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Enjoy Magazine

Spafford to Play at Lost on Main in Chico

02/26/2019 11:00AM ● By Phil Reser

Musical Improv

March 2019
Story by Phil Reser 
Photos by Tara Foto, Carson Church Media, and Adjomi Photography courtesy of Spafford 

 “I’ll play it first and tell you what it’s called later.” – Miles Davis

SPAFFORD is the latest buzzword in the jam band scene. 

Their sound can be described as an electro-funk therapy, which combines deep sonic exploration and jam-heavy improvisation. With jams that stretch anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, their songs expand typical song structure, offering an original take on funk-dance-rock music.

In the past, they’ve shared the stage with prominent acts like Widespread Panic, Particle, EOTO and the Motet, and they’ve performed festivals such as Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Music and Gem and Jam Music Festivals.

Formed in Prescott, Ariz., in 2009, the four-piece band is made up of Brian Moss (guitar), Jordan Fairless (bass), Red Johnson (keys) and Cameron Laforest (drums).

What makes this band unique is the diversity and freedom of improvisation that comes from having five different song writers and lyricists in the band who never really conform to any one specific style of music. Even Chuck Johnson, the band’s lighting guru, writes lyrics. 

Fairless explains that their jams have a keen sense of patience and slow groove building. 

“When we write set lists down, they rarely get followed at all. Usually we are all feeling something and are suddenly on the same page, then it starts going somewhere... and we wind up making it happen. So really, the unexpected is our favorite kind of jam sandwich. 

“Our sound just kind of started happening as we played together more, and, as we took note of that, we started to try and develop it. It’s all about listening to each other. Someone begins playing and we build on top of that. When you start listening to everyone you can really change the music. This leads to fluid key changes and the ability to move on a dime.” 

What sets the group’s work apart from other jam bands is rather than a single player extemporizing over a set chord structure, all four band members move instinctively through full themes and movements of music created on the fly by what they describe as group mind.

“We go through our composed parts of a song, and how the jam part happens is usually as we listen to someone who begins leading the groove,” Fairless says. “Then we all jump in and follow. When one of us starts going somewhere, we immediately complement him. It’s follow the leader. 

“We can all four have our eyes closed and that’s the greatest moment. I’ve been out of my body for up to three minutes: unconscious and tapped in. I was not there. I was completely taken over by the music. I look at pictures of us and my eyes are rolling back in my head. I am warped into another dimension.”

Their improvisation is the result of a mix of talent, practice and cooperation. Fairless says that beyond that, their greatest jams seem inspired by a power higher than themselves.

“We’re channeling it. You can feel it in the room,” he says. “The crowd gets more responsive and goes to a different space. Everyone on stage is looking up and you can see that we are all connected into the great spirit. We are tapping into sacred things.”

The band’s latest album, “For Amusement Only,” is their first official studio album since their self-titled debut nearly six years ago. The project is tight and fast-paced, the lyrics are catchy and a jam section toward the end shows a glimpse of just how impressive their live ones are. It’s quick, concise and features a thrilling peak driven by

saxophonist named Jason that Moss met on the street while taking a smoke break. While they had not released a traditional album since 2012, they have released five official live records in addition to their hour-long impromptu disc, “Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience.” 

Through their tours, archives, and live video recordings, Spafford has developed a fan base of “Spaffnerds” who travel to see the band and maintain an online community surrounding its shows. The band provides live streams and access to recordings of their shows on their website. •

Spafford • Friday, March 22 • Lost on Main • 319 Main St., Chico