Brooklyn's Best Kept Secret



The Vern Woodhead Ensemble
Freddy's Bar & Grill, 2/22/09

The Vern Woodhead Ensemble is currently playing venues such as Freddy's Bar & Grill in Brooklyn, but it is only a matter of time before this outer-borough gem is smuggled over the East River and into the established concert halls of Manhattan. If you appreciate the experience of seeing a great band in a more intimate setting, then now is the time to see them, before they go big.

There is nothing inherently special or unique about a four-piece rock band. It is all too common that the usual instruments come together to take their try at the old verse-chorus-verse format, hoping to hit something catchy enough to attract an audience. Most often this is simple entertainment; sometimes we call this music; it is even less likely that it can truly qualify as art. This is not the case with the Vern Woodhead Ensemble. Woodhead is a composer of the first degree and he has assembled a small gang of musicians who know how to set his notes on fire.

In a performance that kept half the audience standing for the entire show, the Woodhead Ensemble rocked Brooklyn last Sunday night, vibrating the room with so much sound and energy that one of the lighting fixtures fell during the performance. With a foundation built on rock, the music transcends a variety of sub-genres, with moments of progressive and alternative rock paving the way for anthems of social commentary and personal struggle. While most of the songs are epic journeys, the times-appropriate title, "Severance Pay" is a radio-ready single that would do any rock station proud to play.

Woodhead spins a web of intense, classical vocals while alternating between playing guitar and keyboard. There is a power in Woodhead's voice that he moderates with decisive control, seething in his more silent moments and raucous in his peaks. Yana Davydova fingers the fretboard of her electric guitar with remarkable fluency, hitting notes that are as pleasing to the ears as she is on the eyes. Is there really anything sexier than watching a beautiful woman artfully command a guitar to bring forth the sounds of raw emotion? Michael Benham keeps a strong rhythm on the bass, while Octavio Salman rocks the drums that shook the fallen light fixture from its hold.

The most remarkable aspect about the Woodhead Ensemble is the quality of the compositions as they define the"difference between a symphony and a song," to pull a quote from one of Woodhead's lyrics. The individual instrumental parts, most of which are written by Woodhead, fit together like a tightly constructed piece of machinery negotiating unconventional and sometimes tricky rhythms and off-beats. The songs may start with one simple, finely focused theme but then continuingly unfold, revealing complex inter-working parts and folding once again to a new and different take on the original theme. Following this process is to take a musical exploration well worth the effort. - C. Jefferson Thom

Press photo by: Christian Shaw cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.