Rooted in the jazz tradition, immersed in Brazilian beats, Portland-based Trio Subtonic reaches across genres, sporting a fresh array of compositions and controlled improvisations. Comprised of keyboards, upright bass, and drums, they could be described with words like funk, hip hop, latin, and contemporary classical, MMW comparisons aside.
Galen Clark, keys; Bill Athens, bass; Jesse Brooke, drums.
Trio Subtonic makes music to get stuck in, to chew on, and yes, to groove. Simultaneously uplifting and weighted, collapsing and expansive, pensive and propulsive, they reach across genre lines with melody and meter to toss them in a fresh array of controlled improvisations. Dormant sounds and lush subterranean landscapes unfold; the party begins, and the infectious grooves take root.
This Portland based trio evolved from long-time collaboration between keyboardist/composer, Galen Clark and drummer/percussionist, Jesse Brooke. After spending the winter of 2005 in Brazil traveling and studying, Jesse and Galen returned to Portland and formed Trio Subtonic; with the addition of bassist Bill Athens they unearthed their inherent sound. The resulting sound infuses jazz with Brazilian rhythms, hip hop, funk and odd-time signatures, with a proclivity to groove.
Influences include Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal, John Scofield, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Gilberto Gil, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Susanna Baca, Pixinguinha, Astor Piazolla, Marcelo D2, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Radiohead, The Gotan Project and Medeski Martin and Wood.
With the release of their latest effort, The Aqueous, Trio Subtonic parks their unmistakable sound atop the growing pile of contemporary crossover music, spilling new vocabulary on the grounds of Jazz, Classical, Hip hop, and Latin musics, and discovering new seeds in the rubble. Their approach to improvisation and flow adopts the qualities of water, naturally seeking the lowest ground, flowing over and around rocks, plants, and hidden pathways. It’s no coincidence that the song titles reflect their liquid nature, even less obvious ones like “A Fumaca” [the smoke], which is named after a one thousand foot waterfall in the interior of Bahia, in Brazil.
"One of the reasons [keyboardist] Galen [Clark] understands the gist of what I’m doing is because of our direct experience with the people and their music," says drummer Jesse Brooke. Before the two set off to travel and study in Brazil in the winter of 2005, they had already played and composed for the Monsoon Ensemble, a project they formed while at Lewis and Clark College, which featured more straight-ahead jazz, “with our own funkified versions,” notes Clark. “We were always messing around with odd-time signatures.” They claim that their approach to meter evolved along lines less academic and more what seemed natural to them. “Galen has always had a very lyrical sense to his writing,” says Brooke. “We never felt like we needed a vocalist, but we’re not opposed to working with one. The melodies speak for themselves. If it’s done before the measure’s over we’ll take out a beat.”
“At a show I want to feel something from the audience, see people nodding their heads,” says Clark. "I read somewhere that Bill Evans would pop into a jazz club, and if he wasn't tapping his foot by the end of the song, he'd leave," says Brooke. By contrast, some material begs a closer listen, to appreciate the ambient and more esoteric tunes. Overall, they aim to bring the funk to fit the room, and pack it full of hard-hitting instrumentals and new classics, to the full extent of the law.
[excerpt from article by Jezibel Rodeur]