[Review] Hola! Live In New York
I’m still trying to comprehend exactly what took place that night. The music was absolutely mind-blowing, and I'm having to quickly put my brain back together to accurately describe the music that I witnessed. It’s a tough predicament to be in, but here goes nothing!
Hola! is an absolute "super group" comprised of Joe Russo on drums and Scott Metzger on lead guitar (both of JRAD), Andy Hess on bass (Currently with Steve Kimock, and formerly of Gov’t Mule and the Black Crowes), and Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar who is most known for licking his chops alongside jazz legend John Scofield.
When I say super, I mean it! These guys are some of the best in the biz, and together they are super, massive, otherworldly, indescribable, and any other word you can use while attempting to display the chops these four musicians have.
To say that I was excited was an understatement, as I made my way into the city from Brooklyn I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing this very unique and improvisational show. My original reason for being in New York fell through, but this show and the friends I was with were well worth the change in plans.
Nublu is this tiny jazz club in the East Village of Manhattan that sends their guests on a wild goose chase as they try to find the front door. Metzger described the club as “very, very old school New York” which is all I needed to hear to know that I was going to fit right in, but only if I could find it. After unknowingly passing the club for the third time, my friend Olivia suggested we stop and ask for some insight. I agreed simply because all of the walking had made me thirsty and the thought of a cold beer sounded. After quickly throwing a couple cold ones back, the bartender pointed us in the right direction and we were on our way.
We met my friend Chelsea who was waiting outside of the venue with a somewhat ‘local’ grin on her face and walked into the venue after finding the specific graffiti marking the bartender told us to keep an eye out for.
The club was small and quickly became packed so I scurried around to try and find the best spot for the three of us. The group got under way with an improv jam that Bortnick described as “surfy jazz.” They moved into a jam with a heavy afro-beat influence, and the group quickly made the point known that tonight was going to be anything but ordinary.
With Russo and Metzger both playing Dead tunes with JRAD, the question was asked if we could expect any Grateful Dead tunes. While there might not have been Dead tunes that night, covers were played and the guys went into them early in the set. From the opening lick, jazz fans knew that they were about to play "Boogie Stupid," a John Scofield track. With Bortnick and Hess both having experience with Scofield in the past, it made sense that they would cover one of his tracks.
What we weren’t expecting was the absolute tear that Metzger would go on, igniting the club when he did. Putting his slide chops on display, Metzger quickly set the tone for the rest of the set with his ferocious style and “take no prisoners” attitude. If you weren’t up for jazz improv then it was time for you to leave because it only got better.
The guys paid homage to The Meters by playing one of Hola!'s odes to the funk legends titled "Meter Made" and brought funk to this jazzy improv set. This tune got the hips moving at a quicker pace and everyone from the band to the crowd seemed locked in as one. Once again, Metzger went on a tear that touched nerves inside of me that I didn’t even know existed.
As the band moved into the second half of their set, they played more of the same breathtaking jazzy improvisation. They kept the crowd on their toes and wondering how they were lucky enough to be a part of it.
The second half of the set featured the rhythm section much more, and the combination of Russo and Hess could not disappoint. They exceeded all expectations and set a metaphorical fire to Nublu that was fanned out of control by the crowd’s pure joy and ecstasy. Everyone in the crowd was absolutely enamored with what they were witnessing and I was right there with them.
The entire set was picture perfect. All four musicians were locked in from the start and they remained locked in with one another for 10 tracks. At one point it sounded as if Metzger had eight fingers as he moved up and down the neck of his Fender. Russo sounded as if he was playing several different kits at once with his roaring and rumbling beats.
The four men put everything going on in their lives aside and just played. It was beautiful. The improvisational exploration was unmatched and won’t soon be matched either. They wanted us to get lost in the music and flawlessly led us on a blind journey that left everyone wondering where they were and how they got there. It was everything I wanted and then some. I consider myself fortuitous to have witnessed it. This set, along with many other moments throughout my trip to New York, re-sparked my drive to follow my dreams of working in the live music industry.