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Emphasizer by Garage a Trois

It’s a good year for Charlie Hunter fans. Hot on the heels of his terrific new Quintet CD, Right Now Move, he’s back with Garage a Trois, a group that formed during drummer Stanton Moore’s 1998 session, All Kooked Out. The group is fleshed out with reedman/multi-instrumentalist Skerik, and percussionist Mike Dillon. Dubbed a white noise improv band, Garage a Trois’ first release, Emphasizer, bridges the gap between rock/funk-oriented jam bands and more jazz-centric groups like Hunter’s and MMW.

This is not Hunter’s band though, rather a collective that revels in greasy grooves and infectious melodies that will keep the jam band faction dancing, while at the same time exposing them to more jazz-oriented harmonic invention.

Much like Right Now Move, Hunter is content primarily to provide support for the other players. His ability to maintain fluid bass lines on the bottom three strings of his 8-string guitar, while comping or stating melodies on the top five strings makes him a unique player in contemporary jazz.

Grooves abound. Moore provides a funky foundation for both the fully improvised pieces and the more structured tunes. His piece, "Sprung Monkey", ambles along with Hunter providing his usual "man with two brains" support. Dillon’s vibes are fed through distortion and a filter to give it an other worldly sound, while Skerik lays down a baritone solo that, at the same time, squeaks and squawks while moving melodically through the changes.

Hunter’s "Plena for My Grundle" takes us south of the border for a Mexican Festival. Skerik’s horn section dips and weaves through the tempo changes with remarkable ease.

The group improvisation, "A-Frame", is like a P-Funk jam complete with screaming distorted guitar and punctuating horn section before breaking down into a rhythm solo with what sounds like someone’s radio going on the fritz.

Thelonious Monk’s pretty ballad, "We See", is given a relatively straight reading, with Skerik’s tender tenor staying close to the melody, and Hunter providing a chordal backdrop that verges on country.

Dillon contributes "Launch", an uptempo tune with a quirky head that leads into a raucous free section before shifting into a funky groove. Check out how the rhythm section follows Dillon’s vibes solo with an almost empathic ease.

"Gat Swamba", another Hunter tune, has its roots in samba, but Moore makes it sound more like a New Orleans march.

The album closes with a gamelan sounding improvisation, "House of Hand Wash", with Dillon and Skerik sharing marimba duties.

Emphasizer is a record that, while keeping a strong emphasis on rhythm and groove, is compositionally more interesting than many of Garage a Trois' contemporaries. It serves as a great introduction to all the players, and will appeal to fans of groove-oriented improvised music.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Garage a Trois
  • CD Title: Emphasizer
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Tone-Cool/Artemis Records
  • Tracks: Hard Headed Rio AKA Rio Cuca Dura, Sprung Monkey, Plena for Me Grundle, A-Frame, We See, Interpretive Ape Dance, Launch, Gat Swamba, Delta Skelta, House of Hand Wash
  • Musicians: Mike Dillon (percussion, vibraphone, marimba, congas, tabla, gong, bells, cuica, effects), Charlie Hunter (8-string guitar, panderio), Stanton Moore (drums, cymbals), Skerik (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, suona double reed horn, drum, cracklebox, analog synth, effects, distortion, marimba)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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