As funk, jazz and the passionate pulse of electronica inevitably find their way into the hearts and minds (and digits) of jam-band musicians, the simple old-school lineup of guitar, bass, drums and a Hammond B3 is giving way to an expanded and limitless school of thought.
That's the stock-in-trade of Zoogma, performing at the Live Wire July 9. A quintet from Oxford, Miss., Zoogma turns jamming on its free-styling ear with prominent keyboards and synthesizers - the band throws jazz fusion, prog rock and pure psychedelia into the already rock-solid mix.
In the beginning, says keeper of the keys Preston Boutot, "it was definitely a lot more jammy and rock. We would cover some Phish songs, some Perpetual Groove. We covered a lot of funk stuff, and progressively started writing our own material and started to pull from all sorts of genres, and put it into one thing."
Guitarist Brock Bowling is also a DJ - manning the tables, as it were, and adding immeasurably to the band's trance/dance-heavy repertoire.
Zoogma also has one of the coolest high-tech light shows in the South. "Probably within six months of the start of the band, we bought our first light rig," Boutot explains. "It wasn't anything to brag about at all! But it kinda put us in our own category, because none of the other bands anywhere - local bands or regional bands - had a light rig. It was something that put us apart a little bit, and we got good feedback from having it.
"We slowly added a few things to it, then we just sold the old rig and upgraded to what we have now. It's part of the whole atmosphere of what we're doing. We're definitely a late-night kind of band, a dance and party-type thing. People like to get down and dance on the dance floor, but the lights also add an element of something ... pretty to look at."
Although the band's music is composed and complex, there's a good bit of improvisation going on up there on the stage. Says Boutot: "Almost every song we play has certain points where it's like ‘This is the structure of the song, and at this point in the song, after we do this thing, this thing and this thing, we throw all that aside and we go into a jam.'
"A lot of times we're like ‘We're in here, we don't know how we're going to get out of this jam, but we're all gonna listen to each other ...' Sometimes it works, sometimes it's really cool, and sometimes it doesn't work! A lot of times we go to real cool places with it.'"
Much of the credit goes to Zoogma drummer Matt Harris. "He's definitely the backbone," Boutot says. "Especially the whole improv thing, it'd be a bit dry without somebody like him pushing us to new places. He's good at letting us know where he's going, and we've been playing together enough to where we can feel what we're all doing - we can feel what his changes are and just kinda groove off of that. It definitely makes everything a lot more fun, that's for sure.
"With Matt, he'll pull out some groove or some beat that we've never even heard before, and it's like ‘Oh! This is cool. I don't know what I'm gonna do with it, but here goes nothing." Listen & learn: www.myspace.com/zoogmaband
At 10 p.m. Friday, July 9 at Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.
MISS TESS & THE BON TON PARADE
The return of a Savannah favorite. Boston-based Miss Tess is one of those uber-retro swing-jazz singers with a smoky voice that rolls along seductively within the contours of clarinet, standup bass and jazz guitar chord rhythms. "I don't even feel like I'm a jazz musician sometimes," she told us last year. "I just write songs, and that's the repertoire I draw from. But I'm so far from a lot of modern jazz artists." What she is, is evolving: On Darling, Oh Darling, her most recent recorded outing, many of the Divine Miss T's self-penned tunes are stylistically akin to the old-time country of early k.d. lang, or the Dust Bowl-balladry of Gillian Welch. "I like that we're eclectic," she said of her Bon Ton band. "It gives us the opportunity to cross over and reach different listeners, too. Now people think our eclectic nature is cool. I mean, I got ‘Outstanding Folk Artist of the Year' in Boston. Oh! I guess I'm a folk artist." Listen & learn: www.misstessmusic.com.
At 8 p.m. Monday, July 12 at the Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
TONY WILLIAMSON, JEFF AUTRY & AUBREY HAYNIE
If you want to hear acoustic music performed by the very best acoustic musicians, you'll do no better than this return appearance by Tony Williamson, an absolute master of the mandolin, his flat-picking guitar sidekick Jeff Autry, and smokin' fiddler Aubrey Haynie. They are unspeakably good. Williamson was mentored by the legendary Jethro Burns (of Homer and Jethro fame), and was a member of the (also legendary) Bluegrass Alliance (Vince Gill, Sam Bush and Tony Rice were in that group, too, at different times). He's not strictly a bluegrass player, though - swing jazz, gypsy, pop and even classical music are part of his fat and fancy resume. With a light touch, a sweet tone and a masterful ear, Williamson is one of those players you'll talk about for weeks afterwards. Listen & learn: www.mandolincentral.com.
At 8 p.m. Friday, July 9 at Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. Highway 80, Bloomingdale. $25.
DUDE, CHECK IT OUT
Jazz/blues guitarist Calvin Edwards, whose sound is reminiscent of the great Wes Montgomery and George Benson, is at Jazz'd Tapas Bar with his trio Friday, July 9 ...Chattanooga's rockabilly country boys The Tennessee Rounders are back at the Jinx Saturday, July 10 ...