Who would have envisioned a jazz group billed as an organ trio rocking so hard? At last Saturday night’s album release show by the Alex Nauman Organ Trio +3, the five members of the teenage girl group that opened the show were dancing with their friends in front of the stage like they were at a rock concert.
The evening began with Maxie Ford, the aforementioned five-member group of teenage girls who are the most exciting new group on the Billings scene, playing for an hour to a packed Garage Pub. Yellowstone Valley Brewing’s early evening live venue has become one of the best places to catch the hottest music in town.
Maxie Ford - led by reigning Magic City Music Awards Female Vocalist Katy Kemmick - played song after song, keeping the crowd’s attention with unique instrumentation and presentation.
High school senior Katy Kemmick has a slightly twangy but warm voice, honed by years of sitting in with her father’s bands (John Kemmick of Longtime Lonesome Dogs, the Peach Pickers, the Muddy Warblers, the Firehouse Band, the Kemmick Brothers) as well as playing at open mic events and as a special addition to the young, otherwise all-boy band, the Brass Monkey Band.
She mostly strums acoustic guitar but occasionally plays the mandolin, too.
Joining her on vocals, acoustic guitar, baritone ukulele, fiddle and percussion is Hannah Haberman, whose talents have been honed by her years at her own father’s knee. Doug Haberman has played bass and guitar with bluegrass groups like the Elk River Ramblers, the Longtime Lonesome Dogs and the Firehouse Band.
These two beautiful young ladies would be quite a force to be reckoned with alone, but they have been joined for the past three or four months by three equally lovely and talented teenagers, Grace Lamdin on upright bass (plucked, bowed, as well as treated as a percussion instrument); Hayley Haw on piano, acoustic guitar and percussion; and tap dancing percussionist, vocalist and rapper (that’s right, rapper) Nolee Anderson.
Whether they’re performing country, pop or hip-hop, they’ve come close to creating a new variation of Americana. They play with a genuine sense of fun and innocence but with confidence that belies not only their tender years, but the few months since they started playing (Kemmick excitedly told me about their first rehearsal in late August).
Unfortunately, this was to be Haw’s last show with Maxie Ford, as she is heading off to New York to work as a nanny. Haberman presented her with a colorful bouquet on stage in between songs as they lamented her parting.
Joining the group in her steed for their next show (New Year’s Eve at the Garage), will be the equally lovely and talented Jenni Long (daughter of Funk in the Trunk trumpet player Jeff Long) on … wait for it … trumpet! Can their sound get even more distinctive?
Special guest for the New Year’s show will be Billings bassist extraordinaire, Parker Brown, filling in for Lamdin, who will be out of town for the gig. Kemmick assured us that Brown must don a dress for the gig, to fit in (despite the fact that only Haberman and Haw were wearing dresses this night). It’s bound to be an evening to remember.
But wait! The night isn’t even half over. The main event, the ANT (+3) still had 90 minutes to play original jazz.
The trio is guitarist Alex Nauman, organist/pianist Erik Olson and veteran Billings drummer Brad “Papa Shark” Edwards. The “+3” on the brand new vinyl LP are sax player Ben Johns, bassist Matt Smiley and percussionist Gy Moody. For this show, the aforementioned Parker Brown (who has sat in with the ANT before) was on double bass.
The evening found all six gentlemen in fine form, each provided with ample opportunities to show the tricks of their trade, while playing at times like a well-oiled machine on overdrive.
“Too Damn Tight!” – the album being unleashed this evening – is a nice collection of finely tuned original instrumental jazz indeed, but live on stage is truly the place to best hear this band.
For a band that bears Nauman’s name and Olson’s main instrument, Johns sure gets much of the limelight. Performing on alto and baritone, but mostly tenor saxophone, he tore up the stage with a command of the instrument that seemed to invoke spirits of bygone greats. He’s based in Bozeman, but Billings audiences have heard him from time to time with Big Caboose and the Soul Penetrators, along with Billings-based Brown.
Nauman and Olson showed both flash and restraint when called for; the rhythm section really swung at times, while locked into tight grooves at others. The idea of a percussionist in a jazz combo initially struck me as odd, but Moody provided a lot of extra pizzazz to the proceedings when called for; in other words, it really worked.
Overheard back by the soundboard, discussing the brilliance of one of the grooves in particular, were fellow trumpeters Jeff Long and Jon Lodge (both who know a thing or five about instrumental jazz).
The album was underwritten by the band’s fans through a campaign on Kickstarter.com, an internet/community-based arts funding site that allows supporters a 30-day window to pledge money toward a project. Usually a variety of premiums are offered as thank-you’s for different levels of support; in this case, a pledge of a few dollars was rewarded with an MP3; $250 allowed a fan to hang out with Papa Shark for an evening.
More than $3,000 was raised, allowing the band to have the album pressed and released on 180-gram virgin vinyl.
Since turntables are few and far between in the 21st century, one was raffled off at the end of the night by Studio Sky Audio.
Be sure to track these fine local ensembles down via their Facebook pages and look for “Too Damn Tight!” in local stores. But, really, do yourself a favor and get out and see both of these acts live. Make it a New Year’s Resolution if you must, but don’t put it off.