On a wintry Saturday night here in NYC, I was lucky enough to catch the latest version of Garage a Trois at the Bowery Ballroom. The group – which in the past has featured Stanton Moore, Skerik, Mike Dillon and Charlie Hunter – is currently touring with Marco Benevento in place of Hunter, making for a killer combo. Although I thought I’d miss Hunter’s patented 8-string guitar work, Marco was certainly a suitable alternative for handling his normal duties.
Unfortunately, the winter storms over the weekend caused some travel issues for Mike Dillon (who couldn’t make it to NYC at all) and also for Stanton Moore (who barely made it in for a second set). As a result, before Stanton headed over from JFK for set two, Skerik and Benevento were joined by local drummer Adam Deitch, for a first set of pure improvisation. The overall set-up really provided an interesting contrast in drum styles, as it was basically the same band with a different drummer for each set.
I had forgotten how much I liked Adam Deitch’s drum work (I saw him tear it up with John Scofield’s band back in ’01/02). I really like his super-intricate and dance-oriented style. For this set, he provided the perfect “loose yet tight” rhythmic backdrop for Marco and Skerik’s unique brand of improvisation.
Although you might expect an all-improv set to be a bit too loose and wandering, their improvisations were not at all a mindless, meandering jazz/funk. Sure, there were some killer solos, but it was much more about an on-the-spot songwriting kind of improv, mainly being led by Benevento (who controlled the low-end duties as well as melodies/harmonies). I was able grab a few decent videos and I feel like this one nicely captures what I mean:
As I’ve been lucky enough to hear Marco on a few occasions lately, I almost feel like I’m catching him during a creative zenith of sorts. Both of these last two times I’ve seen him, he has continued to blow me away with his creativity. With his array of keyboards, pedals and toys, he’s really creating some of the richest sonic backdrops and melodic progressions for the digital jazz age. He really makes this shit look easy, but it’s not.
Of course, this wasn’t a Marco solo show, and Skerik’s playing and presence make a huge difference in the overall sound as well as the vibe. His stage antics are total silliness, very similar to Les Claypool (who, as it happens, included Skerik in his “Frog Brigade” for quite some time). Skerik makes you laugh when he’s not playing, and then he chimes in on the sax and reminds you that he’s been studying the Greats for years. He knows his Coltrane and Parker, but he’s also updated the classic jazz saxophone with a few effects pedals for distortion and a bigger overall sax sound.
After his bout with winter weather travel issues, Stanton Moore made a triumphant entrance into the Bowery and allowed the band to dig into some of the material off of their new album Power Patriot (which I’ve definitely been diggin’ over the last few days). Compared to Deitch’s more intricate/tight drum work, hearing Stanton on the skins reminded me how powerful and groove-centric his playing is. He provides the stronger rock drive that makes Garage a Trois much more than a standard jazz/funk band.
While I’m not yet familiar enough with GaT’s latest record to put together a full setlist, I did recognize this tune, called “Rescue Spreaders,” which was intro’d by Skerik with a nice little stretch break:
Other highlights included some great cuts off of Marco’s solo disc, Me Not Me, a fun holiday tease of “Little Drummer Boy,” and an absolutely rockin’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” to finish off the night strong. I thought this last song choice was a nice little pre-cursor to Marco’s next gig with instrumental Led Zeppelin cover band “Bustle in Your Hedgerow,” who are playing tonight at Brooklyn Bowl.
Overall, Garage a Trois really impressed me, despite lacking one of their key members and having to throw together a last-minute first set. If they’re coming your way, I highly recommend checking them out.
Here are a few more videos and photos I captured from this show:
Garage a Trois – Improv2 – 12/19/09 @ Bowery Ballroom [YouTube]
Check out the full photo set on Flickr