Have you seen Angels in America?

Stanton Moore by Michael Piazza
Remember the scene where the pill-popping, Valium-addicted Mormon wife and the AIDS-inflicted protagonist meet each other in a mutual medication-induced dream? The woman is dumbfounded as to why they are sharing this vision because they had never met prior to the subconscious encounter. She contends that nothing in life is truly original. Every thing that the brain perceives as original is actually a tiny sliver of people, places, and things that we've already experienced in life, amalgamated together to form something that we think is completely new and fresh but is actually just an aggregation of things we already know, just in different shapes and sizes. After I heard that speech, it changed the whole way that I looked at the world. It especially influenced the way I listen to music since it seems to me that so much of current music, from the live music scene to MTV, has all been done before. Just because you are wearing a shorter skirt, two full-sleeve tattoos, or glitter patchwork pants doesn't make you original. Maybe nothing or no one is truly original, but I think Stanton Moore comes pretty close.

Stanton Moore by Dino Perrucci
Stanton is best known as the percussive groove anchor for Galactic, but his outside projects are numerous, varied, and in my opinion, superior to the work he does with his mainstay band. With each different hat that he wears, Stanton brings a distinctive flavor to each band that is always unmistakably Stanton but also tailored to fit that particular outfit. Before he landed on the West Coast for a California tour with his all-star funk powerhouse ensemble, The Frequinox (Robert Walters, Donald Harrison, Will Bernard, and Robert Mercurio) I caught up with him in New Orleans, the day before Jazz Fest began. He was driving around New Orleans trying to run errands before everything broke loose. "You have five primary projects, correct?" I asked. "Galactic, The Frequinox, Garage a Trois, Moore and More, and the Stanton Moore Trio?" He shot me right down. "Actually, no." Then, he rattled off a lengthy list of recent and regular collaborations with New Orleans artists from Leo Nocentelli to Tim Green. The newest thing on his plate, and what he was most excited about, was his recent recording with Corrosion of Conformity. When I heard that I did a double-take and kind of chuckled - one of those surprised laughs when you're not sure what to say. He laughed with me a little and then got semi-serious.

"It's hardcore, really. It's a killer record and honestly one of the coolest things I've ever been a part of," he explained. "It's a real roots heavy metal sound, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Skynyrd." I asked him if it was a challenge to play for a hardcore band, since his sound and style is so distinctly funk-infused. "No, it wasn't hard at all. Before I ever listened to the Meters or Coltrane, I was listening to Black Sabbath. Sabotage was the first record I had when I was 11, so it was real natural to go back to heavy metal. And those guys had a lot of the same influences that I did, like Elvin Jones, Earle Palmer, Bonham. It's pretty fuckin' cool."

The Frequinox by Dino Perrucci
When I saw the Frequinox at The Independent on May 6th, I could hear hardcore elements pounding out of the drum kit. While this group is without a doubt a star-laden collective, Stanton was the omnipotent force that strung the whole thing together. Granted, that is the job of any drummer - to lay down the foundation of the groove, but in this setting, Moore's presence and rhythm were overwhelming. He jumped to his feet more than once and pummeled his kit with solid aggression. Interwoven with undeniable funk beats was a hard metal energy that was nothing short of electrifying. It was especially intriguing to me when I reflected on our conversation. I asked him to give me a brief rundown of (what I consider to be) his four most prominent projects: Galactic, Garage a Trois, Moore and More, and the Frequinox.

Stanton Moore with Galactic
By Gene Felice
"Galactic is about taking vintage New Orleans funk and putting a new spin on it, like looping. It's a big beat sound about making the groove relentless – an instant head-bobbing kind of thing. Moore and More started out as my way to work on playing and learning more jazz. We were playing a lot of Wayne Shorter and Elvin Jones, but it evolved into this dance/jazz/funk group because audiences were expecting a party instead of sit-down jazz. (The Stanton Moore Trio has since emerged as his more pure listening jazz group.) Charlie Hunter and Skerik played with me on the first Moore and More record and that evolved into Garage a Trois. That band is all about creating grooves that didn't exist before. Charlie chose to put things in different scales, and that forced all of us to write in new ways. So I would have something like a Brazilian rhythm in the right hand, a Mardi Gras Indian beat in the left hand, and an Afro-Cuban in the bass drum."

(Think about that for a second. I can barely walk my dog and talk on the phone at same time without running the risk of impaling myself on a parking meter - or worse.)

"The Frequinox was originally a super jam kind of thing, but we had such fun doing it that we all felt like 'Damn, we gotta do this more!' For that group, anything from 1969 - 1974 funk is fair game. Meters, James Brown, Booker T and the MGs - all of the stuff we grew up listening to we could just play and have it be fun and funky. We didn't have to worry about doing something new, we could just play funk and write tunes within that same style. Of course, you put Donald Harrison on pretty much anything, and it's bound to be funky. It's really natural playing with these guys."

Moore and Walter :: The Frequinox
By Rob Foster
Their comfort level was matched by the level of musicianship, which was exceptional. It was New Orleans in San Francisco for a night; an undeniably funky dance party that you hoped would go on for hours. Will Bernard's guitar licks were intuitive, creating symbiotic grooves with his band mates without veering into the self-indulgent wailing guitar zone. Robert Walter is a skilled keyboardist, and while I love the sound of a Hammond B3, he sounded most captivating on the Fender Rhodes. I've read a lot of press about this band that describes it as the intersection of New Orleans boogaloo and West Coast soul-jazz. The songs with Walter on the Rhodes made that press package banter come true. It was a unification of two styles to create a new sound. Donald Harrison's saxophone work was startling, daring, and evocative. It is true – just add Harrison for a funky good time. I was indifferent about Robert Mercurio's bass skill prior to this evening, but his bass lines were complex, improvisational, and original. Or course it is possible that it was just little pieces of other bass players that I've heard over the course of my life combined together to create something that I only thought was original, but even if that was the case, I was still impressed. There were elements of Les Claypool, Oteil Burbridge, George Porter Jr., and Christian McBride channeled into one bassist. It was a complete package.

Even with this mountain of sheer musical excellence on stage, it would have been lost without Stanton behind the kit. When you go to Galactic's website, Stanton Moore is the first thing you see for a reason. This unassuming man with Buddy Holly glasses is a juggernaut of rhythm. He re-invents himself every time he sits behind his kit to bring a sound that is fresh and unique. Maybe nothing is original, but Stanton Moore is inimitable. When is Corrosion of Conformity coming to town?

Robyn Rubinstein
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 6/1/05]

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