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The New Cool: Bad News Botanists Blooming in Seattle

Seattle's Bad News Botanists.
Photo by Shahaan Smith
The Bad News Botanists - wearing their floral love on their sleeves.

The landscape of talented jazz musicians in the Pacific Northwest continues to bloom, despite an especially wet January threatening to wash us all away. Take a look at the nominees for this year’s Earshot Golden Ear Awards and you’ll see the name Bad News Botanists and those of two band members, a solid indication that this band’s time has come.

Formed after collaborations between the musicians in various jam sessions around Seattle a couple years ago, The Bad News Botanists have spent that time composing and recording their debut album Venomous Nightshade. Released last Fall, it’s nominated for NW Recording of the Year at the Earshot Awards and the group is up for the Alternative Jazz Group of the Year award.

Even more praise comes the band’s way with nominations for Emerging Artist of the Year for both the band’s leader, saxophonist Frank Vitolo and bass player Marina Christopher.

Drawing inspiration from modern soul/funk groups like their NW neighbors Polyrhythmics and McTuff, their music displays a deep knowledge of soul, funk, modern rock & hip hop along with their undeniable jazz chops.

Bright horns up front find ample groove backing from the four-way rhythm section of Christopher’s electric bass, Heather Thomas’ in-the-pocket drumming, and the chordal and solo work of Rob Homan (keys) and Andy Short (guitar).

Vitolo’s tough sax in unison and soloing aside the powerful trombone of Colin Pulkrabeck are obvious attention getters, but this is an ensemble affair. Pick a musician and focus on their playing, every song will unveil their skills as individuals and team players.

Bad News Botanists will find fans among the modern “jam band” scene sparked by followers of the Grateful Dead, but their music is more akin to the funky soul born by James Brown and his progeny. Add in the spacey production and shimmer of the 21st Century, a love of cross-genre experimentation, and a youthful sense of urgency and you have the garden of grooves found on Venomous Nightshade.

"We like to play loud," Marina Christopher told me after a recent performance at Chop Suey on Capitol Hill. This band's energy on stage had me remembering my years roaming Seattle's rock clubs to see my favorite local groups - jazz can play that game now, too!

The Bad News Botanists will bloom into Spring with a series of Seattle concerts in March and April, but any project (and there are several) including these musicians is worth the price of admission. Check out Marina & the Dreamboats, including Frank Vitolo’s saxophone, at Substation in Seattle this Saturday night with our friends Freudian Slurp and Seattle groove rockers The High Council.

You’ll hear “Sitka Gold” from the Bad News Botanists on the New Cool this week, and we’re excited to welcome the band for a live session in the KNKX studios in May. Springtime may seem like years away, but there’s always fun to be had getting your hands dirty with The Bad News Botanists.

Now go vote for Bad News Botanists or your favorite Northwest jazz musicians for this year's Golden Ear Awards, the ceremony will be held at the Royal Room in Seattle April 2nd.

****ENTER TO WIN TIX TO Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio @ Tractor Tavern 2/17 HERE****

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.