Hanuman is a band that is all about chemistry. The chemistry of this Seattle entourage allows its members, with tastes that span the musical spectrum and the world, to blend all of their influences into one fairly cohesive amalgam of sounds that are rarely fused together.
They play in an often jubilant and improvisational style; consequently they are frequently associated with such jam bands as Phish and The String Cheese Incident. However, drummer Jarrod Kaplan feels that Hanuman’s sound does not fit precisely into the jam-band genre.
“’Jam band’ has a stigma to it,” says Kaplan. “We never do something without some kind of structure in mind. It’s not like we’re going to jam on E for 20 minutes.”
Which, of course begs the question: If Hanuman is not a jam band, then how exactly can they be defined? Hanuman has often called their music “acoustic free folk,” and Kaplan further describes the sound as “a high-energy, eclectic, acoustic, instrumental mix of funk, jazz and world music.” Although this description seems a bit long-winded, it barely scratches the surface of all the musical styles that Hanuman enfranchises.
Each member brings different tastes and influences in euphonious styles to the group, all of which are packed into the proverbial blender and emerge as a melodic smoothie with flavors sampled from around the world.
“We love good music of all genres,” Kaplan says. “Everyone brings his own tastes that we blend into an instrumental mixture of sound.”
Guitarist Paul Benoit delivers an acoustic and slide guitar sound that moans bluesy African and American reverberations of roots rock. Tige DeCoster plays the stand-up acoustic bass and intermittently injects flavors of funk with emphatic downbeats. Jarrod Kaplan brings qualities of art rock and world music to the melange. He has trained with a variety of drummers specializing in everything from jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to traditional Senegalese music and Darbuka and Egyptian tambourine techniques. He plays the drum set, as well as different types of hand drums, anklets and an array of other percussive devices.
On the band’s most recent CD, Pedalhorse, Scott Law (formerly of Seattle jam band Tough Mama) creates bluegrass overtones with furious mandolin and guitar solos. However, Kaplan says that Law is currently on the road with Jerry Garcia’s former keyboardist Melvin Seals and will not be featured when Hanuman comes to Missoula this Friday. In his stead, playing the role of soloist extraordinaire, is saxophonist Damien Aiken, tipping the scale a little toward the genre of improvisational jazz.
Although Hanuman has traditionally been solely an instrumental entity, Kaplan says that recently they have been leaning toward incorporating vocals into the mix. Benoit, with his love for the lyric-driven sounds of blues music, has been the primary catalyst for coaxing the band in this direction. “We haven’t done a lot of vocals in the past because we’ve always been able to keep audiences interested in all of the things going on instrumentally,” Kaplan says. Nevertheless, Hanuman is always enticed to explore new musical frontiers and a few vocals now and again may add something extra to the mix.
Unless you know a lot about Hanuman or a little about Hindu mythology, you may be wondering where the band got its name. Hanuman is the name of the Hindu Monkey God, a clever, brave, loyal and magical character who uses his wits to outdo his brawnier adversaries. Although a number of people have mistakenly believed so, Hanuman is not a Hindu devotional band. They simply liked the name that a fan suggested six years ago as well as what the god Hanuman represents.
“I think our music is bold, adventurous and sometimes jovial or magical,” Kaplan says. “It is a musical fit to the traits of [the god] Hanuman.”
Is it chemistry, one wonders, fusing together the different particles of musical influence from each member, or is it the power of the simian god’s jovial spirit that conjures musical quests of semi-structured improvisations that makes Hanuman what it is?
Either way, they promise to put on an entertaining show.