Garage A Trois - Always by Happy, but Stay Evil (2011)
By S. Victor Aaron
In the twisted, sound-bending world of Garage Á Trois, it's well beyond finding that rare groove, it's about finding sounds that are even more fundamentally rare. About a year and a half ago, a new Garage Á Trois introduced a shifted lineup for their their third full-length album Power Patriot, as founding guitarist Charlie Hunter moved on and keyboard specialist Marco Benevento slid into his place. Whether or not that was intended, the new presence of Benevento kept their music moving forward, and Patriot rightly earned a spot on our Best of 2009 Fusion list.
Some super groups pay lip service to being a collective of equals, but G.A.T. really is a true democracy, and you can tell when you listen to a Stanton Moore record, Marco Benevento record or a Dead Kenny G’s (Skerik & Mike Dillon) record. There are elements of all of these records in this one, with no one source dominating.
That said, Benevento asserts himself more on this record, proving his collection of weird- assed keyboard curios can more than compensate for the lack of crunch and chords from no longer having a guitar in the group. Sometimes, it almost seems like he’s on a mission to make that point, his endless assortment of retro-inflected gadgetry seems everywhere and often blending in so well with Skerik’s electrified sax or Dillon’s manic vibes that you often sense his presence, it’s just a little hard to precisely locate him at times (somewhere, somehow, he’s compensating for a lack of bass, too). Which, really, follows the Garage Á Trois script to a “T,” because they are masterful in creating vaguely familiar sounds that trigger a fuzzy memory of someone else’s music from way back. If only I can remember the names or songs of those who influenced this band.
The boys don’t solo much…then again, they never did solo much. Instead, they’re either improvising together in a fog of noisy funk or just dropping dirty, nasty riffs on us. Some songs stand out over the others: “Omar” is the opening salvo, a blizzard of beats courtesy of Moore’s drum pummeling (that’s what it says on the sleeve of the CD about what he does, “drum pummeling”); “Earl Harvin” opens with bright notes from Dillon, countered by Benevento’s guitar-like growling; “Baby Mama Drama” has Benevento on piano creating with Dillon a glass surface that Skerik glides over with long, lonely notes; “Assault On Precinct 13″ sports a hard jungle groove while Benevento layers over piano, Mellotron and various effects that gives the song an orchestral heft and a slightly spooky vibe.
Though G.A.T. started out as an informal side project, they sound more and more like a true band with each new release. As a result, the records get more coherent and this one’s the most coherent of them all. Always By Happy, But Stay Evil just hit the streets on April 12, and is a presentation of The Royal Potato Family Records.