As the first musical bars sing out across the hall, the crowd stops in their tracks, ears prick up and the 1 – 2 – 3 syncopated rhythms fall into place as Asheville’s Vertigo Jazz Project jumps right into the beat. The drums kick in tight, loud and steady, with rolls on the snare and taps on the hi-hats. The heads of the audience bob to the sound, The music then crawls down spines before it hits the hips and runs to get the feet moving. The Grey Eagle comes alive and people are soon stepping to the fast paced musical fusion resonating from the stage.
Upon first hearing VJP, one wonders if the style can be called jazz. Ryan Reardon, the band’s newest member, plays a bass that is pulsing, riding a fine line of funk. Preston Cate plays a mean guitar, flicking his fingers to the far edges of the frets with rock-style solos. Upon a closer listen though, the scales are familiar, following a sequential progression of chords that says, “That is jazz!.” Dancers are moving to the improved yet right-in-time snare that lays the foundation for the whole musical experience.
Vertigo Jazz Project pushes the limits of jazz to the breaking point, creating a synthesis of stylized music while still staying within the limits of the most adapted music to come out of the 20th century. When they play, they do so in that smooth, free-form style that defines jazz.
In the middle of the set, VJP tried a few slower songs and struggled to hold their groove, if only briefly. During the fast paced songs, VJP is on. Songs like “Hobakiss,” (where the keyboard runs a race) and “Infinity Line” (with a tip-tap drum line and all the musicians taking solo) make the mark. During these numbers, the audience lights up.
One highlight of a VJP show is the guests they feature throughout the set. Matt Williams (The Ocean) stepped in on raging fiddle, and Jonathan Scales (Jonathon Scale’s Fourchestra) closed the last set with a steel drum collaboration. This range of music brings the band to touch on very different sounds, but still distinctively Vertigo Jazz Project. Justin Powell’s fast fingers on keyboard also stood out when appropriate, coming alive to really shake things up and keep things fresh.
VJP has steadily progressed since its debut and continues to hit hard and play with soul. As the band’s show at They Grey Eagle confirmed, they delivered a captivating musical experience that has all the elements of jazz, and expands into a bigger realm of sound.