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The Cosmopolites make experimental music to give you pause

Jazz gets confounding

Cosmopolites explore the ‘70s with a hyper jazz fever. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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It's an open secret that music critics - and, really, any critics - end up being drawn to the unusual, or even the off-putting, due to their constant exposure to the same old same old. I've just reached five years of writing about music for this fine rag, and there's only so many ways I can say "folky" or "dancey." Everything becomes amorphous, necessitating me waxing poetic about something that's really just four guys with guitars banging around.

This is why bands like the Cosmopolites hit my ear so piercingly. As of press time, I'm not even sure if I like the Cosmopolites, but they do, blessedly, give me pause. What I know for sure is that they're compelling. There's something at once cheesy and subversive about the music they make. Blending a syrupy mixture of light jazz and provocative experimentalism, the duo arrives at something akin to progressive rock (which can essentially be synonymous with the more divisive "jazz fusion" label), but with a giddier, geekier bent.

"I got pretty into Bill Evans," says Cosmopolites singer and keyboardist Travis Fisher. "I took a good jazz improv class at college, and I really liked his approach, because he knew all of the classical music and he felt like jazz was a continuation of that. I could just relate to what he was doing, so I studied a lot of his stuff, and I got into jazz that way."

Rounding out the duo is John Karwoski on drums. Fisher and Karwoski met in high school and formed your standard drum and guitar duo - which was called the Cosmopolites, even then, presumably because they thought it sounded cool. What the band would grow to be wouldn't happen for a few years, but the groundwork was laid. Fisher had a background in classical piano, which quite obviously informs his playing. There's an element of formalism to his compositions, even as he weaves in elements of funk and skronking synth.

"I got into Jamiroquai about a year ago," laughs Fisher. "Lately, I've been on a funk kick. A lot of times, a song will start out with a bass line, but I play the bass line on the keyboard. I can play the bass guitar - I really like playing the bass guitar - but you can't play it the same time as you're playing a Rhodes piano. That's how our live show is: I do the bass with my left hand and the Rhodes and synth on the right. Anyway, I'll start out with a bass line, add a melody, and that'll usually dictate what the song should be about."

On record, Cosmopolites songs tend to start out thick and swirling, before eventually relaxing into a steady groove. Fisher hits a complex sequence on the synth to wake you up, but then the twinkling piano comes in and smoothes everything out. As a vocalist, Fisher's voice is clean and androgynous, recalling Rush's Geddy Lee and Yes' Jon Anderson. Their sound is unmistakably '70s-indebted, even sometimes recalling the easy listening sparkle of bands like King Harvest, but always with a hyper jazz fervor.

"I listened to a lot of Rush in the car with my brother, when I was younger," says Fisher. "I've liked a lot of music, so I guess it all kind of gets in there. I really like Anthony Green from Circa Survive, so I started trying to sing like him when I was 16. I couldn't really do it, but I feel like, after ten years of trying, that I've got something like that that's not totally annoying to listen to. (Laughs.)"

Whatever the Cosmopolites try to be, their end-point is unexpected. One keyboardist and one drummer have never been more confounding.

COSMOPOLITES, w/ Skrill Meadow, 10 p.m., Friday, April 11, Le Voyeur, 404 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia, no cover, 360.943.5710

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