Well-schooled in funk, Latin and straight-ahead jazz, but also lifelong rockers, the members of the 6-year combo from New York City grew up listening as much to the Dead Kennedys and Frank Zappa as they did to Monk, Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
"When we first started, we were kind of working that downtown New York jazz aesthetic, in the sense that we had songs that had interesting quirky melodies. And a lot of times, we would do a (traditional jazz) head-solo-head thing, or a variation on that," said guitarist Ty Citerman a couple of weeks ago by phone.
Citerman was speaking amid preparations on the eve of the band's first-ever coast-to-coast concert tour, which will bring Gutbucket to Tucson for a performance Friday, April 22, at Solar Culture Gallery.
"But over the years, we started getting more into the rock aesthetic--the guitar got cranked up, and we started playing with longer-form compositions and sectionally fragmented tunes that were pieces of music that kind of told really weird stories, and it was way more than just melody and chord changes," Citerman said.
The Gutbucket sound was born when Citerman, saxophonist Ken Thomsen and drummer Paul Chuffo played in a nine-piece soul-jazz group that had a decidedly mainstream approach.
"We decided we wanted to do something new," Citerman says. "We wanted to push the aesthetic boundaries and play music that couldn't quite nearly fit in any category. That was when we found (bassist) Eric (Rockwin), and began in April six years ago."
Gutbucket has pushed the aesthetic boundaries on two CDs so far, the out-of-print Insomniac (2000, Knitting Factory Records) and the recently released Dry Humping the American Dream (Cantaloupe Records), on which the band slams together Latin rhythms, rambunctious rock riffing and free-jazz skronk and harmolodic grooves, recalling Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, James "Blood" Ulmer and Sonny Sharrock.
The trademark Gutbucket sound is an energetic attack in which Citerman and Thomsen engage in explosive guitar-sax duels, playing in tandem as often as in tangles.
"Yeah, that's very satisfying," agreed Citerman, whose guitar heroes include Ulmer, Fred Frith, Derek Bailey and Marc Ribot.
"We've found that we can in certain ranges bring those two voices--the guitar and sax--together, especially when the guitar is really screaming. It creates a really neat single harmonizing line. And at other times, we just totally clash. It's a blast."
It might seem typical of a group that straddles the lines between jazz and rock--and, thankfully, doesn't know the meaning of the word "fusion"--but the members of Gutbucket aren't averse to turning some people off in the name of art.
"Music makers are an impatient bunch. We like to keep ourselves interested, but sometimes, that offends certain listeners. That's part of what's exciting about making music. People rioted when they heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. That sort of reaction has been happening throughout history."
Citerman and his colleagues know they appeal to listeners with open ears in both rock and jazz circles. "The cool thing is that we'll play jazz clubs in Europe, and people will say, 'Wow, you are doing something like Archie Shepp did in 1972.' And people will see us over here and tell me after the show, 'I hate jazz, but you guys are cool.' I love that."
That love-hate dichotomy also extends to the band's name. Some people are taken aback by the vivid imagery of the moniker.
"Both my sister and one of my best friends tell me how much they really love the music," Citerman says. "But they ask, 'Why did you have to pick that name?'" One Tucson music promoter recently expressed the same sentiment.
Citerman points out that gutbucket is a legitimate musical term, signifying an especially down-and-dirty form of blues.
"We're hoping people will think of our music in those terms. That it's kind of a raunchy, noisy and eclectic sound, bringing together a bunch of different styles to create something exciting and collaborative."