The avant-fusion, experimental jazz group was spotlighted for Local Spins on WYCE, which also featured new music by Lipstick Jodi, American Hotel System, Overdrive Orchestra and more.
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Veteran saxophonist Rolly Smith acknowledges that when he first started playing in fellow saxman Joe Uzarski’s “avant-fusion” band Space Bar, he found the music really “weird.”
Considering that it springs from influences ranging from Wayne Shorter and Weather Report to Frank Zappa and Jon Garbarek, that description shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
What has surprised Smith, and a growing legion of fans who’ve embraced the boundary-pushing new super-group, is the way that the eight musicians in Space Bar have jelled to create upbeat, instrumental magic unlike anything else in West Michigan.
It helps, of course, that the four-saxophone band features a who’s who bunch of regional musicians, with drummer Mark Jilbert, bassist Chris Carr, guitarist Kurt Ogrodzinski, keyboardist Carl Uzarski and saxophonists Joe Rumler and Jackson Martin joining Uzarski and Smith in the ensemble.
“Joe and I have the heart-to-heart connection; every time we play together good stuff happens,” says Smith, a familiar fixture in several different regional bands over the years.
“We started working on it and his vision started to come to life. Then, we added Kurt and the juices started to flow. Now, this band’s got juice. We play together and we feel each other and we phrase together, and for me, that’s exciting – when we can get right spot-on.”
Uzarski, who first started toying with his compositions and the concept for Space Bar in 2017, noted that after various lineup changes, the band has hit a groove.
“I like to give everyone plenty of opportunities to solo and improvise. Everyone puts their personality into the music, and that is a key to our energy and sound.”
PLAYING FESTIVAL ON SATURDAY WITH A NEW EP AND MORE TO COME
The band recently released a five-song EP, “Hello World Demos,” on Bandcamp.com and has about 20 original songs that it’s been performing live.
It will roll out several of those at noon Saturday (June 3) on the Clocktower Stage as part of Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids.
“It’s experimental jazz,” offered Smith, “sometimes a little Zappa-ish, sometimes dependent on improvisation by the players. We are unique to have four saxophones and amazing rhythm section, and a guitar soloist that smokes.”
Space Bar hopes to record a full-length album later this year as well as book more performances across West Michigan.
“We most likely will play the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in the fall and look forward to play at The Stray again,” said Uzarski, a past member in the band Afro Zuma, along with Smith. “I’ve played at Festival a number of times with other bands and am really psyched to play with Space Bar this year.”
VIDEO: Space Bar at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill
Video by Chelsea Whitaker
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which showcases music by Michigan artists at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – Space Bar featured the tracks “Add to That” and “Abandon Ship.”
Listen to the songs here as part of the full radio show podcast, which also features fresh music by Lipstick Jodi, The American Hotel System, Earth Radio (this week’s musicians’ pick), Adam Labeaux, Radio Vision, Overdrive Orchestra, The Krelboynes, Slumlord Radio, The War and Treaty and Al Hight.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (6/2/23)
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