Chameleons: Green changes to mellow

Clarence Green's Chameleon Project

at Gravity Lounge
Wednesday, March 30

In the last week I've been more conscious of my position as a music critic than I probably have ever been before. I had the pleasure of reviewing and subsequently trashing a band that I thought was subpar. I say I had the "pleasure" because there's a true sense of freedom in being brutally honest.

However, I made the mistake of writing about a band composed of UVA law students, one of whom bragged about his future starting salary of $125,000. Okay, maybe I should have slogged through the entire set by Blackacre instead of leaving after their first few songs. Maybe they did eventually get the joint jumping.

Being a critic leaves one open for criticism. I welcome it. Everyone, including me, always has room to grow.

Speaking of growth, I stumbled upon a performance by an artist here in Charlottesville whom I've had the privilege of watching grow for the last three years: Clarence Green. I first encountered him through the short-lived all-star band The Chocolate Workshop. Since then, he has reinvented his sound and openly experimented with it all over town.

Many months back, he began a trio, the Chameleon Project, with the perfect combination of instruments to bring his vision to life. Wednesday at Gravity Lounge I was able to experience it for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Green has always had a knack for writing original and catchy guitar parts. His vocals, though, needed fine-tuning. Now they've matured into a rare combination of mellow and invigorating.

The sound of the Chameleon Project is both familiar and new. Double bass, mandolin, and Green on acoustic guitar combine to form a tapestry that straddles west African reggae and mountain Americana a la Bill Frisell's Blues Dream.

Green's songwriting also straddles two planes. One moment a tune can come across as quite literal in the sense that the scene being described requires little interpretation. The song Crush, for instance, is a straight-forward exploration of his thoughts about a woman he once had a crush on. Other times, his poetry dances with abstract imagery and thought-provoking metaphor, leaving much for the listener to interpret.

The melodies are ushered along by the constant unpredictable groove of Gerald Soriano's upright bass. Soriano's playing is mathematic in accuracy but meditative in spirit. His phrases form a perfect pocket with the upbeat skank of Green's acoustic and the rhythmic picking of the mandolin.

A few years ago, I'd run into Clarence on the street carrying a notepad full of ideas and little else to show in terms of a complete thought. These days (as was apparent at the Gravity Lounge show), he's found the means to follow through with his native raw talent.

I know his vision has received criticism from those around him in the past, including me. It was nice to see him working to eliminate our doubts.

With the Chameleon Project, Green is on the right track. Next time I see him, I'll play him some of my own music. I think it's time he showed me thing or two.

Chameleon Project