It’s a cold, cold New York night, but inside a small studio in Long Island City four of the six members of Furley (bassist Colm Connell, synth guitarist Joe Serrone, drummer Ian Katz and tenor man Nick Gianni) are busy flushing out a transition while they wait for their band mates, woodwind player Carl Obrig and percussionist Vinnie Commisso. "Is it eight? I think that’s too many," wonders Colm. "It’s eight, I think," responds Ian. "Well let’s just take it from the bottom and keep going so we can see," suggests Nick. They work through the section, a short piece with a 70s fusion vibe, and then start to develop the next passage, a reggae movement, running over and over it as Ian tries to discover just the right beat.
‘That’s it,’ says Nick, explaining how the band writes new material. Every tune on their debut CD Dragon and Phoenix is credited to the whole band. ‘Whether the tunes are more by Colm or more by Joe, we all come together and make it something different than what was in anyone’s department. Maybe Colm had a bass line, or there was a Conga pattern, but the World vibe, that all happens here in this little room.’
Don’t be fooled by the term ‘World,’ however. Based in New York City, Furley is part of the new music revolution, creating a style of music that is a unique amalgamation of influences, something that transcends the boundaries that now exist. It’s a clichhat any given band is special because of the individual talents and experiences brought by each band member, so Furley takes it a step further. Their sound draws from a broad scope of cultural influences and musical styles, and each one is juxtaposed with its surroundings to enhance its impact, while maintaining the fluidity of the music. In Furley’s case World Music does not mean Afro-Pop, or Gamelan-style rhythm machinations, but music that echoes its diverse ethnic roots, from Roma to Bossa, without attaching too much cultural baggage. ‘It’s hard to play different types of music from around the world if you don’t work at it,’ states Ian. ‘You can’t just say, I’m going to play something Latin because I feel like it, and I’m just going to cop that feel and run away with it.’ It actually sounds Latin at that moment because we’re trying to make it true that particular idea, but then move on to another idea, to keep the flow. ‘Gringo Beans’ is the song I think of most, where the middle section has a totally different sound, but we feel it works well with sound before, flowing in and out.’
Perhaps an even better example of the band’s ability to move from place to place, from style to style with grace and ease is the closing track on their album, ‘Phoenix Blossom.’ Rhythm guitar and a brooding bass line create an unmistakably Spanish introduction, but shortly the gears shift and the band attacks a new idea fueled by reinvigorated, grinding low end from Colm. While ethnic influence is certainly one facet of Furley, it is not the sum of the band. Much of their music is based on swollen, popping bass and catchy leads- gritty, nasty sounds. The song continues with addition of a horn arrangement that echoes the initial Spanish tone with its descending line. The horns lace around brief guitar and conga solos, eventually pulling all the disparate elements tightly together at the end.
The inspiration for a new composition may come from anywhere, and the result may take any form. For instance, the first track, ‘Chasing the Dragon,’ begins with an infectious discotheque rhythm lick from the synth guitar, a lick that resurfaces throughout the piece. But the crux of the song is a wild, fuzzy vamp played over a Brazilian Baiao rhythm that climaxes with a short shot of free jazz blowing from Carl and Nick. ‘We all love different sorts of entertainment, and I don’t think there is anybody in this band that is boxed in and only listens to one type of music, and when that happens, I think it’s naturally going to occur that we’re going to start playing different kinds of music also. We’re not boxed in, so we’re not going to write compositions that are boxed in,’ says Joe. ‘As long as it’s good and it has feeling and it’s music that moves somebody somewhere in the world, we’re all open to that. We want to put it all together.’ Certainly one of the most refreshing aspects of Furley is that while the music is entirely instrumental, they are not just another funk/soul groove act. It’s more about layers than nailing the one, more about texture than solos. Colm adds, ‘We’re trying to connect on an intellectual level too. Instead of just having instrumental music, we try to make each piece as moving as possible.’ But for all the high minded rhetoric, Furley is also extremely balanced, accessible but worth repeated listens; the free jazz does not dominate any more than the congas do; hard driving sections do not overwhelm fluid flute leads. Nick points out, ‘We’re a double percussion, double horn, double string group. We all interact on different levels. These two guys have this really strong double drum sense, these two guys have this big double string sense, this wall of sound, and we have double horn sheets of sound coming over the top. It’s more than a quartet could do.’ But in the end it’s just good music, ‘it’s just good entertainment,’ a sentiment expressed over and over by various band members. While a concert situation is the optimal setting to experience the ‘adventurousness of the music,’ as Carl puts it, the openness and the potential of Furley’s music, Dragon and Phoenix provides a strong sense of the band’s style and tone. It was recorded live in the studio with analog equipment, giving it a rich, warm sound. Instruments are full and round, blending with each other when creating textures, and crisp and clean as they cut leads. ‘It’s about a collective sound.’
Furley will be performing with Col. Bruce and the Codetalkers at Tobacco Road in NYC on March 15. For more on Furley, including more concert dates, or to obtain a copy of Dragon and Phoenix, check out their website at www.furley.net.