When we think of piano-centered trios in Cincinnati, we probably think either of the goings-on at the Blue Wisp or, for those of us who haven't had that pleasure, we probably remember Ben Folds Five. There is one group in Cincinnati outside these limits, however: TriFectaFunk. Having formed just over a year ago, the trio is gaining a fair bit of attention in its youth with the release of the new CD, Walkin' Backwards, as well as with live appearances at Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky venue favorites such as The Mad Frog, The Southgate House and The Madison Theater.
TriFectaFunk's Walkin' Backwards is a strong debut for any band, with its quality recording (done at Studio B on Spring Grove Ave.), likable songs and noteworthy musicianship. Though they do derive influence from the Funk genre (and it is a part of their name), ironically, the last thing the band seems to be is a "Funk band." Tristan Eckerson (keyboards and vocals) fronts TriFectaFunk with his flawless, melodic rhythms and uncanny ability to fill the space left in a band without a guitar player. Eckerson moved back to Cincinnati in 2003 from Charleston, S.C., where he attended college. Upon his return, he joined Ben Cochran (bass) and Elliot Koop (drums) to form a progressive Jazz trio after performing off and on with the improv-heavy Jam band, Homeskillet. But the band's sound quickly deviated, becoming a mixture of various styles, a fusion commonplace in the Jam band community.
The music remains pretty straightforward, however.
"Walkin' Backwards in the Rain" is about as close to Funk as the trio gets on the EP. But the bridge sections are also more Rock than any of the other songs. The improvisational tendencies of TriFectaFunk certainly stand out, which is no wonder considering the threesome's intention to be a Jazz trio from the start. "Let Me Speak" features driving rhythms and a lyrically-motivated form, while "Fin Air" is a fantastic, almost epic piece, intellectually written and arranged with multiple jazzy and ambient sections through the arpeggios that characterize Eckerson's ivory style. Cochran's work on "Fin Air" is doubly impressive. The bass parts are tastefully added to accentuate not only the piano parts but also the feel of the song as a whole. Koop stands out on "Pamplona," blending a Rock approach with a lot of colorful percussion sounds.
Cochran says that the name was conceived simply. "We narrowed it down to (TriFectaFunk) based on feel, the incorporation of the 'three,' and our — or at least, my — feeling that Funk and Jazz elements fuel our music, regardless of the style of a particular tune." But, he adds, "the triangle base remains the key."
Eckerson has a different notion about the band's name origin. "The Ouija board spelled it out for us," he says. "It was just meant to be."
As for their drive to create music, the band's statements are nothing if not interesting. The band thinks of music on an almost existential level, to say the least.
"Music is the only pure, concrete accomplishment in an ever-shaking and toppling human existence," Eckerson states.
"Music is another form of communication, like speech or writing, but more transcendent," says Cochran.
"Quite simply, music is life," Eckerson adds.
"Rhythm fuels physical components like dancing and making the notes," Cochran continues, "but one must also listen, think and react to the melodies, harmonies and lyrics through more mental and emotional avenues."
Whoa. Whoever called musicians shallow never met these guys. If music is indeed life, then TriFectaFunk is living it up.
TRIFECTAFUNK performs Saturday at the BarrelHouse, March 4 at Stanley's Pub and March 18 at Arlin's. Walkin' Backwards is available for download at trifectafunk.com.