Das Rut | August 23rd and 24th, 2003 | Boom Boom Room | San Francisco, CA

Reggie Watts
Photo by Bruce Moore
What is Das Rut? Here: I’ll give you some hints. It is from Seattle, but it isn't a flavor of coffee or a Microsoft application. They lead the way in the Pacific Northwest funk-groove scene, but they aren't in a band. Want another clue? There's never practice, there are no songs per se, and there's certainly no set list. Das Rut is more of an adjective than a noun – it describes an ever-changing line-up of Seattle players, and has evolved into what is essentially a collective. Das Rut is what happens when a group of musicians come together and through experimentation, improvisation and instinct, push one another to better themselves and those around them through their music.

Das Rut defies musical categorization, but takes it's influences from jazz, funk, rock, R&B and soul - some have described it as simply "groove" or as imaginatively as "electro-soul." Not needing stringent classification, it is essentially a funk band, which improvises in a song context, as opposed to a less disciplined jam-oriented one. Striving to leave space and concentrate on the groove, while at the same time creating form through improvisation is what Das Rut does – and they do it very, very well.

You know a groove when you hear it, even if you have never heard it before and may never hear it again. It is seductive then infectious, causing your conscious listening and processing capabilities to give way to the body's autonomic grooving system.

So, let’s talk a little about the core artists of Das Rut, as they are an ever-rotating cast of characters. Das Rut was born in August 2000 and had a slightly different line-up from today. Currently, Das Rut is made up of Davis Martin and Paul "PK" Kemmish on drums and bass, respectively, who are sole proprietors of one of the tighter rhythm sections around. Friends since high school, these gentlemen hold down beats that often fight to be free. Guitarist Thaddeus Turner and keyboardist Steve Scalfati provide melody and the tone, varying from what comes damned close to a chunky 'butt rock' feel to a more narcotic, restrained and supple groove. Chris "CD" Littlefield plays both the trumpet and the flugelehorn, adding a subtle, yet compelling layer through his personal style and his use of effects pedals. Reggie Watts rounds out the team on vocals and keys, later adding a device called the Regg-e-phone in conjunction with a Line 6 DL4 processor. He creates hypnotic vocal loops over, under, and with the other players creating layers and texture, often using his immediate surroundings for inspiration. This collection of players is the longest running line-up, however since its inception many local, even national artists have played with Das Rut and have witnessed it’s evolution.

Paul "PK" Kemmish
Many times at their shows, I have had the distinct feeling that the Das Rut I am seeing have exceeded themselves, moved past what they had previously thought possible – maybe learned something even they didn't know they didn't know. That can be very special and rare, given Das Rut boasts members of both Maktub and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe . These intimate public displays reinforce a bond in an already tight-knit and nurturing arts community, built on mutual support and affection between the players and their audience. Das Rut is PK's brainchild, as he explained it to me, "Das Rut is as much for the players as it is for the people watching. We have more fun in that band than anything!" Not everything Das Rut does works all the time, but they are incredibly perceptive of what's going on both in and out of the band. When the unthinkable happens and Das Rut strays, I remind myself of the maxim that "talent does what it can, but genius does what it must," and by then Das Rut has caught another set of grooves rolling in.

The concept behind a free-form band environment is exactly why Das Rut has been so successful, becoming a catch-all for the cream of the crop in Seattle's popular jazz-funk scene. Says PK, "We have no agenda and no expectations. It's utter freedom. It is a creative playground with no fear of repercussion or judgment." There's a good deal of knowledge between artists about players' habits and hooks, and this comfort level and chemistry are essential to this act. It is all about sharing the invariably positive message of music with people and having a good time. "I like to make people dance and feel good and it's easier in a positive environment," explains PK.

Let's sum up. We've got a band that exists as a collective, which doesn't practice, doesn't perform non-improvised songs, and thus can't even consider writing set lists, and doesn't want to tour or be signed. Sounds crazy, no? Not so crazy when you consider they sold out a two-night stand in January of 2003 at San Francisco's Boom Boom Room, 800-plus miles from home, with little more than word of mouth. In fact, the Boom Boom Room is the only venue outside Seattle that Das Rut has played. By now, you should be wondering if these guys aren't on to something.

So what does the future hold for Das Rut and it's members? On August 23rd and 24th, 2003, Das Rut will return to San Francisco for two more nights at the Boom Boom Room. Other than that, Das Rut will continue to play in whatever form is available on any given night somewhere in the greater Seattle area. There is no desire to promote themselves into a tour, record contract or anything so tangible. Instead they allow Maktub to focus on their own thing. "The bigger it gets, the more I want to push it down," says PK about branching out with Das Rut. For the players, it is about playing in the moment, serving it up to people who crave intelligent music, and having a good time." So, what is Das Rut? All about the moment, the music and its message. Visit Das Rut online.

Courtnay Scott
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