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Davis, California

Friday, March 1, 2024

Tearing jazz apart

This isn’t southern, bluesy jazz with melancholy saxophones and classic slow, swaying drumbeats. This is spontaneous, improvised, recreated and not really even jazz at all. So what can you expect when the band doesn’t even know what they’re about to play as they take the stage?

On Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m., the John Natsoulas Gallery is presenting two local bands – Chikading! and Garage Jazz Architects – as a part of its Thursday Night Jazz series. The show is free and open to all ages.

Both bands utilize an improvisational style, experimenting as they go in different ways as they perform. The show is listed under the heading “Live Conceptual Jazz Improvisations,” but these two trios are really feeling around within their own genres, giving new meaning to the restrictive title of “jazz.”

“It’s very organic in how it unfolds as it goes along,” said Dex Lopaz, who plays synthesizer and drums for Chikading! “And the textures that are available on the synthesizer are pretty limitless so there ends up being a lot of sounds of surprise in what we do.”

Lopaz said that the members of Chikading! all have past musical experience playing in punk rock, new wave and speed metal bands, giving their sound a kind of aggressive instability and “relentless forward motion.”

“We sound like Medeski, Martin and Wood on acid. Because of the instrumentation – keyboards, bass and drums,” said Tony Passarell, co-synthesizer player and drummer for Chikading! in an e-mail interview. “[Influences are] part acid jazz and part kitchen sink influences of the players.”

Lopaz said all three members, including electric bassist Robert Kuhlmann, are not playing their original instruments in order to heighten the sense of “unpredictability” throughout their shows. In addition, he and Passarell switch off who is playing drums and synthesizer midway through the show.

Garage Jazz Architects is a project that was created by bassist Lob and guitarist Chad E. Williams along with a few others in 2007. The band employs a new genre and uses a different approach in their music that follows the general feeling and idea of “Garage Jazz.”

“Garage Jazz is something that we feel is new emerging genre,” Lob said in an e-mail interview. “We feel like we are basically a garage band, jamming and having fun, but instead of focusing on words or a singer, we are instrumentalists and focus on the riff. The riff is the core, so we are approaching playing as a garage-type band from a jazz perspective, learning the riff every direction we can find it and working that into our groove.”

Mark Halverson, Garage Jazz Architects’ newly acquired drummer, said that the band uses elements of pop culture spontaneously throughout the music.

“We never know which direction we’re going to be headed in with the music,” Halverson said. “We could start playing a TV theme song, we could start with a basic rock riff and then improvise over any of that and sort of swing it into the medium of jazz – or what’s typically referred to as jazz.”

The somewhat small and intimate setting of this venue works well for what both bands are trying to do. The two trios seem to agree that having this type of set-up allows for more avid listeners, which as Lob said can in turn gives the musicians “more to work with.”

“[The size of the venue] doesn’t really matter, it’s really a very personal thing,” Lopaz said. “It becomes an exercise in communication between the musicians and the people who pay attention, and start to listen and get on that ride with us. Then their energy goes into it and it becomes not so much a performance but all of us discovering something together.”

The spontaneity, instrumentation and creative juices made possible by the act of performing give this “conceptual jazz” show an edge that is unique.

“It doesn’t quite sound like anything,” Halverson said. “All of a sudden it just appears out of the cracks of different music genres. The surprise of the music is half the joy of listening to it.”

ELENA BUCKLEY can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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