Casey and the Comrades bring funky fusion to Huntington

December 14, 2018

For The Herald-Dispatch

In the last few years, after a decade of building up a fan base on the road, the group Big Something has seen their names rise up the ladder on festival posters across America. Based in North Carolina, the group has made inroads here in the Tri-State as well with anticipated shows in Huntington, at other venues around the Mountain State, and as a perennial favorite act at Mountain Music Festival in the New River Gorge.

Now, original Big Something sax player Casey Cranford has put together an excellent side band made up of an all-star cast of musicians who have made their mark in the North Carolina Piedmont music scene. Called Casey and the Comrades, the group consists of Cranford on sax and electronic wind instrument, Ben Vinograd of Big Something on drums, Julian Sizemore of The Mantras on keyboards and vocals, William Trentini of The Drove on guitar and Bill Stevens of the Camel City Collective on keyboards and vocals.

Friday, December 14, Casey and the Comrades will be performing at the V Club along with The Settlement and The Wright Ave. The show begins at 10 p.m., is 18+ and tickets are $10.

Casey and the Comrades play at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at The Grove, 103 Keller Ave., Fayetteville. Tickets are $10 advance or $15 at the door. The after party is with The Wright Ave. at the Southside Junction Tap House.

“I had an idea to do a show in my off-time with Julian and bring him together with another great keyboard player in Bill Stevens and it has become something larger than what I had planned, but it has been a lot of fun,” said Casey Cranford. “Everything clicked and we started rehearsing a lot. We would get together every week for a few hours and then it really started clicking. I wanted to do something a little bit more improvisational and instrumental and play more jazzier stuff. I had a few ideas in the back of my mind and I have written some original music for this project. We are also doing some classic jazz covers including some Miles Davis.”

Cranford has always loved rock and funk music. When he was just a kid, however, a family member turned him onto jazz music and it influenced him greatly.

“John Coltrane’s Giant Steps was my first jazz album,” said Cranford. “I was in sixth grade and my uncle got it for me for either Christmas or my birthday, I can’t remember which one. I had just picked up the saxophone at that time. It is a classic album, too, and is still one of my favorites. I tried to play along with that album back then a little bit, mostly the song ‘Mr. P.C.,’ which was one of the more easy tunes on it. As for other sax players who influenced me besides Coltrane, they would be Cannonball Adderley and Ornette Coleman, and later on Albert Ayler was pretty inspirational to me. He played some cool avant-garde music so it could get out there, but still was some powerful stuff. I also liked Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. As for modern players, Kamasi Washington is my current favorite sax player.”

Big Something is still Cranford’s main gig. But with this side project, as with any side project, it becomes an outlet to explore other musical avenues.

“I am trying to work in different styles with this group,” said Cranford. “My idea was to try and fuse together the genres of music that I am into these days, as in a little bit of electronica and funk and jazz. Jazz was what I wanted to primarily mix in because not a lot of people are doing it these days outside of the modern jazz world. I just wanted to mix it in, although I don’t want this to be a jazz band because I don’t consider myself too versed in the jazz formula. I also have funk music heroes like Sly and the Family Stone, which is one of my top, all-time favorite bands. We also love Parliement-Funkadelic, James Brown and Maceo Parker. As for modern bands, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk is one of the current groups staying true to the old school funk.”

Cranford is looking forward to bringing this new project to Huntington.

“West Virginia was one of the first places I wanted to take my band outside of North Carolina, because I know a lot of those people, and I know how much they dig the music,” said Cranford. “This is only our second run on tour. I don’t think the word ‘fusion’ is a terrible term to describe what we want to do. It is a merging of different styles. Because we rehearse a lot, once we take our music out onstage, these tunes are so tight that we can drop them and mess with their forms while playing them live. Everybody in this group is super cool and talented enough to create what I am envisioning.”

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