Space Jam

'Funktronic rock' band Particle is accelerating its pace.

Without an album to promote, without radio airplay to speak of, without record-company hype or the accompanying promotional dollars, the Los Angeles-based Particle has become a sensation in live venues around the country. The 3-year-old band plays an instrumental mind-meld of spacey rock, funky grooves, jazzy improvisation, with touches of electronica and hip-hop, at more than 150 dates a year.

Dubbing its trademark sound "funktronic rock," Particle's primary mission is simple.

"We like to make people dance and smile. We like to spread a lot of positivity within our music," says bassist Eric Gould in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

"We're coming from a place where we'd really like to, as much as possible, open up a groove that has room for musical tangents that can take the music somewhere it hasn't been before," Gould continues. "We like to try to bring to each jam and to each show something new. We learn together musically; we learn as individuals; and it helps us grow as a band."

That growth process continues when Particle collides with Arizona on a mini-tour this weekend. The band will perform Friday, Dec. 5, in Tucson's venerable Rialto Theatre. The Tucson gig comes in between shows at the Orpheum Theatre in Flagstaff (Dec. 4) and at the massive Bash on Ash in Tempe (Dec. 6).

The quartet--which includes drummer Darren Pujalet, keyboardist Steve Molitz and guitarist Charlie Hitchcock, whose ages range from late 20s to early 30s--has established itself the old-fashioned way, through grassroots, word-of-mouth support and seemingly endless touring.

"If you really know what's going on in the music world today, you know the power of the Internet and the power of word of mouth," Gould says. "There is an incredible network of music lovers all over the world who search out and find and trade and share what they think are the good sounds. They are what keeps the music business young. If you want to look to the future as a band, you have to get your music to those people."

This approach is both tradition and aesthetic among the so-called jam bands, from the Grateful Dead to Medeski, Martin & Wood, from Phish to Galactic.

But Particle doesn't simply appeal to the jam-band faithful. Influences can be heard in its music as diverse as Miles Davis's '70s-period electric bands, Pink Floyd's surreal art-rock and the pillar of funk: Parliament-Funkadelic.

True, the group performed for more than five hours to a crowd 20,000-strong at last year's jam-oriented Bonnaroo Music Festival near Nashville. But it also has played the industry showcase South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas; the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California; the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; and a well-received Japanese concert tour this past April.

And although Particle has established its reputation in the homegrown jam-band sub-culture, its members aren't afraid of being embraced by the musical mainstream--as long as it happens on their terms.

"I think we like creating our own vibe and expanding it," says drummer Pujalet, also over the phone from L.A. "And maybe if enough people are drawn to it, it would become part of the mainstream. We're not opposed to that."

One step in that direction is the release of Particle's forthcoming debut album, Launchpad, in early 2004. The disc was recorded under the watchful eyes and ears of producer Tom Rothrock, who has worked with such acts as Coldplay, Beck and The Beta Band.

For a live band that has played concerts for up to five hours straight, making a record was a new experience, although not unpleasant. Pujalet says recording an album is just another part of Particle's dialogue with its listeners.

"Only we have to be much more precise and concise with what we say," the drummer says. "Live, you have a lot more time to get your point across, what you have to say. On an album, you have to tell a story, too, but it has limitations--of time, in that it sounds the same every time. I consider our music to be a voyage. Our job is to see if we can take people away from their daily lives and responsibilities for a minute. It's an audio voyage, or a sonic voyage."

Gould concurs, but he uses a different analogy than his rhythm-section partner. Playing live and studio recording are "different mediums altogether," he says.

"When you're live, you've got to be a lot of more spontaneous, not that you aren't spontaneous in the studio. But the great thing about making an album is that it is like putting a puzzle together, and the puzzle is growing. It's like building a Lego structure--you only have so many pieces, but you can use them in any way that you want to. You can build any shape that you want with those pieces."

Because of Particle's roots in improvisation, the band gets to experiment with many other pieces in live contexts--often those pieces take the form of guest musicians who sit with the group.

Among the band's guests have been such players as Page McConnell of Phish, John Popper of Blues Traveler, Stefan Lessard of the Dave Matthews Band, jazz bassist Rob Wasserman, Stanton Moore of Galactic and Garage a Trois and, most notably, Robbie Krieger of The Doors.

Particle has also collaborated or shared stages with such acts as Gov't Mule, moe., Widespread Panic, Ben Harper and The B-52s.

Although Particle does not rule out incorporating a vocalist into its sound--and it may do so in the future--for now its members enjoy the freedom from the limits of lyrical meaning that comes with instrumental music, which is a universal language, Gould says.

Also open to interpretation is the name of the group.

"It can mean so much, anything," the bassist says. "Particle can be the smallest thing in the world, or something larger than can possibly be imagined. It's tiny pieces, or it's a whole world. For us, Particle is our world."

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