Sign up for a free Courant newsletter for a chance to win $100 P.C. Richard gift card

Fusion Band Recess Bureau Defies Logistics Of Nine-Piece Collective

Bureaucracies cut through red tape more efficiently in the presence of a strong leader, elected or self-appointed.

The Recess Bureau, a nine-piece fusion collective from Fairfield County, has one of those: bassist/composer Jeff Moro, who assembled the other players for his capstone recording project at Western Connecticut State University.

"We've all been involved in different groups over the past four or five years," Moro says. "Everybody eventually gets interconnected, plays with each other, records with each other, gets involved in some sort of collaboration."

When the project ended, the band stayed together.

"I didn't really think that things would work out, being eight or nine people: How am I going to get people in the same room at the same time? Somehow it's working out," Moro says.

Except for drummer Willie Bruno (who graduated from Berklee), Bureau members — Moro, percussionist Chris Thomas, tenor saxophonist Dakota Austin, guitarist Gannon Ferrell, trumpet and flugelhorn player Keenan Asbridge, alto saxophonist Tim Lewis, keyboard player Rosemary Minkler and vocalist Fernanda Franco — are all WestConn grads, or still in school.

Moro writes the songs. He manages the group. On stage, he's usually front and center, directing the activity while locking down the groove with Bruno and Thomas.

"He usually positions himself in the middle of everyone and shouts around the stage," Thomas says.

For now, the Recess Bureau's self-titled, instrumental EP — Moro's capstone project — is its calling card.

"Full-length albums are becoming obsolete," Moro says. "I don't think people have the attention span to listen to a full-length album anymore."

What the Recess Bureau does well: setting up, then settling into, hip-shaking vamps and grooves, punctuated by horn riffs or stitched through with inventive melodies. Song forms are additive; Moro juxtaposes sections, smoothing over seams with embedded improv or caffeinated percussion jams.

"Grab the Hotsauce!" starts with a descending bass riff, drums and percussion. A head melody swells, dips into a guitar solo (over two chords), and emerges refreshed; it's about getting along, projecting a single mood.

Elsewhere, you surf waves of contrast, as on "The Great Moose" (smooth R&B balladry, segueing into funky riff-rock) and "Nocturne" (driving funk that yields to half-time moodiness). The music is episodic; in the middle of "Council of the Pigs," nine players disappear, leaving a soloist (here, keyboardist Minkler) to run the ball alone. In terms of trajectory, "One Size Fits Most" feels the most like a slow climb to the top of a peak, then hang gliding down to your car.

Moro's greatest influence as a composer is Michael League, who leads Brooklyn jazz/funk collective Snarky Puppy.

"I learned how to write just by listening [to Snarky Puppy] and taking a form and analysis class at WestConn: Here's one idea, here's a different but related idea, here's an idea that has nothing to do with it. ... Let's go back to that first idea," Moro says. "I don't want to call it minimalist, but [League] has one idea and tries to milk it as much as possible."

Moro writes five songs at a time, enough for a month or two of rehearsals. Then another five. He only brings completed work to the band.

"From there, if I hear it the way I think I was hearing it and I want to change something, I'll do that," he says.

The shortest song on the EP — "Grab the Hotsauce!" — clocks in at 5:20. Next time around in the studio, Moro plans to keep everything under five minutes.

"Just keep it tight," Moro says. "I have to put myself in the position of the listener: Do they want to be listening to something for that long? It then falls into the category of Weather Channel music."

Franco usually appears at gigs where the Bureau is expected to play for two hours or more; otherwise, Moro leans on the band's instrumental repertoire. The band just wrapped a month-long residency at the Acoustic in Bridgeport, and now Moro is hungry for new gigs.

"I'm trying to devise ways to develop a following, mainly through social media," he says. "The challenge right now is just getting people to answer emails."

Why stick with such a large band?

"I like to have as many options as possible," Moro says. "Logistically, it's a nightmare. Economically, it's hard to pay everyone consistently. But I think, getting into this, they all kind of knew that."

The money conversation came up after mixing and mastering of the Recess Bureau's EP was finished, when the players assembled for a listening party. Moro gave a speech.

"Luckily I had them all in the room. I said, 'If you're interested in doing this, there's not going to be a lot of paying gigs right off the bat. If you don't want to be a part of this, let me know now.' Everyone wanted to stay with it."

Stream the Recess Bureau's self-titled EP on SoundCloud.

THE RECESS BUREAU performs at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on March 8 at 7:30 p.m., with Mid Atlantic Title, Evanoff and Keepers of the Vibe. $10; advance: $8 theouterspace.net.

Editor's note: Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to mhamad@courant.com.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
24°