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The Mother Ode

Get tight with the genuine funk chops of San Francisco's OM Trio

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Named after the mother of all sounds, San Francisco-based OM Trio has come to the rescue of organ jazz, plucking it from the slow eddy of the porn soundtrack, while earning for themselves a spot on the stage of jazz archetypes.

They do this by simultaneously rescuing another dying art: The down stroke. It’s a shame how anymore you can’t toss a pink afro wig without it landing on the head of someone playing in a band that labels itself “funk.” If this mainstreaming of funk continues without the occasional infusion from a true channel, then all vestiges of funk will soon retreat to the Mothership and party until it’s safe to return. The impostors who remain will, in the words of George Clinton, “slick back their hair and lose all sense of groove.”

Although lacking the lyrical charisma of Parliament, OM Trio’s live-wire connection to the Mothership is unmistakable (they are purely instrumental), especially in the bass of Pete Novembre, who cites Bootsy Collins as his primary influence. Echoes of other influences heard in OM Trio’s music are Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, James Brown, The Doors, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, and even Joni Mitchell. Their death metal riff (I think it’s Metallica) on “Tucson is Burning IV” has a penetrating gothic feel reminiscent of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

Says Russian-born percussionist Ilya Stemkovsky, “A melody is a timeless and beautiful thing. It works as a funk tune and as a ballad. You can cross music genres to make one big fusion of sound.”

Personally, I’m as leery of the term “fusion” as I am of the term “funk.” Fusion makes me think of things like “granola buffet jam circle acid funk fusion fest and friends.” But the truth is, my cynicism is more of a reflection of how the term “fusion” has been co-opted by too many musical new-age neophytes. Indeed, what isn’t fusion, when you get right down to it? Isaac Newton said that he could only achieve what he did by standing on the shoulders of giants. The same holds true with music. As the tapestry of the known musical universe continues to expand, so too will the main ingredients of potential fusion multiply.

It helps that the musicianship of OM Trio is as impeccably tight as the grain in a block of petrified oak. These guys have been playing together for a long time, and the tapestry they weave is humbling in its flawlessness. When they won the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s “Best of the Bay” readers’ poll, the write-up noted their tight chops. And keyboard virtuoso Brian Felix has enough range to make the sound positively deadly.

Jazz is actually a good context in which to explore the fusion of musical styles. Jazz is amorphous, spontaneous, yet highly disciplined. Jazz reserves the right to keep hitting the wrong note until it sounds perfect. The trick in listening to jazz is knowing when to exclaim “Yeah!” In my younger days I was always amazed at jazz concerts how certain members of the audience consistently nail it. The groove does something, and they say “Yeah!” And I ask myself, “how did they know?”

The answer lies between the lines of what Louis Armstrong said about jazz: “If you have to ask, you ain’t ever gonna know.” In truth, evidence of your having asked a naive question about jazz at some point in the past won’t translate into eternal banishment from the jazz garden. The point simply is that jazz can’t all be grasped by the logical side of the brain, the side that formulates the question, “What is jazz?”

An external resonance strikes a chord within, triggering a similar resonance, and you are moved. “Yeah!” All it takes is the sensitivity to open up to the external resonance. Inevitably, it all circles back to the words of George Clinton: “Free the booty and the mind will follow.”

OM Trio play the Blue Heron Monday, Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. $4 cover.

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