The Frequinox :: 02.23 - 02.26 :: Colorado
For modern music geeks, the lineup for The Frequinox elicited a similar response as that seen among NBA fans when the roster for the Dream Team was announced for the 1992 Olympics. In seeing one name after another, facial expressions visibly evolved from curiosity to definite interest to "Crap, how am I going to swing gettin' a week off work?"
The backbone of the supergroup is none other than the bespectacled guru sitting behind the drum kit, Stanton Moore. He dragged Galactic's bassist Robert Mercurio along for the ride as well, forming The Frequinox from the foundation of Galactic's grooves. Will Bernard, a name familiar to fans in the Bay area, was selected for the lead guitar role. He's also turned some heads with his work with Peter Apfelbaum and Charlie Hunter. On keys is the distinguished Congressman, Robert Walter. The guy on sax is Donald Harrison. Who? He played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Oh, that Donald Harrison...
The Frequinox :: Moore & Mercurio :: Colorado
The stage was set for a five-night inaugural jaunt through the Rockies. The band would start in Boulder on Wednesday, make their way to Denver, then up to Fort Collins on Friday, and then out to the mountains to finish up the mini-tour with a weekend in Vail and Breckenridge. We managed to catch three of the five shows.
The Frequinox kicked things off at the storied Fox Theatre in Boulder. In all honesty, I was a little let down with the first twenty or thirty minutes of the show. Sure, the playing was tight, but it seemed a little too jazzy, a little too soft, and a little too "safe." After their first half-hour as a band was behind them, they collectively cranked it up a couple of notches, with Robert Walter leading the group through a number of memorable moments of improv. The highlight of the set was a slower, funked-out version of Galactic's anthemic "Hamp's Hump." At setbreak I caught up with a couple buddies taping the show, and the immediate, overwhelming consensus was "wow."
The Frequinox :: Moore & Walter :: Colorado
As solid as the overall playing was at the Fox, the difference between this show and the other nights was Stanton Moore. It seemed that he was trying to hold the band's sound together as opposed to taking charge and aggressively pushing the band to the next level, to which fans of Galactic have become accustomed over the years. It was a fun night, but by far the most average of the three shows.
Cervantes' Masterpiece, 2.24.05 - I know it's early, but this night is already a lock on my short list for "Best Show of 2005." Whatever trace of hesitation the band may have felt at the Fox had completely vanished. At the Fox, The Frequinox sounded like an impromptu all-star collaboration. The next night they sounded like a well-oiled machine that had been playing together for a decade. The difference was remarkable.
Stanton Moore was right where you would hope for him to be - pushing the others forward with that trademark half-grin, half-sneer stretched across his face. Will Bernard made his presence felt early on and was in more of a rock-star mood than the night before. At one point, Robert Mercurio's jaw dropped as he turned to Stanton, laughing, clearly in disbelief of Bernard's sudden jump in prominence. After the jam came to a triumphant finish, a passerby in the audience commented, "Ahhh...so that's why he's in the band."
The Frequinox :: Will Bernard :: Colorado
Aside from Stanton's usual mind-blowing prowess, the other member that clearly made a giant leap was Donald Harrison. It seems that while he may have been adjusting to his surroundings a bit at the initial gig, he was now completely ready to step in as a heavy-hitter for the group. Armed with an alto sax and an angular sound, his playing was simultaneously thoughtful and inspired. He seemed to be having the time of his life and would dance a jig at times while the rest of the band laid down the sound. On one song each night, Harrison assumed vocals, but his best work definitely came with a sax in front of his mouth.
The opening act for the first two nights was the Jeff Coffin Mu'tet. Coffin (sax) is most well known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but the Mu'tet has provided a nice side project while the Flecktones are starting their year-long hiatus. In what turned out to be one of the top collaborations in recent memory, The Frequinox invited him onstage during the second set, with Harrison and Coffin taking turns in a friendly funk competition. As always, the winner was the audience, and Coffin's exit was met with a thunderous round of applause.
Having Coffin step in mid-set seemed to give the band a boost, and they finished the set stronger than they started. For the encore, the band picked the perfect tune: "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" from Judas Priest's 1982 release Screaming For Vengeance. While half the crowd didn't seem to catch what it was and just enjoyed it for being a raging instrumental, the other half supplied the vocal response when cued by the band. From start to finish, it may have been the single most impressive jazz performance I've witnessed, with all due respect to MMW, Scofield, Herbie, Metheny, Stanley Jordan, and others. Literally overnight, The Frequinox went from being a "fun show" and a "good time" to a quintet as good as jazz has seen in decades.
The Frequinox :: Mercurio & Harrison :: CO
Saturday night the party moved to Vail. The group played at the 8150 Club, a place I thought my friends and family would read about in the obituaries, but I'll get to that part in a bit. I went into the show that night with fairly high expectations hedged by a more guarded feeling that maybe Cervante's was some freak occurrence, but as it turned out the band was again in fine form.
It's always a good sign when you get a Mooregasm in the set-opener: Stanton Moore, completely overtaken by the jam, jumped out of his seat to attack the drum kit, which is a move that always gets the crowd in the right mood. The club, which seemed spacious during the opening act, was overflowing with fans by the time the band got going. The man of the night was Robert Walter, and while his playing on the other two nights was top-shelf, it seemed he had more opportunities to put his skills on display in Vail. While the group's overall repertoire consists of some jazz standards, they largely borrow from their own material. For Saturday, it seemed the band leaned more heavily toward Walter's compositions.
The Frequinox :: Robert Walter :: Colorado
By the end of the first set and for the majority of the second, I had morbid thoughts of all the various nightclub disasters of late. The 8150 Club is elevated a few stories above downtown Vail, and patrons can only enter after first traversing a few sets of stairs. Though the crowd was immediately receptive to the band, they really got juiced
about half an hour into the show. From that point on, whenever the jams were approaching a climax, large portions of the audience would jump up and down in unison. While the floor was comprised of wooden planks, the result felt very much like a trampoline: your feet would leave the ground whether you jumped with the swarm or not.
When I'm at a show, I really try not to dwell on what I'm going to write about. By the last night, I was a little concerned: I have to balance all the praise with at least one noted flaw. Once or twice, they would give a quick glance at one another before someone would charge ahead with a solo, but at that point, you're really stretching it to try and find a soft spot in the performance. The sound was tight and funky, and the band didn't waste any sound - even on solos, every note seemed aimed at enhancing the depth of the jam instead of an opportunity to showboat.
The Frequinox :: Stanton Moore :: Colorado
If I had one complaint, it would actually be that they should officially shorten their moniker from "The Frequinox" to just "Frequinox."
As a die-hard Galactic fan for the past six or seven years, I could actually say with a straight face that I would not mind if The Frequinox were to become a full-time job for Mercurio and Moore. Don't get me wrong, old-school Galactic is great stuff; the difference is the other players. The infusion of Harrison, Walter, and Bernard to the grooves produced by Mercurio and Moore is akin to the addition of NBA players to the Olympic games. The comparisons just aren't even fair.
At the very least, keep your fingers crossed that their collective schedules allow the tour to continue long enough to reach your stompin' grounds. Or play it safe and go for an extended road trip this spring.
For those living outside God's Country, fret not: tour dates outside of Colorado are now slated for the Spring. I won't necessarily promise a transcendent musical experience, but I will share the sage foresight of one Homer J. Simpson: "It's gonna be better than ten Super Bowls!"
I don't want to oversell it though, you can judge for yourself.
April 22 - Tipitina's - New Orleans, LA
May 6 - The Independent - San Francisco, CA
May 7 - The Independent - San Francisco, CA
May 8 - Blue Lake Casino - Blue Lake, CA
May 9 - Harlow's - Sacramento, CA
May 11 - Kuumbwa Jazz Center - Santa Cruz, CA
May 12 - The Key Club - Hollywood, CA
May 13 - SOhO Restaurant and Music Club - Santa Barbara, CA
May 14 - Galaxy Concert Theatre - Santa Ana, CA
May 15 - Joshua Tree Music Festival (CA)
Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Robert Foster
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