In the 22 years since the original Garage A Trois trio—saxophonist/keyboardist Skerik, guitarist Charlie Hunter, and drummer Stanton Moore—released its debut Mysteryfunk, its members have continued successful solo careers, with the New Orleans-born Moore also leading the heralded Crescent City funk vehicle Galactic. But when the trio played a three-night stand at the Nectar Lounge in Skerik’s hometown of Seattle in 2019, with Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho right across the street, synchronicity intervened. The musicians carried their gear over, set up and recorded for a few hours before the tour stop’s final performance, and Calm Down Cologne is the result.
Largely an improvised series of jams recorded live in the studio, the disc gets off to a James Brown-inspired start with “No Zone,” and listeners get expectedly unexpected contributions from each of the three musical freethinkers. Skerik alternates between tenor sax and a swirl of analog keyboards including an electric piano, modal synthesizer, and the always acidic-sounding Mellotron. Hunter’s dexterity on customized guitars is, as always, a marvel as he simultaneously frets and plucks bass notes with his thumbs and melodies with his fingers. And Moore, who adds cowbell accents that would impress Christopher Walken on the brief title jaunt, could inject funk into a polka.
The drummer percolates and bomb-drops during the 10-minute centerpiece “In-A-Pro-Pro,” inspiring mind-altering comping and solos by Skerik and Hunter. A surging number called “The Epic” features Seattle-based singer Christa Wells adding the album’s only overdub: a ghost vocal mimicking the sax and keyboard figures. With only five tracks encompassing 36 minutes, Calm Down Cologne finally calms down on the decelerated closer “Numinous,” which channels the original jazz/funk of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.