Alpaca
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Alpaca

Portland, Oregon, United States

Portland, Oregon, United States
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Having just moved to Portland three months ago, I decided to go see the first bluegrass band I heard about. That show also introduced me to a fairly new, local funk band. I oddly came away from the show wanting to hear more funk, which is very peculiar because I’ve never really been a big fan of funk.

Fruition's Mimi Naja and Kellen Asebroek
On January 21st, the bands reunited (well part of them anyway) at the Goodfoot Lounge. The bands are Portland-based Alpaca and Fruition, and they definitely should be seen by any fans of music, period. If I can get excited about a funk band, you can too.
The show opened with Fruition. Unfortunately, the whole band couldn’t make it but with a band like Fruition, missing a couple people doesn’t make the quality of their music suffer too much.
Mimi Naja and Kellen Asebroek stepped up admirably. Naja is probably best known for her mandolin and her voice. Fairly talented with the mandolin, Naja has a voice that can be both folk and soul. Asebroek played acoustic guitar beside her, an adept player himself.
The thing I’ve always liked the most about bluegrass music is it has the tendency to inject a kinetic energy into anyone within the vicinity, an energy that just gets people dancing like crazy. Naja and Asebroek didn’t disappoint Thursday night–the place had a lot of crazy dancers… a lot of them.
Coming from Northern California myself, Fruition has replaced the Bay Area-based bluegrass band Poor Man’s Whiskey for the time being for me. They are a band that has to be seen by any bluegrass fan.
Fruition played a few songs and then intermittently played with Alpaca for the rest of the night–which brings me to the funk band.

Alpaca
What I realized at this show was that Alpaca is more than just funk. They have very solid electronica beats and even some jazz overtones. They are a talented young band that seems to be rising in popularity since first arriving on the scene two years ago.
Their drummer, Ian O’Brien, seems to have studied a lot of different styles drumming and is a driving force behind Alpaca. He definitely sets the tempo for the group and deserves strong mention as one of the up and coming drummers on the local scene. It’s easy for a drummer to not be noticed when electronica beats, electric guitar, and keyboards come into play. But O’Brien is heard loud and clear, and the band deserves a lot of credit for weaving all the sounds together into one cohesive whole.
It only took a couple high-octane songs from Alpaca to really get the crowd rocking. Looking back from the stage you could see people in the very back of the bar dancing as well as a revolving door of drunk people dancing up on the stage in front of the band.
Naja and Asebroek would come in from time to time and fuse with Alpaca, which doesn’t seem like it would work given the different styles of music, but somehow meshed convincingly. Part of me feels it has to do with Naja, who definitely could be a good soul singer if she so wished. Her voice somehow works for both funk and folk and is likely the main reason that Fruition and Alpaca sound so great together. One cannot help but wonder what it might sound like if both bands merged into one. I’ve already got a name for them: Fruition of the Alpacas.
If you haven’t seen Alpaca and Fruition, do so. They are solid local bands worth listening to and I hope they continue to play for a while, expanding their sound.
You can catch Fruition at on January 27th at Chaos Cafe & Parlor or back at the Goodfoot on January 30th. Alpaca plays the Goodfoot again on February 17th with Yamn. - Oregon Music News


ill jazz ever make it into the dance clubs? If Alpaca! has anything to do with it then, yes.

Named after an animal that is somewhat of a cross between a camel and a llama, Alpaca! holds true to this idea of a crossbreeding rings as it plays a refreshing mix of jazz-funk-electronica that makes jazz lovers dance and dance lovers at last become receptive to jazz.

All transplants from elsewhere across the country (Chicago, North Carolina, Mississippi and New Mexico), the quartet of Alpaca! features Greg Pelander on keys, Matt Murphy on jazz guitar, Rowan Cobb on bass and Ian O’brien on a trap kit.

“We met in Virginia,” says Pelander about he and Murphy’s original collaboration. “We played in a weird comedy/classic rock cover band called Greg Pelander and the Pelandertones. A few years later, Matt moved out to Portland, and I followed him here.”

Through friends and a mutual love for random jam sessions, Pelander and Murphy met Cobb and O’brien, both of whom were jazz students at Lewis and Clark. The quartet’s brand of jazz-infused funk/electronica was difficult to get a finger on. If Pelander and Murphy had had classical training the band may have taken a totally different route.

“Compromise,” Pelander says. “I think all of us had different ideas of where this band was going from the start. I know that I saw this project developing as more of a jazz-funk group than what it is now. We're all sort of tugging the band in our own directions, and the result is really fun and interesting, definitely better than anything I could come up with alone.”

The band is very careful not to be pigeonholed into any one genre because for them it is all about the audience and the vibe that is traded off between musician and listener.

“I don't think that the Portland jazz scene is really aware of us,” Pelander says. “We have shared the bill with some artists I would consider jazz musicians—Ben Darwish, Asher Fulero, Chris Mosely, etc.—but we haven't played Jimmy Mac's or for a ‘jazz crowd.’ I would hesitate to call our music jazz at all, though it is heavily influenced by it.”

Alpaca! are the sort of musical chameleons that like to let the crowd dictate what sort of set they will play. The band asks a metaphorical “What the fuck are you gonna bring?” to its audience and then replies in kind.

“Whatever our audience is gravitating towards [we play],” says Pelander. “Sometimes you show up at a venue and you know immediately that they aren't going to dig the break-beats or electronic noise, so you keep it tight and funky. On the other hand, we could be playing an after party at 3 a.m., and we can skip right to the raging electronica, because the crowd is already ready for it.”

But for all their electronic leanings (think New Deal or Sound Tribe) there is a sonic counter-part to Alpaca! that relies heavily on the members’ jazz background. It’s in their bones: the plunking keys, the jazz scales and the thumping bass. There’s a certain element of jazz the band will always have.

And it is never more evident than in their self-titled debut album. More often than not the electronics give way to mellowed jams. The track “One Up” begins with a frantically funky key line and then devolves into the more subdued mood of a good jazz lounge. But the dance-party promised from the start is only kept in the hi-hat twitter of the drums. It’s understated and mellow throughout the whole.

Alpaca! shines in tracks like the opener “Tetsuo” where even though keys change and tempos shift, the layers keep piling up and underscoring the other elements of the song. The ambient waves of synth create the blanket that the sparse guitar, funky drums and general electronic schizophrenia frolick around in. Halfway through the tempo changes hand claps are introduced, coaxing any listener to use their bodies as well. However, these are elements that the recorded medium is more conducive to than the live experience.

“When you're recording an album track,” Pelander says, “you might not want to include the 10 minute jam or that really long solo, but you can go back over it several times and add new parts that you wouldn't be able to do live. ‘Testuo,’ the first song on our EP, is a good example of this. We were able to add more pads and effects than we can effectively do live.”

Wherever Alapaca! wanders, one can be sure they have the musical fortitude and know how to continue adapting to their changing circumstances. Whatever shape it takes that is the best shape, and the audience is just as complicit as they are.

Like the band’s mission statement says: “When we step onto the stage above a dance floor, we bring it hard and non-stop. Our music is an invitation to co-create in the live music experience, so throw on your glitter and sequins ... bring your disco balls, lights and body paints ... fill up your spirit ... and LET'S GET DOWN!” - Daily Vanguard


Discography

Alpaca EP

Photos

Bio

Alpaca formed in 2006 when the smooth melodic duo of Matt Murphy and Greg Pelander joined forces with the dynamic rhythm section of Rowan Cobb and Ian O'Brien. After raging house parties in NW colleges with impromptu jam sessions, the quartet decided to pursue a more professional trajectory and began playing Portland area clubs. Their blend of original electro-funk dance hits translated into immediate success in the Portland community and they began playing bigger venues and events drawing hundreds of loyal fans, as well as securing slots sharing the stage with local and traveling musicians such as Matt Butler and Asher Fulero (Everyone Orchestra), Flying Lotus, Daedalus, Big Gigantic, BLVD, Juno What, The Everyone Orchestra, Fareed Haque, KJ Sawka, Lazer Sword, Savoy, Lynx and Jamie Janover, and many others... not to mention playing afterparties for the likes of Sound Tribe Sector 9 and moe. Alpaca released a self titled EP in 2009 and followed it with a NW tour with the group Off the Grid, spanning WA, OR, and CA. Alpaca was invited to Colorado College's Llamapalooza soon after in Colorado Springs, CO, and shared the stage with Toubab Krewe, SOJA, and many others. They would return to CO for a tour at the end of the summer, even stealing the Cervante's crowd in Denver while playing next door at Quixote's. Following a NW fall tour in 2009 through WA, OR, CA, NV, and ID, Alpaca took some time off to travel and gain new world experiences in order to expand their music and push their previous boundaries. After two months of personal introspection, Alpaca reunited and began playing full houses again in Portland with an eye to the future of 2010 summer festivals.