A trio featuring Mike Dillon (Ricki Lee Jones, Ani DiFranco, Les Claypool) on vibraphone, marimba, Prophet 6, congas, and bongos, Brian Haas (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) on Fender Rhodes, piano, bass Moog and melodica and Nikki Glaspie (Beyonce) on drums, cymbals and vocals, Punkadelick is the unified vision of six hands creating a world that often sounds like the work of an ensemble three times the size.
During 2020 and 2021, while many music venues were still shuttered, the group began touring, sweating their way through cuts Dillon and Haas had composed during quarantine writing sessions. Locking in on stage, it quickly became clear the band was functioning at a level that made the hair on their arms stand at attention—even for three live music veterans accustomed to life on the road.
“It became obvious to let this become a collaboration,” Dillon says. “This is really something all three of us are doing because we have so much love for one another and a love for the music that we started creating.”
“There’s only three of us, but we move together like a big, nasty school of fish,” Haas adds, laughing.
During the tail end of a 2021 tour, the band booked time to record with engineer—and functioning fourth band member—Chad Meise, and Inflorescence sprouted. Opener “Desert Monsoon,” sets the stage with a spiritual-jazz intro of organ, vibraphone, percussion and wordless vocal coos before crackling to life as a swaggering funk strut. The title track, and “Pandas,” dig into thick dub textures built around Glaspie’s drumming and Haas’s subwoofer-straining bass synths.
“Apocalypse Daydream,” which appeared as an exotic head-nodder on 2020’s Shoot the Moon (titled “Apocalyptic Daydreams”) is reborn as a meatier jazz-rock slab where Dillon and Haas circle each other like Television performing as a lounge act on a cruise ship sailing seas of psilocybin.
Bending ears and surprising audiences has long been part of Dillon’s MO and Glaspie and Haas act as perfect foils for forays into the weird. While Dillon bristles at the “punk jazz” tag, punk rock and jazz remain core influences to the band, in sound and spirit.
“We’re students of the titans of music. We grew up listening to punk and rock ’n’ roll but we also love instrumental music—particularly the forefathers of Black American Music. In our minds, Led Zeppelin and Milt Jackson, Parliament-Funkadelic and The Minutemen, The Bad Brains and Frank Zappa are interconnected influences,” explains Dillon. “All that comes together in how we approach instrumental creative music. Both punk rock and jazz are not prefab things, they’re about the freedom. We have no genre restriction in this band, and people who get it really respect that.”
Maybe the greatest example of the band’s punk-steeped sonic free-for-all is “Slowly But Surely,” a track Dillon told Haas to compose as if he were “writing for Queens of the Stone Age.” The song plays like QOTSA translated to piano runs, vibes and deeply swinging drums—big-riff stoner rock upended and played with huge smiles by America’s premier proponents of the unclassifiable.
“We try to challenge our listeners. We’re touching a nerve with people who maybe don’t want to see the same songs done in the same variations all night long,” continues Dillon. “Part of my mission is taking these instruments that are primarily designed for the orchestral or jazz world and taking them to the rock world, the club world, running them through pedals and effects. We’re not afraid to be soft, or to surprise. That’s what we all do in this band — get beyond our own conceptions of what music is supposed to be.”
“We are so blessed and lucky to do what we do for a living — it’s apparent in the music,” Glaspie chimes in. “It doesn’t matter how the day is going, but we get to the club, set up and crush the gig, all the other stuff doesn’t matter. We’re likeminded individuals who love life, love people and want to spread happiness.”
With the release of their debut album, Dogs, in 2016, the Nolatet – vibraphonist Mike Dillon, pianist Brian Haas, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich – added their own new twist to the New Orleans tradition. Now the quartet returns with their much-anticipated follow-up, ‘No Revenge Necessary,’ which takes the music through as many winding turns and colorful pathways as a Second Line parade route.
“‘Dogs’ was beginner’s luck,” says Singleton. “We had just started as a band, and we managed to somehow pull together a cohesive program. To me that small miracle was a good omen for the future.”
That omen proves true in myriad ways on ‘No Revenge Necessary,’ released via Royal Potato Family, which finds the band getting alternately (and often simultaneously) funky and ferocious, playful and profound, high-spirited and movingly solemn, irreverent, iconoclastic, and tapped into the bloodline that flows through the veins of every New Orleans musician.
After criss-crossing the country together touring behind ‘Dogs,’ Haas says, “we can take bigger musical risks in the studio and not fall on our butts. The more you play improvised music with the same line-up the luckier you can get as a band. This new album is WAY rowdier and riskier.” As Dillon adds, “a year of touring and festivals has made this band of unique improvisers stand on an island beyond the normal jazz arms race.”
While ‘Dogs’ was the first time these four came together as a unit, there was plenty of history already shared between them. Singleton and Vidacovich can boast more than four decades of playing together, during which they’ve established themselves as New Orleans’ most revered rhythm section. Dillon and Haas have crossed paths endlessly along the routes of their relentless touring schedules with bands like Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Garage a Trois, Critters Buggin and the Dead Kenny Gs.
“The wealth of music experience amongst ourselves is why Nolatet has its own voice,” says Haas. “After a few years you don’t learn the other person’s music—you learn the other person!”
That knowledge pays off in a sonic portrait like “Lanky, Stanky Maestro,” which Haas wrote in honor of Vidacovich and which evokes an explosive barrage of rakish outbursts from the drummer. Singleton calls it “pure slop/funk/mid-city/spaghetti-eatin’ grease”—and he’d know better than anyone. He continues that the “constant counterpoint conversation (including and especially the kit) is a contemporary flowering of the polyphony present in New Orleans music from 100 ears and years ago. That’s how we are able to reflect the complexities of adult lives with relatively simple materials.”
On the wildly spiraling “Bluebelly,” Singleton tips his hat to the more (post) modern sounds that he was confronted with through bandmate Dillon’s work in Garage a Trois alongside drummer Stanton Moore and saxophonist Skerik. Haas’ tumultuous “Homer and Debbie” was penned as an ode to two of his five dogs, and more expansively about life and death, youth and old age. Dillon’s “Elegant Miss J” commemorates a lost love and the pitfalls that follow when romance meets a life on the road. Landscape was also an inspiration for Haas, who wrote the imposing “Gracemont” under the sway of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains and the down-home “Pecos Wilderness” while musing on the terrain near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Then there are the inevitable passions that arise from a world in turmoil and the rebirth that (hopefully) can rise from it, as has happened time and again in New Orleans’ beleaguered past. Singleton’s “Dike Finger” is his response to Hurricane Katrina, erupting in anger and then giving way to optimism and solidarity. Haas’ title track “No Revenge Necessary” casts both a more intimate and a much wider net, sparked by the end of a relationship, but expanding to encompass the divisive times in which we all find ourselves these days.
“For me the over-riding theme moving forward is forgiveness,” Singleton sums up. “Hopefully the strength of the music can serve as a reminder of the possibility of growth and healing through forgiving.”
Chamberlain, a revered drummer who has appeared on recordings with Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Morrissey, Mike Gordon, Of Montreal, Marco Benevento, David Bowie and Herbie Hancock, among countless others, fully embraced the idea of exploring freely in the studio with Haas who, in addition to his solo work, tours with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Nolatet.
Together on ‘Prometheus Risen,’ Chamberlain and Haas present spontaneous composition at its finest. Chamberlain underscores pieces like “Space Colonization,” “Orange Purple Sunshine” and “African Crowley” with his signature massive beats, while also providing a rainbow of colors throughout by thinking orchestrally from behind the kit with his sampling/looping skills. Haas’ melodious, fuzz inflected electric keyboard motifs (tweaked with Space Echo), alternately cascading and minimalist piano flourishes and deep dub bass-lines drive numbers like “Less Munitions,” “More Mentations” and “Cosmic Vision.” “Ancestral Availability” has Haas on piano and Moog bass going toe-to-toe with Chamberlain’s controlled bashing in a manner that might recall Cecil Taylor’s historic duet encounters with Max Roach. That adventurous, suite-like “Holding Deckard’s Hand” melds cascading piano against an eerie ambient backdrop and throbbing backbeats, while “Intelligence Intensification” opens like a revved-up rocker and closes like a kinetic outtake from Philip Glass’ ‘Einstein on the Beach.’
In May 2016 Gillet hosted a house concert with long time collaborator Brian Haas acoustic baby grand piano at which Nikki Glaspie and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lurie (NYC) Sat in, turning this duo into a collective improvisational group Gilet later named Tephra Sound. The success of this house show inspired Gillet to record the groups first album “Horizon” in March 2017 in her living room with sound engineer Andrew “Goat” Gilchrist (House of 1000hz) Other musicians on the album include Alex Mazza on Trumpet, Rex Gregory on Reeds and Flute and Weedie Braimah on DJEMBE.
Tephra is a volcanic term referring to the combination of gasses, minerals and rock found in the ash cloud after an eruption. With power house drummer Nikki Glaspie (Beyonce, Nth Power, Ivan Neville, Maceo Parker), Gillets cello versatility and looped soundscapes, the creative compositional prowess of Jessica Lurie (Indigo Girls, Nels Cline, Fred Firth, John Zorn, Tiptons) And Brian Haas (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Nolatet) The overarching sound explores phase shifting groove, wide dynamics and stylistic contrast.