Band keeps building fan base

OM Trio continues road tour and is gathering a following

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— Scanning through the OM Trio's Web site, one will find lists of CDs the band members bought on tour.

The musicians say they've logged 17,000 miles in the past two months in their 1992 Ford Econoline van. Not surprisingly, the music in the van is an important element on the highway, keyboardist Brian Felix said.

What might be surprising to some is that the list labeled "Band Fund Purchases (for consumption by all)" reads like this: Metallica, "Ride The Lightening," Metallica, "Master Of Puppets," Metallica, "And Justice For All," and Metallica, "Metallica."

"We are all old-school metal heads," Felix explained. "We listened to metal when we were young."

In fact, the members of the hottest instrumental jazz trios touring bar stages in the United States used to be in metal and punk bands in high school.

The New Jersey natives might even utter the words "Bon Jovi" every now and then. Plus, when they talk about exploring roots, they're most likely talking about metal music.

"We are in a position where we can show all of our influences, and we love metal. Why not play it?" Felix said.

That's not all too surprising after hearing the OM Trio a few times.

The unique jazz sound that Felix on keyboard, Pete Novembre on bass and Ilya Stemkovsky on drums blend on stage can reflect that straight-ahead rock-metal element. Felix calls the music heavy electric jazz.

Of course, many influences help to define the sound of the OM Trio, which comes out in the shows: from jazz standards to reggae.

"We just call it music for the head and the feet," Felix said.

It's highly improvisational, usually touching on jams during each show that haven't been planned, and won't ever be exactly re-created in the future.

It's gathering a crowd, too.

The readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian voted the OM Trio the best local jazz band in July 2001, which is a prestigious honor.

"Something about the keys-bass-drum format of OM Trio is music to our readers' ears. Call it a weakness for tight chops or a hunger for that funk fusion-meets-jazz standard sound, but OM Trio won its coveted position by a landslide," the article reads.

The band formed in the Bay Area after each musician separately moved there from New Jersey a few years ago. Since then, they have been touring nonstop.

"We're having a good time. We know what we signed up for. We want to drive around the country and build a fan base," Felix said. "We're just lucky that we enjoy being with each other."

Traveling extensively is a necessary element when establishing a successful career as a musician, Felix said. As an instrumental jazz trio, it could take years to really get the word out. Felix recalled a story he heard about how Bon Jovi started a tour opening at small venues and finished it headlining stadiums.

Felix knows that's not likely to happen to a band like the OM Trio. Not for lack of talent, it's just the nature of music. But he also knows other jazz trios, such as Medeski, Martin and Wood, have proven a greater success is possible by touring and gaining fans.

But following MMW's forged path isn't exactly the plan. Felix is basically convinced a jazz trio, or any band for that matter, that plays well and plays often will make it in the music business.

"We just need to keep building the fan base and get to the point to play great rooms around the country," Felix said.

One room they do like to play right now is the Wolf Den Tavern, which they will appear in on Saturday.

"We love it there," Felix said. "It just always is nuts down there."

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