Garage a Trois: Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil

Garage a Trois may have started 12 years ago as a groove-intensive jam outfit centered on the eight-string guitar ministrations of Charlie Hunter. But the group, with Skerik on tenor sax and effects, Mike Dillon on vibraphone and percussion, Stanton Moore (of Galactic) on “drum pummelling” and keyboardist Marco Benevento having replaced Hunter, has undergone a gradual evolution into a more striking style. These days, the quartet specializes in an aggressive, frequently demented mix of anthemic rock, noise pop, punk jazz, metal and the kitchen sink, referencing everything from free improv to film noir and horror movie soundtracks.

The title of the group’s second disc with Benevento, Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil, aptly reflects the contrasting light and dark tonalities expressed in the band’s often hypnotic music. On the bright side of the sonic spectrum is opener “Omar,” with its unaccompanied vibraphone intro, prog-rock rhythms and guitar-like riffing that hurtles forward until dropping off for a long, laidback passage. There’s something pop-pretty, too, about much of “Chimp and Flower,” which is reminiscent of mid-period Pink Floyd, and sections of the cycling and recycling “Earl Harvin.”

Two “interludes,” “Kansas” and “Dark Bogul,” are all wandering saxophonics and sound effects. Then there’s the even more uncategorizable side of things: the fuzz bombs and squiggles of “Resentment Incubator,” the minor-toned, scary atmospherics of “Swellage,” the creep-crawling thicket of textures on “Thumb,” and an eerie, heavily percussive reading of filmmaker John Carpenter’s theme from his “Assault on Precinct 13.”

Skronk ‘n’ roll? Future jazz? By any label, the music of Garage a Trois comes off as a genre unto itself.

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.