Local Current Blog

You Need To Know: Catsax, an experimental trio used to “hanging off the cliff”

Miguel Hurtado, Nelson Devereaux, and Big Cats (l-r). Via Catsax.

Sometimes it feels like Midwestern musicians could do anything. Some can uplift everyone’s day no matter where they go. Some invent a new instrument with the help of a few of their friends. Or, in Catsax’s case, some take their already packed musical schedules, plus a day job or two among the three, and pile on an experimental jazz project that’s already broken a few brains. Because artistic fulfillment.

Producer Big Cats (Spencer Wirth-Davis) and saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Nelson Devereaux formed Catsax (portmanteau alert) more than a year ago. Soon after, drummer/percussionist Miguel Hurtado joined the group. Together, Catsax improvise experimental, space-inspired jazz music, and to Devereaux, it feels a lot like hanging on the edge of a cliff. “You’re not going to fall down; you can’t,” he insists. “I get the feeling we’re comfortable on the cliff. Hanging off the cliff.”

“That’s what’s exciting about it,” Wirth-Davis says, and he adds that it’s nice to perform with people who play instruments. At the normal gig, he’s standing behind a rapper or DJing by himself.

Lately, Catsax have been playing out a bit. “Eaux Claires was super fun,” Devereaux says, referencing their set on top of the festival’s hill. Catsax played behind a screen, and the audience’s headphones sent the music straight into their ears. “It felt like we were just playing for each other,” Wirth-Davis adds, saying, “[We] had no idea how many people were out there, or if they were enjoying it, or if they had all left after we starting playing. It was cool, because you couldn’t worry about any of that stuff, and you just had to play.”

It brought them back to the project’s early days, when they dropped an album called Catsax last November. “When there are zero expectations for something, it’s easy to just do what you want,” recalls Wirth-Davis. Rather than starting to build a repertoire, the album provides a snapshot of the band’s mood the day they recorded it. Their set changes every time they play, so music itself is mutable — but the wonderfully pushy, slippery album is an enjoyable look at what Hurtado, Wirth-Davis, and Devereaux can do.

Devereaux helped form Bon Iver’s Sad Sax of S—, an eight-saxophone squad who joined Justin Vernon and the band onstage at Eaux Claires. “That was fun,” Devereaux said, recalling the performance. “Maybe you’ll see more of us in the future. Who knows?” “Sounds like you do, bud,” Wirth-Davis answered, and Devereaux responded, “Dot dot dot” and laughed.

During their set at Eaux Claires, Catsax brought up other members of the Sad Sax to improvise with them. According to Devereaux, “The cool part about Catsax is bringing up people on stage that know what they’re doing in a crazy, supernatural, subconscious sense. You have instincts. Spencer has instincts; I have instincts. Use your instincts. Make this sound crazy.” Making a call to other groups, he says, “If there are bands out there that maybe want to do a show sometime, let’s chat about it. It doesn’t have to be in our ‘genre.’ We would love to do that. Meet new people and play more.”

On August 22, Eric Mayson and the members of Catsax (all playing under Big Cats’s name) improvised a score for Man with a Movie Camera in Loring Park. The next night, Big Cats brought Eric Mayson, Toby Ramaswamy, and DaNCEBUMS to perform at Icehouse. Now, they look toward more collaboration and more time on the cliff. It’s all part of a good time for some of Minneapolis’s most versatile musicians.