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Five sonic architects, two computers

Cassie PenceVail, Co, Colorado
Special to the Daily The Passage Project is from left: Steve Butree on sax, Brad Huffman on lead guitar, Joey Mentoni on keys, Tim McCarty on bass and Tyler Unland, front, on drums.
dann coffey | Dann Coffey

VAIL – If Herbie Hancock and Sound Tribe Sector 9 had a baby, it would be the Passage Project.That’s the easy way to describe these Denver musicians. Like a lot of bands today, one can hear jazz, reggae, funk, rock and electronica in the Passage Project’s songs. But unlike the noodley jams that so often produce this musical schizophrenia, these players craft their multi-layered sound, playing digitally composed music from two computers on top of their five-piece instrumentation. It’s a combination of electronic and organic.If they write a string part, for example, but obviously can’t call on the New York Philharmonic to perform it, they use the computer to generate the string sound. It’s a rock orchestral presentation.

“The exciting thing about what we’re doing is that we’re treating these computers as instruments,” Joey Mentoni, keyboardist, said. “We have a fantastic sax player that is also a very good computer player. We have a great drummer that is a great computer player. We have to practice that computer part just like you would practice a sax or a drum line. The really cool thing is that we’re integrating a very dynamic computer sound into our music.””Some people will just go out and play and not use computers, that’s great. But we’re also trying to be on the cutting edge of technology,” sax player and one of the band’s resident computer geeks Steve Buttree added. “We’re moving forward and believe that’s where the industry is heading.”But live music could never replace live performance, and the band said the project will only work with both elements in sync.”If you were to accidentally throw a kill switch on the computers, the sound that you would hear just from the instrumentation that we’re playing is a full sound,” Mentoni said. “If you heard it just by itself, you would say, ‘Wow that’s a great band.’ It’s a full rich sound. Similarly, if all the musicians walked off stage and the computers continued to run, you would say, ‘Wow that sounds really good and you would be comparing it to Sound Tribe Sector 9 or something along those lines.”In addition to Mentoni and Buttree, Brad Huffman (lead guitar), Tim McCarty (bass) and Tyler Unland (drums and resident computer geek) form the Passage Project. It was Unland who brought the band together. Unland had called for musicians on Craig’s List, wanting to organize a jam session he could record and then re-work digitally on his computer. Buttree responded first, and the rest of the players just fell into place serendipitously. The chemistry between players was too hot to limit the project to studio work.

“It’s almost like we were predisposed to play with one another,” Unland said. “I would be playing with these guys even if we didn’t have a chance of getting out of the basement.”For Unland, tonight’s show at Dobson is a homecoming. Unland is a Battle Mountain High School graduate and can’t wait to show his old buddies what he’s been working on the last couple years.”For the set at Dobson, we will take the audience on an emotional, audio roller coaster that combines everything from grass-roots reggae to techno to funk to straight-up acid jazz fusion into rock into nothing but electronica,” Unland said.”Throughout the entire show, it’s our job that we deliver by keeping the audience interested and motivated and wondering in the back of their head, ‘what in the world can they think of next?'” Buttree added.



Though they wouldn’t define themselves as a jam band, a lot of what they do on stage is improvisation – with direction. Even playing the computers lend itself to spontaneity. The melting pot of sounds is just another reflection, members say, of the entire planet’s globalization direction.”When we look at the 21st century, this is an age of increasing intermixtures of culture and sounds,” Mentoni said. “We’ve got people in China getting on the Internet checking out what’s happening right here in America. We’re really getting this inter-dependent sense in the whole world, and our music really reflects that.”Saturday’s show benefits First Descents, a camp using kayaking and other sports to support young adults with cancer. Local boys Johnny Schlepper and initfortim opens for the Passage Project.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or cpence@vaildaily.com.


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