Let’s face it: Jazz isn’t an entirely accessible genre. Amid the genres, sub-genres, myriad instrumentations and beyond, there is a baffling labyrinth that can sometimes leave the message feeling lost in translation. Given the free-form style of jazz, copious pitfalls often stand between the player and the product…guitar noodling comes to mind. Or who among us enjoys stepping onto an elevator and hearing some watered-down smooth jazz version of a beloved song? Nobody, that’s who.
This also means there is just as much room for artists to spread their creative wings and bring skill, experimentalism and excitement to the table. Enter müShi Trio, a who’s-who of Santa Fe musicians with backgrounds as varied as can be and a penchant for making jazz easily listenable to the jaded masses. Magic!
Comprised of local multi-instrumentalist Ross Hamlin, drummer Dave Wayne (of Venus Bogardus fame) and keyboardist Robert Muller, müShi Trio has been stamping out preconceived jazz notions and kicking ass for just about eight months now and, if nothing else, the band’s sheer accessibility is noteworthy.
“I do believe we have created a niche in Santa Fe,” Hamlin says. “When people see and hear us…this isn’t polite jazz or brunch jazz or hotel jazz; we lock in, we play hard, we sweat.”
“Mostly I just sweat,” Wayne interjects.
müShi came together almost out of necessity. Wayne and Muller were already playing together in the outsider jazz act Wind Up Birds while Hamlin had performed with Dave Wayne previously in free-form supergroup, Things That Are Heard, a phenomenal improv-jazz/rock act that practically destroyed the Plaza with awesomeness some years ago. As such, when the three musicians began to jam in order to fill a slot at Counter Culture Café last summer, it just made sense; almost as if it were fate.
“Ross brought in some material and there was this kind of emphasis on straightforward chords, so there was this groove-versus-brains thing happening,” Muller says. “At heart, we’re all improvisers, and people don’t always like free jazz, but if there’s something rhythmic to connect with, people can enjoy it.”
From there, the boys have slowly built a funk-jazz scene for themselves at venues like Duel Brewing—they were the first band band to play at the Southside watering hole, sushi joint San Q, and most recently, the Jean Cocteau Cinema.
“It’s really all about storytelling like, if you tell people it’s radical free improv jazz, but you make it palatable and you engage people, you can win over an audience,” Wayne says.
The guys tell SFR that the Jean Cocteau performance actually brought a fair amount of young people. This is perhaps because both Hamlin and Muller teach music at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, but the point remains the same: Some dudes playing jazz managed to get some damn SFUAD kids off campus, which is impressive to say the least.
As for the unique name, it stems from a nickname Hamlin earned during his youth. He was christened as “müShi” by avant-garde composer Uncle Shoe when he attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
So what can you, an all-around music aficionado and potential lover of jazz-funk, do to get involved? Well, in addition to another upcoming performance at Counter Culture that Hamlin describes as “a homecoming of sorts,” müShi Trio has recorded 13 tracks with local producer David Cragin at his Santa Fe Soundworks studio that will soon be mastered and available to all. Wayne has described the music as “jazz for people who hate jazz,” and this is, quite honestly, the best description for what müShi is all about. There are proggy elements at play that present a more rock ’n’ roll sensibility than many might think when they hear the qualifier “jazz” and if nothing else, these guys are all fucking bonkers when it comes to musicianship.
If jazz itself can be described as a minefield of noodly improv and free-form bullshit, then müShi is the remedy. Now, we probably won’t have access to the recorded tunes for a little while longer now, but fans of jazz or even non-fans need to pay attention for the inevitable release. In the meantime, get out and see this band ASAP. It’ll probably change your mind about the genre…y’know, assuming you were on the fence in the first place.
7 pm Saturday, April 26. No cover
Counter Culture Café
930 Baca St.,