Record Review - 2 July 31 2002

Tuatara is not your typical rock supergroup. While the ensemble includes former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Luna's Justin Harwood and Young Fresh Fellows guitarist Scott McCaughey, you probably couldn't identify the band among a lineup of math-rock experimentalists in a blind taste test. Which isn't to say their sound is bland. Seamlessly blending elements of rock, jazz and various world music influences, the group creates evocative instrumental soundtracks for movies yet to be made.

At its worst (see: the tepid "Love Is a Calculated Risk"), Cinemathique occasionally borders on the somnolent, with meandering grooves that serve as little more than aural wallpaper for the hipster set. But when Tuatara fires on all cylinders (which it does about 85 percent of the time), the results can be riveting. The opening track, "The Melting Sun," builds on a rollicking percussive bed of Indonesian gamelan, bongos and trap drums, with reverberating vibraphone echoing Spaghetti Western-style guitar. Several of the song titles reflect the music's film-like flavor: "Action Thriller" would be perfect for a '70s crime caper, with sizzling horns and tremolo guitar straight out of the Dick Dale songbook; the bongo-driven uptempo groove of "In the Passing Lane" would make perfect chase-scene fare.

In the end, Tuatara comes across as a decidedly anomalous venture. Cinemathique is nothing like what you'd expect from the musicians involved. It's rare to see such accomplished talents sacrificing their egos for the greater interest of keeping the focus on the music. Tuatara plays the Variety Playhouse Sat., Aug. 3.