“If you want to be faithful to the music forms that made American music great,” proclaims Hazmat leader Wade Schuman, “you have to be faithful to what made it great, not to the musical forms themselves. American music is, by its essence, music that comes out of the so-called melting pot of different cultures banging up against each other. And that was the creative aspect.”

“We live in a nostalgic commodified world where we believe that Rock and Roll, or Bluegrass, or Dixieland are rigid music forms not influenced by outside factors. But that is not the history of how American music happened. It’s really quite dynamic, and based on a phenomenal cultural shift in the early part of the 20th century.” The first real Blues hit, “St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy, included a minor-key tango section. “That is one of the things that makes the song what it is,” says Schuman who also points to the significant influence of Latin and Caribbean music in the 1930s, and the huge influx of immigrants into New York City. “There were few studios in Trinidad,” explains the harmonica-player, vocalist, and guitarist. “Most Calypso musicians were recording in New York, so many of the early Calypso recordings were related in some way to America. The point is that

“I saw some amazing musicians downtown the other night,” recalls Schuman. “Really incredible musicians. But it is so much work to listen to them. I want to seduce the audience. To not only make them feel good, but to move them!”

“There are certain things about American genres like Jazz, Blues, and Country, a certain simplicity and directness that I think are extremely moving and very, very hard to understand. They come from a deep place in the soul of America,” concludes Schuman. “That’s something you have to tap into.”

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Time Out NY
“Not everyone can sing, we don’t all dance, and some folks don’t even love. But if one thing unites humanity, it’s that we all screw up from time to time—and that’s what makes the blues our universal language. Taj Mahal, Tom Waits and Ali Farka Toure have all traced the ley lines that conjoin the Mississippi Delta to points beyond in mutual mopery. Hazmat Modine leader Wade Schuman is a fellow traveler, one who’s cashed in an unusually high number of frequent-flier miles pursuing his mojo. A dizzying harmonica player (check out his solo feature, “Lost Fox Train”) and soulful guitarist, Schuman steers a combo whose members have punched the clock in jazz, Latin, klezmer and Hawaiian-swing groups. No doubt that’s why Hazmat Modine sounds so comfortable crunching styles ranging from ska to Balkan brass raves and beyond, not to mention jamming with Tuvan overtone singers Huun-Huur-Tu on three tracks. Bahamut is thick with ear-tickling arrangements, such as the two harmonicas, two tubas, bass saxophone, Hawaiian steel guitar and cimbalom of “Who Walks in When I Walk Out?” Schuman’s winningly gruff vocals are well suited to a bluesman’s typically put-upon malaise. He also has a knack for turning a poetic phrase, as in “Dry Spell” (“You say that you’re so thirsty / You’d even drink my tears”). The disc is liberally soaked in whimsy, nowhere more so than on the title track: Even gargantuan fish gods of ancient lore get the blues, it seems.” Steve Smith