TRICYCLE with Richard Underhill and Michael Occhipinti at the Drake Hotel, April 29. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 55. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
There's something about live jazz that just doesn't translate to shiny discs and black wax. So as I headed out to the Drake , I wondered how Tricycle could outdo in person what they'd committed to tape for the excellent Emerge And See. The main level of the Drake plays to the I-make-more-money-than-you set, who sip on the latest martini while staff walk around with headsets and a professional, focused determination that borders on creepy.
Fortunately, the basement eschews such pretensions in favour of a stark minimalism that lets patrons actually concentrate on the music. Richard Underhill worked his way through a typical top-notch laid-back set while people filed in, ordered up a drink and waited for the main event.
Tricycle is something of an anomaly. As the foursome took the stage, main man Jayme Stone humbly walked over to a red leather chair, sat down and began to pick at his banjo. Now, really, how many jazz bands - outside of Dixieland - are centred around the banjo? The sight alone was enough to make you question any preconceived notions you might have about what jazz is or is supposed to be. Yet within a minute, the sound coming off the stage was so soothingly hypnotic that you really didn't give a shit.
It's really roots jazz. The band puts bluegrass into jazz structures so seamlessly that the symbiotic relationship appears predetermined at birth. If Miles Davis had done the soundtrack for Deliverance, this is what it would sound like.
The rhythm section grounds the band and gives the songs a propulsive groove that any funk fan could dig, as evidenced by For Joy In Three Parts, the opening song on Emerge And See. While Tricycle would scoff at comparisons with today's jam bands, they do share a certain aesthetic. But where many go off on lazy, self-indulgent tangents, Tricycle display restraint and a unique ability to reel the tunes back into a cohesive, satisfying whole.
Maybe it's the relationship between Jayme and guitarist Kevin Manaugh . The interplay between the two can be revelatory. Kevin's playing and tone are remarkable - it's like Pat Metheny dropped a handful of acid and listened to nothing but Jerry Garcia for a year.
As the set came to a close, those in attendance clutched their CDs (included with the 10-buck ticket), aware that they'd been witness to something new, something special. Breaking new ground in any genre is no easy feat, yet Tricycle has done so without even seeming to try that hard. Their live set served notice that Tricycle has arrived.