Garage a Trois: Always Be Happy But Stay Evil (2011)
Once the most cerebral of groovemeisters, when guitarist Charlie Hunter collaborated with saxophonist Skerik, vibraphonist Mike Dillon and drummer Stanton Moore, Garage a Trois reinvented itself two years ago when keyboardist Marco Benevento took the guitarist's place, a process that now continues with Always Be Happy But Stay Evil.
In contrast to the kamikaze attack of Power Patriot (Royal Potato Family, 2009), Garage a Trois begins this disc with the odd timbre of one of Benevento's synthesiszer-like keyboards, before "Omar" opens up to accommodate, in turn, the soft luminescence of the composer's vibes, the authoritative lockstep of Moore's drums and Skerik's gliding sax line. Here, the quartet proves it can swoop high as well as dive deep: the prominence of the contrast between Dillon's vibes and the "drum pummeling" of the New Orleans drum master, as on "Thumb," is illustrative not just of the difference between the group's two albums, but a deceptive maturity in the foursome that's also on display during the carefully- traversed changes in "Baby Mama Drama."
In truth, Always Be Happy But Stay Evil contains an even more expansive demonstration of Garage a Trois' grasp of dynamics. Perhaps that's because percussionist Dillon has contributed the bulk of the originals (his comrades chip in one apiece). In fact, he and fellow rhythmist Moore really navigate the band as demonstrated on "Resentment Incubator" (great titles here!) as it goes back and forth from double time to allow Skerik to riff and Benevento to drop in electric shimmers between the beats.
Joe Zawinul used to say of his and Wayne Shorter's band "We always solo and we never solo," and that might well apply to Garage a Trois as well. It's not accurate to say Moore, Dillon, Benevento and Skerik sound like Weather Report much at allthe polyrhythms aren't so dense nor the melodies so unusualbut these brash young men are similarly fearless in their playing. The sly way each of the four alternate taking the lead on "Shooting Breaks"first the keyboardist with synthesizers, then Skerik, only to give way to a drum duel between Moore and Benevento as composer Dillon virtually disappears-is the stuff of highly-toned instinct and natural camaraderie.
The instrumental interludes that appear during the course of these dozen tracks might function only as filler if, like the first, "Kansas," they didn't set a tone for the next successive cut, in this case "Swellage." The cryptically titled "Dark Bogul" likewise introduces the single cover tune here, the theme from John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. Whether the band copped it based on the original from the '70s or the more recent remake, it captures perfectly, in hauntingly floating motion, the sense of a small isolated group besieged but resolute in their personal space. A better description of Garage a Trois would be hard to imagine but their music is an apt soundtrack to such flights of fancy.
Track Listing: Omar; Resentment Incubator; Earl Harvin; Shooting Breaks; Kansas (interlude); Swellage; The Drum Department; Thumb; Baby Mama Drama; Chimp & Flower; Dark Bogul (interlude); Assault On Precinct 13.
Personnel: Mike Dillon: vibraphone, percussion; Marco Benevento: keys; Stanton Moore: drum pummeling; Skerik: tenor saxophone, efx.
Record Label: Royal Potato Family