Polyrhythmics percolate with release of ‘Caldera’

Tahoe Onstage
Art Brown and the Polyrhythmics celebrate the release of “Caldera” on Friday in Crystal Bay.

Rhythmic behemoth Polyrhythmics bring the party Friday night to the Crystal Bay Casino’s Red Room to celebrate the release of their impressive new album, “Caldera

Polyrhythmics have always had that “big sound” thing down. Let’s start with the obvious fact that the group is an eight-piece band with plenty of brass, and it knows how to use all of that musical heft to get people moving on the dance floor. The scope of the group’s musical vocabulary and references also is quite large, touching on everything from Fela Kuti rhythms to Chicago blues breakdowns to Stax horns stylings, just about anything with a groove and a sense of purpose.

Both live and on record, Polyrhythmics aren’t going to have a hard time getting you to notice them.

Fans will notice that the band’s latest release “Caldera” has a lot of the same elements that have made Polyrhythmics such a joy in the past. The group’s tantalizing musicianship can be heard on “Journey to Caldera,” and you can’t deny the lockstep, groove-centric hooks littered throughout, especially standout “Vodka For My Goat.” But what fans will hopefully also notice, which might be subtle at first but more apparent with repeated listens, is that the Polyrhythmics sound has gotten deeper.

Polyrhythmics Caldera

The varying textures and richness of the album is a welcomed next step for the band. It seems to be the natural byproduct of incorporating more people into the songwriting process. Instead of looking outward to expand their sound, the members looked inward and to each other for inspiration, effectively deepening and refining their sound. Saxophone and flute player Art Brown revealed to Tahoe Onstage that the creation of songs on “Caldera” was the most collaborative process the band had ever experienced. Just as a delicious sauce for a meal becomes more complex with each added ingredient, so does music when you include more voices.

“I’m most proud of the collaborative elements that made the album what it is,” he said. “More members of the band contributed to the composition and songwriting of “Caldera” than any other record in our seven-year history, and, maybe partially because of that, I think it is as close as we’ve come to making music that really blends all of our various influences. I always want to play in groups that can make people say either ‘this sounds like nothing else I’ve heard’ or ‘this sounds like so many different things I’ve heard, all at once’, and we got closer to that than we ever have with ‘Caldera,’ ” Brown said.

More than previous albums, “Caldera’s” texture comes from including nuanced musical ingredients to the songs that emphasize mood over hook [pullquote]The release of “Caldera” is another forward step for Polyrhythmics in a career trajectory that continues to look up. [/pullquote]or groove, like on the otherworldly opener, “Goldie’s Road.” It also includes some rich and refreshing bits of musical moments that feel new for the band, heard in the sprinkling piano coda in the middle of the psychedelic sway in “Cactus Blossom” or the bruising sequence of rambunctious Afrobeat that fractures into a deep-space, wavy groove at the end of “Aus Jus.” For Brown, the emphasis on finding the musical ingredients that were right for the song helped him grow as a musician.

“The recording and writing process with ‘Caldera’ moved me further away from focusing on certain musical elements and pushed me toward others. My musical background tends to emphasize individual expression and technical skill on the saxophone, but writing with this band specifically has really shifted my perspective to think about crafting a band sound and thinking about how best to serve the songs that we are writing. It’s also led me to think more about textures and sound in the music versus just melodic and harmonic content.”

The release of “Caldera” is another forward step for Polyrhythmics in a career trajectory that continues to look up. They performed songs off the new album live in September on influential Seattle NPR station KEXP, they’ve shared stages with musicians as diverse Booker T and Snarky Puppy, and the tallies on their festival appearances include High Sierra, Bumbershoot and the Vancouver International Jazz Fest. The key for Brown is to keep trying to rub shoulders with many different musicians and sounds in order to move forward.

“In addition to hopes for continued exposure and opportunities to bring this music to new people, either live or on record, I’m looking forward to expanding and strengthening relationships with other bands and artists. This past year was full of new opportunities for Polyrhythmics to meet and sometimes play with artists and bands that I really admire and look up to, and I really want to build on those experiences and bring Polyrhythmics into the rich musical community that we have touring the country and world now,” Brown said.

-Garrett Bethman

  • The Polyrhythmics
    When: 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8
    Where: Crystal Bay Casino Red Room
    Cover: free
  • Where else:
    Dec. 5 – SLO Brews, San Luis Obispo
    Dec. 6. – Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz
    Dec. 7 – Grass Valley Center for the Arts
    Dec. 9 – Slims, San Francisco
    Purchase ‘Caldera’LINK

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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.


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