The taxi has been making the rounds for over a year now, and it’s got the smell to prove it: an odd mixture of coffee breath, leftover Indian takeout, and a few empty cans of cheap lager under the passenger’s seat. That, and a smashing Pharoah Sanders album on repeat.
Ever since their debut album came out, TaxiWars has done dozens of shows across Europe, performing in everything from intimate clubs to jazz festivals and big scale rock gatherings. “Very soon I was convinced that this could be a working band,” vocalist Tom Barman said during the recording of their second album, FEVER. “We bonded very quickly, these guys are great musicians – obviously –, and I like the our work ethic: we can make a record without losing two years of our lives. The clubs and jazz fests have been great, but we feel most at home at seriously alternative rock festivals. Places where you hardly know anyone on the roster, but where you can hear smouldering, bubbling music wherever you go.”
Barman, who is best known for his energetic shows with the rock band dEUS, takes that fervour into the studio with TaxiWars as well. Even during the live studio sessions for FEVER with saxophonist Robin Verheyen, bassist Nicolas Thys and drummer Antoine Pierre, he directs, fuels, electrifies the band with pointed fingers, nods, winks and clenched fists. “It’s all about finding a vibe,” Robin Verheyen adds. “At big festivals, people are yearning for a good groove. If nothing else, that’s what we have to offer. If the groove is deep, people don’t wonder: Hey, these guys are playing jazz. It’s music.”
But make no mistake. FEVER offers jazz in all of its 12 tracks. This is not rock singer Tom Barman crooning away with a jazz trio. (Verheyen, grinning: “I would never join a band where Tom would be singing classic jazz.”) Listen to the title track Fever, a sweaty, gnawing composition that would have made Charles Mingus proud; to Airplane Song, a minimalistic, breathy melody documenting the oppressive hesitation to open up within a relationship; to Honey, It’s the Blues, a sweltering blues in the same vein as Archie Schepp. Jazz all the way.
One of TaxiWars’s most ardent fans is New Yorker Ashley Kahn, concert promotor, jazz educator, and arguably the most influential jazz writer on the planet: “I already knew dEUS, but I love TaxiWars. They combine lyrics, poetry and jazz with a rock intensity – it reminds me of New York’s answer to hip-hop in the late eighties. They are not replicating it; they are drawing from that same kind of energy. It’s great.”
Vocalist Tom Barman has been fronting the indie-band dEUS since 1989, selling over a million albums along the way. He directed the 2003 film Any Way the Wind Blows, and oversaw two acclaimed jazz compilations: That’s Blue + Painters Talking (Blue Note, 2006) and Living on Impulse (Impulse!, 2012).
Saxophone player Robin Verheyen moved to New York nine years ago and has built a reputation as one of the great young talents in the world of jazz and classical music. He has released two albums with the Robin Verheyen NY Quartet, and has performed with such artists as Marc Copland, Ravi Coltrane, Narcissus, Gary Peacock, and Joey Baron.
Bassist Nicolas Thys was already a mainstay on the Belgian and Dutch jazz scenes before he moved to New York in 1999. He has toured and/or recorded with legends like Lee Konitz, Mal Waldron, Toots Thielemans and Zap Mama.
Drummer Antoine Pierre has been touring with Belgian guitar legend Philip Catherine and trumpet player Jean-Paul Estiévenart, among others. He moved to New York City in 2014 to study at the New York School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. In 2015 he received the Sabam Jazz Award for up and coming talent, and in late 2016 he’ll be presenting his Urbex project during a tour with JazzLab Series.