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Knotty fusion

Chromatic Colors find the smooth pathways in craggy progressive rock

Chromatic Colors finds the invigorating middle ground between jazz and rock. Photo credit:

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The longer you listen to music, the easier it is to fall into a rut of only listening to bands that easily access the sweet spots of your taste. Growing up on oldies radio, I was raised on a template of songs that rarely exceeded three minutes, that got in and out with a maximum amount of hooks and catchy choruses, and that found innovation in subtle moments. After writing about music for a number of years, I've become increasingly drawn to bands that make what might be referred to as "difficult" music, because they're inherently easier to write about. Still, I find myself becoming complacent with who I choose to listen to.

In these times, I find it's helpful to remember the times when my father unceremoniously dropped into the world of progressive rock. I remember watching King Crimson performing songs from their 1995 return to form, THRAK; what I saw was a group of clearly very talented musicians doing unspeakable things to their instruments, in service of an undiscovered sound. I also remember watching Jethro Tull's performance at the Isle of Wight in 1970, being awestruck by Ian Anderson's rabid, unhinged subversion of the role of frontman. Years later, I would have my perceptions similarly shifted by bands like Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, and Tune-Yards. I'd even find joy in the unpracticed madness of the Shaggs.

Getting knocked around by the knotty instrumentation of prog-rock is a healthy thing: it clears your sinuses and realigns you to better view the vast world of music. In finding a band to examine, this week, I encountered Chromatic Colors, a five-piece based in Salem, Oregon. They find a balance between restlessly unorthodox rhythms and a smoothness that helps everything to go down nice and easy. Emphasizing the jazz in jazz-fusion, Chromatic Colors doesn't tend to err on the side of mind-expanding experimentation, as many prog-rock bands do. Instead, the band embraces round sounds that have deftly hewn the rough edges that might deter some people away from the genre. While this is definitely music that strays away from normal chord progressions and easy melodies, it strives to encourage listening from people who may not yet be attuned to forms outside of the pop mold.

While Chromatic Colors has a studio-recorded album, with Chamomile Crybaby, it's a more telling test sample to hear them live. Thankfully, they not only have a live album, but a set on YouTube that they performed on CCTV. It's in their live sets that you get a clearer picture of what they're trying to accomplish, with lead singer Katy Ohsiek guiding the band with her endlessly elastic vocals -- just as the band is playing the "hit every note" game, so, too, is Ohsiek exploring every inch of her range, sounding at times like a less finessed version of former Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian. The band -- made up of Wil Bakula on keys, David Guzman on guitar, Nick Burton on bass, and Jasper Gill on drums -- spends its time exclusively in the pocket, exploring little side tangents without ever giving the impression that they don't know where they're going.

Chromatic Colors spend the majority of their time in the middle ground of rock and jazz, finding so much treasure in the place where other adventurous bands have gone before. Along the way, bits of funk and pop-minded stretches worm their way into the proceedings, lending an air of frivolity amongst the studied craftsmanship. Their music serves as a gentle reminder that there's always more terrain to explore in the craggy valley of music, and that it doesn't always need to feel like such a daunting trek.

CHROMATIC COLORS, w/ Floral Tattoo, the Ferenjis, 10 p.m., Saturday, June 30, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, cover TBA, 360.943.5710,

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