Aspen Times Weekly: Galactic Exploration |

Aspen Times Weekly: Galactic Exploration

by Andrew Travers
Galactic saxophone player Ben Ellman at a previous Belly Up gig.
Aspen Times file |

If You Go …

Who: Galactic

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Sunday, Sept. 20, 9:30 p.m.

How much: $37 advance GA; $39 day-of GA; $65 reserved

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

Galactic has made regular stops in Aspen through the years, playing festivals and gigs at Belly Up Aspen, where the New Orleans funk stalwarts return on Sunday, Sept. 20. No matter how many times you see the band, they never seem to repeat themselves and seem to always be discovering some rich new creative vein — be it hip-hop, loops, or an unexplored piece of Crescent City culture.

The band is currently touring in support of the new album, “Into the Deep,” released in July and featuring the high caliber of guest talent we’ve come to expect from Galactic records. In this case, guests include vocalists Macy Gray, who leads on vocals on the title single, and Mavis Staples.

The open-minded, open-eared New Orleans funk stalwarts and jam band circuit regulars have consistently surprised audiences in their nearly 20 years as a band. The live Galactic show is never the same twice, full of free funk jams and dance-friendly experimentation. The band’s albums have steadily expanded Galactic’s musical boundaries — from the techno-influenced, loop-heavy sound of 2003’s “Ruckus” to the hip-hop of 2007’s “From the Corner to the Block” to the 2012 Mardi Gras concept album “Carnivale Electricos.” On “Into the Deep,” the band offers tight dance rock, soul and funk in songs that no doubt will expand and mutate on the road, along with insta-classic Galactic jazz-funk instrumental tracks.

The creative gap between Galactic’s records and its live shows is a key to its progression.

“We play so many live shows, and we let people tape our shows,” bassist Robert Mercurio told The Aspen Times on one of the band’s many runs through town. “To go in and form an album that is like our live shows is a futile effort. We’re trying to do something more than our live shows, more than what we have been doing.”

The band — made up of Mercurio, saxophonist Ben Ellman, drummer Stanton Moore, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel – doesn’t have a full-time singer. Instead they venture out to find different collaborators from album to album and tour to tour. Galactic looked to collaborators they knew from the road for “Into the Deep.” Album contributors like JJ Grey, David Shaw and Maggie Koerner had toured with Galactic, while Mavis Staples sat in with them a few years ago and stayed in touch. Jamaican singer-songwriter Brush One-String they heard at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and decided to record a version of his “Chicken in the Corn” for the new record, then bring him on tour.

Galactic has collaborated over the years with the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, the Soul Rebels and various Mardi Gras Indians, while sometime Treme Brass Band trombonist Corey Henry has become a near-constant presence on Galactic records and tours. The band’s reverence for the New Orleans brass band tradition blares across in the album opener, “Sugar Doosie.”

“We write [those songs] with the idea of how awesome it would be to hear the Rebirth going down doing the street in a second line playing one of our songs,” says Ellman. “We try to think of a real second line song that would get people slapping stop signs and dancing on cars.”