Clubland: Jamming a la ‘Big Lebowski’
The Ryan Hommel Trio Purchase photo reprints »
The trio headed by guitarist and vocalist Ryan Hommel, above, play at a recent "Funky Monday" jam session at Snowzees in Sunderland.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RICH HOMMEL Purchase photo reprints »
Shelter from the storm — that’s not all that Snowzees had to offer this past Monday night, with heavy wet flakes falling bright under the streetlights outside the Sunderland bar’s glass doors.
The venue proudly hosts live music six nights a week, and “Funky Monday” features the Ryan Hommel Trio, playing covers and originals from 10 p.m. to closing.
Guitarist/vocalist Hommel (Sweetback Sisters), keyboard man Darby Wolf (Rubblebucket) and drummer Ted Sullivan (Akashic Record) are all Amherst musicians in their 20s, and since November, they’ve found time in their busy schedules to band together and jam every Monday night.
Sometimes the place is hopping, but on this particular evening — a winter storm bearing down, during Spring Break, just after St. Patrick’s Day — the crowd number hovered around a mellow 12, with an additional handful of patrons showing up just before midnight.
In the middle of one of the trio’s tunes, two guys whooped and fist-pumped during Hommel’s guitar solo; a look around revealed they were reacting to the silent ESPN action on the TVs above the bar, not the band.
Lesser musicians might get rattled, annoyed or jaded, but Hommel and crew were happily wrapped up in creating their music, and during a break, the trio leader said he enjoyed the laid-back, homey atmosphere inside Snowzees. He pointed out the display of pool league trophies over in one corner.
“It’s a little ‘Big Lebowski’ in here,” he said warmly. “I always expect Jeff Bridges to come in.”
There’s free popcorn and Wi-Fi. It’s a buck for a plastic cup of ginger ale. Small colored lights flash spastically above the band, like electronic Mardi Gras beads. “There are good vibes in the building and from the people who run the place,” Hommel said. “Every time I come out to the gig I have so much fun.”
That was evident by the band’s freewheeling attack on inspired material like the Pointer Sisters’ forgotten 1983 jam “Automatic.” The threesome gave the song a slightly drunken hip-hop groove a la Questlove’s work with D’Angelo, or a Madlib production.
Wolf blasted blown-out low, low bass notes on a vintage Yamaha DX7, Sullivan stuck a splash cymbal on his snare for an extra-sharp clanging beat and Hommel played tickly funk chords.
It didn’t matter that the room wasn’t packed with dancers — the band played like it was.
The trio rescued another gem from pop’s twisty past, the glossy and groovy “I Know” by Dionne Farris. Hommel and company melted the ’90s sheen down to its timeless, funky core, really laying into the riff (a simple but super-catchy bouncing octave).
Joshua Redman’s “Headin’ Home” was the jazzy sign-off for the band’s first set. It had a stutter-funk rhythm with tight stops, like a taxi weaving through late-night NYC. At least half the room was engrossed in the band’s velocity and ferocity, one hand on a beer, head nodding to the music’s heartbeat.
In keeping with the homey, friendly atmosphere, area multi-instrumentalist Ted Wirt — the owner of the Hammond B-3 organ that lives at Snowzees — took over for Wolf at the keyboard for a couple tunes, leading Hommel and Sullivan through covers of The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy” (a big ’60s hit for both Cannonball Adderley and The Buckinghams).
The group sprinkled some of Hommel’s original tunes throughout the night, like “Beautiful World.” His vocal hinted at a soulful Todd Rundgren style on a song about a stressed-out Betty Sue. “Talk to God about your week / ’cause he’s the only one who lets you speak,” Hommel sang over a pulsing rhythm.
The 24-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist releases an online-only five-song, self-titled EP on April 2 and will celebrate with a show at the Parlor Room in Northampton on Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m.