Garage A Trois 2.0

By: Court Scott

Garage A Trois
When a member of a music group decides to leave and the remaining band continues, it can be risky and the results can be unpredictable. Fortunately, though, Garage A Trois is a band built on risk taking, unpredictability, and capricious malleability. When guitarist and founding member, Charlie Hunter, decided to pursue other projects, the group added keyboardist Marco Benevento, seeing it as an opportunity to prolong the vision and embrace new chemistry and sound. The latest incarnation of Garage A Trois is still a genre-bending juggernaut. With the release of their new album, Power Patriot (10/26/09 via The Royal Potato Family), drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic), keyboardist Benevento, vibraphone player and percussionist Mike Dillon (Les Claypool), and saxophonist Skerik each took the time to share their impressions with JamBase about the revamped lineup, the new disc, the December tour, and their vision of Garage A Trois' future.

Garage A Trois formed in 1998 around the recording of Moore's All Kooked Out! album and was indeed a trio born from an impromptu jam session with Moore, Hunter, and Skerik. In 2000, Dillon joined the group adding softness and warmth - showcasing his vibraphone and percussive skills. He became a high-energy brother-in-arms whose percussive trickery is often point-counterpoint to Skerik's punchy squonks, hypnotic loops, and reedy squeedles. Yet Moore and Hunter, too, shared a symbiotic relationship.

"The chemistry between Stanton and Charlie was beyond deep," Dillon says. "Charlie had studied organ trios, jazz, Afro-Cuban, and other styles; he was not messing around. And Stanton's got years of New Orleans knowledge and experience."

The sound was instrumentally driven jazz-funk-rock; New Orleans strut, swagger and groove with alternately tropical melodies and fuzzed-out, looped saxophone riffs swirled with vibraphone and cross-cultural percussive elements.

Original Garage A Trois by Zack Smith
A favorite band during Jazz Fest and other party-centric celebrations, due to the members' beyond-busy schedules, Garage A Trois' tours were few and far between, and in 2007 Hunter decided to move on.

"He'd completed what he wanted to do [with Garage A Trois]," says Dillon. Moore echoes this sentiment, "He wanted to focus on his trio [The Charlie Hunter Trio] and his family." "It was like if he was gonna tour, it would be with his band," agrees Skerik.

Yet, due to the eight-stringed prowess he displayed on his Novax, a signature instrument that allowed him to simultaneously play bass lines and lead guitar, Hunter's departure effectively left the band without a bass and another instrument to define chord structure.

Knowing that they didn't want to disband fully – "We really liked playing music together," Skerik says - the remaining members played gigs with Robert Walter, John Medeski, and, says Dillon, "a bunch of other freaks."

"But we were not playing our own material; it was mostly stuff Charlie had written. Marco was used to playing bass a lot with The Duo [Benevento and Joe Russo], and they played great music, so we thought it was a perfect fit," says Skerik. "We didn't want someone who wrote in any one genre, and Marco even takes it a step further. He's such a great writer and does these lush, super-cool chord progressions."

Marco Benevento
"There was great chemistry and it quickly became apparent this was our guy," Stanton agrees. "We'd known each other for so long and knew each others' playing styles. During that first session with Marco, we all felt really comfortable, like this was the next step."

"We all got along well from the beginning" says Benevento, who'd previously played with Skerik, Dillon, and Joe Russo in Coxygen and had opened for Critters Buggin' on the East Coast. "I like to think I create freshness; the change in style is heavy. With Charlie, there was more funk and groove oriented stuff."

"There was no preconceived change in direction," says Moore, "but the darker, more aggressive sound we feel works well."

While not as loose limbed and easy to slip into as previous endeavors, Power Patriot is a cohesive, deeply textured effort. Tunes are atmospheric with the melodies painted in strong, broad strokes. A couple of the tracks are angular and contracted like a muscle, others tender and warm. The blend of organic instrumentation and synthetic electronic sounds creates an interesting, unpredictable balance. While Moore's playing sways from highly excitable rock drummer to deep in the pocket jazz, he drives each track with casual certainty. Skerik says of Moore, "Man, he's so great. He can take you to New Orleans and other places with just one song."

"Electric Door Bell Machine," one of the strongest tunes on the album finds Moore laying down a slick beat, building the skeleton for Dillon's fantastic, imaginative mallet-work, which adds shimmer and light. Benevento's playing and effects – swirlies, video arcade effects, and quirky sonics – create layers of interest and add to the compositions' musculature. Similarly, Skerik's playing is as cerebral as it is wild, and he often seems most focused in the middle of a Benevento-Dillon electrical storm. The more hardcore, low-end-electro-jazz-meets-stratospheric-rock vibe is undeniably fun, and this writer quickly found Power Patriot on heavy rotation. But this change in their sound doesn't sit well with all fans.

"People have said to me, 'You're trying to turn Stanton into a rock drummer,'" says Benevento, "but that's not the case. We're just trying new things and it's an interesting blend of half swing."

Garage A Trois by Greg Aiello
While Hunter's melodic, mellifluous playing was often in contrast to the rhythm section, Benevento's playing, though sometimes raw, better compliments the rest of the group and is in sync with Dillon and Skerik's penchant for less warm, minor chords and expanded use of the saxophone.

"I try to stay out of the way," says Skerik. "I want to play a less traditional role. I love playing chords and not a straight melody. I don't want to be obvious. I've tried to redefine the role of the sax. I never want there to be an overemphasis on obviousness!"

Indeed, the saxophone's presence has been dialed down and the minimalism is used to create atmosphere and texture with layered effects and captured loops. "People want more saxophone, but I want them to leave a show wanting more," Skerik explains. "You should never play everything you know. You've got to hold back. It's all part of the tension and release."

With Power Patriot the lineup, sound, and style are not only different, but the approach to recording the album differs from previous Garage A Trois efforts. The initial band's debut, Mysteryfunk, was comprised of spontaneous Moore, Hunter, and Skerik jam sessions. In 2003 GAT released Emphasizer, and in 2005 they recorded the may-or-may-not-have-been-a-soundtrack, Outre Mer, which was both live and acoustic. Power Patriot was recorded over two sessions at two different studios, and prior to its release was tweaked and massaged by Benevento.

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