A pinch of this and a dash of that

Local band walks the line between pop gems and jazz-tinged epics

Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers: Just six guys who play music and love button-up shirts. Tamara Petkau

Not many bands take hundreds of years of musical history from diverse genres and present it in a way that packs dance floors and makes any musician in the audience run back to their teacher in tears, but Winnipeg’s Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers have proven to be such an act.

Formed in 2004 under the moniker The Mutherfunkers, the group got its start playing instrumental jazz standards and cover songs.

“We were kind of more of a fun, party band [that] happened to play covers, ‘cause that’s sort of the thing to do when you’re just starting out,” bassist Lindsey Collins said by phone last week. “We were not trying to get in the bar circuit or anything, just playing for friends and parties. That was essentially it.”

Two years ago, the group solidified its lineup (Collins, Jesse Krause on lead vocals and guitar, Darren Grunau on bass, Bucky Driedger on drums, Paul Schmidt on trombone and Steve T. Kay on trumpet), ditched their old name and began playing original material that’s an infectious and ingenious combination of classical, jazz, big band, funk and pop. At first listen, it’s obvious that there’s a considerable degree of sophistication at work in Flying Fox’s music.

Lately we’ve been moving in the direction of musical theatre.

Jesse Krause, lead vocals

“Most of us are coming from some sort of post-secondary musical education,” said Collins, who teaches guitar at Long & McQuade.

The majority of the writing is handled by Krause, who in addition to playing in roots quartet House of Doc, is currently finishing his Bachelor of Music degree at Canadian Mennonite University. Krause said he typically writes out charts for the rest of Flying Fox and often notates melody lines for the horn section.

“The amount of paper we look at is maybe higher than [the] average [rock band],” Krause said.

Perhaps most impressive about the sextet is their ability to straddle the line between pop accessibility and high-brow jazz and classical tendencies. “Nurse,” for example, features an impossibly catchy chorus amidst a bold brass section, cycling chord progressions and numerous twists and turns. The balance between accessibility and complexity is a precarious one, Krause said.

“It’s a real balancing act to try to make sure that it’s interesting enough for us to play, but also that it’s accessible.”

He added that the band’s early, largely instrumental songs were often complicated for the sake of being complicated. Since that time, the band has refined its approach to writing and concentrated on creating good songs, rather than complicated ones.

“Lately we’ve been moving in the direction of musical theatre. There’s this sort of typical western art music complexity in it but also there’s tons of good pop songs in that, and I think that’s sort of the blend we’re trying to achieve,” Krause said.

Indeed, Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers have etched out a sound that is musically challenging, easy to listen to and hard to pin down. Whether they’re playing a three-minute pop gem or a jazz-tinged epic, Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers’ careful musical tightrope act is joy for anyone in the audience.

“That’s something we’re juggling right now and probably will continue to juggle with,” Collins said.

See Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers Sunday, Jan. 25 at The Cavern.

Published in Volume 63, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2009)

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