The Pherotones at The Last Word
by arwulf arwulf
From the May, 2018 issue
It's easy to miss the nightclub entrance on West Huron, with its dark red door recessed like a speakeasy's. Years ago it was the Oyster Bar & Spaghetti Machine, then it became a jazz spot called Goodnight Gracie, but now it's The Last Word. On the inside, its most welcoming feature is the complete absence of television screens. Instead there is a bookshelf, and one wall is pleasantly cluttered with vintage artwork in antique frames. Another friendly aspect is the house band, the Pherotones, who provide the soundtrack for drinking, dining, and conversation on Thursday nights.
Standing at the front of the tiny stage, bearded trumpeter Ross Huff sounds a little like Cootie Williams between sips of Fernet-Branca. When upright bassist Brennan Andes scrubs the strings with his bow, the instrument shudders and snarls. Giancarlo "G.C." Aversa, the band's Italian/Honduran/American pianist and manager, reminds me of Hilton Ruiz but names Sergei Rachmaninoff as an early influence. Perched in the corner behind the drums is Wesley Fritzemeier, a highly regarded multi-instrumentalist from Chelsea.
Their jazz and pop free-form repertoire covers a time period from the 1920s to the present, which means they might interpolate riffs from Super Mario Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Cyndi Lauper, or Georges Bizet into Herb Alpert's "Mexican Shuffle," Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass," or Duke Ellington's "Caravan." Following their eccentric logic is an entertaining exercise in "name that tune."
The band loves to sing old-fashioned melodies in unison. More often than not, at least half the people in the place join in. A rousing full-throated chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is followed with the gutsy Motown anthem "Money (That's What I Want)." During "Dream a Little Dream of Me," I half expect Mama Cass Elliot to emerge from the kitchen.
The Pherotonic treatment of "I Only Have Eyes for You" employs the familiar doo-wop arrangement by the Flamingos, with Huff's plunger mute flugelhorn invoking Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy. Lulled by their
languid reading of Sigmund Romberg's "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," I nearly fall out of my chair when they launch into early modern jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford's catchy "Blues in the Closet."
Andes's rambunctious creativity infects everyone in the room with a positive vibe that relaxes the mind and stimulates congeniality. During a break I ask him who he studied with. His eyes sparkle as the names of local heroes tumble out: Vincent York, Gary Quackenbush, Martin Simmons, John Sinclair, and George Bedard. Watching the band spontaneously decide how to open the next set, I tuck into the chipotle potatoes and blistered shishito peppers with truffle salt, ready for anything the Pherotones care to dish out.
[Originally published in May, 2018.]
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