Review: The Original Garage A Trois Returns On The Fiery ‘Calm Down Cologne’

Garage a Trois | Calm Down Cologne | (RPF Records)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

There hasn’t been much Garage a Trois music since the band’s 1999 debut. But that’s no surprise since all three members—guitarist/bassist Charlie Hunter, drummer Stanton Moore and sax master Skerik—not only have their own groups but are in-demand session players. Also, the instrumental outfit has gone through various personnel changes over the decades, even becoming a quartet for a while, contradicting their trio implying name.

Still, it’s a delight to have them back. For album number five, the outfit’s first since 2011, Garage returns to their original lineup. This short yet powerful five track, 35 minute set was recorded during a single performance in 2019 as the reunited threesome played a weekend stand at Seattle’s Nectar Lounge. They set up their instruments across the street from the club in Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho, ran the tape and let fly for a few hours of pure improvisational music.  The session was cut into smaller sections that appear here and remixed, with only one overdub for female vocals on the fittingly titled “The Epic.” Otherwise what you hear are three musicians locked together, feeding off each other’s energy and shooting off sparks.

When is a trio not a trio? When two of its members play multiple instruments simultaneously. Those familiar with Charlie Hunter are well aware of his 8 string guitar prowess where he plays lead and bass concurrently. Skerik joins the fun too, fingering sax with one hand and playing various keyboards and synths with the other. The effect is of a larger ensemble cranking out a session and having fun.

Opener “No Zone” sets the tone. Moore lays down funky beats as Hunter drops chords while nimbly slithering bass lines and Skerik runs his sax through the same sort of processing Eddie Harris did in the ‘70s, at times duetting with himself through the magic of electronics. He then jumps to keyboards bringing a spacey vibe while Hunter and Moore ladle on a sweaty backbeat.  

The average length of these five pieces is about eight minutes, enough time for them to jam hot and heavy without the result sounding overly repetitious. When you have musicians of this caliber involved, there isn’t any noodling, or if there was, it has been edited out. They play hard and smart, reacting to and bouncing off each other with the proficiency that working countless gigs brings. The title track, a hot slice of straight jazz featuring Skerik’s tenor sax and clocking in at a conservative two and half minutes, is the outlier and not surprisingly the initial single.

The setting gets increasingly space-like and psychedelic on the closing “Numinois” as the tempo slows, Skerik runs his sax through reverb and Hunter lays back, creating room for the atmospherics to take hold. The playing simmers to low boil as the guys cohere around what could be a soundtrack for a science fiction flick, albeit a rather funky one.

This is likely to be a one-off, especially considering a post-pandemic touring situation. But it’s great fun to hear these three, back after a long layoff, clearly reveling in the musical yin-yang connection talented players of their competence effortlessly generate.     

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