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A Coming of the Miracle Orchestra

By Brian L.Knight

One of the freshest sounds to come out of the New England music scene is Boston’s Miracle Orchestra. Consisting of current students at Boston’s two prestigious music institutes - Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, the members of the Miracle Orchestra employ both their training and mutual love of music to create a new and remarkable sound. The Miracle Orchestra, along with fellow Boston musician and friends, the Slip, are part of the developing nationwide trend of jazz-rock revival. With the success of bands such as Phish, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Galactic, jazz and rock have blended together once again. To music fans, this arrival is blessing, as it is musically, the best of all worlds: the music is both upbeat and improvisational. It is these attributes that the Miracle Orchestra successfully embodies.

The Miracle Orchestra consists of longtime friends guitarist Geoff Scott and drummer Bill Carbone; the brotherly rhythm section of bassist Garrett Sayers and percussionist Brian Sayers and a brass section anchored down by saxophonists Jared Sims, trumpeter Colin Fisher and saxophonist Jeremy Udden. The band first came together in 1996 and it steadily evolved into its present incarnation. Through their growth as a band, Miracle Orchestra has also grown in popularity. From its early days of playing in small, relatively obscure bars, the word of Miracle Orchestra’s original sound has spread like a invasive groove vine and has culminated with the honor of being voted Best Upstart Jazz Band by Boston Magazine. This September, Miracle Orchestra also released Coalescence, their first studio session. But look out, for the band isn’t stopping with this CD and it appears that the Miracle Orchestra has a lot more on their horizon. Not only has their sound developed since Coalescence, but their popularity as well. This growth was exemplified by the jam packed crowd for their CD release party at Cambridge’s House of Blues. It was here that the Vermont Review got a chance to speak with drummer Bill Carbone.

BK: How did you guys get together? What is the genesis of Miracle Orchestra?

BC: Well, I have been playing with the guitar player, Geoff, since the fifth grade. The Miracle Orchestra did not happen itself until two years ago this month (October). I transferred into New England Conservatory and I met up with pretty much all of the guys who are in the band right now. There were some people involved but it quickly became what it is now. When we first started playing, it was a lot more straight ahead jazz influenced. Then we gradually started to develop the sound that we are still developing right now. Which is bit of funk and groove with still a bit of improvisation but less of what you might think of first when someone call us a jazz band.

BK: You say that your sound is constantly evolving. How much has your sound evolved since you recorded Coalescence?

BC: A lot. Right after we recorded the album, we got pretty serious and got a booking agent too. So we started playing a lot more gigs. Like 75 gigs since then - 2-4 gigs a week. That and playing with the same people every night, and playing the same tunes. More and more happens. I am not "not happy" with the CD. Its just represents a year ago in our playing at this point.

BK: Are you guys always writing songs?

BC: Yes. there is plenty of material to be recorded. It takes us awhile to get a new song out because there is seven of us. It is hard for us to work it out because we are all perfectionists. We spend a lot of timing going back and reworking old songs. A couple of tunes on the album are totally different now.

BK: Most of the members of Miracle Orchestra are studying at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Have you incorporated Miracle Orchestra into your studies?

BC: It is nice. We are constantly working individually to get a lot better. So, it comes back to the band when we are each individually working and we come back together to play. It makes the band better. And the band actually drives us to get better because we are always coming up against things that can’t do. We want to never be happy with where we are at. We are all young. The average age of the band is twenty one years old. It is great that we are in school right now and that we have the time to do all that work. We got a lot of support from our teachers early on. They come out to see us play a bunch of times. They are really supportive of us. Almost the whole band is from New England Conservatory. So to see a group come out of it, especially a jazz group, is pretty exciting.

BK: Is anybody being graded for what they are doing with the Miracle Orchestra?

BC: No. Definitely not. It is hard to keep up, actually, while doing it. We take whole weekend and we have to come back and take classes all week. Sometimes it is hard to do it all.

BK: When did you all graduate?

BC: The majority of us graduate in 1999. Then the alto player and the trumpet player don’t graduate til 2000.

BK: Are the plans to keep on going?

BC: Oh definitely. Everybody is totally committed to it. It is what I always wanted to do my whole life and I feel like I am pretty much speaking for everybody in the band when I say that. We are really dedicated. We work really hard at it. We are honest with each other. We talk to each other about what we like and don’t like. We are constantly trying to make the band evolve and never settle. It would be a wonderful thing to do it forever. You can never master it - there is always more to do.

BK: You sound like that you all have jazz as your common influence. Do you think there is one particular player that every members in the band shares as an influence?

BC: The one person that we have managed to narrow it down to is Miles Davis. His music from the 1970s is probably the closest we sound like although we don’t sound like anything like him. He has been a huge influence on a lot of us. The rhythm section and the horn section come from different backgrounds. As a whole, the rhythm section grew up listening to the Grateful Dead and Phish and that whole scene. I still love that. I am not a jazz snob in anyway. I love going to Phish shows. That type music - rock with improvisation. It great. The horn players are from more of a jazz background. Maybe soul music too. We bring it all together. Although there is a lot of Grateful Dead influence, nobody ever point it out.

BK: Do you think that the jazz-rock-fusion is experiencing a reawakening?

BC: Maybe we are on a tip of a wave. I hope. You see it in Charlie Hunter and Medeski, Martin &Wood. It not that big yet. It is kind of just starting. I am definitely see it here in Boston. Miracle Orchestra is doing really well. It is an incredible thing. We worked really on hard on publicity but when we first started, we didn’t have a vision of being able to do this. We are just playing music, improvising and having a good time with it. It has turned into such a good thing. To get the support we get around here is so wonderful.

BK: I guess that same popularity is reflected by you getting voted Best of Boston by Boston Magazine..............

BC: That was so huge. Thank you Boston Magazine! Totally unsuspected. Somebody called me and told me and I thought he was kidding. Until I went out and saw the magazine, I thought it was total joke.

BK: What kind of venues were you playing leading up to that?

BC: We have been chippin away and chippin away for the last couple of years. Until the beginning of the summer, we were playing smaller clubs. We kind of got going at this bar called the Chopping Block out at Mission Hill. We used to play there once or twice a month and people started to see us out there. This Summer, things started exploding for us. Out of the blue, there were tons more people coming to see us play.

BK: If you were going to hold a benefit concert with two other bands. What would be the benefit and who would be other two bands?

BC: We have done a few benefits. We decided that the next one we do would to put the money towards music education in schools. I was reading an article recently about area schools and how their music departments were cut in half. Everybody in this band feels like that one of their most positive influences when they were young was being in school bands that gave us a chance. The school where the bassist and percussionist Garret and Brian (brothers) come from West Hartford, Connecticut (Hall High School). They had the most amazing jazz program. So we talked about that as a benefit. As soon as we are out of debt. As for the bands? Do they have to be realistic?

BK: Somewhat realistic

BC: We really enjoy playing with the Slip because we play with them when we doing something called the Miracle Slip. It is all of us together at one time. It is similar to the instrumentation that is on Bitches Brew. We actually do a couple of tunes off of Bitches Brew - we do Sanctuary and Pharaohs Dance. The third band? I like this band that I have been hearing around here lately called Jay Hayes and the Fungi. The do some cool stuff.

BK: Do you think there is some crazy coincidence that both you and the Slip, who are both Boston area jazz-fusion bands, both have brothers in the band?

BC: I have thought about it a lot. I guess it is a crazy coincidence. We have bass and percussion and the Slip has drums and guitar. It is a nice thing. It makes the sound tighter for the brothers have the same groove. Brian and Garret definitely have the same sense of time and pocket.

BK: Do you and Geoff share a groove since the two of you have been together for so long?

BC: Geoff and I are both musically strange because we both liked so many different things when we were growing up. We loved the Grateful Dead thing but never went all the way with it. We also loved jazz but never of us were totally into it. Our styles are in between the cracks. We definitely share that together.

BK: Your new album’s liner notes say that you avoid giving your sound a label. Without giving yourself a label, how would you describe yourself?

BC: I like to use a quote that a guy O’Ryan, who has a radio show on WERS, said one time. He called us "tribal, psychedelic high energy, blood dripping from the ceilings jazz funk."

BK: I guess that is one way to describe you. Where does the name Miracle Orchestra come from?

BC: I made it up on the spot because we had a gig and we didn’t have a name yet. I called it Geoff Scott and his Miracle Orchestra. We weren’t going to stay with it, but we decided pretty quickly that it was a miracle that we all found each other. We really love each other as people. It is like a family. Musically, it is the best situation I have ever had. It feels incredible. So we decided to keep it because we feel like it is a miracle that we managed to all get together and play.

BK: Where does the name of your new album, Coalescence, come from?

BC: It comes from the general feeling that we have of playing together. It is seven different people but it comes together on the best nights to be one thing. We are thinking like one big person. That is the idea of Coalescence.

BK: How as your gig playing in the beer garden at Phish’s Lemonwheel?

BC: It was cool. We are very thankful to Phish for giving it to us. At first, it was hard to get people’s attention there. There was so much going on. The band that went on before us really didn’t play to anybody. People were just walking by and nobody really stopped. We had a great day during our set there. We managed to put out enough energy and got a lot back. A lot of people stayed and watched us and a lot of people heard about us. I had a great time doing it. If it was six years ago, I would have just lost it. Those guys (Phish) were everything back then. There are such a great band. It was so inspiring to watch them play. Our whole band stayed and watched them. The horn players had never really heard Phish before-they weren’t involved in that scene when they were growing up. When we came back and played a few gigs, we could just feel the influence they had on us.

BK: What kind of cover tunes make it into your setlist?

BC: Very few. We have big Halloween showing coming up at Goddard College and we have a couple of special tunes. That is one of our favorite places to play. We are so well received there. We play out in a shack in the woods with a few hundred people. You can go til the Sun goes up if you want.

It is this exact Halloween Vermont show that should be on everybody’s agenda. A spooky night out in the woods with the incredibly original music of the Miracle Orchestra seems like a good plan. If the Halloween is out of the question, then cruise on over to Brattleboro on Friday, October 30th for their show at the Common Ground. The Miracle Orchestra is definitely a sound worth experiencing. Fore more information, tour dates and merchandise, surf on over to http://www.miracleorchestra.com/.