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The New Cool: Velocity builds momentum with new music

Artwork designed by Andrew Adams.
Cover art for the new Velocity album, due in September.

With a new single and accompanying video just released, and more recordings nearly ready to share, Tacoma's progressive jazz quartet Velocity are shifting into a higher gear. I caught the band at Seattle's Seamonster Lounge earlier this week to ask them about the new release and their plans for the summer.

Formed in Tacoma in 2012, Velocity includes saxophonist Cliff Colon, Peter Adams on (mostly electric) keys, Rob Hutchinson on bass guitar, and Brian Smith drumming. Their style is rooted in progressive rock and funky jazz fusion, and they've always pushed themselves to the edge of their abilities. "I think the goal with all the songs has been to write stuff we can't play and then learn how to play it," says Adams.

That's still the objective on a new batch of songs, all written by Adams. Odd time signatures abound, with more emphasis on funk, and hints of the rare jagged edges of smooth jazz melodicism. Smith mentions new songs with rhythms " seven against 3 against 2, then it floats to four and modulates back to seven." Colon jokingly adds, "You have to have a calculator to listen to our album." Adams says, "The goal is, no matter what the crazy time signature is, it always has to be groovy and you can bob your head to it."

The proof was on the dance floor at the Seamonster on Wednesday night, with a pair of young women seduced into dancing to a particularly tricky Velocity beat. Colon notes that "The dancers were going off on a song in 13/12, and they weren't counting. It moved them. It worked out just fine."

"Magnetar," the debut single, begins with a driving beat that lays out a couple soulful hooks, then relaxes into a chill out section. Gradually picking up the pace, with an empassioned sax solo from Colon, the song returns to chill out mode, leading to Adams' solo on spacey synthesizer. The slowdown hits once more before the band brings the proceedings to a satisfyingly funky conclusion.

Two special guests appear on the upcoming album. The Northwest's master of modern Hammond organ players, Joe Doria plays on a tune that Adams calls his "...tribute to a Tower of Power funk style tune." Jacques Willis, a member of Colon's jazz-meets-video-game-music project ContraBand, is featured on vibraphone for a classic Velocity rhythmic math problem.

The album, also called Magnetar, is due out in September. Keep your eyes and ears open for the band to release a song in video format each month throughout the rest of the year.

The videos follow on Colon's series of videos for his ContraBand, perfect for gamers who also love music. Reaching a younger audience through posting videos is effective and can be much easier than finding radio stations with the same global reach.

Recorded during the making of the new album with producer Floyd Reitsma at Seattle's Studio Litho, the videos also provide evidence that the music was created in real time with no overdubs. Colon tells me, "We had one cameraman and, like, six cameras with multiple angles. Plus, Peter edited all the videos!"

Details for the CD release party in September are still in the planning stages, but something tells me The New Cool will find a way to get involved. Stay tuned for more of the unstoppable momentum of Velocity!

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