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'Garage' band

Saxophonist Skerik's restless drive finds a place to park



Although his name isn't yet a household word, the saxophonist known simply as Skerik has built a reputation as a musician's musician, playing alongside scores of more recognizable artists. Associated most often with the multi-hyphenate fusion outfit Critters Buggin' (also featuring, improbably enough, two former members of the New Bohemians), he's also lent his skills to Seattle-based ensemble Tuatara, which included Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. In short, he's made something of a career out of being the lesser-known member of various supergroups.

It's an association he's quick to shrug off. "If you look at the history of people that play music, and especially people who play saxophone, it's not really unusual at all. I really don't know anyone that doesn't play in at least a few different groups," he says. Even so, it's hard not to apply the supergroup label to the jazz- funk-world hybrid Garage a Trois, in which Skerik plays alongside acclaimed eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and (on the group's 2003 debut Emphasizer) percussionist and fellow Critters Buggin' vet Mike Dillon.

The seeds of Garage a Trois were first sewn during the sessions for Moore's 1998 solo debut All Kooked Out!. "I'd known Stanton for some time, and we'd always wanted to play together," Skerik says. Although the album featured a panoply of New Orleans-based musicians, including Sun Ra and Kool & the Gang's Michael Ray, Moore decided to build the disc around the contributions of out-of-towners Skerik and Hunter. The resultant chemistry, and its attendant possibilities, sufficiently intrigued each of the principals enough to warrant exploring the collaboration further.

"Garage a Trois is a real laboratory for us, in that we don't feel the constraints of playing within any style or genre or set list imposed by us or someone else," Skerik continues. "One minute we'll be playing punk rock, and the next some 6/8 Afro-Cuban groove, or go-go music." That rather improbable claim is borne out by Emphasizer, which barrels from the Caribbean-tinged "Plena for My Grundle" to the shuffling groove of "Interpretive Ape Dance" without jarring the listener.

"We're all totally interested in rhythm," Skerik says of the disc's central focus, "and this band is a very good forum for experimenting and learning about different rhythmic structures, how to play in those in a real meaningful way. It's really free and yet really structured, in that everything we play is rhythmically grounded."

The newly formed trio released its debut, limited-edition vinyl EP, Mysteryfunk, in 1999, but soon shifted its focus to live performances fit around the members' busy schedules. "Garage a Trois is a very accidental band, very un-contrived," Skerik says. "We play once a year at [the New Orleans] Jazz Fest, and then we added some shows and did our record in the studio." It's that same free-form approach that led to the addition of Dillon, Skerik's longtime musical partner. "I don't know if it's that static, even. Mike and I have been playing together for a long time, and it just seemed like a good, really easy addition."

That deceptively casual, pick-up band approach, Skerik says, is what keeps the members coming back. "It's nice because there's not a set band leader. So for Charlie, who always has his own bands, this is nice, because he can come in and doesn't have to run the whole show, write all the music, and have all those responsibilities on his shoulders. ... I just think that the more groups you can be involved in where your responsibilities, whether they be business or musical, can change from group to group, it can only be a healthy situation, because you're invariably bringing something new from all of these other groups."

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