Three of the four players in Garage a Trois are West Coasters, which helps explain the free-wheeling home-brewed funk that pervades Emphasizer. It's only appropriate that New Orleans also make its contribution in the form of drummer Stanton Moore, a viciously adept guardian of the groove. The year-old addition of percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon represents an upgrade on the original Trois of guitarist Charlie Hunter, saxophonist Skerik, and drummer Moore (who together recorded the Mysteryfunk EP in 1999).
Whenever you have Charlie Hunter on the scene, certain things are bound to happen. Because of his frightening abilities on the eight-string guitar (which also goes down to the lowest depths of the bass), he contributes two voices to the group. If you spend too much time considering what he's doing with his spidery hands, you might get distracted from the fact that he keeps the bottom end tight and manly. Sure enough, Stanton Moore seizes the opportunity to lay down beats that draw direct from the source: snare-heavy, bouncing, and intensely focused on the backbeat.
The rest of the sound is a funk standby. Hunter's high-end tone generally hovers between dirty guitar and lush organ, comping unobtrusively during the buildup of a groove and laying out melody lines when the time is right. Skerik, whose other endeavors in this arena have been quite remarkable (see his Syncopated Taint Septet), absolutely never falls into the usual funkster traps of monotonous repetition and unfocused riffing.
The five-minute "Launch" illustrates what happens when the group goes full-bore. The basic groove emerges as a straightforward shuffle, but after a couple of reflective interludes Hunter throws his processor into the garbage disposer and goes intergalactic. An extended noisy outburst, fueled from all four sides, explodes and combusts, leaving a post-apocalyptic calm that coalesces right back into the groove. Full circle, together then apart, Garage takes it home.
Touches on mutant samba ("Gat Swamba"), funkadelic psychedelia ("A-Frame"), a predictable torch song ("We See"), bouncing Hunterisms ("Sprung Monkey"), rock-tinged funk ("Delta Skelta"), and instrumental jams round out the program. It's an experimental endeavor without a doubt, and a far cry from the slicked-back funk package that pervades today's marketplace. Provided you have an itch for the groove, don't mind digging deep into the source, and enjoy the occasional trip out, Emphasizer is a sure winner. Otherwise handle with caution: this is heady stuff.
(Trivia-seekers will delight in the "grundle" mentioned in the title of the third track. According to a reliable online source , this noun refers to "the area between the pounder and the booty." Just as well. Garage a Trois is nothing if not pure testosterone all the way.)
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Personnel: Charlie Hunter: 8-string guitar; Stanton Moore: drums; Mike Dillon: vibes, percussion;