TORTURED SOUL as part of Beats, Breaks And culture at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Sunday (July 11), 4:30 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. www.torturedsoulmusic.com Rating: NNNNN
When you see photos of Tortured Soul performing, you might think they're a garage rock band pumping out greasy 60s R&B. Close, but not quite - the trio is actually closer to garage house, which is kind of a jacked-up take on 70s R&B. People are often surprised to see three white guys in ties, looking more like accountants than soulful house crooners.
"We wanted to do something that was sort of a uniform, something we could do consistently that would be easily recognizable, iconographic. It's a nod to our jazz roots, and also playing with people's expectations. It's also kind of nice not to have to think about what you're going to wear every night onstage," explains bass player Jason Kriveloff as they check out of their hotel in Chicago.
The project started out in 2001, when New York-based drummer and singer Christian Urich (also known for the acid jazz band Cooly's Hot Box) recorded a one-off house track with DJ Kingsize. I Might Do Something Wrong blew up in the deep house scene after being remixed by Osunlade, and is still getting killed in clubs across the world every weekend.
For the follow-up singles, Urich enlisted keyboard player Ethan White and Kriveloff to form a band, and they were soon playing live gigs in house clubs across the continent.
They've just released their debut album, Introducing Tortured Soul, on Purpose Records, and are touring heavily to fine-tune their impressive live house method.
Their Toronto debut at the now-defunct Mockingbird was one of their first shows outside New York, but they conquered the crowd like champions. For a change, a T.O. crowd forgot there was a band onstage and danced like they would if a DJ had been supplying the bounce.
Why do they succeed in conveying house music's particular idioms when so many other attempts end up sounding like just another jam band wanking over a disco beat? The minimalism of their instrumentation comes closer to house music's deconstructed disco, and the fact that they're led by their drummer puts the beat in a central position.
They also connect the songs together, much as a DJ would, but by improvising transition sections instead of mixing records.
If I didn't know better, I'd assume they'd been doing this their whole musical careers. Instead, they all have varied backgrounds as players, and originally played together with jazz funk artist Topaz.
"When I was a lot younger, I really loved disco. To me, it's one of the parents of house music, so I always had an interest in what house developed into," Urich recalls. "I never realized I would be doing this, though, but it makes sense because it's a similar mindset to disco - sweating, dancing, 120 to 125 beats per minute. With this project, it's been really easy to continue playing and enjoying it because the crowd reaction is so consistently good, whether it's at dance clubs or live clubs. Two songs in, people are up dancing."