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Funk soul brothers
Fungus Amungus puts the fun back in funky
BY BOB GULLA

The Fungus Amungus story almost ended before it began. Legend has it that about two and a half years ago, just before the band came together, two of its principal members, Ryan Piccolo and Jarrod Valenti, were booked and ready for a trip out to the West Coast — not a pleasure trip, but a journey to find a future as musicians. About 10 days before they left, they went to see Deep Banana Blackout at Lupo’s, where they ran into an old friend, Ron LaPorte, a singer without a band, who had a rehearsal space and a bass player buddy. These were two things that Ryan and Jarrod were in search of. They decided to jam the following night together to feel things out. They were in a great space and played with lots of enthusiasm.

"After 45 minutes of playing together we looked around and couldn’t believe it," says Valenti. "From that very first time, everything came together. There was some kind of magic in the room."

At that point, plans had unquestionably changed. No one was going anywhere. All the pieces were in place to move forward. They even wrote their first two songs that very night. "Our sound was there," says Valenti, "and it was already cohesive, which is strange for six guys, to get it right the first time." One week later, they played an open mike at the Call to a standing ovation and two weeks later they made their first recording. Since then it’s been nowhere but up for Fungus Amungus.

"We’ve made a lot of progress in two years," Valenti says. Open mikes led to weeknight and then weekend gigs, with dates in Boston, New York, and Vermont. We’ve been working pretty hard to keep it going."

Their latest labor is a new album, All Banged Up. Recorded with Joe Moody at Danger, the record was made over the course of a month almost a year ago. It was also made with money from the band’s fund. At 10 songs and almost an hour long, it captures all the moods and intensity of a great Fungus gig, with blues, rock, soul, jazz and, most definitely, The Funk, all factoring in. Each member — Valenti, Piccolo, LaPorte, bassist Michael Sperduti, guitarist Tom Foley, and drummer Joe Jannerelli — contributes to each track, creating a colorful mosaic of influences, styles, and performance. As an ensemble, the band clearly loves to groove, and live, the Fungus Amungus experience really kicks in. "With the studio CD," says Valenti, "we feel it’s a fair representation of where we are as a band. But as far as hearing us and seeing us, the experiences are two different things. We change the music a lot live. It’s more like a show than just a bunch of kids playing music. We connect songs, work the crowd, get them excited, get them to drink. I think we bring a good time with us wherever we go."

For now, Fungus Amungus will attempt to parlay that entertainment value into a full-on career of music-making. Their sights, set on jam-band audiences like those at Gathering of the Vibes or Bonaroo, seem to be getting more and more within their reach. All Banged Up should close that gap even further. All they need to do is get themselves in front of people. Right now, an affiliation with an agency, the Worcester-based Wormtown, is helping them do just that. "We’ll need to take our show further from this area," says Valenti, "but I think we’re ready for it. I think everybody’s ready for something like that to happen."

Fungus Amungus will play two sets at the Call on Saturday, December 4. Unbelievable Melt, aka U-Melt, will open. The cover is only $6 — that way you’ll have enough left to buy a CD.

Community Auditions. In April, the Swamp Meadow Community Theatre (SMCT) will premiere Folktown: The Story of the Fifth Mary, written by Robert Hollis in collaboration with musicians Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, affectionately known in these parts as Atwater-Donnelly. Folktown tells the story of a young girl who learns to trust the song in her heart to lead her through life’s twists and turns. It is told through music, dance, puppetry, and elaborate sets. This new work was written around the stories and music of 22 traditional American and Celtic folk songs.

In developing the play, Hollis is looking to provide an evening of music, song, dance, puppetry and theater, and to move audiences with the heart-warming, new sequel to the age-old story of the Four Marys. Folktown will feature professional musicians along with Atwater and Donnelly. Auditions for the cast are open to the public and will take place on January 7, 10, 11, and 12. Interested individuals should contact Hollis, who will be directing the play, at (401) 397-4740 for more information. The show will run on weekends from April 29 to May 8 at the Captain Isaac Paine Elementary School in Foster.

In other A-D news, the Blackstone River Theatre (549 Broad Street, Cumberland) will present a show with the talented duo on Sunday (the 5th) 7 p.m. Admission is $12. The gig will feature seasonal and holiday material. For reservations or information, call thes BRT at (401) 725-9272. Tickets will also be available at the door.

JAZZ,MAN. Greg Abate will feature music from his new CD, Horace Is Here, at CAV this Saturday (the 4th) at 9:30 and 11 p.m. This is a great time and the perfect place to catch a world-class jazz talent.

Saxophonist Abate’s new project is a tribute to Horace Silver and features Claudio Roditi on trumpet, Hilton Ruiz on piano, Marshall Wood on bass, and Artie Cabral on drums. Abate leads the quintet, of course, and writes and arranges. The Silver tunes on this project include the legendary "Song For My Father" and the funky "Filthy McNasty." Abate has also put in two of his own compositions, title song and "Abate Bop," with lyrical horn lines and hard swinging. Steve Silverman produced Horace and the record is slated for release this month. by KoKo Jazz Records out of Florida.

LETDOWN BOUNCESBACK. It’s been a tough stretch for Letdown. They laid a little low after the death of Allen "Moose" Pearl. Pearl, who died of a blood clot a few weeks back, ran the Patriots Club in Bellingham, Massachusetts with Ron from Letdown and Flagg from WAAF. He left behind a fiancé, and this after his kid had died a year before him. "Moose was a huge influence on not just us but the whole local scene," says Letdown’s Dan Pepin, adding that Scuba Steve of Stranglehold, who died a week later, was also a good friend of the band. "It’s been terrible," he says. But Pepin also wrote in to announce the band was on the rebound and in a big way. "We’ve been playing some big shows around Boston including ‘Fright Night’ with Drowning Pool," says Dan. "We finishing up post-production on the new Letdown album." Pepin joined anther band, Dirty Hands, and started up an album of solo material — the Dan Pepin Orchestra — that you can check out at www.danpepin.com. They will finally be returning to Providence on Saturday for the Shootyz Groove reunion show at the Green Room with Counter Culture and Level Head. "At this rate," he says, "the New Year has got to be better than this one. It has to." It’s sounding like it most certainly will.

WANDERING EYE. The return of funky/acid jazz/hippie rock is near! Nominated four years in a row (2001-2004) for Best Local Jam Band, Jazz Bastards will be celebrating their fifth anniversary on Friday (the 3rd) at the Ocean Mist. Tickets are $6 for 18-plus and $8 for 21-plus. Several special guests are expected to sit in with the band. Headroom will open. Grandevolution plays Friday at Cats in Pawtucket, with LABB and the Tullamores. The cover is $5, doors are at 8 p.m. and it’s 21-plus.

E-mail me with your music news! Big.daddy1@cox.net.


Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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