On the Rise: Displace
Often a writer tries to keep everything third-person. Sometimes, the writing becomes second-person: “You should listen to their second album.” And then again it can be first-person. That is because it has become personal.
So this one is personal. I could try to be objective, but it wouldn’t work. From the moment I saw Displace opening for The Malah in 2013, I was hooked. Shortly thereafter, they put on a stunning performance at the inaugural Downtown River Jam in Tampa, and I became a Displace junkie.
This Tampa quartet has only been playing together for two years. In that time they have played 100+ gigs and released 20 live shows on bandcamp. They have gone regional, touring through Georgia and the Carolinas and west to New Orleans.
Displace is: Chris Sgammato, rhythm guitar, alto sax and vocals; Sam Dobkin, lead guitar and vocals; Vinny Svoboda, bass; and Tucker Sody, drums. They call themselves a jam band, with nods to psychedelic, funk, jazz and disco. They have been blowing it up everywhere they go, very notably at the Hometeam New Year’s Rally and Gov-Fest.
When asked about influences, everybody offered a list, and they represent an amazing cross-section of recorded music. Tucker (drums): Thelonious Monk, Led Zeppelin, Phish; Vinny (bass): KoRn, TesseracT, Animals as Leaders; Chris (sax): Brand New, Regina Spektor, King Crimson; Sam: Joe Satriani, Pat Metheney, Skrillex.
When not concentrating on Displace material, Sgammato performs solo on occasion as a looper, and his alto sax talents have graced CDs such as Christie Lenée’s wonderful new album Live at Hideaway Café. He also wrote a musical called Inertia with a cast of 16 and an orchestra of 13. Dobkin records as EDM artist Trivecta, “bringing melodic drumstep to the next level.” Svoboda is working on a solo bass album for release later this year, and he tracked, mixed, and mastered all of the new album; he also has an audio engineering company called VATS Productions.
Displace debut their first studio album, Eureka!, Friday, April 10th, at the Crowbar in Tampa. I know what you jamband fans are thinking, because I usually have the exact same thought. I’ll buy the studio album and listen to it a time or two, then file it away. It will be OK, but it just won’t match the live music experience. You know you’ve done that dozens of times. I certainly have.
Eureka! is the exception to my general “rule.” The album is brilliant, capturing the live experience in the studio. Actually, not a studio. This was recorded in the house where Chris and Vinny live. What? No studio? How good could it sound? The answer is: STUNNING. This is one of the clearest, most crisp studio albums you might ever hear. I confess that the versions here are shorter than their 15- to 25-minute concert work-outs, but that doesn’t hamper the experience.
How’s this for recording info: “The four of us played in the living room with Tucker’s drums. Sam’s amp was in the pantry covered in blankets to minimize mic bleed, Chris’s amp was in the spare bedroom, and Vinny played direct in. Sax and vocals were done in the closet.” You will NOT believe it.
Look, I know I’m a fanboy, but this recording is just tremendous. There is one major influence I notice every time I hear Displace play, and that influence runs throughout Eureka! I’ve often used the adjective Zappa-esque to describe many of the interesting quirks and details in Displace’s sound.
It starts immediately on “Generation Sloan” (track 1). Dobkin’s guitar pays homage to the “Magic Fingers” riff before settling into the deep funk of this concert staple. Throughout the CD, Sgammato’s alto sax (and overdubs) reminds me of the monumental work of Ian Underwood (think “Peaches En Regalia”). Svoboda offers a huge walking bass that continues to work under Sgammato’s alto solo. Sody and Dobkin handle the next segment, and Svoboda gets two more great turns on the bass. The tune ends with Brecker Brothers/David Sanborn funk.
One of the two vocal tunes is next (there are brief vocals on two other tunes): “I Want to Sing.” This isn’t my favorite song, but Sgammato has a lilting voice and a beautiful falsetto which he uses to great effect. And there, right in the middle of the tune, comes another Zappa interlude, another “Peaches En Regalia” saxophone moment, before working its way back to the ballad.
“Fog” opens with a minute of spacy intro before jumping into the funk pile with a great guitar lead. About halfway through the tune, there is a fascinating segue into what seems like a song you should remember but don’t quite. Then the song segues back to the original funk, only to shift one more time to that oh-so-familiar part, this time with a vocal chorus at the end.
“Old Bread” seems like the instrumental lead-in to Displace’s magnum opus (well, to me), “Geonosis Shuffle.” Bass and drums work their way into an ethereal tune, with the lead instruments in the background. The last five seconds of “Old Bread” could just as easily have been tacked onto the beginning of “Geonosis Shuffle;” they belong together, in any event.
When Displace played the Snarky Puppy/Motet afterparty, they wisely threw down a monster 25-minute version of “Geonosis,” given that the house was chock-full of musicians, including plenty of Puppies. The Eureka! version clocks in at nine minutes, but it absolutely does the song justice. Svoboda again kills it on the opening, and then Dobkin enters with a stinging guitar lead, with Sgammato on rhythm guitar, who then makes the quick transition to alto for the next segment, then back to guitar. It is simply an amazing song, and it segues nicely into a brief one-minute interlude titled “Accidental Necessity.”
The other vocal song is next up, a beautiful pop tune again showcasing Sgammato’s voice. “In Plain Terms” also features his alto sax.
“Hillsborough River Rapids” is another concert favorite. Initially, there is a melody that reminds you of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” and then Sgammato takes over on alto. After a “normal” chorus, he plugs in his new toys, his effects pedals, and gets some awesome electric sounds, once again reminiscent of Underwood’s work with Zappa. Then the tune turns to choppy funk and a great solo from Dobkin.
People hearing Displace for the first time must wonder about the tune “Don’t Fret” (better known as “Don’t Fret, Bret Peretz”). Peretz is the group’s manager, a position absolutely essential to the survival and growth of a touring band. To some, the vocal section at the beginning might seem a little silly, but it is a fun tune that is really just a springboard into yet another great jam. It closes with a brief a capella chorus.
The final two tracks are “Needles” (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2). On earlier live recordings this appeared as “Needles and Cigarettes.” Part 1 is almost new age-y as it starts, the music floating along, then beginning to take form. As Part 1 fades out, Part 2 comes bouncing in, driven again by Svoboda and Sody. After several minutes, the band suddenly launches into an ass-kicking. First, Sgammato on wah-wah sax and Dobkin duke it out, then Dobkin takes over, followed by a double-guitar attack. Just as quickly, they switch back to the smooth bounce to close out the final track.
Not surprisingly, Displace are ready to forge ahead. Sgammato said: “We have already started writing new material for our next album. We plan to grow and expand our fan base in the southeast, eventually spreading further north and west. Our goal is to be a nationally touring music ensemble and to continue to push the boundaries of the live music experience.”
Speaking of Bret Peretz, another band he manages is Voodoo Visionary out of Atlanta. They just released their debut album, Spirit of the Groove, March 12th, and they open Friday for Displace, their first time in Florida, along with shows in Gainesville and St. Pete. Voodoo Visionary bill themselves as improvisational funk and dance grooves. They feature guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and two excellent singers.
Several of the band members have been playing together for eight years, but the addition of the first vocalist and then keyboards provided the proper impetus to move toward the groove. They have played festivals in and around Atlanta and played with many bands and performers, including Futurebirds, Col. Bruce and Zach Deputy. Like Displace, Voodoo Visionary is ready to push the envelope and expand their territory. Florida fans will be delighted to hear this great band for the first time.
But wait! There’s more! Row Jomah, an excellent jam rock band, is also on the bill. They have been delighting audiences with fusion, funk and rock and are really hitting stride right now. This should be an exceptional night, made even better by the inclusion of DJ K-Slat, whose deep house disco mix will be the perfect interlude between three sets of great music. Cancel your plans for Friday. You’re going to the Crowbar!