On nights when the barn-like interior of the Alexander Street Pub becomes thick and humid from wall-to-wall 20somethings in search of booze, casual hook-ups, and ass-shaking beats, the music of the New York City-based group Bacci makes a kind of gut-level sense. With frontman Pete Bagale slyly invoking lust while he swings his hips from side to side and strums his acoustic with determined finesse, DJ Rob Flow putting his whole body into high-energy dance steps, Chris Northington working his bass with nimble hands and the reserved air of a seasoned jazz musician, and drummer Paul Amorese's fusing of elegance and drive, it's no wonder that the band, which originally formed in Rochester in 2002, would pack local audiences in like sardines.
"I've got to be honest," Bagale says with a chuckle, "it's a really good party mix."
It must be. The band's last two Rochester appearances each drew upwards of 400 people. For the last one, the line outside Milestones went around the corner and down the block --- on a bitterly cold night, no less. The fire marshal, deeming the club packed to capacity, had to turn people away at the door.
Amorese offers several explanations for Bacci's burgeoning buzz, but none of them totally add up. The band uses the internet networking community Myspace to draw attention to shows, and spent more than a year building a following by playing "dinner music" at non-traditional venues, such as an approachably upscale Monroe Avenue bar. And several appearances at the Alexander Street Pub put Bacci in front of larger crowds. But a random sampling of local acts across any genre would turn up other bands following similar strategies. What explains Bacci's popularity? It's a question not easily answered.
Rochester natives Bagale and Amorese, Bacci's core members, have common roots that stretch back to before they began playing together. "Before we even knew each other," Bagale says, "we both grew up in the same [19th Ward] neighborhood and both used to ride the same school bus [to Bishop Kearney high school]. We were like the only white kids on the bus. We both got into the hip-hop sound that was all around us."
They are also both formally trained musicians heavily steeped in jazz since their youth --- a crucial factor in the formation of Bacci, which arose from the demise of popular local jam-funk outfit Milkhouse. Amorese and Bagale found a common ground with each other that grew into creative differences with the other band members.
After Milkhouse broke up, the pair shared an apartment in Rochester for about two years. During that time, their writing process gelled around their purchase of a sequencer and the new creative method that it triggered."Instead of writing from the guitar every time," Bagale explains, "I wanted to write from sequences and base the guitar around that. Both of us were getting into things like Radiohead and Bjork. We were impressed with the backdrops to some of their songs."
So they began to approach their songs sideways, creating atmospheres first out of chord sequences written on bass and keyboard with heavily effected beats and then adding the main guitar, vocal melody, and backbone rhythms. "Then," Bagale says, "maybe we would take a keyboard sound out, but we'd have a guitar based on that sound."
By the time they recorded their debut CD Hey Girl in 2003 here in Rochester, Bagale and Amorese had already set their sights on relocating to New York, which they did the following year. (Amorese has temporarily moved back to Rochester.) Along the way, fellow RochesterianChris Northington became the band's most consistent bassist, and in early 2005 Chappelle's Show alum Rob Flow approached the band about doing some one-off gigs with them. The lineup has remained steady since.
At live shows Flow provides many of the atmospheric touches created on the records by Amorese and Bagale. His contribution provides a novel touch. But even considering Bacci's skill at putting a fresh twist on its hybridization of jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul, R&B, and acoustic guitar-based rock, 400 people pounding doors to see a relatively unknown band remains a bit of a head-scratcher. Certainly, Bagale, who is the principle songwriter, and Amorese, who has a heavy hand in the arrangements, aren't afraid of pop. In fact, their whole aim with Bacci is to create something listenable --- if you don't notice the skill this music demands, Bagale and Amorese feel they've done their job.
"We always try to make our changes interesting to a musical ear," Amorese says. But, for the general public, that translates simply as music that has enough of a twist so that "it won't get dulled over time."
Another factor may also resonate with audiences: in a sense, Bacci's music blazes a new trail even as it returns to Amorese and Bagale's musical roots. "Everybody takes it from the beat up," Bagale says when considering the long history of combining hip-hop and jazz into new musical forms. "I'm trying to turn jazz melodies into hooks."
Audiences may be after the party atmosphere, but perhaps it'sBacci's underlying ingenuity that keeps the fans coming back for more.
Bacci plays Saturday, April 8, at Milestones, 170 East Avenue, 325-6490, at 10 p.m. $5. 21+.