- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Galactic’s brand of N’awlins funk may not be the next music trend to set the MTV set on its ears, but it’s worth a listen.

Made up of Theryl DeClouet (vocals), Ben Ellman (tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones; harmonica), Robert Mercurio (bass), Rich Vogel (organ, piano), Jeff Raines (guitar) and Stanton Moore (drums), the band appears tomorrow and Saturday at the 9:30 Club, giving co-founders Mr. Mercurio and Mr. Raines a chance to play for friends and family.

And show off a little to the kids from high school: They both have roots in punk music and Chevy Chase.

“I was into the punk rock scene in high school,” says the 31-year-old Mr. Raines, who attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

“Both Robert and I ended up going to the University of New Orleans, where we heard the Meters and the older R&B groups like Chocolate Milk. At first we started covering those bands, playing frat parties, and we have kept a lot of the ‘frat party fun’ in the live appearances.”

“Now,” he says, “the music is all ours, and this latest album, ‘Ruckus,’ is a bit more polished, thanks to our producer, Dan ‘the Automator’ Nakamura.”

“Ruckus,” the band’s fourth studio album (along with one compilation and one live recording), is a clean melding of funk, punk and jazz — along with a bit of computerized hip-hop that creates a hook-friendly series of songs that push “Ruckus” a bit further along than the party madness of the band’s early efforts.

That means this band has found a way to grow up without losing the groove that makes its members happy. The result is an audible mix that sounds highly improvisational one moment and highly structured the next.

Providing continuity through the songs is their musical punctuation — the staccato drumming of top funk/groove drummer Stanton Moore paired with the melodic grooves emanating from Ben Ellman on saxophone and harmonica, which wind in and around the song and often take center stage.

These two alone make a show worth seeing.

The influence of Mr. Nakamura, who has become a musical legend for being one of the defining influences of hip-hop and electronic music going back to the early ‘90s, can be heard in the group’s latest release. Known for his work with musicians such as hip-hop artists Prince Paul and Gorillaz, rap star King Kool and the rock-blues group the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Mr. Nakamura has helped take the wildly improvisational music of Galactic and prune it down to a crisp 44 minutes of good groove music that is “Ruckus.”

“We wanted a producer with a modern approach, and he was right in line with that,” Mr. Raines says. “He brought a fresh set of ears and a modern approach to the album, and what we learned is that things we thought were hip, such as wandering improvisational musical journeys, he showed us how to refine them.

“He has definitely helped us in the process of trying to stay true to this band and its music, versus just playing New Orleans jazz/funk music.”

Galactic’s cover of General Public’s 1980s soul ballad “Tenderness” shows the band mates’ ability to make music their own. With the addition of Stanton Moore’s head-bouncing drums and Jeff Raines’ gentle guitar textures, the song, while undoubtedly melancholy thanks to phrases such as “I don’t know where to stop or when to start,” is a warm remake perfect for holding hands.

In addition to “Tenderness,” the album is filled with a variety of musical styles, such as the radio-friendly and jazzy “Uptown Odyssey,” or “Bittersweet,” which features a fulfilling sax melody and a bass-and-drums mix along with Mr. DeClouet singing, “Touch me once and you’ll be struck by lightning.”

For a good time, a “Ruckus” time, this is the show for the weekend — and not necessarily only for the college-aged.

“Hopefully we will broaden our fan base with this album, and I think we are definitely reaching a new set of ears while keeping the old fans in touch with our music,” Mr. Raines says.

Mr. DeClouet is from the older R&B school of music. It’s clear that Galactic is working with Mr. Nakamura to modernize his singing, to modernize the way he looks and delivers the music while also bringing something new to the genre.

“Galactic is definitely employing a more modern and hipper sensibility,” Mr. Raines says.

• • •

A favorite performer and songwriter, Willy Porter, returns to the Washington area to appear Saturday at Jammin’ Java in East Vienna, Va.

Mr. Porter, a musician who immediately brings his audience to ease as he gently and effusively entertains, is out in support of his latest CD, “High Wire Live.” The solo performer offers a masterful blend of superior six- and 12-string acoustic musicianship paired with a quick sense of humor and songwriting evocative of what’s in his heart.

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