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Published: 2003/04/26
by Brian Ferdman

Emphasizer – Garage a Trois

Tone Cool-Artemis 751165-2

Ah, the infamous supergroup. Since the 1970s, rare moments have occurred
when the stars align in the heavens and some supernatural power delivers an
assemblage of all-star musicians united in pursuit of a higher musical
truth. Such a unit is Garage a Trois.

Comprised of drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic, Moore and Moore), eight-string
guitar pioneer Charlie Hunter, and multi-instrumentalist saxophonic wizard
Skerik (Critters Buggin', Les Claypools Frog Brigade), Garage a Trois was
born on a rarely heard 1999 Fog City Records EP. However, the group really
exploded onto the scene with a jaw-dropping performance opening for the
much-hyped debut of Oysterhead at New Orleans' Saenger Theatre during
Jazzfest 2000. Adding the versatile percussion machine free-agent Mike
Dillon (Les Claypool's Frog Brigade, Karl Densons Tiny Universe, Malachy
Papers) served to not only destroy the innuendo and mathematical pretense
behind the band name, but also to propel the group to new sonic heights. In
a performance that arguably trumped that of the headliner, Garage a Trois's
Jazzfest 2000 opening gig indelibly stamped their name in the minds of many
within the jamband scene.

However, with each bandmember splitting time with several other outfits,
subsequent performances have been few and far between. Those rare united
concerts have been a framework for explosive onstage fireworks, but now
Garage a Trois has reeled in its sprawling talents for its full-length
studio debut, Emphasizer. Gone are the expansive flights into the
deepest reaches of improvisational nirvana, but in its place stands a
ten-sided showcase of the bands vast talents and virtuosity. Every track
on this album is a finely crafted slice of pie that changes in flavor from
bite to sumptuous bite.

Of particular note is Hunter's "Plena For My Grundle," a bouncing mambo that
gradually builds to a frenetic pace. As the tempo races faster and faster,
Hunter establishes a remarkable monument to dexterity that is truly
captivating. The band suddenly changes speeds and drops down into a dirty
percussive-laden funk on "A-Frame." Featuring lots of overdubs and
distortion by Skerik and Hunter, the track bursts into a climactic finale,
courtesy of a spirited percussive battle by Dillon and Moore.

Immediately downshifting into Thelonious Monk's "We See," Garage a Trois
displays their rare gift in caressing a gentle ballad. Skerik's mellifluous
solo work is impressive and Dillon provides very tasteful backing on the
vibraphone as the tune dissolves into a mere wisp of sound. The song that
most resembles Garage a Trois' caustic live show is Dillon's "Launch."
Building from a simple rhythm, each instrumentalist adds a new layer to an
ever-changing palette of ideas. Skerik is given ample opportunity to run
amok with his effects-laden saxophone solos, challenging each player until
Moore unites the rhythm before the big bang ending.

The final track, "House of Hand Wash," is a unique number that essentially
seals Garage a Trois' fate as a unit of virtuoso musicians. Every player
hops on a vibraphone or marimba in a complex Eastern-sounding motif that
revels in polyrhythmic glory.

As an added bonus, the disc comes with a multimedia component featuring two
videos. The first is a short look at some of the informal interaction
between the musicians in the studio and on an ill-fated photo shoot. It's a
nice opportunity to see how humor plays a vital role in the distinctive
music of this band. The second video is an all-too-brief clip of "Jimi Was
From Seattle" from their celebrated January 2003 run at Mittys in Newport
News, VA. This clip gives the virgin listener all they need to know about a
Garage a Trois live show. Hunter's fingers fly across the frets, Dillon
intensely locks into a beat, Skerik gets up in everyone's faces as he issues
challenges, and Moore has a trademark Mooregasm, standing up to pound the
crap out of the drums at the pinnacle of the piece. In all, the clip is
agonizingly short, but the Emphasizer seems intent on showing every
facet of this tremendously talented band, and compact discs only have so
much room. Thus, if you walk away from this disc without a greater
knowledge of the proficiency and skill of Garage a Trois, you may need to
get your hearing checked.

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