Jazzy Jambalaya

New Orleans' Garage a Trois mix up a musical gumbo.

According to Stanton Moore, drummer for the funky jazz super-group Garage a Trois, there are two words he likes to avoid when talking about his band's music--and they are both brought to you by the letter J.

But forgoing the use of either of the "J words" during discussion of Garage a Trois is like convincing the Rolling Stones it's time to retire. It's simply not going to happen.

That's because one of the words is "jazz." The other? "Jam," as in "jam band."

Frankly, much of what Garage a Trois does is steeped in jazz tradition, whether it's from New Orleans or New York or San Francisco. Whether it's blues, funk or rock, it all has roots in jazz.

Improvisation and jazz structures dominate. This also means there is likely to be a lot of jamming, and in Garage a Trois' case, it is generously democratic jamming.

When this is mentioned to Moore, he concurs.

"Yeah, I think everybody in the band has got a lot of mutual respect for each other," says Moore over the wire from his home in New Orleans.

"People tell me--and this is other people talking, right?--that they've rarely seen a band that can switch off leadership as smoothly as we do. But it's true. We're tight enough, I think, but when we're playing, there is always the room for one of us to look at the other and say 'Oh, I've got it,' and we just let them go. You know: 'I've got an idea and let me lead the way for a minute.'"

In addition to Moore, leading the way in Garage a Trois are: renowned eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter (who has led his own groups for more than 10 years), saxophonist Skerik (whose résumé includes work with Tuatara, Critters Buggin', Les Claypool and Roger Waters) and percussionist and vibes player Mike Dillon (Critters Buggin', Les Claypool, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe).

Moore, by the way, holds down the drum chair in the New Orleans band Galactic, a funky, jazzy group that constantly tours and is preparing to release its sixth album, Ruckus, next month.

Moore just got off the road with Galactic in time for the current tour with Garage a Trois, which is promoting its first album, the glorious Empathizer, on which funk and jazz commingle with rock, Latin, Caribbean, New Orleans soul, Brazilian percussion and a little skronk.

"After two weeks with Garage a Trois, then I go out for another seven weeks with Galactic," says Moore, enthusiastically.

He says Garage a Trois began in a fashion when he did a solo record titled Moore and More in 1998. In that band were Hunter, Skerik and a bunch of New Orleans guys. "Then we got Mike Dillon on vibes, and in 2000. I guess, was when we started calling it Garage a Trois."

Legend has it that Garage a Trois debuted with a successful performance at the prestigious New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, colloquially called Jazz Fest. This is an exaggeration.

Moore sets the record straight. "We played gigs around Jazz Fest then. We played Jazz Fest this year, though."

There's one of those "J words" again.

But the music on Empathizer is so accessible and challenging, it sounds like the answer to a problem that has for decades plagued jazz musicians--how do you attract young people to the listenership?

It's a question that is asked and sometimes answered by Hunter's combos, Galactic, Denson and Medeski, and Martin and Wood, among other artists.

Moore quickly sidesteps claiming any "great jazz hope" role for Garage a Trois, the members of which range in age from 31 to 36.

"We play to an audience that tends to appreciate a wide span of different kinds of musical experiences. We just play the music that we play," he says. "We're trying to blend different styles and try to come up with things that haven't really been done before."

The band's varied interests are represented in some of the artists that get play on its tour bus: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban music, Charles Lloyd.

Music buffs who've heard Charlie Hunter play--and he has appeared in Tucson on several occasions, as has Galactic--know he responds well to percussionists. Moore attests to this, citing the musical communication the two share.

It's not surprising to learn from Moore that Hunter is also a talented percussionist: "He'll actually, in a set, put down his eight-string and pick up a percussion instrument and fit right into the groove."

Hunter is well known for playing bass and guitar parts simultaneously on his unique eight-string guitar.

"He's a very rhythm-oriented player. He's got really good time," Moore says of his ax-wielding band-mate. "He's gotta, the way he plays the bottom as well as the lead."

When Garage a Trois hits Tucson, it will be with the piano-based trio The Bad Plus, which recently released its debut album, These Are the Vistas, on which it plays straight-ahead jazz with a roaring, clattering twist.

The group also has been known to cover such pop tunes as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Blondie's "Heart of Glass," Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," Abba's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and Aphex Twin's "Flim."

Moore hasn't actually seen The Bad Plus play yet, but he's looking forward to it, he says.

"It seems cool. It's always good when people play instrumental, improvisational music. We're excited to do the tour with them."

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