The super-group of West Michigan musicians views the side project as a creative melding of ‘firepower’ unlike anything else on the scene. Check out the Local Spins video of a rare acoustic performance.
THE BAND: The Underground Circus
THE MUSIC: Inventive and heavy instrumental jazz-rock fusion
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 4) at SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids (Also: Drummer Mario Copeland plays with Harper & Midwest Kind at 8 p.m. Saturday at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill)
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Wrapping one’s arms around just what The Underground Circus is all about can be an elusive, maddening exercise.
After all, the Grand Rapids fusion band fires up a musical spectacle that comes off as, well, a three-ring circus of instrumental wonders that can’t easily be contained even under a big top.
Jazz sensibilities get turned upside down with forays into rock and heavy metal tinged with a progressive ambience, all unfurled by an ensemble of supremely talented young musicians who pop up almost everywhere across West Michigan in bands playing everything from blues to jazz to folk-rock.
“We had all this firepower and musicianship in the Grand Rapids scene and wanted to harness it in a recording,” says bassist Justin Avdek, who spearheaded the project that spawned a self-titled, all-instrumental debut album recorded at Matt Ten Clay’s Amber Lit Audio.
While many of the players – drummer Mario Copeland, guitarist Justin Wierenga, keyboard player Dutcher Snedeker, saxophonist Caleb Elzinga and trumpet player Brad Fritcher – also have performed regularly as part of Fritcher’s MOODS, an improvisational modern jazz troupe, Avdek makes it clear that The Underground Circus has a different thrust.
“This group differs from Brad Fritcher’s MOODS in that there are multiple writers on the album, more of a group effort. Also, where Brad stays in a pretty solid jazz realm, we like to bounce around and get into more rock and even metal influences,” he says.
Adds Copeland, a gospel-bred musician who’s toured extensively over the past year with Harper & Midwest Kind: “You can’t really contain it in a category. We don’t fit into any category ourselves.”
Four members of the band – Copeland, Avdek, Wierenga and Snedeker – brought that undefinable musical spirit to the studios of News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) this week for 2017’s first edition of Local Spins Live, performing an unusual acoustic rendition (with upright bass, iPad, percussion and acoustic guitar) of the lead track from the new album, “A New Bag.” Check out the video here with a full podcast of the radio show below.
VIDEO: The Underground Circus (Local Spins Live)
Various members of The Underground Circus have played blues, rock and soul with singer Hannah Rose Graves in the GravesTones, folk-rock with the rootsy Eric Engblade and cutting-edge jazz with Fritcher.
Bringing those musicians together for The Underground Circus project resulted in a rare spurt of creative magic – combining pre-arranged musical ideas with in-studio improvisation.
“The process was amazing,” conceded Avdek, who also recently wrapped up a solo album at Amber Lit Audio. “It was set up live, all instruments at once and (we) knocked out the album in about four hours – musicianship at its finest.”
While all of the members are busy with other projects and bands, Avdek said he hopes they can continue to play shows “when it makes sense” with plans for recording albums about once a year “to get our weirdest ideas” out.
“This is one that we can all get together, take a deep breath from the other projects, and just have fun,” said Avdek, a Muskegon native who attended Western Michigan University and who has also been a member of the band Chordis Bell.
Get more information about the band online here.
PODCAST: Local Spins Live with The Underground Circus (Jan. 4, 2017)
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC