By Matt Wickstrom
Article first appeared in the Kentucky Kernel.
Packing small stages around Central Kentucky since 2010 has been the big sound of improvisational soul and jazz octet The Baja Yetis. Last month the group released their debut record Gone Planet, taking fans and music lovers alike to a galaxy far, far away with meaty guitar riffs and a loud, ever-present horn section.
The Baja Yetis are comprised of veterans from the Lexington music scene, led by Dereck Oldham and David Napier on vocals, the two of which also perform locally with funk and jam outfit Driftwood Gypsy. Joining the duo are Billy Underwood on saxophone, Mark Gardner on keys, Brandon Bowlds on guitar, Mark Falk on bass, Danielle Barkman on drums and Shaun Owens on trumpet.
The band first began taking shape when Barkman, Underwood and Owens met at Eastern Kentucky University where they were members of the school’s jazz band.
According to Bowlds, a journeyman in Lexington’s music scene who also performs with Born Cross Eyed, Kentucky Hoss Cats and others, the Yetis had been working on the record sporadically since 2014, gathering when their schedules permitted in the basement of Underwood’s home to lay down material. Bowlds added that for the Yetis and other like-minded live bands, the group opted to record in the same room rather than put different people in separate rooms to hash out their parts.
“I like to have everyone in the band in one room,” Bowlds said. “If you’re a live band, that’s how you’re used to playing.”
To accommodate for the big sound in such a tight space, Bowlds commissioned makeshift partitions to be placed throughout the room to divide band members up and help with potential sound bleeding. According to Bowlds, Gone Planet is the third record he’s helped to produce, bringing in most of his own equipment and mixing everything together at his home.
Gone Planet begins with the title track, a get off your feet and dance number accompanied by the demanding yet soulful voice of Napier. The two tunes to follow, “Chewin’ the FET” and “Ska 54” are both instrumental songs written by Bowlds. For the latter, Bowlds said the song originated from a beat that popped into his head, and upon taking it to the band, was transformed beyond his most glamorous of aspirations.
The record is capped off by “Sunshine Kinda Blue,” a cut from the album with a funky bassline and afrobeat-like percussion. The song is one of the more drawn-out on the record as well, allowing the Yetis an opportunity to showcase their improvisational skills that makes each and every live show of theirs so magnificent.
The Baja Yetis recently celebrated the release of Gone Planet on Dec. 17 at Cosmic Charlie’s. The group is taking it easy on shows for the next couple of months to wind down from record production and begin brainstorming for new material. However, upcoming shows include Feb. 18 at Patchen Pub in Lexington and Feb. 28 at Hartfield & Co. Distillery in Paris, Ky. for a show benefitting the Hopewell Museum.
Bowlds, who performed his first gig in town at Lynagh’s in 1998, says that The Baja Yetis are unlike any group of musicians he’s been a part of before, not just due to their unique sound clashing soul and jazz together, but also for the experience and raw talent possessed by those in the group around him. Continuing, Bowlds added that the group’s array of musical influences, the most direct being Lettuce and Galactic, always keeps the group looking for avenues for experimentation and growth.
“Musically, I like stuff that’s good,” Bowlds said. “I don’t care what genre it is, and I look at people the same way. I try to be tolerant of all types of music and people from all walks of life.”
Gone Planet is available for purchase at CD Central, upcoming Baja Yetis shows and soon on the band’s online store.