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Nicolay goes with a jazz groove

by +FE on January 22, 2012 at 7:28 AM · Comments
Nicolay Rook needed to do something.

He needed to do something to pass the time, to keep himself occupied, to prevent his musical skills from becoming atrophied. With Phonte Coleman, his singing/rapping partner in the Grammy-nominated, North Carolina-based, emo-soul duo known as The Foreign Exchange, working on a bevy of projects last year (including releasing his own solo debut "Charity Starts at Home"), Rook was looking for a project of his own. And thus, "The Shibuya Session EP" was born.

Released in November, the eight-track recording has the Dutch-born, Wilmington-based Rook hooking up with The Hot at Nights, an exploratory jazz trio from Raleigh, doing jazzy, occasionally avant-garde reworkings of several tunes from Rook's 2009 electro-soul album "City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya."

"We were all very much into it because it was, you know, a form of jazz that we could really relate to, because it just has a lot of elements of groove to it, and funk," says Rook, 37, by phone from Wilmington.

If you're a jazz fan who listens to this EP (which is available for free download on theforeignexchangemusic.com), you may be immediately reminded of the anything-goes jazz fusion sound of the '70s - which is exactly what Rook wanted to re-create. "I really wanted to kind of, you know, find a way to combine, on the one hand, really kind of jazz influences, like Tony Williams, The Weather Report, Chick Corea, Return to Forever, some early '70s Miles Davis records. But, at the same time, it's got a very strong sort of electronic influence in it."

As for how Rook got together with The Hot at Nights, it was simple considering that Chris Boerner, the band's guitarist and frontman, has been an integral part of The Foreign Exchange for the past couple of years. Not only has he performed on their last two albums, but he's also served as the resident guitarist when they go on tour with a live band. Just like Rook, Boerner was up for the Shibuya challenge. "In a way, we sort of had a pretty strong road map of what we were doing," says the 33-year-old Raleigh native. "And the initial idea with The Hot at Nights was to put our own spin on it."

With only just a year and a half of existence under their belts, The Hot at Nights has managed to become the Triangle music scene's most eccentric, most experimental jazz trio. "I think our music, if you sit down and focus on it, there's a lot of layers to it," says Boehner. "There's a lot going on. There's a lot to get from it."

Apparently, people got a lot of the Shibuya EP, with the 15,000 downloads since its release. With the EP showing there is an audience for this kind of music, Rook is ready to take this act on the road. Starting next week, Nicolay and The Hot at Nights will go on a North American tour. Raleigh will be their second stop. This will definitely be an experience for Boerner and his boys (who include Matt Douglas on sax/woodwinds and Nick Baglio on drums), who'll serve as both the opening act and Rook's backing band. The Hot at Nights seem to have performed only on rare occasions including in the performing space above Raleigh instrument repair/sales store Marsh Woodwinds. "This tour coming up will be really the largest sort of concentration of gigs that we've done," says Boerner.

For Rook, who has been seen as the quiet, instrumental ying to Phonte Coleman's charismatic, vocalizing yang, it's a chance to lead a music outfit by himself. "It's gonna be, for me, really the first time that I'm going out there on my own, outside of doing DJ shows, which I've done a lot of," he says. "But this is really, you know, a step up for me, and a way to challenge myself because, secretly, I know that I'm kind of in over my head with these guys, because all three are virtuosos, and I'm just trying to get by."
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