There was a time when the word “fusion,” as well as all of the attempts at jazz/rock hybridization to which it applied, was anathema in many music circles. Highbrow critics were loath to see jazz’s maiden flower despoiled by the randy rhythms of rock, and rock fans rued the attenuation of the mighty riff by strange harmonies and lengthy solo digressions.
All of that notwithstanding, Aaron Lebos is forced to fess up. “I don’t like to use the term, but we’re fusion,” says Lebos of his Miami-based trio, the Aaron Lebos Reality. “And if you stay true to the word – it refers to a ‘fusion’ of different styles – that’s definitely what we are.
“I like funk. I love straight jazz. I love rock, and I love indie rock. And there are times when all of that kind of naturally comes together for me.”
Having received his Master’s degree in jazz performance from the University of Miami some years back, Lebos is an in-demand touring and session musician, having worked with a veritable who’s who of South Florida performers. Drummer Rodolofa Zuniga is similarly situated, laden with teaching gigs at three South Florida colleges, and boasting a sideman resume that includes world tours with Julio Iglesias.
Having played together on many projects past, the two men founded the Aaron Lebos Reality some six years ago. (Original bassist Eric England, also an accomplished session man, is departing soon, his departure necessitated by a relo to L. A.).
“I’m a sideman,” Lebos says. “I work with other artists, do recording sessions, play in a lot of different styles. At some point I realized, I’ll always be a sideman. It’s how I make my money. But I wanted an outlet to be creative just for me. So I started writing music, and that morphed into this group.”
Lebos’ is an egalitarian brand of fusion; the Reality is not so much a guitarist’s solo project as a band that happens to led by a guitarist. And while Lebos likes to stretch out when the moment is right — he’s a tasty, accessible player, setting up his jazzier extended runs with Jeff Beck-ish rock phrases and bits of blues — other Reality members and guests are afforded equal time in the sun.
And his compositions, while still colored by curious harmonies and the occasional odd time signature, are nonetheless structured around simple melodies, undergirded by simmering funk.
“If there is a difference between us and what I might call a ‘real’ fusion group, it’s that our songs are still built around the group, and there’s a stronger melodic element,” Lebos says. “And funk has become more of an influence in what we do the last couple years or so. A lot of our tunes have a very definite pocket.
“Live, we adapt according to where we’re playing. At a noisy bar, we may play more funk, rock and bluesy stuff. Now we’ve got a gig coming up at an art café in Atlanta, and there we can play some ballads, without worrying so much about keeping the energy high. I have a wide variety of compositions — some of it’s hard rocking, some of it’s jazzy, some of it’s funkier. No matter what, though, there’s always room for us to stretch out. And it still manages to come out sounding like us.”
The Aaron Lebos Reality will play Preservation Pub Friday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.