When saxophonists Brandon Fields and Albert Wing, trumpeter Walt Fowler and guitarist Mike Miller get together to lead their co-op band Anonymous, the instrumental music they play crosses a number of genres, including funk, rock, jazz and free-form.
Asked to describe their unique brand of modern sounds, the musicians prove humorously evasive.
"Tower of Power on acid," quips Miller, to general laughter from his cohorts, referring to what might be called an illegal variation on the San Francisco Bay Area horn band.
"How about West Mali street rap?" asks Fowler.
"I hate categories so much that we might as well create a new one," says Fields, as he, Fowler, Miller and Wing sit in Fields' North Hollywood garage studio on a recent cloudy Saturday.
Well, for lack of a better definition, the band is certainly contemporary, and very solid. Listening to a tape of a live performance of Anonymous at the Baked Potato, where the group appears Monday and March 27, one hears music that is exciting and provocative but that can be soothing and emotional, and that swings heartily within a mostly jazz-rock rhythmic context. For these engagements, the group is fleshed out by drummer Gary Novak and bassist Jeff Berlin.
Spark-emitting ensemble passages from the two saxophonists and the trumpeter lead to riveting solos by the members, who have played with seemingly everyone: A collective band resume includes performances with Chick Corea (Miller), Buddy Rich, Woody Herman (Fowler), Frank Zappa, Diana Ross (Fowler, Wing), Billy Childs and George Benson (Fields).
The musicians list additional influences, from Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock to John McLaughlin, Stan Getz and Stevie Wonder, giving the band extraordinary flexibility. "When we go into a style, it will be pretty authentic," says Miller, "though the tune might soon leave that style and go somewhere else. Or we'll be playing along and someone will start a (John Phillip) Sousa line and within two seconds, the whole band is into it, right there."
Anonymous plays originals by each member as well as offering cover versions of such tunes as Jarrett's "Common Mama," Jan Hammer's "Red and Orange" and Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time."
"One thing we looked for when we started was a real high-energy outlook," says Fields. "We're playing some of the fusiony stuff from the mid-'70s that we played and listened to a lot back then. We treat them almost like our versions of (pop) standards. We like finding those tunes that we can improvise on and have a great dialogue with each other."
While the solos go on, the rhythm section does its own sort of dance. "We turn into a friendly wrestling match," says Miller, who will lead a different band at the Baked Potato on March 20. "We push and shove each other, but it's very controlled."
Although Anonymous has played only about 20 engagements in the 2 1/2 years it's been together, and doesn't yet have a record deal, it's attracted a number of loyal fans. One is Justin Randi--who books bands at the Potato, which is owned by his father, the pianist Don Randi. The son says Anonymous is "amazing. They're something special to see."
A reason for the group's elan is that despite its brief time as a unit, the musicians have known and performed with each other for more than 20 years. Miller, from South Dakota, moved to Denver in the early '70s, where he ran into Fowler and his brothers--Tom, Bruce and Steve--who are all Utah natives. The guitarist later joined them in the Fowler Brothers band, also known as Air Pocket. Wing, from Orange County, met Walt Fowler in an all-star high school band at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1971, and played first with the Fowlers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake. Fields, who grew up near Wing, used to travel to Hollywood to visit the saxophonist, Miller and Fowler, who were living there together in 1976.
Fowler, Miller and Wing also attended Westminster College in Salt Lake, and during a reunion in October, 1992, for musicians who attended the school, Fields jammed with his friends. "That put the bug in me to get something organized," he says. "Walt and Albert had been on my first album, 'The Other Side of the Story,' (on Nova Records) and we'd always been a great three-piece horn section." So Anonymous began its life at the Baked Potato, and has worked there, and at other Southern California venues, ever since.
Fields says that if the band were more tame in its musical demeanor, there might be a better chance for both more engagements and an album. But he'd rather be in an adventurous group that gives him needed stimulation.
"The point is to inspire each other," he says. "If people aren't trying to stretch the envelope, I don't know where the art is. I don't want to emulate something that came before and that's why I don't like categories. I'd rather play music based on what's happening with the band at that moment."
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WHERE AND WHEN
Location: The Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood.
Hours: 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. Monday and March 27.
Price: $10 and two-drink minimum.
Call: (818) 980-1615.