At age 14, I can remember going to the Urbana Free Library and checking out CDs on a weekly basis. This would usually involve two or three albums from bands I already liked (Led Zeppelin, etc) and a few randoms from names I knew, but hadn’t listened to. After making the mistake of wondering into the jazz section, I decided to get a John Coltrane album. The one I selected? Interstellar Space (not one of his more accessible recordings, if you’re not familiar). I wound up hating it. I’d even go as far as to say that it put me off of jazz for a long while, but I’ve gotta give Trane’s awesomely spastic saxophone parts credit for the sugar rush they gave me — they embody that maniacal, off the wall feeling of speed and freedom that runs through everyone from the Who to the Mae Shi. It’s exactly that feeling that’s caused me to enjoy Garage a Trois so much.
Garage a Trois can sometimes draw the dreaded “supergroup” label, but it’s actually a fairly apt description in this case. All of the group’s members are probably best known for their work in the contemporary jam scene, but also have deep roots in jazz. Drummer Stanton Moore is known for anchoring New Orleans funk group Galactic with his jazzy motorik, but he’s also played with everyone from Jurassic 5 to Corrosion of Conformity. Skerik’s most obvious antecedents are (surprise!) John Coltrane and John Zorn — like Coltrane, Skerik uses extended saxophone techniques such as overblowing and harmonics extensively, but melds it with a Zorn’s so-called “punk jazz“. On the more melodic side of things, vibraphonist Mike Dillon has been a big part of the extended funk workouts that have characterized much of Les Claypool’s post-Primus work, and the way that he interacts with Moore is a driving force behind Garage a Trois. The group’s fourth member, keyboardist Marco Benevento, is equally comfortable firing off rapid-fire keyboard runs or sheets of enveloping noise ala Fuck Buttons.
The hallmark of any great jazz group is the players’ ability to interact with each other and improvise, while the most memorable supergroups have managed to forge something exciting while still retaining their members’ individuality. Judging by Garage a Trois’ most recent record (last year’s Power Patriot), they fit both definitions — a super-jazz group, if you will.
Garage a Trois perform tonight (September 15th) at the Canopy Club. The show begins at 7 p.m. and carries a $12 cover.