Sometimes when a band breaks up, good things happen. Take Back Alley Jazz. The local jazz quartet formed out of the ashes of two other local jazz bands, when three members from Fourth Street Jazz joined together with three members of Turtle Mountain.
“We heard each other play a couple of times,” Carl Laurence told me over a beer at the Taco Club last week. “It was a get together and things just started.”
I met Laurence and Dave Marfleet last week to talk about their two-year-old music group ahead of Back Alley Jazz’s upcoming gig at the Regent Hotel this Friday.
Laurence plays trombone, trumpet and sings, Marfleet plays bass, Darcy Purcell plays guitar and Matt Yaki holds down the beat on the drums in the group. Cathy Cameron-Suchy and Sylvain Hebert are past members of the group.
Laurence said “creative differences” with previous bandmates resulted in the sextet coming together. Marfleet and Laurence also played together at the jam nights Marfleet hosted at Benoit’s Wine Bar.
Back Alley Jazz’s name comes from the fact their first gig together was on the patio of Benoit’s.
The group started off playing jazz standards and have slowly added more modern jazz songs to their repertoire.
“We started with what we knew, what we were playing in the other bands,” said Marfleet. “What makes this outfit different is we’re taking a more modern approach. We’re playing more funk. We still keep the core, but we break away from it sometimes.”
Three out of the four current members of the group went to music school at Humber College in Toronto. Only Laurence, a Revelstoke Secondary School graduate, is self-taught, though recently he has been taking singing and music theory lessons with Judy Lillace.
While the members all enjoy a variety of music, they bonded over jazz. “I love rock, classic rock, funk – anything horn driven, really,” said Laurence.
“I find commercial music is great if you can play it, but jazz is what you study,” said Marfleet.
I asked how they decide what songs to play. They replied saying they look for songs with a groove, and they’ll e-mail each other with suggestions. If they like it, they’ll give it a go at practice and see what happens.
“We have songs we’ve never played before and we run through it once and it’s like we’ve been playing it for years. Those are keepers,” said Laurence. “When its driving like that, I get chills. When I play and I listen to Darcy playing and I’m completely lost in what he’s doing.”
The group plays songs by the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd — some of the legends of modern jazz.
“I think those artists, some of them have transcended the old to the new,” said Marfleet. “Herbie played with Freddie Hubbard before he played with Miles, and then he got into funk. Just like they progressed, we’re progressing.”
Laurence and Marfleet both praised their bandmates. They described Purcell as a fantastic jazz and blues guitarist, while lauding Yaki’s drum skills.
“Matt really brings it together. He can play so many different sounds, and it makes it easy to play along with,” said Marfleet.
One thing they stressed is that they always play songs a little differently — the solos are always improvised but they’ll also play around with the structure of a song.
“When I get going on my solo, Matt picks it up the ground, Darcy gets more engaged and the energy grows,” said Laurence.
“It’s going to be captivating,” said Marfleet. “It’s going to be like something you’d see in a jazz club in the big city. It’s not going to be loud, we’re not going to make your ears bleed. You don’t need ear plugs. Hopefully it makes you laugh and maybe you’ll feel some of the things we feel when we play these tunes, because it feels really good.”