Despite going through a number of lineup changes throughout the years, the New York-based jazz outfit New York Electric Piano, currently comprised of founding members Pat Daughtery (piano) and Aaron Commes (drums), who’s best known for his work in the Spin Doctors, along with newest member Richard Hammond (bass), initially formed in 2003 as a piano jazz trio, based around the Fender Rhodes electric piano sound featuring founding members Daughtery, Comess and Tim Givens (bass). Interestingly, that collaboration can trace its origins back to when the founding trio met, playing in various bands in the NYC music scene during the 90s.
Their eponymous 2004 debut effort was critically applauded and was a commercial success, as it cracked the Top 20 of the CMJ Jazz Charts. 2005’s Citizen Zen and 2006’s Blues in Full Moon were also released to critical praise. And adding to a growing profile, the band began a long residency at the Cutting Room, which featured their tradition of inviting dancers on stage with them. However, by 2008, the band expanded into a sextet as they added Deanna Kirk (vocals), Till Behler (sax) and Leon Gruenbaum (keys), who’s best known as a member of Vernon Reid’s backing band — and as a sextet, they released the critically applauded King Mystery, which found the members of the then-sextet expanding upon their sound and approach with material that shifted between dance rock, jazz and wild freak outs.
By 2010, the band expanded once again as they added Teddy Kumpel (guitar), known as a member of Joe Jackson’s backing band and Erik Lawrence (sax), known as a member of the legendary Levon Helm‘s backing band. And as a nonet, New York Electric Piano began a long and very successful run at Zinc Bar, which they followed with arguably their most commercially successful effort to date, 2011’s double album Keys to the City, which spent a month in the Top 10 of CMJ’s Jazz Charts and received critical praise from the likes of PopMatters, Sea of Tranquility, Jazz Times, Drumhead and All About Jazz among others.
And although the band received quite a bit of commercial and critical success as a large ensemble, they reverted to the original format a trio — recruiting the aforementioned Hammond with whom they released Black Hole In One, an album which featured alternating instrumental compositions and vocal tracks. Unexpectedly, for the members of New York Electric Piano, the album received international attention, thanks in part to album single “Party On.” As the story goes, “Party On” was pushed by an Australian DJ, and eventually the New Zealand National Rugby Team, the All Blacks adopted the song as their theme song during their Rugby World Cup Championship run. Along with that, Lollapalooza artist Norton Wisdom did a live action painting to the song, and the video and song became the subject of a climate change conference at Penn State University. Adding to the unexpected attention on the album, album single “Who Wants to Know” features a verse about Crazy Horse. One of his descendants heard the song and sent it to family members, who were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline — with the song becoming something of a rallying cry.
Recently, the members of the band have been playing monthly gigs at Rockwood Music Hall, and their extended, free-flowing jams were met with such tremendous audience approval that Aaron Comess immediately suggesting that they needed to try to capture the energy and vibe of their Rockwood shows on their next album — State of the Art, which is slated for a January 12, 2018 release through Fervor Records.
State of the Art‘s latest single “Road to Joy” is a loose and free-flowing jam that displays the trio’s uncanny simpatico, in which they all push and pull upon the other, teasing out ideas from one another, and much like the incredible Xylouris White, there’s a sense that the trio, musically speaking are dancing — with each member knowing exactly when to lead, follow. And although the composition begins with some stuttering discordance, the trio quickly finds a sustained, funky groove reminiscent of 70s era jazz fusion but with a contemporary touch.