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POP AND JAZZ REVIEWS : Universal Congress a 3-Band Standout

July 19, 1993|DON SNOWDEN

The Meters, Otis Rush, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman . . . just listing the artists whose songs Universal Congress Of performed to complement its original material on Friday at the Alligator Lounge is a measure of the group's wide musical range. The L.A. quartet's hour-plus headlining set was the closing salvo from a nearly all-instrumental triple bill of bands intent on blurring the boundaries between jazz, rock and funk.

But Universal Congress Of stood out through its skill in synthesizing its varied influences and a potent groove punch. Its funk swung, its swing funked and even its most tartly dissonant melodies managed to find their way back to some permutation of the blues.

Joe Baiza's spiky, spare guitar and Steve Moss' full-bodied tenor sax never overshadowed the driving, creative rhythm section of bassist Steve Gaeta and drummer Paul Lines. That balance enabled the band to adroitly handle the complex jazz head of "Kyle's Theme," the War-like funk of "Marginal" and the riveting slow groove of "Gaetasaurus."

Second-billed Bazooka, a power trio with a saxophonist in the lead guitar role, needed more varied arrangements to complement its aggressive attack. The La Quinta-based Sort Of Quartet (actually a sextet) offered high-energy, riff-based pieces that sometimes recalled the sun-baked surrealism of Captain Beefheart.

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