With a name like Yamagata, you probably would not suspect that these jazz fusionists are rising to the top in -of all places- Memphis, Tennessee. "The original research into the name Yamagata turned up that he was a Japanese Shogun who protected the peace in the Japanese Republic," explains Clay Maddox, the band's contact man and jack-of-all-trades, bartender included. "We loved the idea of being messengers and protectors of peace through music." In fact, the original Yamagata-san overthrew the Shoguns (representatives of loyalty and trust) and established himself as the feared military dictator. A century later, this incarnation of Yamagata features Joe Austin and Perry Osborne on guitars, Andy Neely on bass, and Jim Britt on drums - radically different kind of revolutionaries. Yamagata's mesmerizing live shows display their influences of classic jazz to fat funk to heavy rock; they combine a vault of original tunes and a repertoire of covers and transform them into lustrous sounds with no limitations.

Formed two years ago out of a local improv jam, Yamagata continues to crisscross the Southeast with well-written originals, and stratospheric covers that range from Miles Davis to Medeski, Martin and Wood to Steely Dan to the Beastie Boys. They'll go from a Wes Montgomery tune to putting their own spin on an Allman Brothers classic like Elizabeth Reed [10 MB download]. They've played such Memphis haunts such as Newby's, Willie Mitchell's Legends on Beale St., and the Hi-Tone, as well as frequent runs to Nashville, Knoxville, and Oxford. They seduce the audience with ritualistic performances that convert off-the-street bar patrons into euphoric believers. "We're having deep driving musical conversations when we play," says Neely. Yamagata also adds spice with guests ranging from rappers to opera singers, DJs to keyboard duos. Osborne explains their rising popularity by saying, "When the crowd comes back they're going to bring a friend to show them what they've been missing."

Originally a trio, Yamagata tours as a base quintet with revolving road players. Sax player Jeff Walden is a member of the Navy band and cannot always make the Yamagata shows. Fortunately, Walden is known to pull off some amazing zigzag roadtrips. Rick Dolan travels and plays trumpet when Jeff is performing his Naval duties, and usually during hometown gigs both gentlemen play for a tighter, shinier sound. Is Yamagata having fun? Walden exclaims, "As Bird said, 'If you don't love it, it won't come out of your horn.' It's ridiculous, the good vibe we're getting."

Yamagata's innovative musical style is based more on melody, tone and clarity than blinding solos. The confident jams are akin to a hike through the enchanted forest -with each change the band is exploring a new, exciting terrain. They seem to be hiking in the right direction. Britt, who stands 6 foot 6 for the record, uses his expert classical percussive training to enhance that confidence. Perry Osborne says of a jam that really clicks, "When we're all in the pocket, things just start happening. That's when the sparks start flying, and that's when you hear Yamagata at its fullest. We play how we feel and we try to express that on stage, and we want people to leave our shows with a new understanding of how our music is alive."

In 1997, Yamagata began a series of sessions that forged the basis for their debut album Eveland. The title, Eveland, is a play on Evelyn Street where the band was conceived. The recording took place at "the Webb Site" in Memphis with contributions from several hometown talents including: Banyan keyboardist Ross Rice, jazz vocalist Kelly Hurt, saxophonists Jeff Griffith and Jeff Huddleston, and FreeWorld's Steve Dolan and Prentiss Wolff-Woesten on trumpet and trombone respectively. The concept behind Eveland was to capture Yamagata's unique energy and sound in forms that define the foundations for their explosive live performances. When you download one of the tracks on "Eveland" Dancing Goats, note that the guitar and saxophone lick at the beginning was the inspiration for that title. Yamagata continues to evolve and develop its song bank and musical range and is gathering selections for a live album. What does the future hold for Yamagata? Austin sums it up best: "Eventually, we want people to know our sound, and upon hearing a new band say, 'Hey, that sounds like Yamagata' instead of rock, or jazz, or funk." Look for them on an extensive Southeast tour this winter.

Visit JamBase's Yamagata Page for Tourdates, Links & Band Info!

To Contact Yamagata:
Clay Maddox - yamagatamusic@hotmail.com - 901.722.8543
2035 Evelyn | Memphis, TN 38104
Website: http://www.yamagatamusic.com/

To purchase Eveland from the Homegrown Music Network, click here.

by Joanna Lux in San Francisco
[Published on: 5/20/00]

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