Jim Sauter and Kid Millions are an unlikely pair for a music duo. Sauter is a saxophone veteran of the long-running Borbetomagus, the sax-sax-electric guitar noise wall that’s both wonderful and horrible in the most amazing way. Millions is a younger drummer of rock-grounded projects Oneida, People of the North, and Soldiers of Fortune, bands that have appeared on indie-rock labels like Thrill Jockey and Mexican Summer.
Somehow the New York-based group makes it work.
The distinctive collaboration – which is kind of free jazz, noise, noise-rock, free spazz, but kind of totally not any of those things, but still a bit like all of those things, often in the same improvisation – triumphs because the pair of outsider musicians are able to sync each other’s vocabularies.
“I think Jim and I are playing improvisation. High-energy improvisation. It’s different than free jazz, but it clearly takes cues from it,” says Millions. “I think Jim’s playing is in a class of its own. There’s nobody out there who can touch what he does. It’s very refined. Hopefully, I’m a good foil for him.”
The two first started hanging out during a Scarcity of Tanks recording session, one that would yield the Vulgar Defender and Fear Is Not Conscience albums for the collaborator-heavy, Cleveland-formed group. Millions and Sauter, during some down time in the studio, did a quick-hitting improv jam. They were into it.
Eventually, they formed a group, recorded and released Boanerges (2013) on Doubtmusic and Fountain (2014) on Family Vineyard, and will tour through Texas for the first time as a duo.
Millions says Sauter’s approach to the amplified and unamplified saxophone challenges the drummer at the ground level.
“Well for one, it’s very hard to keep up with Jim’s energy so I’m just trying to bring as much energy as I can to the project. Whenever we play, I have to be at the top of my game,” says Millions. “I can’t really be too intellectual when I get on stage with Jim. I just need to get aggressive as I can, but keep it musical. Jim’s playing can be quite tonal and beautiful — I'm not sure that’s always apparent on first listen.”
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The group will swing through Houston with a new cassette called Bloom on Astral Spirits, a prolific Austin-based label that has released an impressive catalog of left-of-the-dial music from worldwide experimentalists. The album collects live and studio material from the three years the two have played together. “It’s some of the strongest music we’ve ever done,” says Millions, who offers a neat perspective on Texas music, fortified from decades on the road as a touring musician.
“I mean tell me a place with better music… you have your Texas-style blues, your border music, country, innovative jazz, 13th Floor Elevators. It’s just an endless treasure trove,” says Millions. “I’ve noticed that it’s tougher for Texas-based bands to break out into wider audiences. I’ve seen a lot of incredible music there, even on our bills, that never gets up north.”
“I love Texas music. I would say I’m deeply indebted to it. I can never pay back the debt.”
At 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 15, Jim Sauter and Kid Millions are scheduled to perform at Avant Garden, 411 Westheimer Road, during the They, Who Sound series. Houston-based Mike Abramowitz shares the bill. Admission is $5 to $10. Check out www.avantgardenhouston.com.