A TROIS EXPLORES THE FARTHEST SHORES OF THE IMAGINATION
New Orleans quartet crafts the soundtrack
to filmmaker Klaus Tontine’s critically acclaimed Outre
It’s no secret that Franco-American relations have been
strained in recent years, but French filmmaker Klaus Tontine
and New Orleans-based progressives Garage a Trois have little
interest in wasting time on the perceived diplomatic stature
of one nation compared to another. In that transcendent space
where jazz and the cinematic arts come together, size is
nothing more than a state of mind.
Garage a Trois – vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon,
guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Stanton Moore and saxophonist
Skerik – have crafted a brilliant soundtrack to Tontine’s
Outre Mer, an understated cinematic masterpiece that spans
the lifetime of a brave but solitary figure and subtly illuminates
the alternating joys and sorrows of isolation, parental devotion,
romantic love and other universal themes that reach out to
Producer/director Klaus Tontine, a longtime fan of GAT’s
eclectic, cosmopolitan approach to jazz, funk and other styles,
first approached the quartet in the summer of 2004, when
the film – still just an idea in his head – had yet to be
lensed. GAT completely embraced the concept, and crafted
a compelling musical backdrop to the poignant story of Etienne
de Nerval, a young man coming of age in rural France who
is ostracized from society due to his diminutive stature.
Reaching a maximum of only four feet, he commits every ounce
of creative, intellectual and emotional energy to finding
the one place in the world where he can be accepted and loved
for who he is. To date, Outre Mer has been screened for a
limited number of French critics, who have unanimously hailed
it as a tour de force. Unfortunately, the film’s producers
and distributors are currently attempting to iron out legal
problems that have put plans for a wider release on indefinite
Red tape issues notwithstanding, Garage a Trois’ soundtrack
weaves a brilliant tapestry on a par with Tontine’s stirring
cinematic imagery. Like the film’s resourceful protagonist,
the four players aim every ounce of their own individual
and collective energies at creative excellence. The resulting
recording – which synthesizes a variety of world music sensibilities
– never falls short.
The title track opens the set with a Caribbean sensibility
underscored by a rhythmic surge that’s vaguely but unmistakably
seafaring. The followup track, “Bear No Hair” takes a funk-oriented
turn, with Skerik and Dillon stretching out with some tightly
woven sax/vibes lines atop Hunter’s mesmerizing fretwork.
“The Machine” operates in an exotic groove with the help
of Hunter’s simple but persistent guitar riff and a relentless
island beat from Moore and Dillon.
Further in, “Merpati” veers into a Latin direction, with
Skerik taking a more prominent and melodic role. “Circus”
is a percussive affair that frequently dances on the edge
of complete atonality, thanks in large part to Skerik’s highly
expressive forays. “Needles” locks into a consistent and
accessible groove, although the four players bend and reshape
the tempo a few times along the way to keep it interesting.
The sequence ends on an atmospheric note with “Amanjiwo,”
a sultry track that maximizes the most minimal of guitar
lines and sax runs. Moore serves as a no-frills metronome
here, while Dillon’s embellishments are few and far between.
Nevertheless, the piece holds together by making the most
of the spaces between the notes and beats as much as the
notes and beats themselves.
Garage a Trois first came together in New Orleans in 1999
(just after Mardi Gras) as a trio that included Hunter, Moore
and Skerik. By then, Hunter had already established a reputation
as a virtuoso of the eight-string guitar. Moore had co-founded
Galactic a few years earlier and collaborated with Chris
Wood (of Medeski, Martin & Wood). Skerik’s list of associations
includes Les Claypool, John Scofield and Roger Waters. Dillon,
who had also played with Claypool – as well as Brave Combo,
the Malachy Papers and many others – took a spot in the Garage
in 2002. The resulting foursome released their first full-length
studio album, Emphasizer, in the spring of 2003.
Their followup album, Outre Mer, is just as much an artistic
achievement as the film for which it was written. In a sea
of jazz/funk experimenters, Garage a Trois is an innovative
combo that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.