Garage A Trois Line Up:
It’s no secret that Franco-American relations have been strained in recent years, but French filmmaker Klaus Tontine and New Orleans-based progressives Garage a Trois have little interest in wasting time on the perceived diplomatic stature of one nation compared to another. In that transcendent space where jazz and the cinematic arts come together, size is nothing more than a state of mind.
Garage a Trois – vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon, drummer Stanton Moore and saxophonist Skerik – have crafted a brilliant soundtrack to Tontine’s Outre Mer, an understated cinematic masterpiece that spans the lifetime of a brave but solitary figure and subtly illuminates the alternating joys and sorrows of isolation, parental devotion, romantic love and other universal themes that reach out to every shore.
Producer/director Klaus Tontine, a longtime fan of GAT’s eclectic, cosmopolitan approach to jazz, funk and other styles, first approached the quartet in the summer of 2004, when the film – still just an idea in his head – had yet to be lensed. GAT completely embraced the concept, and crafted a compelling musical backdrop to the poignant story of Etienne de Nerval, a young man coming of age in rural France who is ostracized from society due to his diminutive stature. Reaching a maximum of only four feet, he commits every ounce of creative, intellectual and emotional energy to finding the one place in the world where he can be accepted and loved for who he is. To date, Outre Mer has been screened for a limited number of French critics, who have unanimously hailed it as a tour de force. Unfortunately, the film’s producers and distributors are currently attempting to iron out legal problems that have put plans for a wider release on indefinite hold.
Red tape issues notwithstanding, Garage a Trois’ soundtrack weaves a brilliant tapestry on a par with Tontine’s stirring cinematic imagery. Like the film’s resourceful protagonist, the four players aim every ounce of their own individual and collective energies at creative excellence. The resulting recording – which synthesizes a variety of world music sensibilities – never falls short.
The title track opens the set with a Caribbean sensibility underscored by a rhythmic surge that’s vaguely but unmistakably seafaring. The followup track, “Bear No Hair” takes a funk-oriented turn, with Skerik and Dillon stretching out with some tightly woven sax/vibes lines atop Hunter’s mesmerizing fretwork. “The Machine” operates in an exotic groove with the help of Hunter’s simple but persistent guitar riff and a relentless island beat from Moore and Dillon.
Further in, “Merpati” veers into a Latin direction, with Skerik taking a more prominent and melodic role. “Circus” is a percussive affair that frequently dances on the edge of complete atonality, thanks in large part to Skerik’s highly expressive forays. “Needles” locks into a consistent and accessible groove, although the four players bend and reshape the tempo a few times along the way to keep it interesting.
The sequence ends on an atmospheric note with “Amanjiwo,” a sultry track that maximizes the most minimal of guitar lines and sax runs. Moore serves as a no-frills metronome here, while Dillon’s embellishments are few and far between. Nevertheless, the piece holds together by making the most of the spaces between the notes and beats as much as the notes and beats themselves.
Garage a Trois first came together in New Orleans in 1999 (just after Mardi Gras) as a trio that included Hunter, Moore and Skerik. By then, Hunter had already established a reputation as a virtuoso of the eight-string guitar. Moore had co-founded Galactic a few years earlier and collaborated with Chris Wood (of Medeski, Martin & Wood). Skerik’s list of associations includes Les Claypool, John Scofield and Roger Waters. Dillon, who had also played with Claypool – as well as Brave Combo, the Malachy Papers and many others – took a spot in the Garage in 2002. The resulting foursome released their first full-length studio album, Emphasizer, in the spring of 2003.
Their followup album, Outre Mer, is just as much an artistic achievement as the film for which it was written. In a sea of jazz/funk experimenters, Garage a Trois is an innovative combo that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
After the success of the quartet’s 2009 release, Power Patriot (also the band’s debut with Benevento replacing original member Charlie Hunter), Garage A Trois headed to Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA (where masterpieces by The Neville Brothers, Stevie Wonder and The Wild Magnolias have been cut) to record with revered engineer/producer Randall Dunn (Cave Singers, Black Mountain, Sun City Girls). As has become the band’s primary focus in its current incarnation, a laser sharp focus was applied to capturing Garage A Trois’ sinewy, fourth-dimensional, polychromatic instrumental songwriting. The resulting album, Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil, will only fuel the fire for a growing legion of fans amassing around the most dangerous instrumental band on the scene today.