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Garage A Trois drives in a new direction

August 13, 2010 |  3:27 pm

In some respects, 1998 seems like a lifetime ago. Cellphones were still brick-shaped novelties, the iPod was just a twinkle in Apple's eye and Stanton Moore, the hard-hitting drummer for New Orleans funk ensemble Galactic, released the solo album "All Kooked Out" on the tiny San Francisco imprint Fog City.

Teamed with the Bay Area's eight-string guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter and saxophone madman Skerik from the deliriously unhinged ambient-art-jazz ensemble Critters Buggin, the record marked a supergroup of sorts for a wildly fertile mini-movement in the late '90s, one that curiously spiraled out of the improv-happy jam-band scene led by Phish. While the mere mention of the "J" word -- much less Phish -- causes many music fans to leave the room, Moore's album, along with records by San Diego's Greyboy Allstars and Medeski Martin and Wood, also picked up a number of longtime jazz fans in the process, as well as forming a gateway of sorts into the music for a new generation (this writer included).

Now, 12 years later (the new name was appended in '99), Garage A Trois has stepped away from its unclassifiable quasi-jazz niche and into new territory. Hunter departed in 2007 to pursue other projects, and in his place is the shape-shifting keyboard of Marco Benevento for the new album "Power Patriot."

Where "All Kooked Out" was a smoky, at times raucous, listen that burned with tradition-rich funk and jazz (right down to a cover of "Green Chimneys," so warm and inviting you could wrap your arms around it), the new Garage A Trois looks to a grittier, more rock-oriented place. Moore's drums, still the group's anchor, traffic in heavier but more straightforward grooves, Skerik's saxophone growls under a haze of effects and Benevento often teams with vibraphonist Mike Dillon for melodies so approachable they flirt with pop, most potently on the infectious "Fragile" and "Dory's Day Out," which bears a passing resemblance to the hook from "Bennie and the Jets." "Germs," with its frantic drum-and-bass groove and swerving saxophone, shows the band hasn't lost its taste for twisted experimentation, either, and the live show should provide plenty of room for the group to diverge into surprising tangents. It may sound a long way from 1998, but then again the rest of us do too.

Watch video of Garage A Trois past and present below (and don't judge the clothes, the '90s were hard on everybody).

Garage A Trois plays the Mint Saturday at 8 p.m. 6010 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., $20 (323) 954-9400.

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Marco Benevento, Skerik, Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon of Garage A Trois. Credit: Zach Smith