If you’re going to bill yourselves as “Louisiana’s premier intergalactic space jazz band,” you’d best be prepared to back it up. Captain Green, the Baton Rouge sextet has been touring relentlessly to demonstrate exactly that, and the band’s brand new album, Protecting Each Other Together, puts an exclamation point on it. They’ve stirred rock, funk, jazz, New Orleans, and gospel in the gumbo pot, with delicious results.
Captain Green has been an entity since 2011, when keyboard player Ross Hoppe met Dave Melançon, Darin Jones and Bob Kling in and around the LSU jazz department. Hoppe “was fortunate to participate in large and small jazz ensembles as well as take courses on arranging jazz as well as lessons in jazz and classical music.” That quartet has been at the heart of the band these past five years, with a dozen or so other players coming and going on drums, guitar and reeds. The band released its initial album in 2012, Everywhere Is Where It’s At, and the band still includes many of those songs in its current setlists.
The members of the band have been looking for an outlet, a strong need to express themselves musically with the goal of engaging the audience. The search is for the happy medium between ethereal listening music and mindless dance beats. It would seem Captain Green has found the right groove.
Ross Hoppe is the band leader and does most of the composing. He comes from a funk tradition, entrenching himself in the New Orleans tradition. In concert, he gives his bank of keyboards a workout, relentless pushing the band when he isn’t soloing. He is adept at the full range of keyboards, but his synthesizer work in particular stands out, much in the tradition of the jazz fusion that exploded out of the late 60s and into the 70s. Think Herbie, Chick and Joe for starts.
Hoppe’s compositions are ambitious, lengthy, chameleon-like works that reflect his influences. “The hardest part of composing is inspiration. Often I find myself starting a new song one day and then find myself displeased with what I came up with the next. I can be kind of hard on myself. Luckily, David Melançon is also a heavy contributor to the compositions as well. In addition, due to the constant turn overs in personnel the last couple of years it’s been hard to find time to write while we were training new members. I think the near future will be very bright for us in terms of new material though. The lineup has finally settled into something exceptional, and now is the time for us to push forward once again. Ideally, I’d like to have another new album with new compositions ready sometime next year.”
Darin Jones plays tenor and baritone saxophones. He brings a needed perspective to the group in terms of understanding the festival scene and life on the road in general, as he was a festival-goer before he heard Captain Green beckon. More importantly, his reed work is superb. His solos are well-formed statements, and it’s a pleasure watching him work out on bari.
Jones is joined on the front line by trumpeter David Melançon, whose excellent understated playing adds a beautiful voice to the ensemble sound. It does not come as a surprise that he has a master’s degree in trumpet performance. Also, Melançon may be quicker to jump on stage to sit in (well, stand in) with another band than anybody I’ve seen, and he always makes a relevant contribution (and you know that’s not always the case).
Bob Kling stands in the back with his bass, and it might be easy to overlook him – visually – because he is less animated than his bandmates. So shut your eyes – and listen. There he is! All over the sound. It IS all about that bass… and drums. Kling also workings on bookings, a critical piece of the touring puzzle.
Grant Hudson, who comes from South Florida, joined the band last year and brought two important talents to the band: his fine guitar playing and his business sense. Hudson’s guitar playing is enthusiastic, funky and chunky and fits perfectly into the mix.
Hudson’s bookings and Kling’s management have helped Captain Green in pushing their geographic envelope constantly, working to go from a regional act to a national one. It is an ambitious goal, and the band has taken up the challenge. There is simply no way to be a success beyond your home town if you cannot figure out how to manage dates and the road.
Chris “Katt” Lee played drums on the new album, but some responsibilities kept him — and the band — off the road much of last year. Then Lil’ Mike Harris appeared, revitalizing the group. It is nearly impossible keeping your eyes off him (that’s why people overlook Kling!). However, in tandem Kling and Harris are an unstoppable force, providing tremendous punch to the music. Lee may be back on the road on occasion, so Captain Green has a steady hand at the wheel, er, drum kit.
Hudson says the band hopes to draw “people out of their shells,” presenting them with real music, played well. The band members often cite the Miles Davis electric bands as strong influences. They also talk reverentially about Frank Zappa, and last May they played an awesome tribute show of his music.
Hoppe offered: “My biggest influences are James Booker, Frank Zappa, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. All these guys were not only masters of their craft but were true innovators of their instrument and music. On a personal level, my greatest influence was the man who taught me how to play jazz when I was 13, Donald Gros. [Papa John Gros’s papa!].
Captain Green will enjoy increased visibility at home when they join with Dumpstaphunk for a Baton Rouge event called Live After 5. They head to the Wakarusa Festival in Arkansas in June, and they have discovered a welcome second home in Florida, where their collaborations with some of Florida’s best, including Displace, Holey Miss Moley and Serotonic, have been outstanding.
The six members of Captain Green have learned to travel together and move together musically. Kling mentioned the challenges of playing one of Hoppe’s masterworks from Protect Each Other Together called (get ready for it): “Death to the Fascist Insect Which Bleeds the Life of the People.” Got that? Kling said initially he had to think about all of the changes during those 13 minutes. Now, the band plays off each other, and even a piece as complex as this one becomes second nature.
What’s in Captain Green’s future? Go west, young men, go west! And north. They had a great set at the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival last November and at Revfest, Bay Fest and Revolution Festival, to name a few.
“We’ve had the benefit of a lot of wind in our sails the last few months,” Hoppe said gratefully. “I think if we stay on the current path we’re on we’ll continue to see more opportunities open up for us. Hopefully, in the next two to five years we will have built up our ability to be on the road often playing bigger venues and festivals. We have also reaped the benefit of very kind and beautiful souls during our travels that truly help make our dream possible — meeting more people like that is also our goal.”