but for the scale and depth of the project that will have you come away with a new angle from which to observe music from. High praise indeed!
Wade Schuman Interview
Listen to the BBC Interview on “The World” about the Gangbe/Hazmat collaboration:
Amazon UK: Cicada – Hazmat Modine