By Jacob Katel
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Tucked away in a courtyard off Lincoln Road, between Euclid and Pennsylvania avenues, the Bee Hive Lounge has the look and feel of a comfy dungeon. Lit mostly by candles perched on shaky iron stands, the small room features a row of large windows shielded by white gauzy curtains. Two long velveteen couches arranged in an L-shape and a high-backed chair form a conversation pit in the middle of the room. Across from the windows a huge abstract painting is suspended from the ceiling by chains. A banquette extends across the front of the room, ending abruptly at a small elevated stage in the corner. This being Friday night, the area is occupied by a curious-looking fivesome known as Satellite Lounge.
Ursula 1000 (a.k.a. Alex Gimeno), a slight, dark-haired man wearing small rectangular glasses, a devilish Vandyke, and headphones calmly operates twin turntables. Edward Bobb, tall, pale, and blond, hunches over a synthesizer and grimaces as he twists knobs and buttons, coaxing sounds that seem to come from outer space. Trumpet player David Font, an intense figure with a pronounced widow's peak, blows a few staccato notes and then stops suddenly. Off to the side of the stage, bassist Michael Elkind gyrates next to his huge upright. Clad in black and sporting dark-rimmed glasses, he looks like a beatnik but lacks the detached cool; he bounces joyfully from side to side like Snoopy in a Peanuts cartoon. Saxophonist Zane Hobbs stands with his straw porkpie hat set at a rakish angle, summoning notes from his horn. He seems to be in a trance.
He's not the only one. Although conversation is possible over the music, none of the two dozen fans on hand are talking. They are transfixed by the band's sound, a distinctly urban blend of styles that shifts tempos and moods relentlessly. One moment the musicians are weaving a tense sonic backdrop worthy of film noir, the next they're spinning out a soothing ambient groove.
So what exactly are these guys playing? Acid jazz is the easiest pigeonhole. And certainly, Satellite Lounge incorporates elements of that genre. But the fivesome is far too unorthodox for any one label.
Take the instrumentation: no drummer in this band. Instead, the rhythm section consists of Elkind's booming bass and Ursula 1000's sampled backbeats. These may vary from a fragment of the house hit "Gemini" by Alpha Rhymes to "Halloween Tricks and Treats," a Kid Koala song containing its own snippet of the cartoon character Charlie Brown inspecting his candy bag: "I got a rock!" Guitars are noticeably absent, as are conventional keyboards; Bobb's versatile Moog synthesizer fills that role. He produces a variety of whirs, hums, and pops that are ethereal, scary, and sometimes more grating than melodic. Font and Hobbs harmonize, their horns soaring sweetly over the jazzy din. At other moments, the sax and trumpet player cover entire tunes, such as Miles Davis's jazz masterpiece "All Blues." Songs stretch anywhere from eight to twenty minutes.
Satellite Lounge began its life not as a band but as a night -- Mondays at Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti. Created in January of 1997 by Miamian Edward Bobb, age 43, the evening attracted a small crowd of musicians and featured Jerk Machine, a duo consisting of Bobb on the Moog and Todd Quesada on keyboards. Bobb conceived of the project after listening to a slew of tracks by Soft Machine, a group of British musicians who forged a sort of jazz-rock fusion, minus guitars, in the late Sixties.
Using Soft Machine's work as a template, Bobb wanted to simulate roaring sounds of nature by utilizing a variety of electronic instruments, but no guitars. He ended up with freeform noise rock. His work with Jerk Machine led him to pursue a broader vision: using found sounds and instrumental lines to create a musical montage.
A pioneer of avant-garde music in Miami, Bobb began performing publicly in the early Eighties as half of the Neutronics, which shortly thereafter became the Happiness Boys. Employing the then cool Casio keyboard, electronic drums, and sequencers, Bobb and partner Stephen Nester performed live over taped sounds, introducing audiences to their brand of insistent, polyrhythmic techno. After releasing two albums on the Miami-based Duotone label, the Boys parted ways in 1984 and Bobb embarked on a solo career, composing dance scores and creating performance art pieces and video and sound installations in clubs and museums.
A few years ago, Bobb joined the faculty at Miami-Dade Community College's Wolfson campus as an adjunct professor, teaching courses such as experimental cinema and theater of sound. There he met music student Michael Elkind, age 23, who had come to Miami from Oakland to study classical music composition at the New World School of the Arts. "I was casting for a certain look and sound, and Michael fit in perfectly," Bobb says.
Elkind, a student of the bass for ten years and of the cello before that, took his upright to Churchill's one night to sit in with Jerk Machine. Bobb and keyboardist Quesada liked what they heard, and the duo soon became a trio. Bobb's concept began to take shape.