Earlier this month I began hearing the name “Garage A Trois” thrown around again, which is a band that I wasn’t sure was even still in existence. The original lineup was comprised of Charlie Hunter (8-string guitar), Skerik (Sax), and Stanton Moore (drums) and was spawned from the recording sessions for Stanton‘s first solo effort, All Kooked Out (1998). During the sessions, Skerik and Hunter, who were featured on the release, ended up laying down enough extra material with Moore to release a completely separate EP as a trio. The material, mostly improvised freak-out jazz, was recorded live without overdubs and eventually became the album Mysteryfunk. In April of ‘98, the trio performed as “Moore and More” for the All Kooked Out record release party in New Orleans, but the group didn’t enter my radar until another New Orleans performance 2 years later. That show featured GAT being slightly overshadowed as the opening act for the debut performance by another “super group”, Oysterhead (Trey Anastasio/Les Claypool/Stuart Copeland).
Since their inception, the group has gone through a few changes and, with the eclectic and always collaborative band members, it’s often been difficult to even discern what constitutes the use of one band moniker from another. In 2007, Charlie Hunter decided that, with his family responsibilities and touring, he was spreading himself too thin and could only focus on his main project, The Charlie Hunter Trio. He took his 8-string guitar with him and, after trying out various temporary members, the remaining members unanimously decided on Marco Benevento‘s organ and electronic sounds to fill the huge gap that had been left. The last, and first, time that I saw GAT was in 2003, during their tour to promote their sophomore release, Emphasizer. By that point they had added Mike Dillon on vibraphone/percussion, already making the “TROIS” element in their title obsolete. They were a tight unit with matching jumpsuits and video effects. That same year, I was introduced to the Benevento/Russo Duo through a performance at Seattle‘s Bumbershoot festival, in which they brought Skerik out to perform with them. About 7 years prior, I caught Skerik performing with his outfit Critters Buggin on that exact same stage. In 2008, Mike Dillon also became an official member of the Critters Buggin crew. In addition to these acts, Skerik and Dillon perform together as part of Les Claypool‘s Flying Frog Brigade and Fancy Band projects, as well as in The Dead Kenny Gs, who’s logo was created by Claypool. The DG’s, whom Benevento has joined on stage, is a trio made up of Dillon, Skerik, and a rotating third member. For a while, the spot was filled by Brian Haas of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, but is currently being manned by Brad Houser from Critters Buggin. This essentially makes the group a “Critters Buggin Trio“, a name under which they have also performed. The Marco Benevento Trio, in fact, was made up of former-Jacob Fred member Reed Mathis and Critter’s Buggin drummer, Matt Chamberlain. Confused yet? You should be…. and I’ve given you the super stripped down version, without even mentioning Crack Sabbath, The Taint Septet, Coxygen, Tuatara, Go Go Jungle, Robert Walters, or any of the other endless twisted associations between the individual musicians. I’m just going to assume that, if Stanton Moore is involved, then it’s “technically” a Garage A Trois event. That and the fact that GAT has just released Power patriot, a new album of material, which they recently showcased during a handful of promotional dates.
Garage A Trois
Interestingly enough, the closest thing to a Garage A Trois performance that I’ve seen in recent years involved both Hunter and Benevento, when they performed with Skerik and Bobby Previte as part of The Coalition of the Willing. Just like that 2006 show, their recent performance on December 8th, also took place at Tractor Tavern in Seattle. In the past, the group has performed with Benevento as “Garage A Benevento” but, now that he’s an official member, the level of his contributions are undeniable. Not only did Marco provide heavily to the writing and editing process of Power Patriot, but it was also released by the organist’s very own Royal Potato Family label. This Seattle show kicked off the first promotional tour date for the album and, since Charlie Hunter was playing an early show at Jazz Alley, there was a lot of buzz in the air about the possibility of him showing up to sit in with his former group.
I arrived at the Tractor early and got in line. It was cold as fuck but, at that point, the turnout was still minimal and I made it inside soon enough. I bumped into a friend of friends that I’ve half-met endless times over the last decade. He introduced me to a guy named Eyton, whom I’ve also already met but who never remembers it. Eyton is a taper and I found myself up front and next to him and his DAT setup as the show began. Stanton Moore checked the sound by cracking out a beat that I recognized from his solo album, Flyin’ The Koop. Marco took his position on the left behind a variety of keys and effects. Mike Dillon, on the opposite site of the stage, was equipped with his vibraphone, timbales and a set of tablas at his feet. Skerik edged his way through the front of the crowd in a black, zip-up Dead Kenny Gs sweatshirt, took center stage, and strapped on his saxophone. When he took off his hoodie, he was wearing an Easy Street Records T-Shirt. Dillon was sporting one too; they had played a free show at the West Seattle store location earlier in the day. Graphic designer and Little Big Band guitarist, Maurice Caldwell Jr. stood stage-side in support of his friends from Critters Buggin. I turned around to notice that there was little room behind me and that the venue had been packed. The show was sold out.
The music started out with Mike Dillon and a melody from his vibraphone, while Skerik got the crowd amped up by welcoming everyone to their CD release party. “…and we mean “party”! ‘cuz we love to make records and we love to release! We love the tension and release!” After a few more measures of strictly vibes, Benevento and Moore dropped in with the low end of the rhythm section. Shortly after Skerik entered, stretching out his brass and buoying it atop the rest of the thick groove. The track was “Electric Doorbell Machine“, the one and only song from the new album which contains multiple writing credits (Dillon, Benevento, Skerik), and it was an immediate display of how well the current formation of GAT is able to mesh. For everyone that claims that the loss of Charlie Hunter‘s 8-string undoubtedly leaves gaping and irreplaceable holes in the quartet’s sound, I disagree. I think it’s important to remember that Benevento gained his first real notoriety as part of a DUO, that filled out a crazy amount of sound between only himself and Joe Russo on drums. Hunter‘s great, but a better replacement couldn’t have been found. During “Electric Doorbell Machine“, Marco laid down a solid bass line on the keys that mirrored the higher notes from Dillon across the stage. Skerik swooped in and out of the track like a woodwind falcon and Stanton Moore‘s beats incorporated elaborate fills that, remarkably, never over powered the sound. The early, scattered energy of the crowd had all been redirected in a unified streams towards the stage and the members of the audience pumped and churned along like pistons, or the cogs and sprockets in the workings of one giant machine. The show had started off with a brisk jog and showed no signs of ever slowing down.
The next song began as a dual drum jam between Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon on his timbales. Benevento slowly eased in with some low notes until the song transitioned into the upbeat “The Real Morning Party” from his solo album Invisible Baby. After the track Skerik screamed out “Teleprompter setlist, redneck style!” and Mike Dillon responded by holding up a piece of paper with the set-list scrawled on it for him to see. Then, in a Walter Cronkite voice, Dillon added, “Yes the brown paper bag redneck teleprompter set-list in effect ladies and gentlemen“. After some more banter, Skerik instructed everyone to “stretch it out!” and the group performed arm stretches by pulling their wrists over their heads. A driving psychedelic rhythm kicked in and they were off again, playing another new track, the spy-jazzy “Rescue Spreaders” (Benevento).
The show was officially going full force. They followed with the Dillon composed, “Dugout” which allowed the percussionist to showcase his prowess on the vibes and even offered Benevento ample room to throw down some ridiculous keyboard work. The next song, “Dory’s Day Out“, was also a Dillon composition from the new album, but it took the show into lighter, more ethereal directions. Benevento layered his circuit bent toy sounds over the twinkling vibes and then slowly dropped in a deep bass groove. The song was a dreamy sparkling odyssey that wouldn’t seem out of place in the repertoire of French duo, AIR. Mike Dillon pulled out even more intricate vibe-work and Marco shot electronic sounds everywhere, but “Dory’s Day Out” finds it’s foundation resting on perfectly timed subtleties. I’ve seen Skerik command entire shows by himself, but the saxophonist knows just when to add his touch to a song and when to back off. This was apparent, not only during this song, but throughout the entire show.
They finished off the set with a 20-plus minute rendition of the Skerik-written, freak jazz title-track from Power Patriot, a song that runs a mere 3:22 on the actual album. They stretched the fuck out of the song, allowing each member to have an opportunity to highlight their abilities through individual solos. Stanton floated around his kit like a humming bird and Skerik screeched out filtered noise, via his mouth through his saxophone mic. Charlie Hunter had wandered in by then and, along with the props called out to him during the jam, Dillon spit a mediocre free-style rap about smoking weed with Marco and Skerik even represented Stanton Moore‘s hometown by yelling out the New Orleans chant of “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?“. They took a break to catch their breaths and sell/sign cds at the edge of the stage.
I went to the bathroom, grabbed 2 beers and squeezed back into my little spot by the stage before the second set began. The quartet eased the the second half in with the slow build up and wispy sax work of “Computer Crimes“. Next was the aggressive rhythm of Marco‘s “Fragile“, featuring an unleashing of Skerik‘s various squawks and squeals and Dillon‘s vicious vibe attacks. “Fragile” is like the soundtrack to an alleyway chase sequence in a Daniel Craig, Bond film. Both of these second set lead off tracks are fine examples of the spy-jazz elements that are definitely woven into GAT‘s new album. “Fat Redneck Gangster“, which they dove into immediately after wards, worked as even further evidence. At some point I spilled my second beer all over the floor, near where I was standing. A girl that was standing next to us joked by pointing out that I was “that guy“. I hate “that guy“, partially because, just like myself, “that guy” never even gives a fuck.
For the next song, Charlie Hunter was brought on stage. He didn’t have his 8-string with him; instead, he joined Marco over at the set up of his organ and various keys. They stood side by side and Hunter cranked out the bassline “The Dwarf” off of the Garage A Trois created “soundtrack” to what was, supposedly, an unreleased French film called, Outre Mer. Charlie‘s presence not only added a second wind to the show, but also freed up Benevento to kick into some crazy all-out solo’s over the track. As Hunter left the stage to applause, Skerik‘s rants and comic relief were at a high for the night. “Oh is it too late Ballard, do we have to stop?!” “I’ve gotta be at microsoft…” “Oh, but there’s a sale at REI. I gotta be there when they open… I’ve have to buy more things with the color teal!” While Skerik spewed out light-hearted jabs at his home town, Stanton and Dillon had entered into another dual drum routine. This time it turned into what appeared to be a version of “Interpretive Ape Dance” from the Emphasizer record. During this segment, Dillon was able to utilize multiple percussion instruments, including a cuica. The next song started with Skerik screaming “Takin’ it Sacramento!” and Dillon following up with “Takin’ it Sacramento, motherfucker!” They yelled, chanted, even rapped over a few select portions of the song, which was actually just a jazzed out cover of “Twin Killers” by the band Deerhoof. When it was over Skerik apologized by saying, “Sorry for talking on your song Deerhoof. I’ll shut up next time“. I didn’t recognize what the next song was but, halfway through it, it morphed into a great rendition of “Summertime Rolls” by Jane’s Addiction. By the looks of the rest of the crowd, I don’t think many people caught it. They finished off the show by bringing Hunter back on stage with Maurice Caldwell Jr. and playing a chaotic version of “Scratchitti” (Benevento/Russo Duo). Charlie jumped on the timbales, Caldwell sang random shit like, “Must be santa!” into the mic, and Dillon ripped his shirt off. The song shot all over the place, accelerated, and ended in a crash of jazz punk noise. The musicians left the stage and wandered around the audience and the crowd eventually dissipated into a few mere stragglers before I headed home.
A group like Garage A Trois will, undoubtedly, draw two types of comparisons; one to it’s former lineup and another to the individual projects of it’s members. As far as the replacement of Charlie Hunter is concerned, I like the new direction that the group has taken. Benevento does add more of an aggressive rock dynamic and other changes, but they are ones that work and they work well. Of the previous GAT releases, Outre Mer is perhaps the most focused and cohesive by the jazz quartet and, although Hunter‘s touch on the 2005 record is undeniable, he has been quoted as saying the following about the album’s “concept” in an interview, “It’s all Skerik. Basically, Stanton and Mike and Skerik and I got together and Stanton and I worked out a lot of grooves in the studio“. He also stated, “I was just down in New Orleans for the week that we recorded it. I wish I could tell you something; I do so much stuff that I’m totally ignorant as to what the thing is even about!” With his various responsibilities limiting his time and ability to contribute sufficiently, Hunter graciously bowed out in benefit of the quartet. Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about his replacement, Benevento has more than taken up the slack of his predecessor. After the show, I spoke very briefly with organist. Since my interview with the him 2 years ago, Marco has released 2 solo albums and a DVD, started his own label, had a second child, and, not unlike his band mates, has toured continuously, as part of one project or another. I asked him where and how he found time to squeeze working with Garage A Trois into his already packed schedule and he looked back at me clueless, as if my question didn’t make any sense.
However the members of GAT were able to find time to work together, the quality of the project doesn’t give any indication that it was rushed or “squeezed in”. Garage A Trois manages to avoid having a fragmented sound that is often present in the material from other “super groups” like Oysterhead. Without the liner notes, It would be difficult to determine who composed each of the individual tracks, because of the incredible cohesion within them. The voices of each member meld together, without trampling over and muffling each other. GAT has become more than a side project; it has become a legitimate force in it’s own right. It is an assemblage that I hope the members are able to revisit often and, when they do, I encourage everyone to catch them live. Quite fortunately, Power Patriot is also more than just a typical release. While most jazz and/or jamband releases often can’t compare to the groups dynamic in a live setting, this release captures Garage A Trois‘ wild improvisational spirit, as well as the subtleties and intricacies of the member’s abilities through its production.
DOWNLOAD THE ENTIRE SHOW
To Download a FLAC copy of EYTON’s Live Recording of the show CLICK HERE
(use review for more accurate set list)
To stream/download this & other recordings from EYTON’s archive.org page link HERE