The L.A.-based sextet Endsley founded a year ago with fellow Eastman alum and saxophonist Ben Wendel, the Wendel-Endsley Group, reflects a similar bombardment of influences. Endsley, Wendel and keyboard player Adam Benjamin all come from jazz roots. (The saxophonist has worked with Dave Holland and Billy Higgins, among others; the pianist's hungers took him from 91-year-old alto giant Benny Carter to avant-bassist Charlie Haden.) By contrast, drummer Scott Seiver -- also a Denver native -- has played and/or toured with members of Bad Brains, Fishbone and Pearl Jam. Percussionist Davey Chegwidden appeared on Macy Gray's first two albums and works with the hip-hop orchestra DAKAH. Electric and acoustic bassist Kaveh Rastegar, a third Denverite who also attended Eastman, has worked with rockers as divergent as Tre Hardson (Pharcyde), Fish (Fishbone) and Mike Andrews (the Grey-Boy Allstars) while maintaining a parallel identity as a staffer at the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.
How do young musicians this diverse get a collective identity together?
"We just put one foot in front of the other and move slowly," Endsley says. "It's very personal, and sometimes it's very hard, but we share a broad aesthetic, employing many aspects of different musical genres. The challenge was to find a middle ground and do something that is both original and hard to define -- a compilation of all our experiences."
The results, for now, include a self-produced CD called 2nd Guess, which is beginning to attract attention in the L.A. and New York undergrounds, and a new tour that will take the Wendel-Endsley Group, whose home base until now has been L.A. (specifically, Santa Monica's funky Temple Bar), to the North Beach Jazz Festival in San Francisco, back to L.A. and on to Denver. The ensemble will appear -- minus percussionist Chegwidden -- Monday night in City Park and Tuesday on the newly installed bandstand at Dazzle Supper Club.
As you might expect, the group's challenging music ignores genre borders and defies easy categorization. Jazz-based but stylistically fluid, tunes like "Veiled Heart" and "After the Snakepit" boldly throw funk, groove, alternative rock, hip-hop and assorted electronica variations into the mix in what, for lack of a better term, the musicians call "future instrumental jazz." "Actually, we're discovering the philosophy of the group as we go along," Endsley says. "All of us work with other bands, too, but this group is like a church we can go to. This is our heart. Some of the other music we play [individually] is not always so gratifying. This group is where we can produce new combinations of elements and new forms. We think orchestrally and tend to be compositional, but we improvise when there's a need. What we hope to do is make each song a new event each time, to alter the journey every time for the listener as we try to reconcile many different ideas."
Fellow musicians have started to take notice. Endsley's friends Coleman and Coltrane are talking the group up in New York, and jazzmen, in particular, have praised their multifaceted fusion of styles. Guitarist Mike Cain: "Passion combined with intellect to form wonderful musical vibrations." Pianist and composer James Carney: "The Wendel-Endsley Group is a passionate collective of high-caliber, forward-thinking musicians who dependably exude a pleasing blend of cathartic edginess and dynamic subtlety."
For Endsley, it was almost inevitable that he would be a player. His mother, Pamela, is principal flutist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. His father, Gerald, a trumpeter, music publisher and the longtime director of the Denver Municipal Band, was his first instructor. While a teenager going to East High School, Shane was also deeply influenced by Denver jazz trumpeter Ron Miles ("I still try not to sound too much like him") and mentored by two fine local jazz pianists: Ron Jolley taught him theory and harmony; Boulder's Art Lande gave him "some tools that I'll use for the rest of my life."
That history makes next week's homecoming (their second one this year) all the more important for Endsley and fellow Denverites Seiver and Rastegar. "We're very excited about coming home, and we're proud to bring this band back," the trumpeter says. "It's something we've worked hard with and something we believe in."
Indeed, Endsley took $15,000 worth of belief out of his own pocket -- earnings from his year-long tour with DiFranco -- to finance 2nd Guess, and he says he'll be content even if he never gets another dime back from the 1,000-copy CD run. "I'm very happy with it. Most of the tracking was done in a week, but the overdubs and the mixing took months. It's hard to retain your perspective over that period of time, being totally immersed in the project, but once it was finally done, new ideas started coming in a rush. I expect the band will now go in some new directions."
That means Endsley will have to go West once in a while. Living in Brooklyn while his bandmates remain in Los Angeles is a huge obstacle, but he means to overcome it. "I'll have to get smart with my frequent-flyer miles," he says, "and we'll play more periodically, booking our jobs in bunches. But we believe in our resources and our dedication. Staying together will be daunting, but we can do it. We may even get up a new head of steam through my old New York friends."
Meanwhile, the band is looking for a new name that more accurately reflects its collaborative ways. While Endsley has been the group's primary composer for the last year, the other members have increasingly brought new ideas to bear in recent months. "With the new tour, we'll be playing new music," he explains. "You know, we learned quite a bit about the music business itself in Los Angeles. It can be pretty intense. The bands on major labels are in a larger corporate channel, and that can consume the music itself. You become aware of the vacuum; you can get passed by. Our kind of music is not heard much in L.A., so for us it's sometimes been like circling the wagons in the middle of a storm."
Or going to church.