Interview and story by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu from the Chronicles’ record release party at Red Square, 10/25/13
Here’s a tip: If you want to see the Chronicles in concert (and I mean really see the actual band members do their funked-up live thing), get next to the stage right before the show, because once trombonist-bandleader Bryan Brundige counts his partners in, the crowd floods the dance floor like pea-soup fog on a dark night in London.
That wasn’t so bad at last year’s drop party for the Chronicles’ eponymously titled debut disc because the stage at the Bayou Café (now the Hollow Bar + Kitchen) is somewhat raised. But the drop for this year’s model – the digital & vinyl-only release Spanning the Gap – took place at Red Square in Albany on Friday night (October 25), and while that NOLA-flavored downtown club is some kind of awesome, its performance space doesn’t have a stage as much as it has a three-sided cubicle with monitors and speakers. Thirty seconds into the Chronicles’ opening number, the band had disappeared behind a major chunk of the most diverse fan base in Greater Nippertown. If he’d brought a stool with him, Brundige could have stage-dived and never touched the floor!
You can fight it if you want, but my second tip would be to find a space of your own and proceed to dance your ass off. It won’t be too difficult, given that the Chronicles’ heady mix of jazz, hip-hop and funk is the freshest thing on the menu. One moment you’ll have saxman Jeff Nania name-checking the late great J. Dilla and rapping as well as he plays on the title track of Spanning, and the next, the sextet is laying down a monster take on Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mister Magic” that brings new life to Smooth Jazz radio’s version of “Stairway to Heaven.”
It’s fitting that Spanning comes in an Old School book-style album cover because the group has opened a brand new door by recording with Soulive drummer Alan Evans in the producer’s chair. “Just Knew” is one sweet groove on Spanning; in concert, it opens up like a flower to give solo spots to Brundige and Nania while keyboardist Tyrone Hartzog and guitarist Justin Henricks lay down the nastiest groove there is. It’s worth your while to start searching for a used turntable, because you don’t want to miss this group’s riveting next chapter.
A couple of days before their record release party, Brundige was good enough to talk about (among other things) the making of Spanning the Gap:
Q: The Chronicles are bodacious whenever they play live, but am I right in thinking you guys find an extra gear when you’ve got a full dance floor in front of you?
A: Oh yeah. The energy travels through all of us, inspiring us to play harder. We love lookin’ out and seeing a bunch of people shakin’ and groovin’.
Q: You played one of the tracks from “Spanning the Gap” when the Chronicles opened for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band last February. How much has the music changed between then and now?
A: Momentously. I think the entire form of the song changed since then. It’s grown and has more life to it – more weight.
Q: “Spanning the Gap” was going to be a vinyl-only release right from the jump. What was the thought process behind that?
A: I think the high-fidelity element was one of the biggest reasons. I love listening to a record and hearing the warm, welcoming sound of it. The bass on a record is the best you’ll hear, in my opinion. We spent a lot of time and finances to make this record happen, and we wanted to take this all the way. We hired Alan Evans to produce and mix the record, and he always strives for a vintage sound. We also recorded in one of the premier studios in the area, White Lake Music & Post.
The process this time around was live – “Let’s do this live” – which we achieved. There were definitely overdubs, like vocals, violin, upright bass, harp and grand piano, but that was about it. It came very naturally and easily. It was one of the best experiences we’ve had as a band. So in that whole process, it seemed only natural to go to vinyl… plus we all own vinyl and love listening to it, as well as looking at the LP art. It is more of a work of art than a CD. You have a 12”x12” square to slap up some great art. On this album, we have four of those squares, and our art director Kiki Vassillakis really does excellent work in conveying our image.
AUTHORS NOTE: He ain’t lying. The cover shot is a perfect mix of 60’s-era Blue Note and Y2K hip-hop, and the inside pics are some of our own Rudy Lu’s best. Kitty Vassilakis, you rock!
Q: How did you guys hook up with Alan Evans?
A: I’d worked with Soulive a few times, so Alan and I were acquainted. It had been a thought for a few months, and we had the opportunity to open for the Alan Evans Trio (Thanks, Greg Bell), and just asked him. His reply was “Yeah man, let’s do that.”
Q: There does seem to be a natural link between the Chronicles and Lettuce: You’ve both got big front lines, and both fan bases love to dance. How much has Lettuce – and, by extension, Soulive – influenced you as a musician, either directly or indirectly?
A: Both bands have influenced us greatly. Justin is a Krasno head and will still name Eric Krasno as the cat who really made him understand that he needed to learn jazz. Horn players Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis have definitely influenced Jeff and Bryan as well.
Q: How were the recording sessions structured, and how much work did you do with Evans prior to going into the studio?
A: We basically set up in a circle and recorded live. No click track or anything like that. There was bleed everywhere. Listen for yourself. Al did great work mixing the session. I’ve worked with Soulive four times before, running monitors and being a stage hand. Aside from that, the Chronicles opened for AE3 in April, 2013 – and that’s where we made the real contact.
Q: For me, one thing that separates you guys from the “average” jam band is the quality of the solos, as well as the equal footing you give them in relation to the groove. One of the new tracks, “Just Knew”, is pretty much all groove. How much did Evans influence that in the recording and writing (or re-writing) process?
A: Al definitely influenced the session. Going into it, we were really thinking about an album and album flow. We realized that we better be real funky on this one, especially if Al Evans was a part of it. In the writing/re-writing process, Alan was just the overseer. Most of the songs he said sounded great, and he didn’t touch them besides recording techniques. If we had two or three clashing ideas, that’s when we would ask Al, “What do you think?” He would really sit there and think about it. Literal moments of silence… then boom, here’s what I think. And we’d go with that.
Q: What’s the reaction to the single been like?
A: We released “Bad, Bad, Bad” after we last spoke. We’ve been getting a lot of positive response – 500+ plays on YouTube and our websites.
Q: Very cool! What are the plans for getting this music in front of new ears? Do you have any plans for touring it?
A: We’re putting the album in several hands – radio, online media, fans, friends, family all across the nation and internationally. We have some touring scheduled, and we’re working on some exciting prospects for 2014. See our website for all updates!