The Bakerton Group: El Rojo

By: Jake Krolick

It is cool that superheroes have alter egos, but it’s a hell of a lot cooler when musicians bust them out to unleash some pent up creative juices waiting to be freed. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen bands like Black Flag record an entirely instrumental jazz-meets-punk EP (The Process of Weeding Out). Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello‘s side project strays to a softer political side with The Nightwatchman. A side project can also be a band that takes on an “alter-ego” usually in order to play a different style of music that their fans are not used to. Some good examples of these types of side projects would be Weezer, who doubles as the Nirvana cover band Goat Punishment , or Brain Damaged Eggmen with Umphrey’s McGee and The Disco Biscuits.

The Bakerton Group, aka “the psychedelic instrumental jazz-laden alter ego” of Maryland’s Clutch, has tossed their tradition aside again to record something new entitled El Rojo (arriving February 17 on Weathermaker Music). This third time around, Clutch’s original four have recruited Opeth‘s keyboardist Per Wiberg. All five members absolutely shine on this record, which comes off as a vivacious instrumental rock album with grooves that are deeper than many jazz offerings today. What The Bakerton Group has created on El Rojo sounds like something torn from an older page in the Gov’t Mule catalog, mixed with a healthy dash of Soulive.

It’s no wonder Swede Per Wiberg has been added to the lineup. His surprisingly diverse iPod playlist includes Ornette Coleman, the North Mississippi Allstars and The Roots. These influences help move his hand across the keys, smoothing out the sound while supplying a refined spirit to the music. Wiberg’s style and heavy hand lands between Deep Purple‘s John Lord and The Doors‘ Ray Manzarek. He rules the keys during “Bien Classico” and “Bill Proger’s Galaxy” as his loose chops glue together the sax and guitar strands into shimmering, newborn soul.

Drummer extraordinaire Jean-Paul Gaster beats down rhythms that make your shoulders shudder and the hair stand up on the back of your neck like it’s your turn at the judge’s stand. His job goes way beyond timekeeper as he interjects crisp, clean pounds on the skins. Neil Fallon and Tim Sult‘s guitar work speaks for itself. Their frequent dips and swings on their axes drip style and a rhythmic drive that creates a sense of constant motion. For every bend of the string there is a soaring rip across the face, spilling notes so fast you’ll skip back tracks to make sure you’ve properly heard certain sections. “Peruvian Airspace” introduces some wah-wah pedal work that shows off Fallon and Sult’s raw power and stringed acrobatics reminiscent of Jimmy Page. Their guitar lines take the jam sessions known as “The Gigantowakhia” and “Bill Proger’s Galaxy” through a huge range of emotions. I’ve given up trying to fight the urge to mouth out the jam and play along on air guitar. The peaks and valleys they create are punctuated ever so sweetly by Dan Maines‘ bass. He drops us into all the right pockets with his walking baselines.

The Bakerton Group and Clutch began a new tour of the United States on February 11 running through March 3 (see dates here). This was my first taste of The Bakerton Group, but El Rojo has me frantically digging for more.

A double live shot of vintage Bakerton Group to bring us all up to speed!

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