The scent of nag champa incense filled the air as the band’s first fleeting sounds of melody sailed across the fabric of the room.
It was 11 p.m. Sunday, and Big Breakfast just started the first set of their weekly gig at Smokey Joe’s (40th and Walnut streets). Their sound is a harmonic blend of synchronicity: saxophone and clarinet travel in pairs, the bass is punctual and bouncy, the keyboard is reverent and pious to the religion of jazz, and the drums and percussion are two mouths of the same mind well spoken in syncopation and triplet.
Big Breakfast is like late 1970s rhythm and blues peppered with nightclub jazz and a Caribbean beat. If you ask any of the guys though, they’ll just tell you it’s jazz/funk fusion, or “original hyperfunk.”
One might suspect a wide range of influences based on their healthy jazz/funk rendition of “Blackbird,” which caused smiles to crack among the audience. Sitting there, drinking the suds, you could hear the likes of John Scofield, Maceo Parker, Bob Marley and Sonny Rollins, as well as a list of original music.
The party picked up considerably in the second set of the evening. Larger crowds rolled in and the musical mood grew more exciting thanks to some freestyle vocalization from clarinet player Zack Lodmer.
“How’s everybody doing?” Zack said as an introduction accompanying one of keyboard player Dan Paul’s outlandish riffs. “Just to let you know what’s going on, we’re just going to chill on this riff for a bit.”
That’s just the way it is. Each member of the band plays around with a riff for a while, then brings it to rehearsal. “Then the rest of the band pours in with their own stuff,” said Paul, on the process of creating the band’s original music.
“We like to do 2 percent jazz and 98 percent fun stuff,” said bass player David Whitten, while introducing one of the band’s original songs “Arbitrary Red Vine.”
The band is producing an album of originals, which will be available at their performances at the end of March.
In addition to the weekly gig, Big Breakfast has been known to play at North By Northwest in Mt. Airy, and The Grape Street Pub in Manayunk. They will also play at Turtle Studios (2nd and Quarry streets) on April 5 for the “First Friday” festivities.
Big Breakfast plays every Sunday at 11 p.m. at Smokey Joe’s. 21+, $2 cover.
Joe Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org