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Group Think

Industrial Jazz Group get their act in gear

By Greg Cahill

"I realize this is going against the grain of recent jazz pedagogy," says pianist and composer Andrew Durkin, founder of the Industrial Jazz Group, "but for me, jazz has always signified restlessness, rebellion, innovation, a breaking away from tradition. Bound up in that, of course, is the process of risk-taking, of recognizing and accepting that some new direction you're heading in--like playing Cyndi Lauper covers, say--may not actually be successful. Failure is part of the paradigm."

Jazz purists might argue that the Industrial Jazz Group, performing this week at Zebulon's Lounge in Petaluma, aren't a jazz band in the strict sense. But Durkin, who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and first played jazz in a high school band, thrives on the same passion he has felt since he formed this unique group in 1996.

"This band is the result of a happy accident," he says during a conversation from the road. "I was working with a singer, and we had a few instrumentalists backing her--piano, bass, tenor sax. We would meet for rehearsals on Saturday mornings. Eventually the singer seemed to lose interest in the project--sometimes she would show up for rehearsal and sometimes she wouldn't. One week I threw together a few charts for the instrumentalists, just to have something more interesting to do in case we were singerless at the next rehearsal. Very off-the-cuff, without any real expectation for success.

"When I started to hear what these charts actually sounded like when executed by players who had some facility with jazz, it opened my ears to a whole new set of creative possibilities."

Those creative possibilities have shaped three critically acclaimed CDs (including the soon-to-be-released album The Star Chamber on the Innova label), all funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the McKnight Foundation, and sporting attention-grabbing compositions colored with shades of Ellington, Mingus and Zappa. The result is a pastiche of '50s, '60s and '70s acoustic jazz blended with avant-garde elements.

"Thelonious Monk goes to the circus drunk," is how one listener once described their music, according to Durkin.

And, no, there are no overtly industrial sounds.

"I guess it's just a name that stuck," explains Durkin, 35, a self-trained composer, "but at one time it was also, for me, a metaphor that attempted to address the mathematical, impersonal quality of a lot of modern avant-garde classical music--that's the 'industrial' part--mixed with the lyricism and the personal sound I associate with jazz."

Since their inception, the Industrial Jazz Group have more than doubled in size and increased their scope exponentially. That transformation has afforded Durkin considerable creative freedom.

"Mostly, it spoils me by providing almost instantaneous realization of each new chart," he says. "It has also taken me in directions I hadn't expected. Three years ago, I would never have thought that the quintet version of the group would have morphed into an 11-piece jazz orchestra, which is what we are now. This happens through the inevitable process of players subbing out gigs; a new person comes into the group for a certain show, and if the vibe is good, he or she will stay on even after the original person returns. So there are some cats who have stayed on for long stretches, but there's also always at least one new person on each gig. That helps to keep everything fresh, and a little bit of a high-wire act."


The Industrial Jazz Group perform on Friday, Aug. 27, at Zebulon's Lounge. 21 Fourth St., Petaluma. 8pm. $10. 707.769.7948.


Spin Du Jour

Tony Furtado, 'These Chains' (Funzalo)

Slide guitarist and banjo player Tony Furtado has built a solid reputation as a hired gun and occasional solo act, playing on the local bluegrass scene with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street, lending his stinging slide to projects by Béla Fleck and Earl Scruggs, and teaming up with the likes of Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas on his own infrequent records. On These Chains, produced by Dusty Wakeman (Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams), Furtado emerges as a gifted singer-songwriter, adding bluegrass flourishes to an engaging roots-rock sound on nine often introspective originals, a handful of collaborative efforts (with NRBQ's Al Anderson, Jim Lauderdale and Jules Shear) and a plaintive cover of Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings."

Furtado is aided by a killer crew consisting of drummer Jim Christie and guitarist Doug Pettibone from Lucinda Williams' current band; veteran keyboardist Skip Edwards; percussionist Michael Tempo (Bonedaddys); Kat Maslich and Peter Adams of Eastmountainsouth; and backing vocalist Gia Ciambotti (Badly Drawn Boy). His vocals recall a young Jackson Browne, his slide-guitar work echoes Ry Cooder. It's the perfect soundtrack for a late-summer road trip. Pop it in the deck and feed your own nomadic muse.

--G.C.

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From the August 25-31, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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