I first became hooked on Garage A Trois with their 2005 album “Outré Mer” which also featured percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon. The band was formed in 1998 with this original “OG GAT” trio of Stanton Moore of Galactic on drums, Skerik on sax and synths and Charlie Hunter on his hybrid “BIG 6” playing the bass and guitar lines. This album, just the second studio album of the trio, is an intoxicating mix of funk and electronic that I dub “trip funk.” It rips of groove-driven funk throughout with Skerik playing melody pilot on space flights throughout. It requires extensive head bobbing, shoulder rolling and foot tapping to get the full experience.
A high-stepping mind/body elixir, ‘Calm Down Cologne’ finds Garage A Trois in full improvisational flight, composing live, in the moment, on the studio floor. Charlie Hunter on the Hybrid Big6 and Stanton Moore on the drums and cymbals are locked in a mountainous groove throughout. Simultaneously, Skerik conjures the melodic lines with one hand on the saxophone and the other on a clutch of analog keys: Modal 001 synth, Rhodes 54 and Mellotron, among them.
As for the rather curious album title, the story goes that legendary underground Seattle artist Rick Klu gave Skerik the idea when he was describing a bouncer having to use some ‘calm down cologne’ on an unruly patron. More metaphorically speaking, a whiff of Garage A Trois’ new magic potion elicits a “free your mind and your ass will follow” response—truly a much needed balm in these anxiety-ridden times.
No Zone kicks off with a Skerik solo followed by Stanton and Charlie to set up the main groove. Then, Stanton and Charlie lock in as a single rhythm machine with Skerik putting in some synth twang as another percussive sound – one that sticks in your head throughout. There’s so much going on hear that keeps shifting gears subtly with variations kicked in by each player. Stanton and Charlie just build funk off of each other and then Skerik brings his sax forward which is always a treat. The combo hits full stride with Skerik taking us through a sonic boom and a memorable repeat section. Stanton and Charlie settle back into the main groove and Skerik continues deep space exploration with some trip funk before returning with sax. It’s quite the album opener flying through the “No Zone.”
Set opener “No Zone” finds OG GAT channeling Stuff with Eddie Harris sitting in. The outcome is electrifying.
Seattle singer Christa Wells adds the LP’s sole overdub—a Stereolab-esque inspired vocal matching the sax/keys line on aptly-titled “The Epic.”
The Epic starts with Charlie laying down a fantastic funk bass line and Stanton using his booming kick drum as only he can. Skerik enters with a haunting synth section over the top and we’re on a rolling “Epic” journey. Skerik fills with some scratchy synth and the funk gets ingrained in your head. Stanton and Charlie take the bridge and Skerik takes the lead on synth and Mellotron for the remainder of the tune. By this time we’re “All Kooked Up.” The scratchy sounds with the soprano synth contrasts with the the sharp rhythms. I’d love to see a video of this to see how all the craziness is generated. The mid section is slightly reminiscent of the Outré Mer album, very futuristic and propulsive. The outro fades to dreamlike echoing synth to the close.
Calm Down Cologne hits with Skerik powering the tune at the beginning. It’s probably the closest to conventional jazz funk on the album. Charlie’s outstanding on “bass” here as Skerik plays some NOLA sounding synth riffs. It’s great to hear Stanton with a short bounce section in a duo with Charlie on bass. Skerik comes back to the head. Stanton plays hard on cowbell and Skerik closes with a flourish.
The jaunty title track is the only pre-composed piece on the collection.
The album’s centerpiece, the massive “In-A-Pro-Pro,” stretches ten-plus minutes as it checks a number of vital boxes for which Garage A Trois are celebrated: stone cold funk, outer-space breakbeats, ‘70s ‘On The Corner’ guitar grease.
In-A-Pro-Pro again starts with a super funky theme led by Charlie and Stanton and with drum “claps” with Skerik then doubling on synth and sax giving a little bit of that Quincy Jones, “Sanford and Sons” 70s feel. Charlie has his first extended solo and brings all of the funk you could ask for. Skerik is a one man destroyer with his arsenal of synth sounds. I believe anyone giving this tune (and the album) a close listen will feel the power punching from this small combo. Stanton has a short “solo” midway and Skerik delivers some sonic sounds with Charlie doing some of his best work mixing up the low and high ends simultaneously, accompanying himself! The synth work takes you on a trip through Skerik’s eyes and ears. Charlie and Stanton do their thing in a short section and when they all three combine the chemistry is telepathic.
Numinous starts with some dark, trippy playing from Charlie and Stanton before Skerik comes with an arsenal of space synth and sax pops. Skerik’s straight sax soloing is terrific – he’s got such a fantastic low end tenor tone with echo. Skerik travels over the top cruising with some psychedelia and he and Charlie take us far out. The trio is so in sync that it’s amazing that it was all improvised. This one is probably the farthest “out there” emanating from some deep space. The synth section at the end can take you on some time travel expedition. I’d love to see this (and all of them) live someday.
Ever the masters of shapeshifting, OG GAT seamlessly reconfigure course on “Numinous,” a dubbed-out descent that winds down the record.
Garage A Trois return in the form from which they were born 22 years earlier with a new studio album, ‘Calm Down Cologne.’ Comprised by guitarist Charlie Hunter, saxophonist Skerik and drummer Stanton Moore, OG GAT released its debut album ‘Mysteryfunk’ to wide acclaim in 1999. The band evolved over the pursuant years in various configurations before eventually going on hiatus following its 2015 album, ‘Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil.’ In 2019, however, the original three piece line-up reunited for a handful of shows. This would also result in an afternoon spent recording at Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho in Seattle, right across the street from where the band was playing a sold out, three night run at Nectar Lounge. Ace engineer Randall Dunn was invited to document the proceedings and captured the resulting album in one magical session. Dunn would take the tracks back to AVAST! Recording Co. for mixing. With all but a few edits on beginnings and ends of performances, Calm Down Cologne presents the music as it was played in the studio that day.
Garage A Trois is:
- Charlie Hunter – Hybrid Big6
- Stanton Moore – Drums & Cymbals
- Skerik – Saxophones, Modal 001 synth, Rhodes 54 & Mellotron
Recorded and Mixed by Randall Dunn
Recorded at Studio Litho
Vocal on The Epic by Christa Wells
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