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Friday, April 12, 2024

Kung Fu ready to leap into Madison at The Frequency

With a sound that combines Herbie Hancock, Frank Zappa and a host of other jazz-fusion influences with the sounds of dance music today, Kung Fu has rapidly become one of the best live acts around today. I got a chance to catch up with keyboard player Todd Stoops before the band embarked on a weeklong Midwestern jaunt.

Before joining Kung Fu, the five members of the band each had their own gigs. Originally, the group was billed as a super-group with Stoops coming from RAQ; guitarist Tim Palmieri, bassist Chris DeAngelis and drummer Adrian Tramontano all coming from The Breakfast and saxophonist Rob Somerville coming from Deep Banana Blackout. It took some time for all of the pieces to come together as a band.

“I honestly think it was within the first year of us actually wanting to be a band,” Stoops said. “I mean the whole thing sort of started out as kind of like something to do on Monday nights and we had all of our other bands working and the chemistry as a group was really, really strong from the get-go.”

With this great initial chemistry, the group began to finally travel outside of Connecticut (where they are based) throughout the Northeast and into other parts of the country. While it took over a year for them to finally start going, they began to like what they heard.

“The response of the live shows was awesome and the music we were producing, it just sounded like the freshest stuff we’d pretty much ever done collectively,” Stoops said. “We were really excited about it and we had a meeting and said ‘let’s make this a full-time gig’ and here we are now.”

Trying to define the band’s sound is no easy task, but Stoops believes it’s a combination of everything they were listening to before while also putting their own spin on the genre popularized by Weather Report, The Headhunters (Hancock’s seminal backing band) and more.

“When we were just doing these Monday night gigs in New Haven, Conneticut, they were free shows and we did mostly covers,” Stoops said. “And everybody, almost from the instant, wanted to do ’70s fusion covers. We all started talking about an appreciation for Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu [Orchestra] and the Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock stuff.”

Stoops and the rest of the band’s influences range far and wide within the fusion genre; however, it was later in the process where those influences really started seeping into the band’s songwriting.

“And as we were having fun with that, some of the original stuff that we started producing kind of leant its ear to that kind of sound as well,” Stoops said. “The first album that we did, the self-titled album had much more of that fusion type of mindset.”

As the band continued to work together, some of those fusion influences stuck around, but as they played more and more, their recorded output started moving farther and farther away from the fusion sound they had created on their debut.

“On Tsar Bomba, we tried all genres,” Stoops said. “We definitely had our fusion ideas on that album, but we also had our funk and some of the more edgy stuff on there.”

While the band is often lumped in with other “jam bands,” an occasionally derisive term used by lazy journalists to describe bands who improvise, Stoops has mixed feelings about the word while also recognizing the band’s roots in that scene.

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“For a band like Kung Fu, we wouldn’t identify with being a jam band per se, our other projects, absolutely,” Stoops said. “RAQ sometimes would go out and not write a set list and end up playing three or four songs for an hour-and-a-half because we ‘jammed.’”

Stoops would continue by saying, “Kung Fu doesn’t do any of that,” Stoops said. “Our songs are all very composed and if there was a ‘jam band’ section, it would really just be where the solo is. Our songs are structured such that they feature a different musician or group of musicians per song, so that’s where we get the jam band thing. I think it kind of ends there.”

This show is the first time the band is coming to Madison. They play The Frequency Tuesday Nov. 18 with support from Red Rose. The doors open at 8 p.m. and the band’s maiden voyage into Madison will be something you will not want to miss.

“[The tour] is bringing Kung Fu to Madison actually for the first time,” Stoops said. “Everybody in the band has played Madison a bunch before in other bands, but Kung Fu proper has never played it, so we’re really excited about that.”

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