Up Close With Worcester’s Tyra Penn and Her Army of Snakes
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
You can't help but become intrigued when you hear the phrase "Tyra Penn and Her Army of Snakes". The local Worcester high-energy, very "modern" jazz and blues band is just one of a few projects the prolific singer Tyra Penn has found herself involved in over the years, but this one in particular is showing great promise.
Her Army of Snakes includes other permanent member Paul Courchaine on guitar.
"Paul and I have been playing together for about 10 years now, which is hard to fathom," says Tyra.
"We met at the now defunct Zara Jazz Club, which used to be across the street from Mechanics Hall. We ran a Wednesday night jazz jam there for a couple of years before it closed, and we've more or less been playing together ever since."
The Army of Snakes
The rest of the band will vary according to who is available, but they perform as a quintet, and often team up with very notable musicians. Other Frequent fliers with the Snakes are: Paul Buono on piano (Paul was on tour in South America last year with "The Voice" winner Javier Colon, and is currently living the musician's life in NYC); Dan Hunt on guitar (Dan and Tyra are also in The Red Riders together, a jump blues and swing band; and he plays locally with Jubilee Gardens and Sandstorm, too); Steve Chaggaris on drums (also of the Tough Love Trio and the Ken Clark Organ Trio); bassists Jesse Richards and Charlie Recchia; and drummer Ed Conley.
Paul and Tyra have also done some gigs recently with guest trio The Unit which includes Russ Gershon on sax; Lello Molinari on bass and Phil Neighbors on drums.
Not your Average Jazz Band
Tyra isn't your average jazz singer and as a result the Army of Snakes isn't your average jazz band. She has been affected by a wide-range of different influences over the years. She explains.
"The music that most engages me, emotionally and intellectually, is music that is more than one thing at a time. I love jazz that incorporates Afro-pop, for example; or Balkan wedding music with hip-hop," she says.
"I also have a peculiar devotion to the works of Tom Waits, from the early Tin Pan Alley style songs all the way to the industrial stuff he does now. It's smart music, but visceral, too. That's the kind of thing I'm chasing when I perform with the Snakes, too...being smart but providing that emotional kick."
In addition, Penn enjoys the "raw edges" in early country blues and gospel.
The band covers numerous songs by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bjork and of course Tom Waits, and even David Bowie, but they aren't your normal cover band.
"The challenge is to cover a tune without sounding like a cover band. Jazz has been doing that for decades, of course," she says.
The Future and Where to Find Them
Penn has impressed many over the years.
Tyra Penn and her Army of Snakes have achieved a regular gig at Nick's in Worcester. And she has tentative hopes for putting out a record in early 2014. She can also be seen with her Army of Snakes and in her other groups in various bars, restaurants and clubs throughout the area.
Check them out and you are sure to be entertained and have fun, and if you are there to listen a little more closely you may find yourself experiencing some extra goodies as well.
"I lean towards heroic or fantastic themes in the songs I choose for our sets," Tyra remarks.
"I would like it very much if our music made people tap into those heroic ideals, but mostly people hear us in bars, so they are probably half in the bag and just there to have fun; which is just fine, too."
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