Last week, toward the end of Billy Martin’s residency at John Zorn’s famed experimental performance space The Stone, I got the chance to see Wicked Knee.  The Stone is small, hot and just about perfect for what it is: the venue has no windows, probably holds about 75 people and is focused on the music, despite the absence of a stage.

People diligently filed their way into the folding chair seats for the brass-and-drums quartet. Joining Martin, who plays the drums for Medeski, Martin and Wood as well as a host of other projects, is trumpeter Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob fame, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and Marcus Rojas on tuba.

Martin opened up the show by demonstrating his abilities both on and off the kit itself, playing anything he could hit his drumsticks on. The brass portion of the band wailed into their instruments one-by-one to produce a somewhat-uncomfortable bellowing sound.  One thing that was evident throughout this first number: no matter how bizarre it may have sounded, Martin was fully in control, conducting with one hand while playing what seemed like triple-time with the other.

While song titles were unbeknownst to me, the most ineffable mystery was the bag of percussion tricks Martin pulled out.  While recognizable by sound and sight to fans of his other projects, the bizarre looking pots and pans are not easily identifiable. With that being said, Martin seems to be a master of each, knowing the exact spots to strike.

For the last song of the set, Martin began by picking up his tambourine.  The tambourine, an instrument often found in the hands of Eddie Vedder or Chris Robinson as something to occupy their hands whilst the band gallivants behind them, is used expertly in the hands of Martin.  Martin finds ways to explore every inch and extract sounds your sixth grade band teacher never sought on the percussive instrument.

After solos from both Fowlkes and Bernstein, who slid to the slide trumpet, Rojas took his turn. But this was no ordinary tuba solo, if such a beast existed to begin with, as Rojas took the opportunity to sing/yell obscenities through his tuba, in what I believe was supposed to be a rap, before launching back into the song.

Overall, this avant-garde quartet displayed both individual mastery on their instruments and a cohesion rarely seen from a band that convenes so infrequently as they do.  While the band has only three Midwestern dates on the books, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for when Martin returns from the road as this group is too talented to miss.