I remember the San Francisco music scene in the early and mid 90’s. It was experimental in a way that I’ve never heard in any city since, with the exception of maybe New York City. A lot of fusion elements: jazz, hip hop, soul, blues, world and even classical. I was mostly relegated to smaller clubs and restaurant gigs as a working bassist, but it did afford me the chance to see some of the up and coming bands both in and out of the Bay Area.
I was reminded of that on Saturday night at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room in the Fillmore. After missing the DLRN art show I wanted to see out in Financial, I headed over to the Fillmore district to tune into some San Francisco randomness. Randomness turned into Awesomeness, as I discovered a new band that I definitely want to follow.
The group is a Portland, OR outfit called Trio Subtonic, and consists of organist/keyboardist Galen Clark, drummer Jesse Brooke, and acoustic bassist Bill Athens. Galen mostly played an actual Hammond B3 organ with a Leslie rotating speaker in an inspiring set of funk and jazz. Without the actual Hammond, I don’t know how he would have pulled it off; It requires the type of organ sound of which Lonnie or Jimmy Smith would be proud, and is a required part of the music’s voicing and timbre. It sounded great live: full, rich, and great accented use of those wonderful drawbars.
Bill Athens played only an acoustic bass, which sounded outstanding with the Hammond. The music style could go either way with the bass; an electric bass is featured on some of their tracks on their latest record “I’ll Meet You There Tomorrow.” However, the acoustic adds an acoustic funk element to the electrified sound of the Hammond. It sounds organic and rich, without too much thump.
Drummer Jesse Brooke was a ticking clock. With funk, it’s a very fine line to understate or overplay, and Brooke found exactly the right balance, and got some of the crowd worked up into a dancing frenzy. I couldn’t think of who he looked like when he played–so full of concentration and focus, I realized about 1/3 of the way through the set he looked like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady when he played the drums. The somewhat stoic appearance didn’t take from his Pete Erskine-esque playing style at all, however.
There were other pieces that featured Clark on a digital piano that were not as impressive. I noticed on the latest recording that the sound of the record isn’t as consistent as it could be, but that’s a very small complaint to the excitement and energy they bring on the rest of the tracks.
If one is a fan of Scofield’s “A Go-Go” funk period (sans guitar, of course), or of anything by Joey DeFrancesco, Medeski, Martin and Wood, or Jimmy Smith, this group is definitely worth seeing. They have a date in Seattle in early August; Now it’s just a matter of finding someone to come with me.