Music fans at the University of Miami and Florida International University might be familiar with jazz guitarist Aaron Lebos — after all, he spent four years at each school, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees respectively in jazz performance. He’s also released two CDs and performed with local stars Nicole Henry and the Spam All-Stars.
But he’s most proud of his new project, the jazz/rock foursome Aaron Lebos Reality. The band eschews standards for a fusion of jazz, funk, rock, Latin and world music, and trades the traditional upright bass and saxophone for electric bass, keyboards and guitar.
“Our sound is more rock and contemporary but still with elements of jazz as far as solos and improvisation in most of the songs,” says Lebos. “But there are more arrangements that border on rock and pop.”
ALR — featuring Lebos on guitar, Eric England on bass, Jim Gasior on keyboards and Rodolfo Zuniga on drums — takes the stage Thursday night at The Stage in Miami to celebrate the release of its second CD, Turning Point, an eight-song instrumental collection.
“It’s definitely a pretty aggressive record, although there are some tender moments,” Lebos says with a laugh. “Especially live, it’s very far from what people might consider traditional jazz.”
The band’s innovative sound has drawn comparisons to Frank Zappa and jazz supergroup Return to Forever, featuring legendary bassist Stanley Clarke and keyboardist Chick Corea. But its influences are all over the place.
“I’d say our biggest are [Jimi] Hendrix and [Led] Zeppelin, and at the same time more modern groups like Phoenix, Bloc Party and Radiohead,” Lebos says. “And we have a good amount of stuff in odd time signatures, but it’s rarely actually noticed. If it’s done the right way, like Dave Brubeck’s Take Five — it was so catchy and such a solid thing that I don’t think a lot of people even noticed that it was in 5/4. Because it just feels natural, and built around a strong groove. That’s the key.”
Lebos has his sights set higher than Miami’s live-music scene.
“We’re definitely looking to get into the festival circuit, both jazz and jam,” he says, “because that market is just so alive and healthy. There are decent routes to follow to try to cross over without sacrificing what we do, without dumbing anything down. Otherwise, we’d just put the kick drum on four-on-the-floor so everybody could dance like they’re at Club Space or something. But then what’s the point?”