Singin’ on Sunday – Topaz McGarrigle and Mudphonic

Topaz @ the Granada Theater

July 5, 2009

Evolution. Applying the term to Topaz McGarrigle’s career as a professional musician provides a fascinating case study with more twists and turns than a Colorado River water moccasin. And its end result is more satisfying than a heaping plate of Texas barbecue washed down by an ice cold beer.

Topaz, a native Texan, took up saxophone at an early age and was classically trained in jazz principles while attending the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington D.C. Armed with a vast set of skills at a young age. Topaz further honed his chops on the horn with a move to New York City and landed a record deal with the Velour label in the mid 1990s. In the Big City. Topaz enjoyed a decade of remarkable success as a jazz saxophonist – performing on national networks such as BET, and sharing stages with internationally known artists including Norah Jones, TV on the Radio, and Widespread Panic.

As time progressed, the need to do more, to grow – to evolve – burned deep inside the musician. Often the first step toward eventual maturity in any spirit is a return to roots, and that’s where Topaz headed with a return to his hometown of Austin. Reconnecting with Austin’s free-flowing organism of sound, Topaz felt compelled to explore and add more to his traditional jazz/funk sax-only repertoire.

Vocals came first, and – despite initial anxiety – taking the mic felt right. Next harmonica, and eventually guitar were incorporated into his musical persona. With these new sets of developing skills came a new accompanying sound that brought out new emotions and gave the listener an experience that felt more … raw… dirty… real.

In the pursuit of band mates to add layers of sound and depth, Topaz first began talking to Alex Marrero about starting a new project. Marrero, lead singer of the alternative Latin group Ghandaia, had perfected his front-man charisma and vocal skills and was experiencing his own musical evolution by moving to the drums. He was the foundation for this roots-oriented vision.

Marrero introduced Topaz to a key ingredient of what would become a most intoxicating brew. Guitarist John Branch, much like Topaz, had left behind a jazz background in the Bay Area to return home to Texas. Branch had recently turned his considerable skills toward perfecting sweet southern-drenched bottleneck guitar licks.

They then met Greg Rhoades at a downtown punk club where they were experimenting with the new sound. They were immediately blown away by his funky Jack Bruce influenced bass lines – a wonderful and mesmerizing way to tie this foursome together to form one dynamic, succinct unit.

Thus was born Mudphonic.

A new, sweaty, dance-your-ass off sound that fuses gritty blues and groove with the collective band history of jazz and Latin sounds. After a month spent recording in a barn on the river, Mudphonic has emerged with their debut album ‘Music for Dorothy.’

This band that describes itself as “Big Beat Texadelic Swamp” will be playing on July 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm at Antone’s in Austin, Texas.

Mudphonic MySpace page.

The Official Mudphonic Web site was the source of the biographical information above.

Thanks to Thomas McGarrigle / The Rag Blog

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