Like many bands that are working in the so-called jam band realm, the guys in Tauk see distinct differences in what they do in concert and what they try to achieve on their studio albums.
The live show allows the four musicians in this all-instrumental group (which has been moving up considerably within the jam band world) to improvise more and let the songs open up and go in spontaneous and unpredictable directions. The studio albums have leaned toward highlighting the compositional skills of the four band members, and the songs have been more tightly arranged with less room for improvisation.
But guitarist Matt Jalbert said that with the band’s nearly finished third studio album, he has started to see places where the separate worlds of Tauk on stage and Tauk in the studio have started to blend.
“I think it’s something we really want to find the right balance on, especially on the (studio) albums because we spend a lot of our time writing songs, and you put a lot of work into that and you want that to show through,” Jalbert said in an early March phone interview. “But we’ve also been playing a lot of shows, and (during) a lot of shows we’ve been really conscious of what we do when we improvise.
“I think, actually, on a couple of songs, I would say that (improvising) even lent itself to the songwriting process, where we would have an idea and be working on it,” he said. “But we’d kind of improvise a little bit and then go back to listen to it and go, ‘Oh, this thing we kind of stumbled upon is really cool.’ Let’s figure out a way to work that into the song itself so that it kind of becomes songwriting and improvisation kind of melded together.”
Jalbert said the group was more comfortable than ever in the studio in making the third album. That helped the group to take some risks by building more improvisation into certain songs, to explore some new stylistic territory and play better than ever to each musician’s strengths.
“I think a lot of bands out there, they can have the best musicians in the world, but there’s no replacement for experience – and it’s a shared experience,” Jalbert said. “We’re in this together, and that really is what our strength is. We know each other really well and we’re very comfortable with knowing what each other’s strengths are and how to play to those strengths.”
There is indeed a long history to Tauk, especially among three of its four members. Jalbert, bassist Charlie Dolan and keyboardist Alric “A.C.” Carter have been friends for a decade and a half – since their middle school years in New York.
Drummer Isaac Teel completed the current lineup in 2012. Early on, Tauk was a five-piece with a vocalist, Alessandro Zanelli. About six years ago, though, the group parted ways with Zanelli to begin pursuing the instrumental format.
“We were working on new material and eventually we realized we had this stuff that sounded good without vocals,” Jalbert said. “That kind of led us down this path. It wasn’t really like a conscious decision. It just happened.”
The early edition of Tauk released a couple of albums, “Ride” and “Brokedown King,” but Jalbert said he considers the current edition essentially a different group
The newest source for hearing Tauk’s melodic fusion of rock, funk, hip-hop and jazz is a 2015 two-disc live release, “Headroom,” which pulls most of its material from the two studio albums (“Homunculus” and “Collisions”) released by today’s edition of Tauk.
“Headroom” showcases the variety in Tauk’s music. There’s the dreamy, jazzy rock of “Mokuba,” hard-hitting rock on “The Chemist” and the jazz-tinged prog rock of “Tumbler” – plus many songs (“Friction” and “Carpentino’s Rebirth”) that incorporate multiple styles and moods as they unfold. As one might assume, the band incorporates a good deal of improvisation that doesn’t exist on studio versions of some songs, while also capturing the added energy of live performance.
Now Tauk is back on tour, mixing in headlining shows (including at Harlow’s on Wednesday, March 23) and opening slots for Umphrey’s McGee (as it will at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Thursday, March 24). The band tends to change its set lists from night to night, even when limited to its hourlong opening sets with Umphrey’s McGee.
“You’ve got to kind of cram it in a little bit,” Jalbert said of the opening act sets. “But I think we’ve gotten good at kind of strategizing how to make that hour count and how to make it dynamic. And that’s always the biggest key is making a set list that can kind of pack a good punch, but also kind of shows a lot of different sides of what we can do at the same time.
“But yeah, we have a lot of new material, and we’ve been kind of working these songs into the set recently, … so that’s been exciting, and also a cool challenge in figuring out some new songs and how they fit in and where they work well in a set.”
When: 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 23
Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J St., Sacramento