YamaYama – Party Dog (2012, EP)

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Remember when fusion jazz was both fertile and fun? Eugene, Oregon’s YamaYama does. Formed five years ago by alto saxophonist Scott Mitchell and drummer Merlin Showalter, the quartet that also includes bassist Milo Fultz and keyboardist Dario LaPoma is poised to cut loose their first record, an EP called Party Dog. Although this is their recording debut, this a document of a band that already has it all together.

The clue comes in their stated list of influences: Joshua Redman, P-Funk, Dave Holland Group, Dapp Theory…wait a minute…Dave Holland Group?

That’s right. Upon digging into Party Dog, you can begin to find the similarities with Holland’s advanced bop ensembles: dynamic, thoughtful and grooving in a dozen different ways. Within these five originals, the Showalter/Fultz rhythm section provides the thunder, as Mitchell and LaPoma dance lightly around the melody, keeping the soloing succinct and meaningful.Over the course of this EP, they undertake the funk (“Uncle Bigbeard’s Big News Stand,” “Wish-Wash”), empyrean moods (“Wandering Mercy”), and groovy analog synth soul (“Cop Show”).

The title song (YouTube below) travels over a variety of complex rhythm patterns and a serpentine melody, saying a lot musically in less than four minutes. The best part about the complexity in their music is that it doesn’t hurt your head to absorb it, and can often cause other body parts to move to the shifty beats.

With crisp performances and interesting yet catchy tunes, YamaYama has figured out what Garaj Mahal and only a handful of other fusion outfits of today have: make compelling rock-jazz that doesn’t sacrifice integrity and craftsmanship when making the music fun. This is just the beginning of this band, but there’s enough in this EP to merit watching to see where they end up.

Click here to purchase Party Dog when it goes on sale at BandCamp the night of September 8. If you’re in the Eugene area, why don’t you check out their CD Release Show at the Granary.

Visit YamaYama’s website for more info.

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