Genre-blending and borrowing have become commonplace in pop music, with stars such as Usher and Bruno Mars incorporating strains of hot genres such as dubstep, electronic dance music and rock.
But on Saturday night at Musica in downtown Akron, six ambitious, young, schooled musicians in two separate trios will join forces to try to create something new, interesting and funky under the rubric of New Juice.
One of the groups in New Juice is Flow Spontaneous, featuring the unusual combination of saxophonist/beatboxer Nathan-Paul Davis, keyboardist Steve Miller and emcee/vocalist Julien Huntley. They have played only one show, and appeared on local radio station 88.7-FM Soul Elixir this week. The group, which has been together for about a year, took its name and concept from Davis, who also plays in and writes horn charts for retro soul band Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites.
He was inspired by The Words Don’t Fit In My Mouth, a song from saxophonist Antonio Hart’s 1997 album Here I Stand, featuring emcee/poet Jessica Care Moore.
“[Moore] starts rapping and it has such flow, then Antonio just starts playing right along with her, and it sucks you in, such a hypnotic effect,” Davis wrote.
“He did that with one track, but I wanted to do that with every song, so I wrote these songs with the intent of having constant dialogue between the rapper and I. Not even really call and response, we’re just one voice. He’s the lyrics and I’m the harmony, and we’re both of one harmony. Steve and my beatboxing, which I put through a loop pedal, holds down the foundation for it all,” he said.
Snippets of their music posted on various web portals show a mix of jazz chops, hip-hop grooves and Huntley’s mix of spoken-word-style proclamations, a little bit of singing, and bars and bars of straight-ahead rapping. The trick for the trio is to successfully blend their musical concept with their musical abilities without diluting what makes their various inspirations so affecting.
“I would describe the music as jazz influence, hip-hop, classical. Those are the main elements. It’s hybrid music. Everything happens in threes. Three musicians, three styles,” Davis said.
The other group that makes up New Juice is Dave Hammer’s Power Supply, featuring singer/guitarist Dave Hammer, bassist Matthew DeRubertis and drummer Chris Baker. DHPS has been gigging around the area for about three years and has an album, Words, released in 2011 and an EP, Aht Uh Yo Hed, released last summer.
Just as with Flow Spontaneous, DHPS consists of friends and University of Akron music school students. The music contains some fancy, jazz-like chord progressions and blues- and jazz-informed solos, dips into some unusual meters and some nice vocal harmony on tracks such as the new EP’s toe-tapper Conartist. Though the time spent studying and woodshedding in music labs and classrooms permeates the music, the band doesn’t fall into the trap of many young musicians who feel they must stuff all their musical knowledge into the nooks and crannies of every song.
“I just call it a rock band,” bassist DeRubertis said. “At the end of the day, that’s all we are. We like a lot of different styles of music … so other sounds inevitably creep in, but we approach writing this stuff like rock tunes.”
Hammer, DeRubertis, Paul and Miller all met in UA’s jazz department and had played with each other in various forms throughout the years. Each band wanted to join forces with another for creative and collaborative reasons, to see what would happen.
DeRubertis books acts and events at the D.I.Y. downtown concert venue The Spot, where he first saw Flow Spontaneous perform, and he was immediately impressed by what his friends were attempting to do.
“Nathan and I were hanging out a couple months ago, and throughout the course of our conversation, we decided that combining DHPS with Flow Spontaneous would definitely make some of our musical dreams come true, and we just might create a new sound in Akron during that process,” DeRubertis said. “We’re like-minded enough for this to work, yet our backgrounds differ enough for everyone to bring something unique to the table.”
Now, getting six talented, knowledgeable young musicians, each with his own version of their combined musical vision, in one room to collaborate on new music might inspire creativity, or it might devolve into everyone trying to force their ideas on everyone else.
“The air can get pretty electrified. The results of our labor came pretty close to what I expected, but I say that in the most positive way! These guys are such monster players and I love the way they play and sound as individuals. I’m not going to say writing this stuff has been easy, but it’s been very rewarding,” DeRubertis said.
Both bands are acutely aware that the music they make separately and together will be considered left of the mainstream, but they must follow their hearts and their muses and hope there is an audience waiting to hear their sound.
“This music could be hard to market, but I’m just writing and playing what I hear,” Davis said. “Since my background is jazz, I made my music as accessible as I could. What people think matters to me, if I want to make a living as a musician at least, and I do. The sound of both the groups combined is very sell-able commercially speaking; separately it might be little more underground, but it is 2013 and it’s time for something new.”
DeRubertis believes Dave Hammer’s Power Supply can carve out its own audience while staying true to the music.
“Seeing that there is a huge space to play in [and be successful] outside of the mainstream, I am not really worried about fitting into that,” he said.
“The thing I care most about with DHPS is having fun and positively affecting people with our music, and we’ve been pretty consistent in doing that. I guess I just hope we can expand our reach to affect more people over time.”
Spontaneous Flow hopes to record an album once funds become available (how about a Kickstarter campaign, fellas?) while DHPS already has a new album ready (“Dave describes it as ‘acid blues,’ ” DeRubertis said) and enough new songs to record another one.
For the big debut, each band will play a 25-minute solo set, with Spontaneous Flow first and Dave Hammer’s Power Supply second. Then New Juice will play an extended set of all-new originals written by the sextet. Before the music starts and afterward, Illstyle Rockers main man DJ Forest Getemgump will spin classic hip-hop tracks.