by Lee Abraham
Some bands are dictatorships. Ruled with an iron fist by a charismatic control freak, every note is etched in stone and strict adherence is mandatory. Musicians who can’t toe the party line are quickly booted and replaced with players capable of marching lock step behind the Ayatollah of rock and rolla out front. And then there’s Yamagata. A free wheeling jazz rock quartet from Memphis, the four members of Yamagata would make the founding fathers proud with their democratic approach to creating music.
"It’s kind of like how a bill becomes a law," says guitarist Joe Austin of Yamagata’s song writing process. "Our friend and former manager Clay Maddox would write a batch of poems and I always have some unfinished music running around, so when I see a poem that really hits home, I’ll give it a rough arrangement, a chorus, a verse, and a theme or a ‘head’ like in jazz composition. Then, like a bill that goes to Congress, the band just whittles away at it, adding pork to cover their own special interests. From there we play it out live and if it passes the live test, I guess it kind of gets signed into law... from that point it simply gets interpreted as it would in the judicial branch!"
And the jury is in. Jamfans have been digging Yamagata’s continually changing live shows ever since the band’s ‘all improv’ debut several years ago. "We just made everything up from beginning to end and the place went crazy!" recalls Austin with a laugh. "They were dancing on tables and all this kind of stuff. We were like, ‘Wow, maybe we could do this!’" "We play very in-your-face funk, improvisational rock," continues Austin. "We build to some really intense moments that can be like Led Zeppelin or very sensitive like a Miles Davis ballad. Most people that come in can expect to dance and get a nice groove going."