Guerrilla Jazz

There is an undeniable air of mystery surrounding Guerrilla Jazz. The Upcountry outfit recorded its debut release Everywhere But Now at a studio in an undisclosed locale cryptically dubbed “the Lab.”

It was produced and engineered by one Dr. Platypus. The group consists of Chef Strum on ukulele, Quest on vocals, Chico on bass, Carl on drums and anonymous on keys. 

The band plays out periodically, but just often enough to give audiences a taste of its unique and, frankly, sweet sound before retreating back into the shadows.

Then there’s the name. Spot a name like Guerrilla Jazz on a venue’s bill and your curiosity will likely be piqued. Both words signify improvisation if not full-on creative rebellion, and there couldn’t be a more fitting handle for the band or its sound.

You won’t find this record filed under jazz. You could loosely—very loosely—call this music pop, or maybe hip-hop—really Guerrilla Jazz has no regard for genre, which is a sign of truly innovative musicianship. People in the past have tried to compare them to Sublime or No Doubt, the guys say. Yet to compare them to such acts would be a grave injustice to the nuance that permeates their sound.

Probably the most striking element of their music is uke player Strum’s compositions. I should note here that the band does not employ a guitar player, so the bulk of each song’s gravity relies heavily on uke. Strum has a mostly classical approach to ukulele, though at the same time he utilizes effects peddles like the wa. Imagine a cross between Segovia and Clapton, voiced through the strings of a uke. It’s hard to hang a name on the result, but suffice it say that it’s rich and complex while possessing broad appeal. The disc’s first track, “Hard Day of Waiting,” exhibits this, as does “Smoke Break.” Strum says his primary influences were Floyd, Zeppelin and the Who.

Chico’s been playing bass for seven years, and his generally complex and funky lines work beautifully with Strum’s compositions.

The keys add another unique dimension, at times punctuating and often enhancing what’s already there (my favorite example of this is on the track “Oh, Please,” where the keyboard line lends an added element of eeriness to the tune’s already minor sound).

Vocalist Quest is charisma personified, but he backs it up with a quality set of pipes and clever lyrics that stress substance and consciousness.

As for the skins, the Carl clearly knows his way around a drum set. While his style fits the band, it’s just good to see a drummer that isn’t scared to move away from the snare. My favorite example of his work is the breakdown on the track “Heat,” where he exhibits a momentous drum line similar to the breakdown in the Nooge’s “Stranglehold.” (That extremely 4:20 conducive song on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.)

Such a far-reaching, genre-bending sound can be explained, in part, by the band’s origins.

Back in 2001 Quest and Strum would have periodic beach sessions involving a uke Strum borrowed from a friend, Quest’s freestyle rhymes and perhaps a spot of grass. Around 2005, the two played in parking lots and later graduated to bars after the band the Easy discovered them. They saw their following increase with each gig they played, and eventually opened for Bone Thugz-n-Harmony on Maui. 

They’ve been playing in their current configuration for under a year, and released Everywhere But Now in the fall of 2008. They’ve played at various locales throughout Maui and have hopped over to Oahu for a few shows. Quest says they hope to tour the West Coast and eventually Japan. 

That ambition could soon become reality, so it would be wise to catch these guys and the unique, rich sound they produce while they’re still on-island. MTW