In music, the term “fusion” can recall ill feelings toward the meandering, radio-friendly smooth jazz from the early 80s. But done right, fusion results in an entirely new sound, so outstanding from the norm that it can only be defined by the name of the artist who crafted it: think Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, or Steely Dan.
One band currently doing fusion right is Brooklyn-based Escaper, who, after releasing their debut album, Skeleton Key in May, is bringing their one-of-a-kind post-rock/space-funk fusion to BSP Kingston this Saturday, June 10. Playing alongside soul/world music outfit Palmslap and Austin-native Jelly Ellington, the night is bound to be filled with funk-fueled footwork.
For a look at what you can expect at this weekend’s show, read our chat with Escaper guitarist Will Hanza below.
You played Catskill Chill the last two years: Have you performed anywhere else in the Valley?
I first started playing in the Hudson Valley about maybe five or six years ago, I was in a band called Cold Flavor Repair. We would play in New Paltz a lot: Snugs, Bacchus, and Oasis on a regular rotation. And then we started playing in Rosendale, in Rhinebeck, and Kingston, so I was up there all the time playing with this band.
I love bringing Escaper [up to New Paltz], especially to Snugs. Snugs Late Night is like the jam these days. It’s a particularly special place where you can play a 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. set, and it’s bumping.
There’s also a New Paltz connection with the [BSP Kingston] show; Joanna Teters is going to be singing and Ben Teters is the drummer. They grew up in New Paltz.
Palmslap is a damn funky band as well. How do you feel about sharing a stage with them, and Jelly Ellington, this weekend?
I’m excited about that; I’ve been hearing about them for a little bit. Jelly Ellington is putting out his record and wanted to do a northeast tour, so they aligned with my band and Palmslap for this gig. It’s going to be a really tight trio of bands playing that night.
Will you only be playing songs from Skeleton Key this weekend, or do you guys have some new tunes to show off?
There’s a few tracks we want to do off that, we have a forty-five minute set. We want to mix in a bunch of new stuff — we’re already lined up with Ropeadope Record Label to have our next album come out November 3. That also means that we’ll have singles coming out as soon as September for that. So, we’ll play some new stuff, we’ll have a couple covers. We’ve been doing this sort of up-tempo, dance-y version of an old Pink Floyd song, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”
All of you guys come from well-shaped musical backgrounds. How would you describe your sound and energy when those different backgrounds come together on stage?
It’s hard to say genre-wise because we do come from some different backgrounds. There’s definitely a jazz background to what we do. There’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, there’s John McLaughlin, then there’s also Pink Floyd and Zeppelin and Parliament Funkadelic, y’know? We’re trying to keep the dance party going; keep the asses moving, but also the heads moving, too.
Improvisation is a large part of your show. How do you find a good balance between open jamming and concrete and composed sounds?
I think a lot of jam bands can fall into a trap of being meandering. We definitely want to have purpose in what we do, as far as constructed songs that are also memorable. You want to be kind of concrete there — but at the same rate, I don’t want to give up on what could happen in the moment, and we’re all really talented in-the-moment musicians that can feed off each other.
While there’s constructed songs, there’s also moments that we allow for it to just break open and see where it can go. We don’t know exactly how it will roll any particular time, but we sort of feel it coming on and then you just go for it.
We wrote a song at Snugs once. It was like two-thirty in the morning. We’ve been playing for an hour and a half, and the party’s going and we just started going into something. The crowd was giving us great energy, and we wanted to give it back; we thankfully recorded that, we called it “F Sharp Snugs,” and since then we’ve sort of refined that and turned it into more of a structured song, but it was born out of the energy of the crowd for sure.