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STS9: ‘Seasons 01′

by Steven Shayman

Sound Tribe Sector 9 have been lumped in the category of neo-hippie “jam bands” since their inception in Atlanta in 1996, but they’re better left in the category of un-definability.

Also known as STS9, the band’s genre-busting soundscapes touch on jam-centric grooves, yet remain endearing to the techno/rave crowd. While citing “Bitches Brew”-era Miles Davis-John McLaughlin as inspiration, their palette also encompasses an electronica-psychedelic jazz-funk-house-hip-hop mix. A recent move to Northern California, meanwhile, has helped nurture the quintet’s eclectic vision and broaden their horizons and following.

Yet STS9 keeps it understated, eschewing traditional “jam band” indulgences: Lyrics, aside from the rare vocal sample, are jettisoned, and there’s very little soloing — unlike some bands that, despite claims of collective strength and vision, often degenerate into Deadhead-revivalist, ego-fueled star trips (Phish and moe. come to mind).

The organic side of STS9 is never far from the surface. The band’s name is inspired by a period in Mayan history considered to be the height of that extinct civilization, and they hit the road with not just a DJ and lighting director, but a massage therapist, painters, writers and other artists who create onstage during STS9 performances.

The latest STS9 release, the double-CD “Seasons 01,” is a live showcase and a good primer to the band. However, STS9′s full sonic and visual impact is best experienced in person, and their Japan debut offers a great opportunity to do just that. Those who stay away, tired of the neo-hippie “jam band” scene, will miss out.